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Gun-Related Suicides Fell In California After Medical Marijuana Became Legal, Study Shows

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The total number of suicides in California per year, including those committed with firearms, declined after the state legalized marijuana use for medical purposes, according to a new study.

“Findings reveal that rates of total suicide and gun suicide dropped significantly in the aftermath of Proposition 215,” the researchers concluded, referring to the California law legalizing medical cannabis that voters approved in 1996.

Nationally, the number of suicides increased by 24 percent from 1999 to 2014—the same 15-year period during which many states began approving access to medical marijuana.

“The systematic evidence connecting this trend to the availability of medical marijuana is ambiguous, however,” the team behind the new study wrote.

For the paper, published this month in Archives of Suicide Research, researchers at the University of California Irvine looked at the total number of suicides, the number of gun-related suicides and the number of non-gun-related suicides recorded by the state for the years between 1970 and 2004. They also looked at data from the 41 states that did not legalize marijuana during the same time period to get an idea of what might have happened if California had not approved access to medical cannabis.

Ultimately, the authors observed a notable decline in intentional deaths in the years after Prop 215 was approved. “In particular, for all suicides, our results demonstrate that California’s 1996 intervention led to an average reduction of 398.9 suicides per year and a cumulative reduction of approximately 3,191 suicides during 1997-2004,” the study states. “Similarly, legalization led to a reduction in gun suicides of 208 per year on average and a cumulative reduction of approximately 1,668 fewer gun suicides during 1997-2004.”

The impact of medical marijuana on rates of non-gun suicides in the state, however, was deemed “ambiguous.”

The question, of course, is what could explain these overall findings?

The study offers a few different theories. One focuses on how marijuana use may help remove the actual motivation for suicide. People with mental conditions such as depression, for example, may find that marijuana alleviates their symptoms.

“If marijuana alleviates the acute stress associated with these disorders, we expect suicide risk to decrease following legalization of medical marijuana,” the authors wrote. “The evidence for this is mixed, however.”

The same goes for people with alcohol use disorder, which is associated with an elevated risk of suicide: If people are using marijuana in place of alcohol, that risk may be reduced.

“If marijuana and alcohol use are combined, one might expect no change in suicide risk or even an increase in suicide following legalization,” the paper reasons. “If marijuana replaces alcohol, on the other hand, one might expect a decrease in suicide risk following legalization.”

But most data on marijuana as an alcohol substitute is based on self-reports, which can be unreliable.

There’s also the issue of gun accessibility for medical marijuana patients; U.S. law prohibits anyone who uses federally illegal controlled substances, including cannabis, from obtaining firearms. As a majority of suicides involve guns, researchers suggest that access to medical marijuana may have precluded some people from purchasing firearms, thus leading to the decline in suicide rates. (For what it’s worth, California also has some of the toughest gun laws in the country.)

The study’s authors point out that testing these various theories “may reveal insight into why we do not find the expected reduction in non-gun suicides following legalization.”

In 2018, former National Rifle Association president David Keene argued that federal restrictions regarding cannabis and gun access were causing “real problems” for patients, writing in an op-ed that “hundreds of thousands of gun owners … are being forced to either trade their Second Amendment rights for a chance to live pain-free or risk prosecution and imprisonment.”

Last month, a Republican congressman filed a bill that would allow medical marijuana patients the ability to purchase and own firearms.

GOP Congressman’s Bill Would Let Medical Marijuana Patients Possess Guns

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kimberly Lawson is a former altweekly newspaper editor turned freelance writer based in Georgia. Her writing has been featured in the New York Times, O magazine, Broadly, Rewire.News, The Week and more.

Science & Health

Marijuana Flower Offers More Pain Relief Than Other Cannabis Products, Study Finds

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Among the overwhelming variety of cannabis products available on the market today, the most effective for pain relief appears to be whole dried marijuana flower and products high in THC, a new study finds.

“Whole cannabis flower was associated with greater pain relief than were other types of products, and higher tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels were the strongest predictors of analgesia and side effects prevalence across the five pain categories,” researchers from the University of New Mexico wrote. “In contrast, cannabidiol (CBD) levels generally were not associated with pain relief except for a negative association between CBD and relief from gastrointestinal and non-specified pain.”

Using data from a mobile app that aims to educate users about cannabis products and help them track their experiences, the researchers found that most people who reported self-medicating with marijuana have short-term, yet significant, relief from pain. “In our sample,” they write, “we observed an average pain reduction of roughly 3 points on a standard 0 to 10 visual analogue pain scale, consistent with its application as a mid-level analgesic.”

The findings, published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine in late July, are the latest in a robust body of scientific literature that shows marijuana can help people with different kinds of pain.

The study’s goal was to gauge how the severity of pain changed and what side effects were experienced after cannabis consumption, and whether these effects differed by product. Researchers used information gleaned from Releaf App, a mobile software program developed by three of the study’s authors and released in 2016. The app allows users to monitor their symptoms before, during and after consuming cannabis, thus helping them to understand the differences between products and delivery methods.

The study—which calls the Releaf data set “the largest database of real-time cannabis administration sessions in the U.S”—analyzed 20,513 cannabis sessions recorded in the app by 2,987 people between June 6, 2016 and October 24, 2018.

“Perhaps the most surprising result,” lead author Xiaoxue Li said in a statement, “is just how widespread relief was with symptom relief reported in about 95 percent of cannabis administration sessions and across a wide variety of different types of pain.”

“The results suggest that cannabis flower with moderate to high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol is an effective mid-level analgesic.”

On average, users reported their starting pain to be 5.87 on a scale of 1 to 10. After consuming marijuana, that number fell to 2.77—a decrease of 3.1 points.

“Among the limited number of product characteristics that are typically made available to consumers, we found that consumption of whole, natural Cannabis flower was associated with greater anesthetic potential than were most other types of products,” the authors wrote.

The study also found:

  • Patients whose cannabis sessions involved flower reported similar pain relief as those using concentrates and topicals. Edibles, pills and tinctures, however, offered less relief than flower.
  • Concentrates were found to be associated with more negative side effects, which the researchers reasoned could be because of solvents and other additives, as well as the removal of most terpenoids, terpenes and flavonoids.
  • Products labeled as hybrid strains were more effective at relieving pain than those labeled indica or sativa.
  • Combustion method didn’t affect pain.
  • Higher THC levels offered more pain relief, while higher CBD levels did not.
  • Patients with back, joint or muscle pain, headache or migraine and non-specified pain saw more relief with high-THC products.
  • Patients with gastrointestinal/abdominal-related pain found more relief with lower levels of THC.

As for other reactions, patients were more likely to report positive effects than negative effects: they cited dry mouth and feeling foggy as the most common negative ones, while feeling relaxed and peaceful were frequently reported as the most positive ones. Additionally, while CBD levels didn’t impact pain much, the cannabinoid did appear to decrease the likelihood of having negative side effects.

“The current findings,” the study concludes, “show that self-directed medical cannabis treatment, especially among users of higher THC products, is associated with significant improvements in at least short-term pain relief, perhaps a major reason why cannabis has become one of the most widely used medications in the United States.”

In a statement, Jacob Vigil, another study author and UNM associate professor of psychology, said the reason why dried cannabis flower may be more effective for pain is because of its “numerous constituents that possess analgesic properties beyond THC, including terpenes and flavonoids.” These compounds probably work together to increase cannabis’ therapeutic effects, he said.

“Our results confirm that cannabis use is a relatively safe and effective medication for alleviating pain, and that is the most important message to learn from our results,” Vigil continued. “It can only benefit the public for people to be able to responsibly weigh the true risks and benefits of their pain medication choices.”

Study Reveals How Marijuana Components THC And CBD Affect Chronic Pain

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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Science & Health

Federal Data Shows Youth Marijuana Use Isn’t Increasing Under Legalization

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Despite prohibitionists’ often-expressed fears that legalization would lead more young people to use marijuana, new federal data released on Tuesday shows no such trend.

Reports of past-month cannabis use among those 12-17 remained stable from 2017 to 2018—and they’re significantly lower than in the years prior to when the first states began legalizing for adult use.

That’s according to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an annual report produced by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

“The percentage of adolescents in 2018 who used marijuana in the past year was lower than the percentages in 2002 to 2004 and in 2009 to 2013, but it was similar to the percentages in 2005 to 2008 and in 2014 to 2017,” SAMHSA said.

Via SAMHSA.

Recent studies that have used NSDUH data and other sources also demonstrate that youth marijuana use is not increasing post-legalization. In fact, research published in JAMA Pediatrics in July found that states with recreational cannabis experience a decline in underage marijuana use, with the study authors stating that regulated markets appear to deter illicit use.

Indeed, on a national scale, the percentage of adolescents who reported using marijuana began declining at a greater rate in the years after states started implementing legal cannabis systems. In 2018, 12.5 percent of those 12-17 said they used cannabis in the last month, compared to 13.5 percent in 2012, according to the NSDUH results.

Colorado and Washington State became the first U.S. states to vote to legalize marijuana for recreational use in late 2012, with legal sales commencing in 2014.

Between 2002 and 2018, the highest rate of adolescent marijuana use took place in 2002, when 15.8 percent reported past-month consumption.

“The survey results suggest that marijuana use among youth has remained stable and low in recent years, even as more states legalize medical and adult use,” Sheila Vakharia, PhD, deputy director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s Department of Research and Academic Engagement, told Marijuana Moment. “Rather than encouraging increased use, it is possible that legalization has limited access and deterred youth use. We find that these results strengthen the case for legalization in the interest of public health and protecting our nation’s young people.”

What’s more, the report found that cases of cannabis use disorder declined again for the 12-17 group in 2018, marking the seventh year in a row that fewer young people seem to be misusing the substance.

Via SAMHSA.

Interestingly, these trends are developing even as people’s perceptions of the risks of casual marijuana consumption are dropping. That seems to contradict an argument from reform opponents who claimed that legalizing cannabis would normalize it in such a way that underage individuals would feel more emboldened to experiment with marijuana.

Via SAMHSA.

Overall, marijuana consumption increased across age groups by about one percentage point over the past year, the survey found, with the bulk of that rise being attributable to those over 26. Past-month cannabis use for that demographic increased from 12.2 percent in 2017 to 13.3 percent in 2018.

Marijuana Taxes Differ In Legalized States, Complicating Projections

This story was updated to include comment from the Drug Policy Alliance.

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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Politics

Federal Health Agency Releases List Of Marijuana Research Priorities

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In one of the latest signs that the federal government is recognizing the reality of the marijuana legalization movement’s continued success, a top health agency released an extensive list of cannabis-related research objectives it hopes to fund.

The notice, published on Wednesday, notes the rapid evolution of marijuana policies in the U.S. and globally, which is “far outpacing the knowledge needed to determine and minimize the public health impacts of these changes.”

“A growing number of states have loosened restrictions on cannabis, including those on sales and use, by passing medical marijuana laws or by making cannabis legal for adult recreational use, and in some cases, states have done both,” the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) wrote.

It also referenced a 2018 report from a cannabis policy working group that was tasked with identifying “cannabis policy research areas with the greatest urgency and potential for impact.”

Evidently, there are quite a few areas that fit that description, as NIDA listed 13 research objectives of “programmatic interest.” And while the agency has previously called for studies into several areas that are featured on the notice, there are others that signal NIDA is evolving in its understanding of research needs as more states opt to legalize.

For example, NIDA is not simply focusing on providing grants to explore the health risks of cannabis use, it’s also interested in learning about “reasons for initiation and continued use of marijuana for therapeutic purposes” as well as investigating “how cannabis industry practices, including research on marketing, taxes, and prices, impact use and health outcomes.”

The agency also wants to fund studies that look at the differences in legal marijuana regulatory schemes in various jurisdictions to “understand which combinations or components minimize harm to public health.”

Other research goals NIDA described include exploring the impact of cannabis use during pregnancy and developing roadside testing instruments to identify THC impaired drivers as well as standards to measure marijuana dosing.

Here’s the full list of research objectives: 

—Develop standards for measuring cannabis (including hemp and hemp product) dose, intoxication, and impairment.

—Enhance existing epidemiology research to study trends for cannabis use and CUD; including new products, patterns of use, and reasons for use in different populations.

—Characterize the composition/potency of cannabis, methods of administration, cannabis extracts/concentrates, and cannabis of varying constituents (e.g. cannabinoid or terpene content), as well as how those factors impact physical and mental health.

—Determine the physical and mental health antecedents of use, as well as outcomes of use.

—Explore the impact of polysubstance use on health outcomes, including interactions (substitution/complementation) with alcohol, tobacco, and prescription and nonprescription opioids.

—Examine reasons for initiation and continued use of marijuana for therapeutic purposes.

—Investigate the effects of different patterns of cannabis use on brain development, educational attainment, and transition to work and adult roles.

—Identify the effects of maternal cannabis consumption during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

—Develop effective roadside tests for cannabis impairment that can be practically deployed by law enforcement.

—Determine the prevalence of cannabis-involved vehicular crashes and other types of injury or property damage.

—Investigate how cannabis industry practices, including research on marketing, taxes, and prices, impact use and health outcomes (e.g. how different price points impact consumption patterns across different levels of use).

—Determine the impact of federal, state, and local marijuana policies and their implementation on use and health outcomes.

—Explore the heterogeneity of regulatory schemes (e.g. models for retail distribution of cannabis) to understand which combinations or components minimize harm to public health.

A number of federal health agencies have issued several notices for marijuana-related research opportunities in recent months. One that received particular attention came from NIDA in May, when it said applications were open for what is essentially a professional research-grade marijuana joint roller and analyst position.

While NIDA said that research isn’t keeping up with the rapid reform movement, its director also acknowledged in April that the federal drug scheduling system—which regards cannabis as a tightly restricted Schedule I drug—has inhibited such research by making it difficult for scientists to access marijuana.

Women Lawmakers From Across U.S. Hold Marijuana Conference And Tour Dispensary

Photo by Aphiwat chuangchoem.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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