The discovery of illegal marijuana grow sites in national forests spanning Oregon and Washington declined after each state legalized recreational cannabis, a new study reports.
But while legalization appears to have been a driving factor for decreased illicit cultivation in Oregon, that doesn’t seem to be the case in Washington. The difference, it seems, may have to do with the way each state wrote its marijuana laws.
“Given the decrease in abundance of marijuana grow sites in Oregon national forests…this study suggests that liberalized marijuana policies in Oregon have contributed to a decrease in ecological damage in national forests resulting from illegal marijuana cultivation,” the authors wrote.
Previous studies have already identified certain benefits from legalization, including those impacting health and the economy. In the new investigation, researchers from Central European University in Hungary were interested in looking at whether legal access to marijuana could also help the environment. Their study was published this month in the journal Ecological Economics.
“The data show a decrease in the number of discovered grow sites in national forests after the vote to legalize recreational cannabis in Washington and Oregon.”
They focused on illegal grow sites within national forests because, as they explain it, these grows often result in “significant ecological impacts,” including the removal of native vegetation, chemical pollution (such as the introduction of fertilizer or pesticides in the environment) and “opportunistic” poaching of wildlife. Illegal marijuana grows also threaten the safety of people who visit these public lands, as some sites may be run by “organized crime syndicates,” the researchers wrote.
The commercial market for marijuana sales have been open in Washington and Oregon since 2014 and 2015, respectively. The two states are among what the Office of National Drug Control Policy calls the “Marijuana Seven,” or the top seven states where people grow cannabis illegally. Records show 245 illegal cultivation sites were discovered between 2004 to 2017 in the Pacific Northwest: The single largest site, found in Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, which covers parts of Oregon and Idaho, had 91,035 plants.
Officials discovered an average of 9.2 sites in Washington from 2004 to 2012, and 1.6 per year from 2013 to 2017 after legal cannabis was approved. In Oregon, the average number of sites discovered between 2004 to 2014 was 13 per year, and that dropped to 3.67 sites per year from 2015 to 2017.
A closer look at the data and other measures, however, suggests that legalization may not have played a significant role in the decline of illegal grows in Washington’s national forests. Instead, the authors point to the annual number of law enforcement officers in the state as well as the comparatively low cost of illegal cannabis as contributing factors.
The difference, the authors write, may have to do with “state specific characteristics.” For example, Washington has a 37 percent tax on the commercial sale of cannabis, while Oregon’s tax rate is 17 percent.
“This difference in taxation may incentivize some consumers to return to the illicit market where the cost of cannabis may be cheaper, thus negating some of the beneficial effects legalization may be able to provide with regards to illegal production, as is seen in Oregon,” the study states.
Another potentially important factor, though not addressed in the study, is that home cultivation of recreational marijuana is prohibited in Washington but allowed in Oregon..
“The results of this study suggest that for areas impacted by illegal cultivation of cannabis on public and protected lands, legalization may assist in decreasing the proliferation of this activity, and thereby serve within a broader ecological conservation strategy,” the study authors write. “However, legalization policies must actively prioritize incentives and measures that discourage the continuation of illicit production for these beneficial effects to occur.”
To further inform their work, researchers also asked the U.S. Forest Service to weigh in by answering a list of questions regarding illegal cannabis operations. Representatives with the Forest Service said they actually didn’t believe legalization had impacted the number of illegal cultivation sites on public lands. Rather, they pointed to budget cuts contributing to their inability to actually go out and find these sites.
“Many state and local cooperators are reducing or even eliminating the resources that typically assist the Forest Service with counter marijuana cultivation operations,” they told researchers. “These resources are now often committed to addressing regulatory concerns or crimes related to ‘legal’ growing activities on private lands.”
The Forest Service also noted that it expects to see illegal marijuana grows on public lands as “a significant problem for many years.”
Nonetheless, the researchers concluded that “legalization of recreational cannabis is found to contribute to a decline in illegal marijuana cultivation in Oregonian national forests” and that the policy change “has been instrumental in declining illegal marijuana production.”
But the differing analysis of illegal grows in Washington underscores that “the way in which liberalized policies are enacted may be crucial in determining the end result.”
Photo by Sam Doucette on Unsplash.
Bees Like Big Hemp And They Cannot Lie, Study Shows
Some pollinators tend to flock to hemp, but according to a recent study, the taller the trees, the more plentiful the bees.
Researchers at Cornell University collected bees at 11 hemp farms in the Finger Lakes region of central New York in the summer of 2018 to identify which ones are attracted to hemp and “to analyze the effects of landscape composition” when they visit the crop.
In the study, published in the journal Environmental Entomology last week, the team found that plant height is “strongly correlated” with bee abundance and that hemp plants at least two meters tall attract “nearly 17 times the number of [bee] visits compared to short plants.”
Both the sheer number and species of bees found visiting hemp “increased with plant height.”
Additionally, they found that the cash crop can support 16 different bee varieties in the northeastern United States.
Of the 355 individual bees captured by “repeated sweep net collections,” 60 percent were Apis mellifera, or western honey bees, while 30 percent were Bombus impatiens, the most commonly encountered bumblebee in eastern North America, which “is intensively relied upon” for pollination, the authors note.
“As cultivation of hemp increases, growers, land managers, and policy makers should consider its value in supporting bee communities and take its attractiveness to bees into account when developing pest management strategies,” they wrote.
“Plant height…was strongly correlated with bee species richness and abundance for hemp plots with taller varieties attracting a broader diversity of bee species.”
A similar study published earlier this year in Colorado concluded that bees are uniquely attracted to hemp, a finding that may inform more sustainable agricultural practices.
Although hemp does not have the characteristic vivid colors, enticing aromas and other alluring features that tempt insects and other pollinators, it nevertheless produces large amounts of pollen at a time of the year when there’s typically a shortage—meaning hemp can be an important and plentiful source of food and nectar for bees when they need it.
The authors noted that bee populations—wild and domesticated alike—have taken a hit in recent years due to “large scale, intensified agriculture.” According to the study, “landscape simplification,” or the replacement of native plants with cash crops, “negatively impacted” the total number of bees near hemp, but did not affect the number of species found. This research suggests that hemp, especially tall plants, could be crucial to stemming declining bee populations.
New York has taken significant steps to encourage the cultivation of hemp. In 2015, the Empire State launched a hemp agricultural research pilot program. Two years later, the state lifted limits on the number of sites authorized for hemp growth and research and expanded the program to include businesses and farmers.
Congress paved the way for a massive expansion of hemp production in 2018 after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) pushed to add a provision legalizing hemp into the 2018 Farm Bill, helping to make his home state of Kentucky a significant hemp producer.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has also been a champion of the hemp industry, and he’s taken steps to ensure that his state reaps the benefits of the crop’s legalization. After the Farm Bill was enacted, Schumer celebrated an announcement from a major cannabis company that said it would be investing millions into a hemp park in New York.
And after that company, Canopy Growth Corp., experienced a staffing shakeup, he called executives directly to confirm that plans were still on to launch the site.
Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.
People Are Skipping Sleep Aids In Favor of Marijuana, Study Reports
The scientific community is still unclear on whether or not marijuana can actually help treat sleep disturbances such as insomnia. A new study, however, found that fewer people purchase over-the-counter (OTC) sleep medications when they have legal access to cannabis.
“Our results show that the market share growth for sleep aids shrank with the entry of recreational cannabis dispensaries by more than 200% relative to the mean market share growth in our sample, and the strength of the association increased with each subsequent dispensary,” the paper, published in the December edition of Complementary Therapies in Medicine, concludes. “In particular, cannabis appears to compete favorably with OTC sleep aids, especially those containing diphenhydramine and doxylamine, which constitute 87.4% of the market for OTC sleep aids.”
“Recreational cannabis dispensaries greatly increase the number of individuals able to legally treat sleep disorders using cannabis, particularly those with mild to moderate sleep disorders.”
Researchers at the University of New Mexico and California State Polytechnic University used retail scanner data collected by the Nielsen Company to help them understand how access to recreational marijuana affected the sales of OTC sleep medications purchased at local stores in Colorado.
In their analysis, they studied the market shares of overall sleep aids—including supplements such as melatonin and pharmaceuticals such as diphenhydramine—at 587 stores. They also used monthly data from the Colorado Department of Revenue to compare the number of recreational dispensaries in each county as well as local cannabis retail sales figures.
“The negative association between cannabis access and sleep aid sales suggests a consumer preference for cannabis.”
It became legal for Colorado residents to purchase cannabis for adult use on January 1, 2014, and the study period covered December 2013 through December 2014.
According to the results, the market share for sleep aids was neither rising nor declining prior to a dispensary opening in the same county. After one did, however, the market share declined with each month of its existence. A regression model showed that sleep aid market share growth decreased by 236 percent after a dispensary entered the market, and this negative association increased as the number of dispensaries grew.
“The magnitude of the market share decline increases as more dispensaries enter a county and with higher county-level cannabis sales.”
“For the first time, we show a statistically significant negative association between recreational access to cannabis and OTC sleep aid sales, suggesting that at least some recreational purchasers are using cannabis for therapeutic rather than recreational purposes,” the study’s authors write.
“Additionally, despite a lack of direct clinical evidence on the effectiveness of self-managed cannabis as a sleep aid, our results indicate that enough individuals are switching from OTC sleep aids to recreational cannabis that we can identify a statistically significant reduction in the market share growth of OTC sleep aids in conjunction with access to recreational cannabis using a statistically conservative county-month-level treatment variable and a quasi-experimental research design,” the paper concluded.
“Our results are consistent with evidence that legal access to medical cannabis is associated with reductions in Scheduled II-V prescription medications (e.g., opioids and sedatives), many of which may be used in part as sleep aids,” the authors wrote.
“These findings support survey evidence that many individuals use cannabis to treat insomnia, although sleep disturbances are not a specific qualifying condition under any U.S. state-level medical cannabis law.”
Study author Sarah Stith, an applied microeconomist at the University of New Mexico, explained in a statement: “From a public health perspective, the possible widespread use of cannabis for less severe medical conditions both highlights its therapeutic potential and raises concerns regarding the risk-benefit tradeoffs of substituting a substance associated with abuse and dependence for relatively ineffective OTC medications with typically low levels of abuse potential.”
“From an economic or business perspective, regardless of underlying mechanism, our documentation of changing purchase behaviors has implications for multimillion-dollar US markets with OTC sleep aids likely just one example,” she said. “It is important for the medical community to recognize that the lack of medical guidance does not necessarily lead to a lack of medical use. Dispensaries and online forums are stepping up to fill the information vacuum as individuals are forced to take treatment into their own hands, with statistically evident effects on treatment choices.”
Photo by Wesley Gibbs on Unsplash
Scientist Talks Benefits Of Psychedelics At Federal Health Agency Event
A federal health agency hosted a leading psychedelics researcher on Tuesday for an event focused on the therapeutic potential of controlled substances such as psilocybin and DMT.
Roland Griffiths, who has spent decades studying various entheogenic plants and fungi, described the existing scientific literature and future research objectives during a speech organized by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The event was part of NIMH’s “Innovation Speaker” series.
The discussion, titled “Psilocybin: History, Neuropharmacology, and Implications for Therapeutics,” went over studies on the impact of psychedelics on mental health conditions such as depression and substance misuse, the subjective experience of individuals who’ve used such substances for recreational or spiritual purposes and the need for additional research into potential medical applications for psychedelics.
For example, Griffiths presented a slide on the “phenomenological dimensions of mystical experience” elicited from psychedelics. People reported a greater sense of unity, sacredness, “universal love” and “transcendence of time and space,” among other feelings.
He also explained how research has shown that the medically supervised administration of moderate to high doses of psilocybin, the main psychoactive ingredient in so-called magic mushrooms, “can produce substantial and enduring decreases in depressive mood.”
When he was later asked about the risks of psilocybin, Griffiths said the compound is “pretty benign physiologically” and that relatively rare side effects such as increased blood pressure and nausea are often secondary effects attributable to anxiety.
Throughout the presentation, the researcher, who heads Johns Hopkins University’s newly launched Center for Psychedelic Research, stressed the need for further studies, stating that if there’s “opportunity to do any level of analysis” on psychedelics, it should be pursued.
At 3 p.m. ET, TODAY, don’t miss Dr. Roland Griffiths, our next @NIMHgov Director’s Innovation Speaker! Dr. Griffiths will discuss his research on the behavioral and subjective effects of mood-altering drugs—namely the psychedelic psilocybin. Watch here: https://t.co/4vddJamioQ pic.twitter.com/ZVzfbGXPuh
— Joshua A. Gordon (@NIMHDirector) December 3, 2019
He also offered a preview of one area of focus his research center will be exploring: microdosing. While much of the existing research has focused on the impacts of full doses of psychedelics, he said his team will be exploring how taking smaller doses on a more regular basis can affect mental health and wellbeing.
In his final slide, Griffiths talked about other areas of research that should be investigated. That includes answering questions about how factors such as genetics and personality “affect the likelihood” of having positive responses to psychedelics, what kind of “structural and functional changes in the brain can account for the acute and enduring effects of such experiences,” what behavioral mechanisms are behind those changes and what therapeutic applications can be developed based on the data.
While federal agencies have largely avoided broad drug policy reform issues, there seems to be growing willingness to entertain conversations about psychedelics, as a decriminalization movement spreads nationwide.
For example, the heads of the Food and Drug Administration and NIH wrote a letter to a senator in June where they described the status of research into psychedelics such as psilocybin, LSD and ibogaine, which they said present an “opportunity to provide treatment to patients while expanding psychotherapy treatment options.”
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Mushroom Observer.