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.
A ‘Significant’ Number Of Patients Stopped Taking Benzodiazepines After Starting Medical Marijuana
Nearly half of patients using marijuana to help with their respective medical conditions stopped taking prescribed benzodiazepines, a new study reports.
“Within a cohort of 146 patients initiated on medical cannabis therapy, 45.2% patients successfully discontinued their pre-existing benzodiazepine therapy,” the study’s authors write. “This observation merits further investigation into the risks and benefits of the therapeutic use of medical cannabis and its role relating to benzodiazepine use.”
While much research has been dedicated to understanding how medical cannabis could potentially replace opioids for patients who deal with chronic pain and other ailments, the new study suggests patients who take Valium, Xanax and other popular tranquilizers for neurological conditions (such as anxiety, insomnia and seizures) may find relief through marijuana. The findings were published last month in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research.
Researchers in Canada conducted a retrospective analysis of data collected from a group of patients who had been referred to the Canabo Medical Clinic for medical cannabis to treat a variety of medical conditions. They identified 146 patients who reported taking benzodiazepines regularly at the start of their cannabis therapy.
According to their findings, 44 patients (30 percent) had discontinued their benzodiazepines by their first follow-up visit. Another 21 had stopped the benzodiazepine treatment by their second follow-up visit, and one more person reported doing so at the third visit. All in all, 66 patients, or 45 percent of the sample, stopped taking benzodiazepines after starting a medical marijuana regimen.
“Patients initiated on medical cannabis therapy showed significant benzodiazepine discontinuation rates after their first follow-up visit to their medical cannabis prescriber, and continued to show significant discontinuation rates thereafter,” the study states. “Discontinuation was not associated with any measured demographic characteristic. Patients also reported decreased daily distress due to their medical condition(s) following prescription cannabinoids.”
The amount of CBD and THC content did not appear to play a role in who continued to discontinued taking the tranquilizers.
The design of the study, however, limited the authors’ ability to speculate about the mechanisms underscoring their results. Additionally, because they didn’t have access to information on what marijuana strains patients used or how they consumed it, the authors caution that their results can’t be generalized to what’s available in legal commercial markets today.
“The study results are encouraging, and this work is concurrent with growing public interest in a rapidly developing Canadian cannabis market,” said lead author Chad Purcell in a statement. “We are advising the public to observe caution. The results do not suggest that cannabis should be used an alternative to conventional therapies. Our purpose is inspiring others to advance current cannabis understanding as we collect stronger efficacy and safety data that will lead to responsible policy and recommended practices for use.”
The study also serves as an opportunity to draw more attention to the potential risks associated with benzodiazepines, Purcell told PsyPost. “I was interested in this project because it presented an opportunity to address benzodiazepines and cannabis use, both of which are becoming increasingly socially relevant. Benzodiazepines can be effective in treating many medical conditions but unlike opioids, there seems to be little public awareness of the risks associated with these commonly used prescription medications.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overdose deaths related to benzodiazepines rose 830 percent between 1999 and 2017.
Photo courtesy of Ndispensable.
Marijuana Legalization Doesn’t Cause Increased Crime, Federally Funded Study Finds
Legalizing marijuana has little to no impact on rates of violent or property crime, according to a new study that was funded by a federal agency. The policy change did seem connected to a long-term decline in burglaries in one state, however.
While previous attempts to understand the relationship between legal cannabis markets and crime have turned up mixed results, researchers involved in this study used an enhanced methodology—a “quasi-experimental, multi-group interrupted time-series design”—to produce stronger evidence.
The study, published in the journal Justice Quarterly and funded by the federal National Institute of Justice, found that violent and property crimes rates were not affected in a statistically significant way in the years after Colorado and Washington State became the first in the nation to legalize marijuana for adult use.
“Our results suggest that marijuana legalization and sales have had minimal to no effect on major crimes in Colorado or Washington,” the paper concluded. “We observed no statistically significant long-term effects of recreational cannabis laws or the initiation of retail sales on violent or property crime rates in these states.”
The study authors explicitly cited claims made by prohibitionist group Smart Approaches to Marijuana and author Alex Berenson as being contradicted by their findings.
To determine the impact of legalization, researchers designed experimental models that compared crime rates in Colorado and Washington to those in 21 non-legal states from 1999 to 2016. The analysis was based on FBI data on violent, property, aggravated assault, auto theft, burglary, larceny and robbery crime rates.
Following legalization, there were one-time increases in property crime in the two states, as well as a spike in aggravated assault in Washington, but those did not reflect long-term trends, “suggesting that if marijuana legalization influenced crime, it was short-lived,” the study authors wrote.
There was one statistically significant long-term impact that the researchers did attribute to state marijuana laws: The burglary rate in Washington decreased, and that trend has held.
It’s not immediately clear why that is the case, and the study’s conclusion encourages future research that replicates and refines the design used for this experiment to solve answered questions.
“In summary, our results suggest that there may have been some immediate increases in crime at the point of legalization, yet there have been essentially no longterm shifts in crime rates because of legalization, aside from a decline in Burglary in Washington. Though the short-term increases might appear to suggest that marijuana increased crime, we caution against this interpretation as the increases do not reflect permanent shifts (that is, these are shifts in intercepts, not slopes) and could be artificially induced by the small number of time units between legalization and sales.”
Dale Willits, a study coauthor, said in a press release that in light of the “nationwide debate about legalization, the federal classification of cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act, and the consequences of legalization for crime continues, it is essential to center that discussion on studies that use contextualized and robust research designs with as few limitations as possible.”
“This is but one study and legalization of marijuana is still relatively new, but by replicating our findings, policymakers can answer the question of how legalization affects crime,” he said.
Study authors also noted that their analysis did not take into account other crimes such as drug impaired driving.
“Given the likelihood of further liberalization of state and even federal marijuana laws, it is imperative that policy makers and research funders allocate the necessary resources to conduct these more rigorous and intensive types of contextualized studies,” they concluded. “Large-scale policy shifts can take a considerable amount of time to produce stable and understandable effects.”
This is the second recent study that’s received Justice Department funding and arrived at a conclusion that runs against the logic of prohibition. Another example looked at the impact of legalization on law enforcement resources and trafficking trends.
Pilot Study Shows Marijuana Can Help Chronic Pain Patients Stop Taking Opioids
When chronic pain patients participated in a program to reduce their use of opioids with medical marijuana, a quarter of them completely stopped taking opioid medications within half a year, a new pilot study reports.
“After 6 months, 156 patients (26%) had ceased taking opioids,” the paper states. “An additional 329 patients (55%) had reduced their opioid use by an average of 30%. One hundred fourteen patients (19%) neither increased nor decreased their opioid use.”
The study, led by Toronto-based chronic pain specialist Dr. Kevin Rod, was published in American Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience.
For his pilot study, Rod recruited 600 chronic pain patients who received care at his practice, Toronto Poly Clinic. Their daily opioid doses averaged 120mg morphine equivalent; among the sample, 95 patients were taking between 180mg to 240mg a day to manage their pain.
Rod created a tapering plan for each patient based on their individual needs. Usually, that meant opioid doses were reduced approximately 10 percent every one to two weeks. As the study’s participants lowered the dosage of pharmaceuticals they were taking to deal with pain, they were authorized to consume CBD and THC products in the range of 4 to 6 percent. The cannabis doses were related to the amount of opioids were tapered: that is, half a gram of marijuana a day for each 10 percent reduction in opioid dose as needed. To reduce the risk of additional harm, patients were advised to consume sublingually, orally or by vaping.
Additionally, patients received psychological support via a web-based mental health tool called Zendose, and were monitored regularly by physicians. During their visits to the clinic, patients were assessed for pain, quality of life, whether tapering appeared to be effective, and if there were any withdrawal symptoms, among other things.
Six months after beginning the program, 156 patients were weaned off opioids completely, while more than half of the sample (329) had reduced their intake by an average of 30 percent. These patients reported consuming 1 to 3 grams of cannabis per day. Nineteen percent (114), however, were unable to reduce the amount of opioids they were taking, though they also did not increase their dosage either. One participant did increase their opioid dosage due to “poorly controlled pain and an aggravated pain condition,” the study states. “With that one exception, all patients expressed satisfaction with their pain control, sleep and quality of life. No opioid withdrawal symptoms were noted in follow-up appointments.”
“This [Medical Cannabis – Opioid Reduction Program] pilot study outlines a patient-centered approach, with an individualized program for tapering opioid use,” the study concludes. “The positive results justify further investigation.”
Last year, Rod was a speaker at the World Cannabis Congress in New Brunswick. There, he advocated for the use of cannabis as a tool in the opioid crisis. “As front line fighters in the fight against pain,” he said, “we’re always looking for new ways to treat or manage chronic pain, and it’s not very often that we have a new solution.”
Photo courtesy of Get Budding.