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Legal Marijuana Sales Don’t Increase Use, But Allowing Possession Does, Study Finds

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When penalties for marijuana possession are lifted, usage rates seem to increase—but that’s not the case when retail sales of cannabis are permitted. Those are the findings of a new study that seems to run contrary to a key talking point of groups that oppose legalization.

To learn how different reform policies impact consumption trends, researchers at Colorado Mesa University analyzed survey data from more than 1,400 people over the course of 17 months in Colorado, Washington and Australia. Their findings were recently published in the journal Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment.

While some prohibitionist groups have proposed simply removing penalties for possession as a preferred alternative to full commercial marijuana legalization—which they believe will create an industry incentivized to increase heavy cannabis consumption—the new study appears to undermine that position.

After Washington State instituted voter-approved legalization of cannabis consumption and possession, but before retail sales were allowed, there was a 12-22 percent spike in use among college undergraduates in the state.

However, the researchers “found no evidence” that the subsequent implementation of legal sales of recreational cannabis “influenced the number of marijuana users in Washington.”

A similar trend was observed when they looked at data from Australia. The country doesn’t allow legal cannabis sales, but after decriminalizing the plant, there was a 16 percent increase in consumption.

Because the researchers started collecting data from Colorado just three months before retail cannabis sales started, they didn’t reach a conclusion about how removing penalties for possession alone influenced consumption patterns. But the data did show that, in the year after retail sales launched, “rates of marijuana use did not significantly increase.”

The researchers said that the seemingly counterintuitive finding could interpreted a couple ways.

First, it’s possible that “the social and legal implications of legalizing recreational marijuana are stronger than accessibility and price,” they wrote. In other words, ending criminal penalties for cannabis and normalizing its consumption in a social context might lead to an increase in usage “even before it is sold to the public through legal means.”

“It is important to note, however, that it is reasonable to assume that people would be more truthful and more likely to report marijuana use after its legalization,” they wrote, referring to common study methodology that relies on consumers’ own self reports to track usage levels. “Thus, some of the increase in rates of marijuana use may be an artifact of a greater willingness to report such use, since social and legal barriers were removed by legalization.”

The other inference that can be drawn from the study is that “marijuana is easily accessed even when it is not sold in stores recreationally.” It may be easy to access prior to removal of penalties for possession, too, but legal and social barriers associated with prohibition could suppress its use—or at least lead people not to report about their consumption truthfully when asked in a survey.

All that said, the study authors emphasized that “the conclusions drawn in this commentary are based on observable patterns from correlational research, limiting conclusions of cause and effect.”

States With Legal Medical Marijuana Have Lower Teen Use Rates, Large-Scale Study Finds

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Science & Health

Medical Marijuana Patients With ADHD Use Fewer Prescription Drugs, Study Finds

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When people with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) consume more medical marijuana they tend to use fewer prescription drugs, including powerful, habit-forming psychostimulants, according to a new study.

Patients who used medical cannabis components—cannabinoids themselves as well as terpenes— also “reported a higher occurrence of stopping all ADHD medications,” the researchers, whose findings were published late last month in the Rambam Maimonides Medical Journal, wrote.

“In this study, we demonstrated that patients treated with [medical cannabis] stopped their ADHD medications, especially in the high MC dose and in the low ADHD symptoms frequency subgroups.”

Specifically, the study found that the cannabinoid CBN, or cannabinol, which is found in the plant in only trace amounts, seemed to trigger the best results—though they conceded that “more studies are needed in order to fully understand” if cannabis and its constituents can be a workable ADHD treatment.

“These results, although not causal, might shed light on the potential beneficial effects of [medical cannabis] on ADHD symptom severity and motivate future prospective studies in order to validate our results,” the researchers concluded, “and perhaps even consider making ADHD an approved indication” for medical cannabis where it is legal.

The team collected data from 53 Israeli medical cannabis patients in an existing database who had previously agreed to participate in surveys and who also had an ADHD diagnosis. Thirty-seven of the 53 patients suffered from some from of mental health condition.

Participants were asked to self-report monthly doses, how they consumed cannabis, the manufacturer or grower and the cultivar name (or strain) between October 2019 and January 2020.

“These findings reveal that the higher-dose consumption of [medical cannabis] components (phyto-cannabinoids and terpenes) is associated with ADHD medication reduction.”

This is a departure from previous research into ADHD and cannabis, the researchers noted. Prior studies had “considered cannabis as a single product in ADHD research, disregarding its inherent complexities and variability between cultivars and combinations of cultivars,” they wrote.

Most patients had previously obtained medical cannabis licenses (the terminology used in Israel) for chronic pain or cancer treatment rather than neurological disorders that co-exist with ADHD.

Forty-seven patients in the study, which was funded by the Evelyn Gruss Lipper Charitable Foundation, reported either smoking or vaporizing their cannabis.

The cannabis consumers were divided into two subgroups: high dose and low dose. Cultivar combinations were complicated: There were 27 different combinations of varieties but, in addition to CBN, the cannabinoids most associated with reduced or eliminated ADHD medication use including THC, THCV and CBD.

Exactly how various combinations of cannabinoids and terpenes “modulate the circuitry involved in both ADHD and comorbid psychiatric conditions” is still unclear, the researchers said. But the study also suggests that finding the proper dose and the proper cultivar—and cultivar combination—may require significant experimentation on the part of the patient.

And patients in Israel enjoy more reliable access to more regulated cultivars than patients anywhere else in the world—suggesting that most American patients, with a basic understanding of THC and CBD and not a lot else, still have a ways to go.

“This indicates a more complex story than simply stratifying treatment based on THC and CBD alone,” the researchers wrote.

Businesses Are More Profitable And Innovative In States With Legal Marijuana, Study Finds

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Hemp Is For Horses? New Study Examines CBD’s Calming And Painkilling Effects In Animals

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Imagine you’re a race horse. Do you get nervous before the starting bell?

Scientists are curious to learn if CBD might help.

The hype around cannabidiol has hit the equestrian world hard since the 2018 Farm Bill federally legalized industrial hemp and its derivatives, including CBD. While federal officials have yet to finalize rules formally allowing the non-intoxicating cannabinoid in animal feed—or in food products for humans for that matter—CBD supplements have become hot products among horse owners looking to ease pain, reduce pain in muscles and joints and calm signs of stress in their animals.

Now researchers want to know if they actually work. A Texas-based team is currently collecting data on how CBD affects equine physiology. In particular, their new study is examining whether the cannabis compound can help reduce stress, inflammation and obsessive compulsive behaviors in horses.

“I had been interested in the CBD movement for a while, and primarily it is because we’re in a highly horse-populated area,” said Kimberly Guay, a professor at Tarleton State University in Stephenville who specializes in how stress affects animals. “A lot of the horse people I knew were already using CBD, illegally you would say, because it wasn’t legal in Texas at the time.”

Guay’s team is experimenting by giving horses various doses of CBD, generally in the form of oils and edible pellets, and then assessing how they respond. Researchers monitor the animals’ heart rates, inflammation and levels of cortisol, a hormone animals produce under stress. They also observe the horses’ behavior, looking for how CBD affects behavioral indications of pain, stiffness or anxiety.

Guay herself said she has no vested interest in the outcome of the study and doesn’t currently give CBD to her own horse, but she’s eager to see whether the data support what she’s heard from other owners. “The anecdotal evidence is incredibly strong,” Guay told Marijuana Moment in an interview. “And if there is a chance to mediate stress, then I’m all for it.”

The team is aiming to publish the results of the study next year, but Guay said some initial findings could be available as soon as this fall.

“I still can’t say one way or the other, but I know there’s no adverse effects, apparently,” she said, explaining that researchers have given some animals “a significant dose, and there was no obvious adverse reactions from it.”

Across the country, the U.S. Equestrian Federation, which sets the rules for most of the country’s competitive horse events, noted last year that “cannabinoids have gained increased attention and have become nearly mainstream.”

But the rulemaking body said that a horse testing positive for CBD violates competition rules because the cannabinoid is “likely to [affect] the performance of a horse due to its reported anxiolytic effects,” referring to the compound’s apparent role in reducing anxiety.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is responsible for regulating the country’s animal feed, and so far CBD has been forbidden. Guay said that if the horse study shows positive results, CBD could also be looked at as a supplement for livestock used for food production.

“If there’s some version of the byproduct of the plant in hemp that could be utilized or incorporated into feed or whatever that could help minimize stress for livestock animals, that would be a huge benefit,” she said.

Currently stress in livestock is managed either with behavioral controls, such as limiting the amount of time animals spend in confined spaces, or through the use of sedative drugs. But sedatives, Guay said, can affect an animal’s balance and its ability to regulate body temperature.

Anecdotally, horse owners who experimented with giving CBD to their animals continued using it “because they believed so strongly in the effects CBD was giving them without the need for sedation,” Guay said.

“That intrigued me,” she added. “We can get the empirical evidence, it’s just going to take time and some effort.”

Most horse owners she’s talked to are on board with the study, Guay said, and are eager to hear the results. But stigma around CBD, even when produced from industrial hemp, remains evident in her home state of Texas, which legalized hemp and CBD production in mid-2019. Federal regulators approved the state’s hemp plan last month.

Guay told Marijuana Moment that she’d been interested in studying the effects of CBD on horses prior to Texas legalizing, but the university system was wary. “I had been chasing this project for a year before it was legal in Texas, and the A&M system would not give me clearance,” she said. “I knew the wave was coming.”

Even today, there are still lingering fears. “People holler at [research assistants] on the phone and voice their opinion,” Guay said, “and some people hang up on them because of that stereotype, that stigma that comes with CBD so far.”

Among the broader veterinary community, that stigma is slowly fading. A survey last year found that most veterinarians consider themselves fairly knowledgeable about recommending cannabinoid therapy for dogs, for example. The problem? Respondents said their state veterinary associations didn’t provide specific guidance on the subject, even in states where cannabis was legal. They also felt research was lacking.

More research is coming, even if it’s not quite keeping up with industry hype. In his annual budget proposal released last week, President Donald Trump directed $500,000 to the FDA’s Animal Drugs and Feeds program in order to “strengthen its capacity to evaluate scientific data related to the safe use of cannabis and cannabis derivatives in animal products.”

Asked if she’d tried CBD herself since Texas legalized the products, Guay at Tarleton State said she had. “Of course I’m going to try it,” she replied. “We’re making our animals ingest it, so I wanted to see what their experience is. They can’t talk.”

She hasn’t noticed many effects so far from cannabis oils, she said, other than “some versions taste terrible.” But after recently using a topical cream, she felt the product may actually have helped. “I have tennis elbow, and I rubbed it on my elbow, and I feel like it significantly helps my elbow. It reduced the pain in my elbow,” she said.

Despite a positive result, Guay knows her evidence is only anecdotal. She knows better than to put stock in what could be a placebo affect.

“I’d have to quantify it,” she said. “I always need numbers.”

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Lasers Can Tell Hemp And Marijuana Apart With ‘100 Percent Accuracy,’ Scientists Reveal

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Hemp can look and smell like marijuana, presenting a series of challenges to law enforcement and farmers alike. But according to new research, lasers can be used to tell the difference between the two cannabis crops in a fast, affordable and highly precise way.

In a study published last month in the journal RSC Advances, a team of researchers at Texas A&M University were able to “determine whether plant material is hemp or [marijuana] with 100% accuracy” by using a hand-held laser device called a Raman spectrometer (RS).

To test whether the tool could effectively distinguish the two plants, fresh samples of hemp and marijuana strains were frozen, which, according to the authors, “does not result in any noticeable changes in plant appearance or texture.”

The researchers observed that lasers could reliably map a “change of intensities” in vibrational bands, which indicated “structural differences between hemp and [marijuana] plants.”

The results found that hemp has more cellulose, compared to marijuana plants.

“Because of the portable nature of our analysis, this spectroscopic approach will be highly advantageous for police and border control officers.”

The Raman spectrometer was also shown to potentially identify different strains by accurately measuring the potency of individual plants, which “can be used for confirmatory, non-invasive and non-destructive detection and identification of cannabis,” the authors wrote.

The researchers noted that their device detects delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) which is itself non-psychoactive but turns into the intoxicating compound THC when it undergoes decarboxylation (usually by being heated). “[W]e can speculate that RS allows to predict the amount of THC in the analyzed sample without necessary oxidation of THCA to THC,” they wrote.

Additional laboratory testing is underway “to determine accuracy and range” of THCA prediction with the device.

Hemp is defined under federal law as having no more than 0.3 percent total THC, with a negligence threshold of 0.5 percent. And while there’s strong bipartisan interest in ensuring that hemp farmers have the resources they need following the crop’s federal legalization, proving that the plant isn’t marijuana currently requires costly and lengthy laboratory analysis.

“These results demonstrate that RS can be a great tool for hemp cultivation and breeding allowing for accurate detection of THCA levels in intact growing plants.”

With the right tools, officials could quickly determine whether a plant in question is hemp or marijuana, which remains prohibited federally and in several states.

In December, a Texas man was arrested when his vehicle was found hauling more than a ton of cannabis through Amarillo. The plants were seized, and the driver spent almost a month in jail before lab results showed he was transporting hemp.

Other similar discrepancies and mistakes are likely to keep occurring in states and municipalities across the country as new hemp laws come online.

Marijuana prosecutions in Texas were cut in half after hemp laws changed, for example, an unintentional side effect of expanding access to the non-intoxicating cannabis crop. Because police officers in many cases can’t determine whether a cannabis sample is legal hemp or illegal marijuana, prosecutors in the state and others across the country have stopped pursuing many cases until testing methods are more readily available.

The promising new laser technology could mean fewer headaches on the part of state and federal regulators—and a lower risk of getting tied up with law enforcement for law-abiding hemp traders.

“These findings suggest that a hand-held Raman spectrometer can be an ideal tool for police officers and hemp breeders to enable highly accurate diagnostics of THCA content in plants,” the researchers concluded.

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