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Legalized ‘Light Cannabis’ Linked With Drop In Pharmaceutical Sales, Study Finds

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Last week, Italy’s interior minister declared “war” on “light cannabis,” or low-THC hemp flower that shops across the country sell to consumers using a legal loophole. It’s unclear if they’ll continue to do so come June, however, as the nation’s Supreme Court of Cassation is expected to weigh in on the legality of selling hemp later this month.

Yet, in the first 10 months after light cannabis became available for purchase, the country’s National Health Service saw a noteworthy decrease in the number of pharmaceutical drugs it dispensed, a new study reports.

“Specifically,” researchers from York University in the United Kingdom wrote, “after the introduction of the policy, we find that the arrival of light cannabis in a given province led to a reduction in the number of dispensed boxes of anxiolytics by approximately 11.5%, reduction of dispensed sedatives by 10% and a reduction of dispensed anti-psychotics by 4.8%.”

The study, published in the Health Econometrics and Data Group Working Paper series, is one of the first to look into how people use cannabis to self-medicate.

In 2016, a new law in Italy regulating hemp production unintentionally set off a “green gold rush”: Cannabis flower with 0.2 percent THC or less became legal to purchase as a “collector’s item.” People can buy jars of hemp flower, but are not technically allowed to consume it. Not unlike the U.S.’s 2018 Farm Bill that federally legalized industrial hemp, Italy’s law removed certain restrictions around the plant. Within months, retailers in the country were selling hemp bud as a “technical product.”

The study’s authors found “the unintended liberalization of light cannabis” as a great entry-point to study how accessibility to cannabis can potentially spur people to turn to cannabis as substitution for traditional drugs.

“[W]e find that the local market accessibility of light cannabis led to a reduction in dispensed packets of opioids, anxiolytics, sedatives, anti-migraines, antiepileptics, anti-depressives and anti-psychotics.”

For their research, they collected monthly data on pharmaceutical drug sales for all 106 Italian provinces from January 2016 to February 2018. On a monthly average, they found the Italian health authority provides reimbursements for 28 packets of sedatives and 72 boxes of anxiolytics (or anti-anxiety medication) per province. They also documented the reimbursement of 12,610 packets for opioids, 18,460 packets for antiepileptics, 27,198 packets for anti-depressants, 4,802 packets for anti-psychotics, and 2,504 boxes for anti-migraines.

After light cannabis became readily available at retail shops, the average number of dispensed pharmaceuticals dropped by approximately 1.6 percent. Prescriptions for drugs typically used to treat anxiety and psychosis—conditions for which CBD has been found to impact—decreased the most.

“This is intuitively explained by the relaxant properties of CBD, which is often used to treat sleep disorders,” the study states. “Moreover, the large coefficient we observe for sedatives and anxiolytics are also consistent with substitution stemming from self-assessment and self-medication, that is, the possibility to individually evaluate symptoms (i.e. anxiety and insomnia) and, consequently, to decide whether to take a pill.”

Researchers also documented a small decrease in the average number of packets dispensed for anti-epileptics (-1.5%), anti-depressives (- 1.2%), opioids (-1.2%) and anti-migraines (approximately -1%) as well.

Ultimately, the study concludes that “even a mild form of liberalization may generate a significant spillover effect on the market for pharmaceuticals.” As a result, the researchers encourage policymakers to consider regulating the light cannabis market more effectively and evaluate how hemp-derived CBD can be used medicinally.

Meanwhile in the U.S., Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials are still trying to figure out how to regulate products containing CBD. It could take several years without congressional action, FDA’s commissioner said recently.

FDA Is Taking Public Comments On CBD. Here’s How To Make Your Voice Heard

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Lawson.

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.

Politics

Top Federal Drug Official Says There’s ‘No Evidence’ That Occasional Marijuana Use Is Harmful For Adults

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The head of the nation’s top federal drug research agency says that she’s yet to see evidence that occasional marijuana use by adults is harmful.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow made the remarks in an interview with FiveThirtyEight that was published on Tuesday. It’s a notable admission given that the agency has historically gone to great lengths to highlight the potential risks of cannabis consumption.

“There’s no evidence to my knowledge that occasional [adult] marijuana use has harmful effects. I don’t know of any scientific evidence of that,” Volkow said. “I don’t think it has been evaluated. We need to test it.”

The quote stood out in an article that generally attempts to highlight possible risks of cannabis use while providing an overview of studies that run the gamut on marijuana health impacts. Volkow also said she found it “surprising” that research has indicated that cannabis consumers tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI).

“BMI is lower in marijuana users, and that was very surprising, and yet we know that high BMI, particularly the older you get, can have negative effects,” she said. “This is why we need to study it.”

This is certainly not to say that the NIDA director supports marijuana commercialization efforts. But to advocates, it’s encouraging to see a federal health official rely on the science and acknowledge that, as it stands, the evidence hasn’t pointed to serious harms for adults who occasionally use cannabis.

She did tell FiveThirtyEight that she is “absolutely” concerned about use by young people and said that daily consumption of high-THC products ““can have harmful effects even on the adult brain.”

But Volkow has taken a fairly level-headed approach to marijuana, pointing out potential dangers for adolescents and pregnant women, for example, while at the same time acknowledging that her expectations about the impact of state-level reforms haven’t always come to fruition.

For example, she recognized in a podcast interview released in August that cannabis legalization has not led to increased youth use despite her prior fears, and she spoke about the therapeutic potential of certain psychedelics that have long been deemed “dangerous” under federal law.

The official has also emphasized the need to address substance misuse with a public health lens, rather than subject people to criminalization for using drugs.

She said in an op-ed earlier this month that “stigma remains one of the biggest obstacles to confronting America’s current drug crisis,” and the government bears some responsibility in perpetuating those stigmas.

“Government policies, including criminal justice measures, often reflect—and contribute to—stigma,” she said. “When we penalize people who use drugs because of an addiction, we suggest that their use is a character flaw rather than a medical condition. And when we incarcerate addicted individuals, we decrease their access to treatment and exacerbate the personal and societal consequences of their substance use.”

Volkow also talked about how decriminalization, coupled with increased treatment, would represent a superior alternative to incarcerating people over drugs in a recent interview with Marijuana Moment.

In other recent remarks, she argued that there’s no need for further research to prove that the criminalization of drugs has disproportionately impacted communities of color.

And when it comes to marijuana research, the official has said that scientists should be allowed to investigate products from state-legal dispensaries instead of using only government-grown plants.

NIDA separately submitted a report to congressional lawmakers emphasizing that the Schedule I status of controlled substances like cannabis is preventing or discouraging research into their potential risks and benefits.

It also said that current restrictions that block scientists from studying the actual cannabinoid products that consumers can purchase at dispensaries is impeding research to an extent that constitutes a public health concern.

Credit Unions Urge Congress To Pass Marijuana Banking Reform Through Defense Bill

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Science & Health

Dogs Are Being Exposed To Marijuana Through Human Poop And Pet Owners Should Beware, Study Finds

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A word of caution to dog owners: apparently some canines are getting intoxicated off marijuana by eating the feces of people who’ve consumed cannabis, according to a new study.

Dogs are natural scavengers, and so the instinct to eat poop—while gross—is just a fact of life. But a team of Australian researchers found that, in some cases, that instinct can become dangerous, warranting the attention of puppy parents.

The study, published in the Australian Veterinary Journal, looked at 15 cases of confirmed THC toxicosis in dogs who were suspected of, or observed to have, ingested human feces in Melbourne from 2011-2020.

The dogs presented symptoms of incoordination, dilated pupils, urinary incontinence and stupor. Urine tests from eight of the dogs showed THC metabolites in their system.

However, study author Clara Lauinger told Marijuana Moment that this shouldn’t necessarily be taken to mean that any level of THC is toxic in dogs.

“The animals in my study had ingested an unknown quantity of feces that contained an unknown concentration of THC and so one would assume this concentration would be at a level that clearly caused toxicity,” she wrote in an email. “However this does not mean that all THC ingestions can lead to toxicity.”

In fact, there are other studies where animals were administered a controlled dosage of THC and “not a single one of them displayed any adverse effects that we might see with toxicity,” she said.

“There are so so many anecdotal reports of the huge benefits that THC administration has on animals, albeit reports are from owners perception rather than peer reviewed research, but this does not mean the industry should disparage THC as a therapeutic agent,” Lauinger said.

Most of the dogs in her new study apparently ate the poop at local parks, while others ingested it at the beach, camp sites and walking trails.

“All dogs survived to discharge. Ingestion of human feces containing THC may lead to marijuana toxicosis in dogs,” the study states. “Veterinary staff and owners should be attentive in regard to using appropriate hygiene measures when managing these dogs.”

The authors said that there are a number of reasons that a dog might eat poop—or, put scientifically, engage in coprophagy. But they floated one possibility for the marijuana-specific feces-eating trend: “It is possible that the presence of marijuana in feces increases its attractiveness for ingestion by altering its scent, texture and/or taste.”

Also, while this study is limited to data on about two dozen dogs in one city of Australia, the authors also said that the habit “might be more common than what owners report,” pointing to Google search results from people reporting a dog ate feces and exhibited signs of lethargy.

The idea of dogs getting high off THC-containing human waste might seem like a stretch on its own, but the study also explains that canines have more cannabinoid receptors than humans, “making dogs more sensitive to the effects of THC.”

“In conclusion, this case series suggests that ingestion of feces produced by a human marijuana user may lead to signs of marijuana toxicosis,” the researchers said. “Clinical signs of toxicosis were similar to those previously reported for dogs with conrmed marijuana toxicosis though gastrointestinal signs were not the most common feature despite coprophagy.”

“Veterinary staff and owners should be mindful of this exposure source to ensure appropriate hygiene measures are taken when managing these dogs,” the study says.

Lauinger said that there “needs to be an industrywide understanding of the fact that there are so many different strains of cannabis and each of these strains has different cannabinoid profiles that have possible potential for beneficial therapeutic effects.”

“These strains could be researched with a focus on what ones are suitable for animals and at what dose rather than blanketing all strains as being toxic,” she said. “I hope the public can be patient and also get behind us researching the dosing more.”

While there are clear concerns about dogs ingesting excess levels of THC, studies have found promising results when it comes to the therapeutic potential of other cannabinoids like CBD for pets.

For example, dogs with epilepsy experience considerably fewer seizures when treated with CBD oil, a study published in the journal Pet Behaviour Science in 2019 found.

The prior year, a separate study determined that CBD can alleviate the symptoms of osteoarthritis in dogs.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), for its part, has repeatedly warned pet owners about using CBD to treat firework-related anxiety in pets around the July 4 holiday.

“You should be aware that FDA has NOT evaluated these products and can’t say whether they are safe or effective, how they are manufactured, or whether they contain CBD,” the agency said this year.

Germany Will Legalize Marijuana And Promote Drug Harm Reduction, Governing Party Coalition Officially Announces

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Psychedelics Use Associated With 55 Percent Decrease In Daily Opioid Consumption, Study Finds

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The use of psychedelics like LSD, psilocybin, mescaline and DMT is associated with a significant decrease in illicit opioid consumption, according to a new study.

Researchers looked at data from “three harmonized prospective cohorts of community-recruited” people with substance misuse disorders. A total of 3,813 individuals were involved, including 1,093 who reported illicit opioid consumption and 229 who said they’d used psychedelics in the past six months.

“Recent psychedelic use was associated with 55% reduced odds of daily opioid use,” the Vancouver-based study, published last week in the Journal of International Drug Policy, found.

While there have been numerous studies connecting legal marijuana access to reduced opioid use and fewer overdose deaths, this is “the first longitudinal study to link psychedelic use with lower daily opioid use,” the paper says.

“Over study follow-up after adjusting for a range of potential confounders, psychedelic use remained independently associated with a significantly reduced odds of subsequent daily opioid use,” the study states. “While confirmation in other settings is required, these findings align with growing evidence that psychedelic use may be associated with detectable reductions in subsequent substance use including illicit opioid use.”

While there’s not a clear explanation for the trend—and the researchers urged additional studies—psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA have been touted as potentially powerful tools in mental health treatment, effectively treating conditions like severe depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction.

“These findings align with growing evidence demonstrating that psychedelic use may be associated with detectable reductions in subsequent opioid use, and warrant further research on psychedelics for opioid and other substance use disorders,” the study’s lead author, Elena Argento of the University of British Columbia, told Marijuana Moment.

“This study found naturalistic psychedelic use to be independently associated with a significantly reduced odds of subsequent daily illicit opioid use among a community-based sample of [people who use drugs],” the study concluded. “More research with controlled trials and longer-term follow-up is required to elucidate the therapeutic potential of psychedelics to augment existing interventions for substance use disorders, including among more diverse populations. Additional qualitative studies would also provide opportunities to improve understanding of the possible psycho-social mechanisms underpinning psychedelic experiences.”

Another recent study found that when people use cannabis together with psychedelics, it was “associated with higher scores of mystical-type experience, ego-dissolution and visual alterations.”

With respect to marijuana alone, a study published earlier this year found that cannabis use is associated with significant reductions in dependence on opioids and other prescription drugs, as well as an increase in quality of life

Another study released last year determined that states with active medical marijuana laws saw certain opioid prescription rates drop nearly 20 percent compared to prohibition states.

Using Marijuana With Psychedelics Intensifies The Mystical Experience, Study Finds

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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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