Supporters and opponents of marijuana reform have engaged in a years-long debate over the impact of legalization on crime.
Now, researchers at the think tank RAND recently studied the issue in an effort to deliver fact-based answers.
The takeaway was clear. County-level data from California suggested that there was “no relationship between county laws that legally permit dispensaries and reported violent crime,” the researchers wrote. What’s more, there was a “negative and significant relationship between dispensary allowances and property crime rates,” though it’s possible that’s the product of “pre-existing trends.”
Why has this issue become so polarizing?
For those opposed to legalization, the presence of dispensaries in communities has been interpreted as a potential target for crime. There’s a fear that dispensaries will be burglarized by criminal organizations, for instance.
But on the other hand, legalization proponents argue the exact opposite, contending that establishing regulated marijuana markets takes money out of the unregulated market, depriving gangs and cartels of profits from cannabis and reducing crime.
Of course, there have been examples of dispensaries being burglarized. And there is a case to be made that current federal restrictions, which have prevented cannabis businesses from accessing banks and force many to operate in cash, could represent an incentive for criminals. But research—including this latest study—does not bear out the central claim that the mere presence of legal cannabis dispensaries leads to higher rates of crime.
Why? One of the theories the paper introduces is the notion that “dispensaries help reduce crime by reducing vacant buildings and putting more security in these areas.” Another possibility is that by legitimizing and regulating a previously illicit market, law enforcement and court systems are then freed up to pursue other cases, without wasting resources on marijuana enforcement.
How did the researchers reach this conclusion?
The longitudinal study relied on two main datasets. The first looked at which of California’s 58 counties have permitted dispensaries since the state’s medical marijuana program launched in 1996, and when those counties granted approval. The second included information about property and violent crime over the same time period. By combining these datasets, the researchers were able to determine whether counties that have allowed dispensaries to run experience more or different crime compared to those without dispensaries—and also whether crime increased or decreased after a county started permitting dispensaries.
“We find no significant impact of dispensaries on violent crime in any of our models,” the paper concluded.
“For property crimes, we see no effect from adopting dispensaries in the model excluding county-specific time trends.”
But other models the research team ran actually found that property crimes decreased in counties that allowed dispensaries. One model showed a “5.1 percent statistically significant drop in reported property offenses during the years in which counties allowed for dispensaries.” Another linear model showed a slightly greater reduction, at 6.3 percent.
One last finding the researchers briefly touched on concerned rates of DUI arrests.
Though it is difficult to come to definitive conclusions about the relationship between DUI arrests and legalization—in part because the crime data doesn’t differentiate between substances and there’s currently no technology that can detect active impairment from marijuana, which can stay in your system for weeks—the researchers did find a significant increase in DUI arrests in counties with dispensaries.
Studies and surveys have consistently found that access to legal cannabis leads some to use marijuana as a substitute for alcohol and various prescription drugs.
However, “the potential positive relationship between dispensaries and DUI arrests we find in our analysis suggests that either increases in marijuana-impaired driving exceeded reductions in alcohol impaired driving (a hypothesis we find highly unlikely) or that the opening of dispensaries induced use of both substances among those who were willing to drive impaired (more likely),” the paper determined.
CBD Might Help You Cut Back On Drinking Alcohol And Reduce Its Damaging Effects, Study Says
CBD, the widely available cannabinoid touted for various health benefits, may have the potential to help people with serious alcohol issues, according to a new review of current scientific evidence.
Not only does cannabidiol appear to “facilitate drinking reduction,” the paper’s authors write, but research also shows the compound “may provide idiosyncratic protection to the liver and brain, which could reduce the development and impact of alcohol-related liver disease and alcohol-related brain injury.”
The review, which is awaiting publication in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology, offers a comprehensive look at how promising the data is so far regarding the effectiveness of CBD on alcohol use disorders (AUD). The authors, however, also call for human clinical trials, of which none have been published to date, to “pave the way for testing new harm reduction approaches in AUD.”
Researchers in France and Belgium reviewed 26 previous studies published between 1974 and June 2018 that explored the effects of CBD on animal subjects dosed with ethanol. They found several studies that showed CBD can reduce alcohol consumption. In one, for example, researchers discovered that mice administered CBD were less motivated to work (in this case, push a lever) for access to a liquid solution that included 8 percent of ethanol.
“Experimental studies converge to find that CBD reduces the overall level of alcohol drinking in animal models of AUD by reducing ethanol intake, motivation for ethanol, relapse, and by decreasing anxiety and impulsivity.”
Other studies found that mice regularly dosed with the non-intoxicating marijuana compound were also less likely to relapse after they’d been weaned off alcohol, even when they were stressed.
Because of its impact on various aspects of the disease (including “intake, motivation, relapse, anxiety and impulsivity”), CBD “could have a significant action on drinking levels in human subjects with AUD” the review’s authors write. They add, however, that it would be useful to have data using binge-drinking models and models that focus on long-term exposure to alcohol.
The review also highlighted evidence showing CBD could affect alcohol-related liver inflammation. In one study, researchers found that the livers of mice that’d been given the compound prior to being force-fed alcohol every 12 hours for five days were less damaged than those of mice not exposed to CBD.
“CBD seems to have valuable therapeutic properties for ethanol-induced liver damage, through multiple mechanisms,” including the reduction of oxidative stress, inflammation control, and the death of certain cells responsible for large amounts of scar tissue, the authors write.
Finally, CBD may also offer added protection to specific areas in the brain susceptible to alcohol-related damage. In one study, the brains of rats who’d binged on alcohol and given CBD were found to have lost “significantly” fewer brain cells in the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex. In those rats, CBD acted as a “neuroprotective antioxidant,” the review states. In another experiment, CBD also appeared to restore the neurological and cognitive functions of rats in acute liver failure.
“CBD has been found to reduce alcohol-related brain damage, preventing neuronal loss by its antioxidant and immunomodulatory properties.”
The authors suggest these overall benefits of CBD regarding problematic alcohol use may be due to the “complex” way the cannabinoid interacts with CB2 receptors, which are located throughout the body.
Currently, the review states, the pharmaceuticals available to help people with AUD stop drinking are “insufficiently effective at a population level, and new therapeutic prospects are needed. Moreover, no drug for reducing alcohol-related harms, either on the brain or the liver, has ever been studied.”
Plus, the authors conclude, “CBD could have many more positive effects in subjects with AUD, including antiepileptic, cardioprotective, anxiolytic, or analgesic ones. Human studies are thus crucially needed to explore the many prospects of CBD in AUD and related conditions.”
Meanwhile, there’s still time to submit public comments to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on how the federal government should regulate CBD products, including supplements and foods. So far, hundreds of people have submitted information. The public comment period ends July 2.
Photo by Kimzy Nanney.
Psychedelics May Help If You Have A Drinking Problem, Study Suggests
On the heels of Denver becoming the first city in the country to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms, new research suggests that using psychedelic substances may help some people with alcohol use disorder (AUD).
“Findings indicate that, in some cases, naturalistic psychedelic use outside of treatment settings is followed by pronounced and enduring reductions in alcohol misuse,” states the study, which suggests that the substances have “the potential for dramatic change.”
The findings, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology last week, support past studies that link psychedelic use in clinical and religious settings with a decrease in unhealthy alcohol consumption.
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine were interested in getting a better understanding of people’s experiences with using psilocybin, LSD and other mind-altering substances in a non-clinical, natural environment (at home, for example). They utilized an anonymous online survey (which remained accessible from October 2015 to August 2017) to ultimately capture the perspectives of 343 adults.
Aside from demographic information, the survey asked participants to take several standard psychiatric assessments regarding alcohol use. They were also asked to explain what their psychedelic experience was like, including what substances they consumed, how intense of a reaction they felt after consumption and what kind of long-term effects they endured.
Most participants, it turns out, were pretty heavy drinkers prior to their psychedelic experience: About 72 percent reported symptoms that classified them as having severe AUD. They consumed an average of 25.5 drinks per week, and reported having this problem for approximately seven years.
As for their individual mystical experiences, 36 percent reported using psilocybin and 38 percent reported using LSD. Other substances surfaced in the survey responses included ayahuasca and DMT. Most participants said they consumed the drugs for psychological or spiritual exploration.
According to the study, however, the effects lasted well beyond their individual psychedelic journeys.
“Almost all respondents reported that they had greatly reduced or quit drinking alcohol since their reference psychedelic experience as evidenced by a current self-reported mean of 4.3 drinks per week, down from a mean of 25.5 drinks per week before the reference psychedelic experience,” the study’s authors wrote. Only 10 percent stated they had hoped using substance of choice would help them drink less.
At the time they responded to the survey, a majority of participants no longer met the criteria for an AUD. While at least half of the sample experienced some alcohol withdrawal symptoms, including cravings, depression and irritability, many said their symptoms appeared to be “much less severe” compared to previous efforts to reduce their alcohol use. For most of them, the psychedelic experience happened a year or more prior to participating in the study.
“Although such benefits cannot be wholly separated from accompanying reductions in unhealthy alcohol use,” the study’s authors write, “they are consistent with reports of persisting positive effects of psychedelics lasting well beyond the period of acute drug action.”
There are a number of reasons why psychedelic substances may help reduce alcohol misuse, but a key factor that stands out, according to the study, is the spiritual and mystical-like effects the drugs seem to have for some people.
“Spirituality has long been thought to play an important role in recovery from alcohol dependence, and has been posited as a protective factor against alcohol misuse,” the study states. “Spirituality and spiritual practice have also been found to correlate with abstinence in alcohol dependence recovery. Though a major focus of research on spirituality and alcohol misuse has been on Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and 12-step programs, psychedelics may represent an alternative path to spiritual or otherwise highly meaningful experiences that can help reframe life priorities and values, enhance self-efficacy, and increase motivation to change.”
Continued research into the potential benefits of psychedelics could be profound, especially considering the sheer number of people who struggle with heavy alcohol use. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, AUD affects more than 15 million Americans a year.
“When you talk to someone who has managed to overcome addiction, they often talk about how they had to answer big picture questions that connect to what’s important in life,” Matthew Johnson, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins and one of the authors on the study, told Inverse. “Psychedelics prompt those kinds of questions. Even though we have a lot more to explore, I think it’s likely that it’s the intense nature of the drug’s psychological experience that’s underlying its high success rates.”
Photo courtesy of Pretty Drugthings.
Two Federal Agencies Schedule Meetings To Discuss Marijuana-Related Issues
Two federal agencies recently announced that they will be holding meetings this summer to discuss public health and safety issues related to marijuana.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a notice published in the Federal Register last week that its Board of Scientific Counselors will convene on July 16 and 17 to tackle a wide variety of topics, including how to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and how to balance intramural and extramural research initiatives.
On the second day of the meeting, which will be open to the public, the panel of experts will also discuss the role of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control in “addressing public health concerns related to marijuana.”
Separately, on June 11 and 12, members of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Drug Testing Advisory Board will meet for a conversation about federal workplace drug testing policies. Part of that meeting will involve a discussion of “emerging issues surrounding marijuana legalization.”
While the Federal Register filing does not spell out which “emerging issues” will be specifically addressed during the first day’s public session, it also notes that the board will discuss the “impact of cannabis laws on drug testing and future direction” in a closed session on the second day of the meeting.
The federal discussion comes as marijuana reform advocates have stepped up efforts to end the employer practice of penalizing workers who test positive for THC metabolites.
In New York City, for example, a City Council measure prohibiting pre-employment drug testing for cannabis in specific industries and another barring such tests for people on probation were both enacted this month without the mayor’s signature.
While federal marijuana laws continue to strictly prohibit cannabis, the growing legalization movement has forced various agencies to address the issue. Officials from some federal divisions have observed in recent months that the scheduling status of marijuana under federal law has inhibited research into its public health benefits and risks.
In December, representatives from the Food and Drug Administration, Drug Enforcement Administration and National Institute on Drug Abuse were part of a workshop focusing on cannabis research.
U.S. government agencies have also used Federal Register notices to solicit the public’s help in identifying studies about the effects of cannabis on disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.