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Medical Cannabis Laws Don’t Increase Teen Marijuana Use, Another Study Finds

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States laws that allow people with doctor’s recommendations to legally use medical cannabis don’t lead to increased teen use of marijuana, a new large-scale meta-analysis finds.

“Synthesis of the current evidence does not support the hypothesis that US medical marijuana laws (MMLs) until 2014 have led to increases in adolescent marijuana use prevalence,” the new study, published on Thursday in the journal Addiction, concludes.

Researchers at Columbia University and other institutions examined the results of 11 previously published studies looking at youth marijuana consumption prior to and after the enactment of medical cannabis laws in comparison with usage rates in states that do not allow any legal use of marijuana.

“For now, there appears to be no basis for the argument that legalizing medical marijuana has increased teens’ use of the drug,” Deborah Hasin, professor of Epidemiology at Columbia’s Mailman School and senior author of the study, said in a press release.

“Of the 11 studies included in the meta-analysis, none found significant (P < 0.05) changes in past-month marijuana use following MML passage within MML states (compared to comparable changes in non-MML states),” Hasin and co-authors wrote in the new study.

Hasin cautions that evolving medical cannabis programs and broader legalization of recreational marijuana could end up having an effect on teen use rates.

“However, we may find that the situation changes as commercialized markets for medical marijuana develop and expand, and as states legalize recreational marijuana use,” she said. “The $8 billion cannabis industry anticipates tripling by 2025. Obtaining a solid evidence base about harmful as well as beneficial effects of medical and recreational marijuana laws on adults is crucial given the intense economic pressures to expand cannabis markets”.

For now, though, the large-scale analysis shows that existing commercial access to marijuana through medical cannabis programs has not enticed more teens to use the drug.

“In summary, current evidence does not support the hypothesis that MML passage is associated with increased marijuana use prevalence among adolescents in states that have passed such laws up until 2014,” the study concludes.

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Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

Politics

UN Launches First-Ever Full Review Of Marijuana’s Status Under International Law

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For the first time ever, the United Nations (UN) is launching an in-depth review of whether marijuana is properly classified under international drug treaties.

In a related development, the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that cannabidiol (CBD), a compound in marijuana that is increasingly used for medical purposes, does not warrant being controlled under the global agreements.

“The Committee recommended that preparations considered to be pure CBD should not be scheduled within the International Drug Control Conventions,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote in a letter announcing the moves. “The Committee concluded that there is sufficient evidence to proceed to a Critical Review” of marijuana, hashish, cannabis extracts and THC.

That broader review is set for November, and follows the results of an initial pre-review conducted by WHO’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) in June.

“A pre-review is the first step of the ECDD’s assessment process, where it is determined whether there is enough robust scientific information to proceed to the next step, called a critical review,” an explanatory document accompanying the new letter reads. “This initial evaluation is also an opportunity to identify gaps in the available scientific data. A critical review is carried out when there is sufficient scientific evidence to allow the ECDD to make informed an recommendation that the substance be placed under international control, or if its level of control should be changed.”

The reviews include analyses of the chemistry, pharmacology, toxicology, epidemiology and therapeutic use of the substances.

If the UN ultimately decides to change marijuana’s status under international law, it would trigger a review on U.S. scheduling, according to provisions of the Controlled Substances Act.

“Thankfully the World Health Organization has accepted the challenge of evaluating the placement of cannabis in the 1962 Single Convention treaty,” Michael Krawitz of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access told Marijuana Moment. “Cannabis placement in the treaty was done in the absence of scientific evaluation and has provided the basis for a moral campaign against drugs by the USA for many decades. Since our work on medical access to cannabis has been based upon scientific inquiry we know that any rational assessment of the evidence leads the observer to understand cannabis indeed has proven medicinal value and, compared to other medicines, has profoundly fewer negative side effects.”

Here’s what the UN experts have determined so far:

“There are no case reports of abuse or dependence relating to the use of pure CBD. No public health problems have been associated with CBD use,” an annex attached to Ghebreyesus’s letter reads, noting that research has shown it to be effective in treating epilepsy. “CBD has been found to be generally well tolerated with a good safety profile.”

“Cannabidiol (CBD) is not specifically listed in the schedules of the 1961, 1971 or 1988 United Nations International Drug Control Conventions… There is no evidence that CBD as a substance is liable to similar abuse and similar ill-effects as substances in the 1961 or 1971 Conventions such as cannabis or THC, respectively. The Committee recommended that preparations considered to be pure CBD should not be scheduled.”

When it comes to whole-plant marijuana and resin, ECDD’s pre-review found that while “adverse effects” are possible and that cannabis can cause physical dependence, its current categorization in international treaties “may not appear to be consistent with the criteria.”

“Several countries permit the use of cannabis for the treatment of medical conditions such as back pain, sleep disorders, depression, post-injury pain, and multiple sclerosis,” the document says. “The evidence presented to the Committee did not indicate that cannabis plant and cannabis resin were liable to produce ill-effects similar to these other substances that are in Schedule IV of the 1961 Convention on Narcotic Drugs. The inclusion of cannabis and cannabis resin in Schedule IV may not appear to be consistent with the criteria for Schedule IV.”

“The Committee concluded that there is sufficient evidence to proceed to critical review of cannabis plant and cannabis resin at a future ECDD meeting and explore further the appropriateness of their current scheduling within the 1961 Convention.”

With respect to extracts and tinctures of cannabis, the committee similarly identified health issues associated with consumption, but said “there is limited evidence of a withdrawal syndrome upon abrupt cessation.”

The committee also looked at THC itself and isomers of THC, and recommended that both be subject to critical reviews in November.

Ghebreyesus’s letter is addressed to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who will be the ultimate recipient of WHO’s recommendations on cannabis and related extracts and compounds following the review.

Guterres was prime minister of Portugal when that nation decriminalized all drugs, a move he touted last year in an address to the UN’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs. After the critical reviews are in, that body will vote on whether to alter cannabis’s status under the international treaties.

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Business

Workplace Deaths Drop After States Legalize Medical Marijuana

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Workers appear to be safer in states that have legalized medical marijuana, according to a new study.

The research, scheduled to be published in the International Journal of Drug Policy in October, is the first of its kind to explore the relationship between medical cannabis laws and workplace fatalities.

Analyzing data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics from 1992 to 2015, a team of researchers found that workplace deaths declined by about 34 percent five years after a state legalized medical cannabis. The trend was most pronounced among workers between the ages of 25 and 44.

“The results provide evidence that legalizing medical marijuana improved workplace safety for workers aged 25–44.”

Because no previous studies have specifically investigated the relationship between legal cannabis and workplace fatalities, the researchers said the results could have gone either way.

Would legalizing cannabis put more workers at risk given the “short-term effects of marijuana use on psychomotor performance and cognition,” or might it lead to fewer workplace deaths in light of what we know about the use of cannabis as a substitute for alcohol and prescription drugs?

Theoretically, if people use marijuana as an alternative to alcohol or pharmaceuticals like opioid-based painkillers, the risk of impairment on the job could be lower, the researchers wrote.

And the data seems to back that up. Though the exact cause behind the trend warrants further research, one finding seems to substantiate the substitution theory: rates of workplace fatalities were lower in states that include pain as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana.

“Specifically, legalizing medical marijuana was associated with a 19.8 percent reduction in the expected number of workplace fatalities among workers aged 25–44 if pain was included as a qualifying condition; if pain was not included as a qualifying condition, the association between legalizing medical marijuana and workplace fatalities was not statistically significant.”

The researchers also observed that states where collective cultivation of cannabis is permitted experienced fewer workplace fatalities, indicating that ease of access may play a role in mitigating these incidents.

Photo courtesy of The International Journal of Drug Policy

How this study could impact public policy

As more states have pushed forward with efforts to legalize cannabis, a conversation has been brewing about employment rights in legal jurisdictions. Courts in numerous states with medical marijuana laws on the books have affirmed employers’ right to terminate workers who test positive for marijuana metabolites, even if they’re registered patients. A handful of states, including Arizona and Illinois, have gone the opposite direction, however, granting employment protections to medical cannabis patients.

More recently, drug reform advocates have been pushing for anti-discrimination policies that would protect marijuana consumers in the workplace. A bill introduced by Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL) last month would ensure that federal workers wouldn’t be penalized for using cannabis off-the-clock in a legal state, for example.

Part of the logic behind blanket bans on marijuana use is that it is an impairing substance that could jeopardize worker safety. Evidence to support that claim is lacking, and this new study offers a fresh perspective on the debate.

Congressman Pushes Federal Employment Protections For Marijuana Consumers

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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Science & Health

Study On Marijuana And PTSD In Military Veterans Only Needs A Few More Volunteers

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The first controlled study examining marijuana as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder needs just a handful more U.S. military veterans to volunteer as test subjects before it can be completed, the study’s nonprofit sponsor announced Thursday.

More than 2.7 million men and women have been deployed to combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. As many as 20 percent of veterans may return with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), according to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) data.

Many combat vets anecdotally report using cannabis to successfully treat symptoms of PTSD, but without data from a controlled study, mainstream medicine—and the VA health system—have been slow to accept marijuana as a treatment, despite pressure from Trump Administration officials who suggest cannabis may be effective.

After some difficulty, a study in Arizona sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) examining smoked marijuana as a treatment is near full enrollment and is expected to finish on time, the organization announced.

The study can accept seven more volunteer test subjects, said lead researcher Dr. Sue Sisley, a physician and psychiatrist who has been working on the study for a decade.

Participants “must be adult military veterans with chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD,” according to Sisley. Research will be conducted in Phoenix, Arizona, where veterans will make 17 outpatient study visits over the course of 12 weeks.

The study is progressing despite significant challenges, including a lack of financial assistance from the VA, which has also blocked Sisley from entering its hospitals in search of test subjects.

Sisley was summarily discharged from her position as a professor at the University of Arizona in the study’s early stages, a firing that some say was politically motivated.

After losing the imprimatur of the University of Arizona in 2013, another research university that initially planned to sponsor with Sisley, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, also abruptly cut ties with Sisley and the study.

Hopkins announced its departure after Sisley publicly criticized the quality and potency of the research-grade marijuana provided by the federal government.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse still has a monopoly on the marijuana available to researchers in the United States, which is grown on a farm operated by the University of Mississippi. The cannabis is low-quality and low-potency, critics say, and bears little resemblance to the marijuana found at dispensaries and on the black market.

In the waning months of the Obama administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced plans to license additional growers of cannabis for research, but the Trump administration has not acted on the more than two dozen applications it has received to date, something that has angered members of Congress from both parties.

In addition to MAPS, Sisley’s study is funded by a $2.156 million grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health.

According to researchers, the study “will provide physicians, patients, scientists, and regulators with critical knowledge regarding whether marijuana benefits individuals with PTSD, whether adverse consequences occur, and the impact of the chemical composition of marijuana, specifically ∆-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), on clinical outcomes. The data from the trial will be finalized in early 2019, after which the results will be prepared for publication.”

The study is still the only of its kind, despite a recent admission from the VA that it could study cannabis.

Senators Push Sessions To Stop Blocking Marijuana Cultivation Applications

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