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Michigan Spends $20M In Marijuana Revenue To Study Medical Cannabis For Veterans With PTSD

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A pair of research projects funded by $20 million in tax revenue from Michigan’s adult-use cannabis program will analyze the effects of medical marijuana in military veterans, state officials announced on Tuesday.

The bulk of the money, nearly $13 million, will examine “the efficacy of marijuana in treating the medical conditions of United States armed service veterans and preventing veteran suicide,” according to recipients at the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). The grant will fund the next step of a study researchers say is the first clinical trial of inhaled botanical marijuana for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and only the second to compare the safety and efficacy of cannabis against a placebo.

Another $7 million in marijuana revenue-funded grant money was awarded to Wayne State University’s Bureau of Community Action and Economic Opportunity, which has partnered with researchers to study how cannabis might treat a variety of mental health disorders, including PTSD, anxiety, sleep disorders, depression and suicidality. Both new grants come from Michigan’s $20 million Veteran Marijuana Research Grant Program, which was established by the state’s legalization law approved by voters in 2018.

PTSD, depression and substance use disorders are all common among veterans, MAPS says. The disorders are also significant contributors to suicidality.

The tax revenue will fund Phase 2 of the organization’s clinical trial comparing the safety and efficacy of inhaled cannabis against a placebo. The research will also “not exclude” military veterans with major depressive disorder and substance use disorder, MAPS said. A total of 320 veterans across four sites, two of which are in Michigan, will spend five weeks “self-administering inhaled, self-titrated doses of high-quality botanical cannabis on an outpatient basis for treatment of PTSD.”

In other words, veterans will be able to smoke marijuana at home, however they like, for more than a month. Which is precisely what makes it a realistic study.

Berra Yazar-Klosinki, chief scientific officer for MAPS Public Benefit Corporation, said the grant funding provides the resources to “align the body of scientific evidence with cannabis that more closely mirrors what is available within state-regulated cannabis programs.” She added that the group “overcame significant regulatory obstacles obstructing cannabis research to conduct the first clinical trial of inhaled cannabis for PTSD.”

Veterans have been a potent force in the decades-long movement to end America’s war on drugs, playing key roles in uniting disparate political groups to turn the tide on cannabis prohibition and, increasingly, to explore the therapeutic potential of other controlled substances, including MDMA and psychedelics.

But as with much of the medical marijuana movement, support among veterans for the most part didn’t result from clinical studies, which were virtually impossible under widespread prohibition. Instead it came from individual and word-of-mouth experiences among veterans and their communities.

Funded by Michigan’s $20 million Veteran Marijuana Research Grant Program, which was established by 2018 the state’s legalization law, the new study is aimed at determining how effective smoked cannabis actually is at treating PTSD and its symptoms. If it’s demonstrated to work well, that could lead to Phase 3 trials and ultimately raw cannabis being developed and sold as a pharmaceutical. Eventually a joint—or at least one approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—could be covered by a veteran’s insurance.

“In Israel and Canada, veterans are able to use a certain amount of cannabis per day and have it reimbursed through their veterans health service programs,” Yazar-Klosinki told Marijuana Moment in an interview, noting that while the United States has made incremental progress toward reform, veterans still face serious obstacles to using cannabis under a doctor’s supervision.

“We still have more regulatory negotiations ahead of us in order to convince the FDA to let us use the kind of cannabis that that veterans are already using in the United States,” she said.

Yazar-Klosinki explained that because of difficulties sourcing high-quality cannabis from the few government-approved growers in the U.S., the team is planning to bring in the cannabis for Phase 2 trials from a regulated grower overseas. The team is “selecting appropriately qualified growers from abroad that have already validated their production and measurements…at the level of good manufacturing practices,” she said.

If the trials are successful, however, MAPS could ultimately develop a cannabis pharmaceutical product through its public benefit corporation, said founder and executive director Rick Doblin.

“Michiganders are granting non-profit researchers the opportunity to establish whether marijuana is helpful for veterans with PTSD,” Doblin said in a statement. “If so, we will seek to return that generosity by developing a public-benefit cannabis pharmaceutical product that would be eligible for insurance coverage, just like any other pharmaceutical drug.”

MAPS previously organized what it says was the only FDA-regulated controlled study of cannabis for PTSD, which was funded with $2.2 million Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment. All treatment groups showed “good tolerability and improvements in PTSD symptoms after three weeks,” a MAPS press release says. The study “further informed the development of this second, larger trial, identifying that higher quality cannabis must be used to differentiate between responses of the control group and the placebo group.”

The Wayne State University project, meanwhile, will “explore the biochemical mechanisms through which [cannabis] could be employed to treat PTSD, anxiety, sleep disorders, depression, and suicidality,” according to the research team’s proposal.

Strict regulations over who could legally grow and supply cannabis for research purposes has long limited meaningful experiments into the therapeutic value of cannabis. Sue Sisley, a researcher at the Scottsdale Research Institute, where the earlier MAPS study was conducted, complained in 2017 that cannabis provided for research purposes by the federal government “looked like green talcum powder.”

“It didn’t look like cannabis. It didn’t smell like cannabis,” Sisley said at the time, adding that some samples failed to conform to potency levels needed for the study. Others were so contaminated with mold they would have failed testing requirements in state-regulated markets.

Sisley, one of the authors of Phase 1 of the current study, is among a group of scientists and military veterans currently suing the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in an effort to force the federal government to formally reconsider marijuana’s federal Schedule I classification, which severely limits research. A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit heard arguments in the case in June.

Meanwhile, some in Washington, D.C., are pushing to ease restrictions on research. The congressional infrastructure bill backed by President Joe Biden includes a number of cannabis provisions, including one that would direct the government to create a plan to eventually allow researchers to study cannabis from retailers in legal states. A bipartisan amendment proposed last week would further expand research into marijuana and CBD.

Also last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved an amendment meant to promote veterans’ access to medical marijuana by allowing doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to issue cannabis regulations in legal states.

The federal government has already taken some initial steps to promote research. Most notably, DEA recently notified several companies that it’s moving toward approving their applications to become federally authorized manufacturers of marijuana for research purposes.

In other Michigan cannabis news, state Attorney General Dana Nessel (D) filed a legal brief this week arguing that residents fired from jobs for off-hours cannabis use that doesn’t affect their work performance should still be eligible for unemployment benefits.

Congressional Lawmakers Push For Psychedelics Research For Veterans In New Report

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer

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.

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor. He has covered cannabis as a journalist since 2011, most recently as a senior news editor for Leafly.

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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Science & Health

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

Photo elements courtesy of carlosemmaskype and Apollo.

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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