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Patients Are Substituting Marijuana For Addictive Pharmaceutical Drugs, Two New Studies Show

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Giving patients legal access to marijuana will influence a significant portion of them to use cannabis as an alternative to traditional pharmaceuticals, two more new studies have found.

In the first, published in the Journal of Pain, researchers analyzed data from online surveys submitted by 1,321 adult cannabis consumers in legalized states throughout the United States. It found that about 80 percent of respondents had used marijuana as a substitute for pharmaceuticals, primarily opioid painkillers.

Seventy-two percent of individuals who reported substitution said they had completely ceased opioid use, 68 percent said they stopped taking benzodiazepines and 80 percent got off SSRI anti-depression medication.

Then the participants were asked why they chose marijuana over pills. The top reasons they gave were that cannabis had fewer adverse side effects and they had more success managing symptoms with marijuana. Almost 90 percent of respondents said their pain improved after using cannabis and 71 percent said their health had improved overall.

“The current study and the consistent nature of the above observational findings provide additional nuance to the ongoing debate about cannabis’s analgesic value for chronic pain, as well as a potential substitute for opioids or other drugs,” the researchers wrote. However, they added that there’s a need for “rigorous trials” to bolster their findings and that marijuana’s current scheduling status under federal law has inhibited such research.

The second study, published this week in Harm Reduction Journal, surveyed about 2,000 Canadian adult medical cannabis patients registered with the federally authorized marijuana manufacturer Tilray.

They completed online questionnaires about why they use cannabis and whether they’ve used it as a substitute for other medications and substances. The exhaustive survey included 239 questions.

About 70 percent said they used marijuana as a substitute for prescription drugs—35 percent for opioids, 11 percent for anti-depressants, eight percent for anti-seizure medications, four percent for sleeping pills and muscle relaxants and four percent for benzodiazepines.

And again, a significant fraction of those who used cannabis as an opioid substitute reported complete cessation: 59 percent. About 20 percent said they reduced their opioid usage by at least 75 percent.

Like the U.S. survey, the researchers asked the Canadian patients about the reasons behind their decision to substitute. Fifty-one percent said it was because they felt cannabis was safer than the pharmaceuticals they were prescribed, 40 percent said marijuana had fewer adverse side effects and 20 percent reported better symptom management with cannabis.

Additionally, 44 percent of respondents said they used cannabis to partially or completely stop using alcohol and 31 percent cut out tobacco.

“This study offers a unique perspective by focusing on the use of a standardized, government-regulated source of medical cannabis by patients registered in Canada’s federal medical cannabis program,” the researchers wrote. “The findings provide a granular view of patient patterns of medical cannabis use, and the subsequent self-reported impacts on the use of opioids, alcohol, and other substances, adding to a growing body of academic research suggesting that increased regulated access to medical and recreational cannabis can result in a reduction in the use of and subsequent harms associated with opioids, alcohol, tobacco, and other substances.”

Legal Medical Marijuana Associated With Lower Opioid Use Rates, Another Study Finds

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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

Study Shows That Bees Like Hemp, And That’s Great News For The Environment

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Farmers (and Sen. Mitch McConnell) aren’t the only ones who are excited about hemp. According to a recent study, the crop also attracts a variety of bees—and that can help inform ecologically sustainable agriculture practices.

For the study, published this month in the journal Biomass and Bioenergy, researchers at Colorado State University set up 10 traps at industrial hemp fields in northern Colorado and collected bees over the course of five days during peak flowering season.

There are few other crops that pollinate in the region during the same timeframe, so the team wanted to know whether the non-psychoactive cannabis cousin of marijuana represented “a potentially valuable source of pollen for foraging bees,” which play a critical role in maintaining “sustainable productivity in natural and agricultural ecosystems.”

When the researchers looked at their collection, they found almost 2,000 bees from 23 different bee genera. Most of those (38 percent) were classic honeybees, but there were also specialized genera such as Melissodes bimaculata and Peponapis pruinosa that turned up in surprisingly “high proportions.”

The sample also indicated that hemp flowers are uniquely attractive to bees because previous reports looking at bee abundance and diversity for crops like genetically modified canola flowers didn’t produce the same volume or variety.

“Industrial hemp can play an important role in providing sustained nutritional options for bees during the cropping season.”

The study could prove helpful as ecologists attempt to address declining bee populations. The insects “continue to face debilitating challenges due to a number of different stressors,” the researchers wrote, but chief among them is the overall health of their respective habitats.

Finding a suitable pollinating crop to improve their habitats is, therefore, critical to the lives of bees and the ecosystems they occupy. Hemp “can thus be an ecologically valuable crop whose flowers are attractive to managed honey bees and a wide range of wild bees,” the researchers concluded.

“In addition, access to crucial phytochemicals through pollen and nectar from diverse plant sources is important for improved survival and pathogen tolerance in honey bees,” the team wrote. “Further studies analyzing the nutritive value of hemp pollen, would provide strong evidence in support of the ecological benefits.”

But the study also includes a warning: as hemp cultivation expands, which experts expect it will significantly since it has recently been federally legalized, there will be an increased risk of insect pests infecting the crop. And so the researchers said they “strongly urge that the information generated in this study on the diversity and abundance of bees on hemp be used to develop an integrated pest management plan designed to protect pollinators while controlling pests.”

Blood-Sucking Flies Love Marijuana, New Study Finds

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Science & Health

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

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Contrary to often-expressed fears of marijuana legalization opponents, teens living in states that allow medical cannabis are actually less likely to use the drug compared to those in non-legal states.

That’s the result of a new study published in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.

Researchers at Boston College looked at national youth drug surveys from 1999 to 2015—a data set that involved more than 860,000 adolescents across the United States. They investigated how self-reported marijuana use changed in states that have either decriminalized cannabis possession or legalized it for medical purposes.

And while opponents of legalization have long argued that loosening marijuana laws would drive more youth to consume cannabis, the study showed the opposite. The enactment of medical cannabis laws was associated with 1.1 percentage point reduction in marijuana use among teens.

“We found that for every group of 100 adolescents, one fewer will be a current user of marijuana following the enactment of medical marijuana laws,” study author Rebekah Levine Coley said in a press release.

That decline was even more pronounced within certain subgroups. For example, 3.9 percent fewer black adolescents and 2.7 percent fewer Hispanic adolescents used marijuana in legal medical cannabis states.

The trend also held true after researchers accounted for factors such as state demographics and economic trends. What’s more, the reductions in youth marijuana use were more significant the longer a state had a medical cannabis system in effect.

“Some people have argued that decriminalizing or legalizing medical marijuana could increase cannabis use amongst young people, either by making it easier for them to access, or by making it seem less harmful,” Coley said. “However, we saw the opposite effect.”

“We were not able to determine why this is, but other research has suggested that after the enactment of medical marijuana laws, youths’ perceptions of the potential harm of marijuana use actually increased. Alternatively, another theory is that as marijuana laws are becoming more lenient, parents may be increasing their supervision of their children, or changing how they talk to them about drug use.”

States that have simply decriminalized cannabis possession did not experience the same reductions in youth marijuana use, the study also found. There were slight declines in usage among 14-year-olds and Hispanic youth, but the broader reductions were only seen in medical marijuana states.

Patients Are Substituting Marijuana For Addictive Pharmaceutical Drugs, Two New Studies Show

Photo courtesy of Nicholas C. Morton.

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Science & Health

Study Shows How Marijuana Component CBD Can Help People With Substance Use Disorders

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Cannabidiol, or CBD, shows promise as a potential treatment option for various types of substance use disorders, according to a recent review of existing studies.

A team of Australian researchers summarized the results of multiple human and animal trials on CBD and addiction, finding that the non-intoxicating component of marijuana can reduce cravings and the risk of relapse for chronic alcohol, tobacco and opioid misuse. They found “mixed” results when it came to stimulants like methamphetamine.

Here’s what they found: 

—CBD caused reduced self-administration of ethanol (alcohol) among animal subjects, and when the dose was higher (120mg), it decreased the risk of relapse.

—A separate study indicated CBD caused animal subjects to become less responsive to cue- and stress-induced triggers for alcohol administration. That effect lasted “up to 138 days post-CBD.”

—For tobacco, a study that involved 24 smokers found that those who used CBD inhalers “significantly reduced the number of smoked cigarettes” compared to the placebo groups. That’s in spite of the fact that CBD didn’t seem to reduce cravings or withdrawal.

—Smokers who received CBD were less susceptible to cigarettes cues after being abstinent for one night, another study found.

—Research shows that CBD can interfere with the “reward-facilitating effect” of morphine but, generally speaking, the compound is less effective than THC or a combination of THC and CBD at addressing opioid misuse.

—THC alone “demonstrated to be more effective than CBD in inhibiting morphine abstinence syndrome in mice.”

The paper, published in the journal Frontiers In Psychiatry, ultimately determined that CBD plays on the endocannabinoid system in ways that empower people with substance use disorders to use less of a harmful substance even though the compounds doesn’t necessarily curb withdrawal symptoms.

The compound also seems to reduce the “motivation to self-administer” or continue using drugs in animals. That said, “evidence on its efficacy” remains “limited and mixed,” and so additional studies are needed to substantiate these initial findings.

The review also suggests that CBD could be more effective at treating substance use disorder when administered in tandem with THC and/or in conjunction with a broader treatment protocol, at least in certain cases.

“CBD alone may not be sufficiently effective in maintaining long-term abstinence without ongoing support and behavioral therapy,” the researchers wrote. “A combination of pharmacotherapy and behavioral therapy may increase treatment potency and adherence, and CBD may be better suited as an adjunct treatment to primary behavioral or psychosocial therapy.”

Patients Are Substituting Marijuana For Addictive Pharmaceutical Drugs, Two New Studies Show

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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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