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People Visiting Safe Injection Sites Are Less Likely To Die Compared To Other Drug Consumers, Study Finds

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As a growing number of Democratic presidential contenders are voicing support for harm reduction programs such as supervised injection facilities (SIFs), a recent study shows that these candidates are on the right track if they’re really interested in helping save the lives of people who use currently illegal drugs.

Researchers in British Columbia, Canada, found that people “who reported using supervised injection facilities on an at least weekly basis had a reduced risk of dying compared to those who reported less than weekly or no use of this health service.”

Previous studies have shown that safe injection sites help reduce overdose deaths. However, there are only approximately 140 legally operating sites in the world, including in Canada, Australia and Europe. To date, no SIFs have legal approval to operate in the U.S., though some cities are exploring allowing such facilities to open.

To understand whether SIFs affect overall mortality, researchers used data from two prospective cohort studies of people who inject drugs (PWID) in Vancouver, Canada. Every six months between December 2006 and June 2017, participants responded to a questionnaire asking about sociodemographic information, drug use, use of health interventions such as SIFs and more. They were also asked to provide blood samples for medical testing or monitoring.

Ultimately, the total sample included 811 participants. More than half (432) reported frequent (that is, at least weekly) SIF use at baseline. Over the span of the study period, 112 participants died, corresponding to a crude mortality rate of 22.7 deaths per 1,000 person-years. The leading causes of deaths were non-accidental (which included neoplasms and circulatory disease), ill-defined or unknown, overdose and HIV-related.

After adjusting for several factors, including age, sex, HIV seropositivity, public injection and more, researchers found that “frequent SIF use remained significantly associated with decreased risk of all-cause mortality.”

“Existing modeling and simulation studies indicate that SIFs avert numerous overdose deaths per year,” the study, which was published in the journal PLOS Medicine in late November, states. “Moreover, past research relying on aggregate data has demonstrated the role of SIFs in reducing local population-based rates of fatal overdose. However, we believe that ours is the first study to identify an individual-level association between frequent SIF use and decreased risk of all-cause mortality among a community-recruited cohort of PWID.”

Although researchers did not investigate why there was an association between frequent SIF use and a lower risk of all-cause mortality, they do offer some potential explanations based on existing literature. Studies have shown that supervised consumptions sites are associated with safer syringe use, including a decline in sharing, reusing, outdoor injecting and hurried injecting. Additionally, these facilities are equipped to handle medical emergencies, such as overdose, and are staffed with people trained in addiction treatment.

“Together with the findings of previous research,” the authors write, “our findings underscore the need for continued efforts to enhance access to SIFs as a strategy to reduce mortality among PWID. In particular, given that SIFs have limited geographic coverage and that PWID have been found to often encounter long wait times in accessing SIF services in this setting, the broader expansion of SIFs may serve to improve service accessibility and thereby reduce the potential for mortality and other harms among this population.”

Lead author Mary Clare Kennedy summarized her study results online, tweeting in part: “Our findings add to the large body of scientific evidence demonstrating the critical role of supervised injection facilities in saving lives, reducing harm & promoting health among people who inject drugs.”

“At a time when evidence-based interventions are urgently needed to address the disproportionately high burden of preventable deaths and suffering experienced by people who use drugs, efforts to scale up access to supervised injection facilities should be a public health priority.”

On the presidential campaign trail, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have all voiced support for safe consumption sites.

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Photo by Jair Lázaro on Unsplash 

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.

Science & Health

Don’t Feed Marijuana Buds To Donkeys, New Study Warns

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Feeding donkeys fresh marijuana buds is inadvisable, according to a new study that looked at novel cases of cannabis toxicosis in two equine.

The study, published in the Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation, investigated what happened after a jack and jenny (the terms for male and female donkeys, respectively) were fed a few grams of cannabis that was being legally grown for human consumption.

The donkeys’ symptoms sound a lot like what happens when a person takes an edible that’s too strong. They presented as lethargic and their hearts were beating faster than normal, for example. But while it took longer to come down from the high for the donkeys compared to humans, with symptoms lasting 44 hours in the younger jenny before she was taken to the hospital, the study says both “recovered uneventfully within 24 hours of peak effects.”

“Marijuana toxicosis is typically seen by companion animal veterinarians. However, with increased marijuana availability, there is a greater potential for toxicosis in other species,” the study authors wrote. To the scientists’ knowledge, this is the first study documenting cases of cannabis consumption in donkeys.

A positive outcome from the donkey highs was that scientists had a chance to experiment with testing procedures to confirm that the symptoms were due to exposure to cannabinoids. They used a “screening assay in collaboration with a veterinary diagnostic laboratory,” which the study authors said “may be useful when an equine practitioner suspects marijuana toxicosis in a patient.”

While they were able to determine those cannabinoid concentrations in the donkeys’ plasma, the researchers noted that more data is needed to figure out what dose of cannabis causes toxicosis in the species.

In terms of treating donkeys who ate too much marijuana, the study says practitioners could potentially use gastric lavage, administer activated charcoal or use laxatives.

“These adjunctive therapies are targeted at decreasing gastric absorption and facilitating excretion to limit the adverse clinical effects of cannabis,” they wrote. “There is no scientific evidence to support the benefit of these therapies for marijuana toxicosis in equine patients. However, activated charcoal and gastric lavage are effective means of supportive treatment for marijuana toxicosis in canine patients.”

The study doesn’t directly comment on the ethics of feeding cannabis to donkeys, but as a general rule, people are discouraged from intentionally intoxicating animals and should take precautions to avoid accidental ingestion.

Another study released last year found that, apparently, some canines are even getting intoxicated off marijuana by eating the feces of people who’ve consumed cannabis.

Separately, there is interest within the scientific community about the effects of non-intoxicating CBD in animals like dogs and horses.

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.

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Banking Activity Increases In States That Legalize Marijuana, Study Finds

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While marijuana businesses often struggle to find banks that are willing to take them on as clients due to risks caused by the ongoing federal prohibition of cannabis, a new study found that banking activity actually increases in states that legalize marijuana.

The research doesn’t make a direct connection between state-level marijuana reform and the increased activity, but it does strongly imply that there’s a relationship—even if the factors behind the trend aren’t exactly clear.

Researchers set out to investigate banking trends in states that have legalized cannabis, looking at bank regulatory filings with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) from 2011 to 2016. They found evidence that “banking activity (deposits and subsequent loans) increase considerably in legalizing states relative to non-legalizing states.”

That’s in spite of the fact that banks and credit unions run the risk of being penalized by federal regulators for working with businesses that deal with a federally controlled substance.

“While uncertainty can result in overly cautious behavior and hinder economic activity, we do not find evidence of this with cannabis laws and the banking industry,” the authors wrote in the new paper—titled, “THC and the FDIC: Implications of Cannabis Legalization for the Banking System.”

The study analyzed data from “150,566 bank-quarter observations from 6,932 unique banks located in 46 different states.” It found that deposits increased by an average range of 3.14-4.33 percent—and bank lending increased by 6.54-8.62 percent—post-legalization.

“Our results indicate that deposits and loans increased for banks after recreational cannabis legalization.”

Of course, it makes sense that legal states would see increased financial activity in the banking sector after opening a new market, even if only some banks choose to take the risk of working directly with cannabis businesses. The emerging marijuana industry also supports an array of ancillary firms and traditional companies that provide services to dispensaries and grow operations.

As of June 30, there were 706 financial institutions that had filed requisite reports saying they were actively serving cannabis clients. Thats up from 689 in the previous quarter but still down from a peak of 747 in late 2019.

But the question remains: why are some banks deciding to take on marijuana clients while others remain wary of federal repercussions?

The study authors—from the University of Arizona, Drexel University, San Diego State University and Scripps College—put forward two possibilities about why “the risk from regulatory uncertainty did not decrease banks’ willingness to accept deposits or make loans.”

The increase “may suggest that banks were either unconcerned about the potential risk associated with accepting cannabis related deposits or optimistic about the chances that regulations will adapt to the needs of legalizing states,” the paper reasons.

Confidence about working with a federally illegal industry may well have been bolstered in 2014 when the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) under the Obama administration issued guidance to financial institutions on reporting requirements for cannabis-related businesses.

The second option, optimism about federal reform, also seems possible. It was around the time that the bipartisan Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act was first introduced that there was a notable spike in financial institutions reporting that they have marijuana business clients.

In the years since, that legislation has been approved in some form five times in the U.S. House of Representatives, but it’s continued to stall in the Senate. In general, banks reporting marijuana accounts has remained relatively stable since 2019.

“Although many have speculated about the increased legal risks to banks, there is a lack of evidence for instances where banks are criminally prosecuted or lose their federally insured status,” the study states. “If these negative repercussions rarely happen, it makes sense that banks would not respond to the legislative uncertainty.”

“As more state regulators issue statements in support of banks and credit unions serving the cannabis industry, the financial institutions can become more optimistic about the chances that regulations will adapt in their favor with time,” the authors wrote.

Despite optimism for future reform that certain lawmakers have expressed, it doesn’t necessarily take the sting out of the latest failed attempt to secure protections for banks that choose to work with state-legal cannabis businesses as part of a large-scale defense bill.

A pro-reform Republican senator recently slammed Democrats for failing to advance marijuana banking reform despite having a congressional majority and control of the presidency.

For what it’s worth, the secretary of the U.S. Treasury Department recently said that freeing up banks to work with state-legal marijuana businesses would “of course” make the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) job of collecting taxes easier.

With respect to the SAFE Banking Act, a bipartisan coalition of two dozen governors recently implored congressional leaders to finally enact marijuana banking reform through the large-scale defense legislation.

A group of small marijuana business owners also recently made the case that the incremental banking policy change could actually help support social equity efforts.

Rodney Hood, a board member of the National Credit Union Administration, wrote in a recent Marijuana Moment op-ed that legalization is an inevitability—and it makes the most sense for government agencies to get ahead of the policy change to resolve banking complications now.

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Young People Who Use Marijuana Have Better Orgasms and Sexual Function, Study Says

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Young people who smoke marijuana and drink alcohol have better orgasms and overall sexual function than their peers who abstain or use less, a study in Spain recently concluded.

Because the existing scientific literature on the impact of drinking and drug use on sexual functioning is contradictory—finding both benefits and harms—a team of researchers from the University of Almeria designed the new observational study to analyze their affect with three commonly used surveys to detect potential risky drinking and cannabis use, as well as changes to one’s sexual functioning.

“Sexual function in young people who use cannabis and alcohol more frequently was shown to be better than in those who do not use either.”

From January to June 2020, researchers assessed 185 females and 89 males between the ages of 18 and 30 who were either regular cannabis or alcohol users or non-users, excluding those who used other substances like opiates or MDMA, as well as screening out those with pre-existing conditions like depression and diabetes, which could have a negative impact on their sexual performance.

“Sexual function is improved in young people who are high-risk cannabis consumers with a moderate risk of alcohol use, resulting in increased desire, arousal, and orgasm,” the study, published at the end of last month in the Journal Healthcare, found. “This improvement is usually associated with a reduction in anxiety and shame, which facilitates sexual relationships.”

The cannabis users scored higher than non-users on both the overall sexual functioning scale and the subscales of arousal and orgasm. And those who used cannabis the most were found to report higher sexual functioning and arousal scores than the moderate users. No differences were found on the desire and orgasm subscales between moderate and heavy users and no differences were detected amongst men and women respondents to the survey.

“Our findings indicate that young people who use cannabis frequently, regardless of gender, have better overall sexual function.”

When it comes to alcohol use, no significant differences in either overall sexual function or in any of the subscales measured, were found between drinking and non-drinking participants. However, there were statistically significant differences based on levels of alcohol consumption, potentially suggesting some dose dependent outcomes.

Those who reported heavy drinking scored higher on the total sexual function questionnaire and the arousal subscale than those who did not drink at all, the study found. And the high consumption participants had significantly higher total questionnaire and orgasm subscale scores than the moderate consumption participants. But those participants who reported an existing alcohol dependence had significantly lower scores than their peers whose drinking was evaluated to be merely at a higher risk for dependency.

These marijuana results are consistent with previous studies that found cannabis use enhances sex and masturbation, increases sexual desire and leads to better orgasms, as well as those that have found cannabis consumers have more sex than cannabis abstainers, and a higher score on sexual health inventories and serum testosterone levels.

“The findings of this study revealed a higher score in sexual function, as well as arousal and orgasm, in subjects at risk of having cannabis-related problems and risk of addiction associated with alcohol consumption.”

Older studies that previously found some evidence of erectile dysfunction among heavier alcohol consumers may have been influenced by the older ages of the respondents, according to the research team behind the new paper, which focused on individuals in their late teens and 20s, “where erectile dysfunction is less common.”

Questions remain about the different types of sexual relationships (long-term vs sporadic vs unstable) that frequent consumers engage in or if there is any correlation between use and relationship type.

The research team also cautioned that this study did not capture any potential medium range and longer-term consequences of heavier drinking and cannabis use, including any potential proclivity to engage in less safe sex practices due to inebriation.

Since the increased desire, arousal, and orgasms in young people who are high-risk cannabis consumers with a moderate risk of alcohol use, is usually associated with a reduction in anxiety and shame, which facilitates sexual relationships, the study called for future sex education practices to focus on strategies that reduce shame and anxiety, to prevent young people from developing potential drug and alcohol dependency issues later on in their lives.

Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.

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