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Psychedelics Can Help Patients With Depression And Anxiety, Study Finds

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Amidst the growing global movement to decriminalize certain psychedelic drugs, a new scientific review found that ayahuasca, psilocybin and LSD may help with two of the most common psychiatric disorders in the world.

“In all studies,” the paper’s authors write, “psychedelic administration caused statistically significant reductions in depression and anxiety symptoms. These findings corroborate the limited previous research conducted in animal studies and healthy volunteers, as well as anecdotal evidence describing improved mood and reduced feelings of apprehension following psychedelic administration.”

“In a supportive setting, ayahuasca, psilocybin, and LSD consistently produced immediate and significant anti-depressant and anxiolytic effects that were endured for several months.”

Researchers in London analyzed seven prior studies with a total of 130 patients who had been diagnosed with depression and/or anxiety. One looked at the effects of ayahuasca for major depressive disorder, one measured how LSD helped with anxiety linked with a potentially deadly disease and five used psilocybin as an intervention for treatment-resistant depression, anxiety and depression associated with life-threatening and advanced-stage cancers.

Here’s what the review’s authors found:

  • In a small study of six patients, a single dose of ayahuasca reduced test scores measuring depressive symptoms by up to 82 percent at one, seven and 21 days after intake.
  • Patients who participated in a study investigating the efficacy of psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression saw their symptoms “significantly improved from baseline to 1 week and 3 months post-treatment, with maximum effect at 2 weeks.” A follow-up study at six months found “the anti-depressant and anxiolytic effects of psilocybin were sustained and remained significant at 6 months post-treatment.”
  • Three more double-blind, placebo-controlled cross-over trials involving psilocybin had similar positive results in reduction of symptoms associated with anxiety and depression linked to life-threatening cancer.
  • In another small study, 12 patients with anxiety associated with the fear that they might die because of a disease were treated with drug-free psychotherapy sessions and two psychotherapy sessions that involved either an experimental dose of LSD (200 micrograms) or a smaller, placebo dose of LSD (20 micrograms). At their two-month follow-up assessment, patients who received the experimental dose reported their symptoms were “significantly reduced,” and these results were still evident at 12 months.

In short: Psychedelics appeared to help patients manage their anxiety and depression better.

“These improvements were consistently observed across a variety of rating scales, and this is suggestive of a genuine therapeutic effect rather than a specific scale’s tendency to show a positive effect,” the study states. “Moreover, the lack of equivalent symptom reduction in control patients indicates that the anti-depressant and anxiolytic effects can be attributed to psychedelic intervention.”

The authors also found that many patients “described the experience as spiritually meaningful, resulting in decreased disease-related demoralisation and hopelessness as well as improved quality of life.”

Importantly, researchers found that the psychedelic treatment “was well-tolerated with no persisting adverse effects.” The most common short-term side effects they reported included transient anxiety, headaches, nausea, in addition to mild increases in heart rate and blood pressure.

“Given the limited success rates of current treatments for anxiety and mood disorders, and considering the high morbidity associated with these conditions,” the study’s authors conclude, “there is potential for psychedelics to provide symptom relief in patients inadequately managed by conventional methods. The novelty of this research means that before psychedelics’ wider-use can be contemplated, the results presented herein need to be replicated in larger studies with a longer followup to determine lasting efficacy and safety.”

The review, published online in the Journal of Affective Disorders last week, comes just two months after the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health sent a letter to a senator that acknowledges the potential healing properties of certain psychedelic substances. The federal agencies noted, however, that they have no plans to reclassify any psychedelics currently in the restrictive category of Schedule I, such as psilocybin, LSD and MDMA.

Movement To Decriminalize Psychedelics Spreads Nationally

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.

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.

Politics

Federally Funded Journal Exposes How Marijuana Prohibition Puts Consumers At Risk

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Federal dollars are supporting the publication of a recent report that highlights how marijuana prohibition puts cannabis consumers at risk due to the resulting lack of guidance on safety standards from regulators.

The article was published this week in Environmental Health Perspectives, an “an open-access journal published with support from” the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It looked at issues related to regulating cannabis quality, which includes ensuring that the products don’t contain dangerous contaminants such as metals, pesticides and microbes.

“At the federal level in the United States, cannabis is still considered an illegal drug,” the piece notes. “As a result, neither the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) nor the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has provided any guidance on how to regulate contaminants or on which cannabis-related exposures can be considered safe.”

“States have had to determine on their own how to protect millions of cannabis users, and they have come up with widely varying responses,” the report states. “The result is an uncertain and occasionally incoherent regulatory landscape.”

The use of butane to extract marijuana concentrates, the prevalence of microbial contamination and high concentrations of metals are all concerns that federal agencies like the FDA and EPA would presumably address—if cannabis wasn’t a federally banned substance.

There’s at least one recent, relevant example on the issue: EPA announced on Wednesday that it will be approving pesticide applications for hemp, which was federally legalized through the Farm Bill late last year, but such tools will not be approved for marijuana because of its status under federal law.

But as it stands, such regulations are made and enforced at the state-level, meaning there’s a lack of consistency across legal marijuana programs.

“States have become experts at taxing and controlling this industry, and public health and safety has generally been a secondary or even-later-down-the-line consideration,” Ben Gelt, board chair of the Cannabis Certification Council, was quoted as saying in the report. “I think that is shifting, to some degree. I think that these issues are going to inevitably bubble up.”

Considering that instances of contamination have been reported in legalized states, it’s within reason to assume that cannabis consumers in non-legal states face an even greater set of risks given the complete lack of quality control standards.

“No state has it right, and there’s still a long way to go, and there’s still a lot of research that needs to be done,” Gelt said. “All of the states have significant gaps in their policies when it comes to testing and ensuring product quality and quality assurance. It just depends on what state you’re in where the gap is.”

While Environmental Health Perspectives receives support from federal government sources, an article’s appearance in the publication “does not indicate that the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences condones, endorses, approves, or recommends the use of any products, services, materials, methodology, or policies stated therein,” according to a disclaimer on the journal’s website.

“Conclusions and opinions are those of the individual authors and advertisers only and do not necessarily reflect the policies or views of Environmental Health Perspectives or the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences,” the notice states.

Nonetheless, the irony of federal dollars being spent to circulate a report hosted on a dot gov website that highlights the public health harms of ongoing federal marijuana prohibition was not lost on NORML Political Director Justin Strekal.

“The flat Earth mentality of continuing to deny the fact that a sizable percentage of the public consumes cannabis is hurting our ability to derive evidence-based best practices that put people’s health first,” he said. “It is the height of absurdity that public resources were used to compile a report that essentially states that the government is helpless because they have chained their hands to their sides as a result of prohibition. We demand regulation, not incarceration.”

“When the Congress chooses to get serious about putting public safety ahead of political expediency, they will move one of the various proposals to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act to a vote,” Strekal said.

Marijuana Flower Offers More Pain Relief Than Other Cannabis Products, Study Finds

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Marijuana Flower Offers More Pain Relief Than Other Cannabis Products, Study Finds

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Among the overwhelming variety of cannabis products available on the market today, the most effective for pain relief appears to be whole dried marijuana flower and products high in THC, a new study finds.

“Whole cannabis flower was associated with greater pain relief than were other types of products, and higher tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels were the strongest predictors of analgesia and side effects prevalence across the five pain categories,” researchers from the University of New Mexico wrote. “In contrast, cannabidiol (CBD) levels generally were not associated with pain relief except for a negative association between CBD and relief from gastrointestinal and non-specified pain.”

Using data from a mobile app that aims to educate users about cannabis products and help them track their experiences, the researchers found that most people who reported self-medicating with marijuana have short-term, yet significant, relief from pain. “In our sample,” they write, “we observed an average pain reduction of roughly 3 points on a standard 0 to 10 visual analogue pain scale, consistent with its application as a mid-level analgesic.”

The findings, published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine in late July, are the latest in a robust body of scientific literature that shows marijuana can help people with different kinds of pain.

The study’s goal was to gauge how the severity of pain changed and what side effects were experienced after cannabis consumption, and whether these effects differed by product. Researchers used information gleaned from Releaf App, a mobile software program developed by three of the study’s authors and released in 2016. The app allows users to monitor their symptoms before, during and after consuming cannabis, thus helping them to understand the differences between products and delivery methods.

The study—which calls the Releaf data set “the largest database of real-time cannabis administration sessions in the U.S”—analyzed 20,513 cannabis sessions recorded in the app by 2,987 people between June 6, 2016 and October 24, 2018.

“Perhaps the most surprising result,” lead author Xiaoxue Li said in a statement, “is just how widespread relief was with symptom relief reported in about 95 percent of cannabis administration sessions and across a wide variety of different types of pain.”

“The results suggest that cannabis flower with moderate to high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol is an effective mid-level analgesic.”

On average, users reported their starting pain to be 5.87 on a scale of 1 to 10. After consuming marijuana, that number fell to 2.77—a decrease of 3.1 points.

“Among the limited number of product characteristics that are typically made available to consumers, we found that consumption of whole, natural Cannabis flower was associated with greater anesthetic potential than were most other types of products,” the authors wrote.

The study also found:

  • Patients whose cannabis sessions involved flower reported similar pain relief as those using concentrates and topicals. Edibles, pills and tinctures, however, offered less relief than flower.
  • Concentrates were found to be associated with more negative side effects, which the researchers reasoned could be because of solvents and other additives, as well as the removal of most terpenoids, terpenes and flavonoids.
  • Products labeled as hybrid strains were more effective at relieving pain than those labeled indica or sativa.
  • Combustion method didn’t affect pain.
  • Higher THC levels offered more pain relief, while higher CBD levels did not.
  • Patients with back, joint or muscle pain, headache or migraine and non-specified pain saw more relief with high-THC products.
  • Patients with gastrointestinal/abdominal-related pain found more relief with lower levels of THC.

As for other reactions, patients were more likely to report positive effects than negative effects: they cited dry mouth and feeling foggy as the most common negative ones, while feeling relaxed and peaceful were frequently reported as the most positive ones. Additionally, while CBD levels didn’t impact pain much, the cannabinoid did appear to decrease the likelihood of having negative side effects.

“The current findings,” the study concludes, “show that self-directed medical cannabis treatment, especially among users of higher THC products, is associated with significant improvements in at least short-term pain relief, perhaps a major reason why cannabis has become one of the most widely used medications in the United States.”

In a statement, Jacob Vigil, another study author and UNM associate professor of psychology, said the reason why dried cannabis flower may be more effective for pain is because of its “numerous constituents that possess analgesic properties beyond THC, including terpenes and flavonoids.” These compounds probably work together to increase cannabis’ therapeutic effects, he said.

“Our results confirm that cannabis use is a relatively safe and effective medication for alleviating pain, and that is the most important message to learn from our results,” Vigil continued. “It can only benefit the public for people to be able to responsibly weigh the true risks and benefits of their pain medication choices.”

Study Reveals How Marijuana Components THC And CBD Affect Chronic Pain

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Federal Data Shows Youth Marijuana Use Isn’t Increasing Under Legalization

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Despite prohibitionists’ often-expressed fears that legalization would lead more young people to use marijuana, new federal data released on Tuesday shows no such trend.

Reports of past-month cannabis use among those 12-17 remained stable from 2017 to 2018—and they’re significantly lower than in the years prior to when the first states began legalizing for adult use.

That’s according to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an annual report produced by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

“The percentage of adolescents in 2018 who used marijuana in the past year was lower than the percentages in 2002 to 2004 and in 2009 to 2013, but it was similar to the percentages in 2005 to 2008 and in 2014 to 2017,” SAMHSA said.

Via SAMHSA.

Recent studies that have used NSDUH data and other sources also demonstrate that youth marijuana use is not increasing post-legalization. In fact, research published in JAMA Pediatrics in July found that states with recreational cannabis experience a decline in underage marijuana use, with the study authors stating that regulated markets appear to deter illicit use.

Indeed, on a national scale, the percentage of adolescents who reported using marijuana began declining at a greater rate in the years after states started implementing legal cannabis systems. In 2018, 12.5 percent of those 12-17 said they used cannabis in the last month, compared to 13.5 percent in 2012, according to the NSDUH results.

Colorado and Washington State became the first U.S. states to vote to legalize marijuana for recreational use in late 2012, with legal sales commencing in 2014.

Between 2002 and 2018, the highest rate of adolescent marijuana use took place in 2002, when 15.8 percent reported past-month consumption.

“The survey results suggest that marijuana use among youth has remained stable and low in recent years, even as more states legalize medical and adult use,” Sheila Vakharia, PhD, deputy director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s Department of Research and Academic Engagement, told Marijuana Moment. “Rather than encouraging increased use, it is possible that legalization has limited access and deterred youth use. We find that these results strengthen the case for legalization in the interest of public health and protecting our nation’s young people.”

What’s more, the report found that cases of cannabis use disorder declined again for the 12-17 group in 2018, marking the seventh year in a row that fewer young people seem to be misusing the substance.

Via SAMHSA.

Interestingly, these trends are developing even as people’s perceptions of the risks of casual marijuana consumption are dropping. That seems to contradict an argument from reform opponents who claimed that legalizing cannabis would normalize it in such a way that underage individuals would feel more emboldened to experiment with marijuana.

Via SAMHSA.

Overall, marijuana consumption increased across age groups by about one percentage point over the past year, the survey found, with the bulk of that rise being attributable to those over 26. Past-month cannabis use for that demographic increased from 12.2 percent in 2017 to 13.3 percent in 2018.

Marijuana Taxes Differ In Legalized States, Complicating Projections

This story was updated to include comment from the Drug Policy Alliance.

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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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