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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.

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.

Politics

Federal Health Agency Blames Schedule I For ‘Slow’ Marijuana Research And Commits To Fund Studies

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A federal health agency is blaming “slow” marijuana research progress on the drug’s restrictive Schedule I status but says it is committed to funding studies into how cannabis can help people manage pain in spite of budget cuts recently proposed by President Donald Trump.

“A growing body of literature suggests that the cannabis plant has pain-relieving properties; however, as a schedule I substance with known psychoactive effects, research on the potential pain-relieving properties of cannabis has been slow,” the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) said in a budget justification document published on Wednesday.

NCCIH supports studies into non-conventional medicines and therapies that can be used as an alternative or supplement to traditional treatments for a variety of conditions, but the president’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget would cut its funding by about $20 million, the agency said in the new overview.

“The FY 2020 President’s Budget reflects the Administration’s fiscal policy goals for the Federal Government,” it wrote. “Within that framework, NCCIH will pursue its highest research priorities through strategic investments and careful stewardship of appropriated funds.”

Cannabis research apparently meets that standard as a high research priority, though, with the agency saying it will be announcing a funding opportunity for scientists interested in exploring medical marijuana as a natural product in the treatment of pain.

“NCCIH plans to expand efforts around natural products for pain management,” the agency wrote. “Natural products have historically been a source of novel pain-relieving compounds developed into pharmaceuticals (e.g., willow bark into aspirin).”

The funding opportunity it plans to announce will “support research on the diverse components of cannabis to explore if the pain-relieving properties can be separated from the psychoactive properties and to further characterize those components that may reduce pain.”

This is by no means the first time NCCIH has expressed interest in marijuana. It has previously posted notices for several funding opportunities for cannabis research, including a call for studies on the effects of “minor cannabinioids and terpenes” on pain. NCCIH also hosted a workshop last year that was specifically designed to address barriers to marijuana research under federal prohibition.

Dr. Emmeline Edwards, the director of the division of extramural research for NCCIH, explained in a presentation at the workshop that marijuana’s Schedule I status under federal law significantly complicates research efforts, and she also complained about the lack of diversity in the types of cannabis available to researchers from the country’s only federally authorized source.

This latest budget justification reflect’s the agency’s commitment to hone the therapeutic value of cannabinoids to address pain—a condition for which 40 percent of NCCIH’s research funding is dedicated.

A separate federal health agency is also pitching in. Earlier this week, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality published three notices soliciting public input on studies and information about marijuana as a potential alternative or supplement to opioid painkillers.

Trump Budget Proposes Loosening DC Marijuana Legalization Restrictions

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Marijuana Consumers Gain Less Weight Than Non-Users, Study Confirms

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Popular cult classics like The Big Lebowski would have you believe that people who use marijuana not only always have the munchies, but they’re also too lazy to engage in a lot of physical activity.

With those kinds of stereotypes pervading movies and TV shows, it makes sense that many people would assume marijuana use is positively associated with weight gain.

But a new study published last week in the International Journal of Epidemiology appears to undermine that belief. It’s the latest research to show that marijuana users are actually less likely to be obese compared to non-users.

For their work, Michigan State University researchers drew on data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC), a cross-sectional, nationally representative study sample of U.S. citizens aged 18 and older. In total, they looked at the reported responses of more than 33,000 people.

In the first wave of interviews completed in 2001-2002, participants were asked if they used cannabis and, if so, how recently and how frequently. When they returned for their follow-up interview in 2004-2005, researchers asked participants if they used cannabis since that first interview.

Between the two interview periods, researchers tracked an increase in body mass index (BMI) in all categories of respondents—those who’d never consumed, people who had discontinued past use, “initiates” or newbies and persistent users.

Once they excluded participants who were older than 65 (because research shows BMI declines in older people are often due to loss of muscle mass), they discovered “an attenuated BMI gain for cannabis-use subgroups when compared with never-users.”

In other words, those who reported using marijuana gained weight, but at a reduced rate compared to those who have never consumed cannabis.

“In NESARC, persistent cannabis users and the initiates were under-represented in stably obese subgroups,” the study states. “In addition, these same actively cannabis-using subgroups were under-represented among newly incident cases of obesity observed at W2.”

The study offers a couple of theories to explain why marijuana users experience lower weight gain. One, for example, has to do with how the density of a specific cannabinoid receptor (CB1R) decreases with chronic cannabis use. It’s a theory that was first introduced last year by a separate team of researchers at Indiana University South Bend.

“For many patients,” they wrote in the meta-analysis they published in December, “Cannabis may be a better option for weight loss than surgery or pharmaceuticals.”

Why Marijuana Consumers Have Smaller Waistlines Than Non-Users

Another possibility to explain the relationship between marijuana use and BMI has to do with the anti-inflammatory properties of another cannabinoid receptor, CB2R. “The association of inflammation and obesity is widely established in pre-clinical and clinical studies,” the study’s authors write.

These findings are important for future biomedical research regarding cannabinoids—especially since medical marijuana is often toted as a potential treatment for preventing weight loss in HIV and cancer patients, the study states.

The average cannabis consumer concerned about their waistline might also find a little bit of comfort in these results, too—especially since other research has indicated that states with legal marijuana saw an increase in junk food purchases.

Scientists Actually Did A Study To Confirm That Marijuana Causes The Munchies

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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Science & Health

Denver’s Teen Marijuana Education Campaign Seems To Be Working, Survey Finds

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A year after Denver launched a marijuana-focused educational campaign targeting local youth, a new survey released Tuesday reports that the majority of teens familiar with the city’s efforts said they decided against underage cannabis consumption.

The research, conducted by Insights Lab, was commissioned to measure the effectiveness of Denver’s High Costs campaign, which was launched in 2017 and is funded by the city’s tax revenue on retail cannabis. Among the myriad ways the city is working to get teens talking about marijuana and its associated risks for underage users are social media campaigns, billboards, school bus signage, an online game show called “Weeded Out” and a Weeded Out trivia card game.

More than 500 teens who live in the city and county of Denver participated in the survey, which was available online November 21 through December 18, 2018. Sixty-four percent said they were aware of the High Costs campaign, most having seen online ads on Facebook and YouTube. A majority recognized that the campaign’s intended message was to provide facts about underage marijuana use, though 53 percent also said the program “provides biased information” to discourage use.

Many teens also said they thought High Costs was trustworthy (75 percent) and likable (73 percent), while about half indicated the tone was “preachy or judgmental.”

Via The High Cost.

In terms of effectiveness, the survey found that 75 percent of the participants who were aware of High Costs said the campaign made them either not want to use, less likely to use or think twice about using marijuana.

Via The High Cost.

“Teens want facts and they want to be able to make their own decisions,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock (D), who called the city’s legal cannabis system a “success” last year, said in a statement. “When we give teens the facts and equip them with knowledge, they make smarter choices about using marijuana.”

In order to build on the first year’s success, the survey report’s authors suggest the city continue growing its online presence and consider more nontraditional marketing methods, including giveaways.

The report also points out that 18 percent of teens said they currently use marijuana. According to the survey’s findings, they appeared skeptical of the campaign and less likely to share its information with friends.

“This audience is going to be difficult to reach, as they’ve already decided to use and naturally are going to reject information that contradicts their decision,” the report states. “For now, focus on the core audience of non-users and past-users, and evaluate the opportunity to target this segment again in a year.”

Last week, Denver officials released an interactive map that tracks how the city spends cannabis tax revenue on educational efforts.

Denver Launches Interactive Map To Track How Marijuana Tax Revenue Funds Education

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash.

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