The first controlled study examining marijuana as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder needs just a handful more U.S. military veterans to volunteer as test subjects before it can be completed, the study’s nonprofit sponsor announced Thursday.
More than 2.7 million men and women have been deployed to combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. As many as 20 percent of veterans may return with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), according to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) data.
Many combat vets anecdotally report using cannabis to successfully treat symptoms of PTSD, but without data from a controlled study, mainstream medicine—and the VA health system—have been slow to accept marijuana as a treatment, despite pressure from Trump Administration officials who suggest cannabis may be effective.
After some difficulty, a study in Arizona sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) examining smoked marijuana as a treatment is near full enrollment and is expected to finish on time, the organization announced.
The study can accept seven more volunteer test subjects, said lead researcher Dr. Sue Sisley, a physician and psychiatrist who has been working on the study for a decade.
“We only have seven spots available for #veterans to still be enrolled in the study, but they must be screened before the end of October in order to be eligible.” —@SueSisleyMDhttps://t.co/2Mqt7HcFHi #PTSD #Medicine #Marijuana #PressRelease
— MAPS (@MAPS) August 9, 2018
Participants “must be adult military veterans with chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD,” according to Sisley. Research will be conducted in Phoenix, Arizona, where veterans will make 17 outpatient study visits over the course of 12 weeks.
The study is progressing despite significant challenges, including a lack of financial assistance from the VA, which has also blocked Sisley from entering its hospitals in search of test subjects.
Sisley was summarily discharged from her position as a professor at the University of Arizona in the study’s early stages, a firing that some say was politically motivated.
After losing the imprimatur of the University of Arizona in 2013, another research university that initially planned to sponsor with Sisley, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, also abruptly cut ties with Sisley and the study.
Hopkins announced its departure after Sisley publicly criticized the quality and potency of the research-grade marijuana provided by the federal government.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse still has a monopoly on the marijuana available to researchers in the United States, which is grown on a farm operated by the University of Mississippi. The cannabis is low-quality and low-potency, critics say, and bears little resemblance to the marijuana found at dispensaries and on the black market.
In the waning months of the Obama administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced plans to license additional growers of cannabis for research, but the Trump administration has not acted on the more than two dozen applications it has received to date, something that has angered members of Congress from both parties.
In addition to MAPS, Sisley’s study is funded by a $2.156 million grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health.
According to researchers, the study “will provide physicians, patients, scientists, and regulators with critical knowledge regarding whether marijuana benefits individuals with PTSD, whether adverse consequences occur, and the impact of the chemical composition of marijuana, specifically ∆-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), on clinical outcomes. The data from the trial will be finalized in early 2019, after which the results will be prepared for publication.”
The study is still the only of its kind, despite a recent admission from the VA that it could study cannabis.
Marijuana Legalization Associated With Decreased Interest In Alcohol, Study Finds
Interest in alcohol declines after states legalize marijuana, according to a new study analyzing online behavior. But for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, interest in tobacco products increases following the policy change.
Another notable finding is that interest in cannabis among young people appears to decline after the end of prohibition.
Researchers from the University of Georgia and Syracuse University sought to identify the cross-commodity effects of legalization and used data from a “leading US-based web portal” from January 2014 to April 2017 to see how the implementation of adult-use legal marijuana programs in states changed online behavior such as web searches and engagement with advertisements.
The data set “covers over 28 million searches and 120 million ad impressions related to cannabis, alcohol and tobacco industries,” they wrote.
Published in the journal Marketing Science, the study reveals diverging trends for alcohol and tobacco.
Legalization “reduces search volume and advertising effectiveness for alcohol, but increases those for tobacco,” the authors wrote. “Hence, cannabis appears a substitute to alcohol, but not to tobacco.”
It also determined that recreational marijuana legalization leads to a nearly 17 percent increase in cannabis-related searches—however, that increase was “significantly attenuated” for young people, who did not search for marijuana more post-legalization. On the contrary, the study noted a “significant decrease in cannabis search[es] among the youth after” legalization.
“Contrary to widely held public concern after recreational cannabis is legalized, teenagers appear to lose interest, rather than gain interest,” study author Pengyuan Wang said in a press release. “Policymakers only concerned with an uptick in teen users, may want to rethink their stance.”
That finding is supported by another recent study exploring youth cannabis consumption. An analysis of federal data from 1993 to 2017 showed that self-reported past-month youth cannabis use decreased by about eight percent in states that legalized marijuana for adult use.
Alcohol searches decreased by about 11 percent after a state legalized marijuana, the researchers behind the new study found. They argued that the results show that the alcohol industry “has valid reasons to be concerned about legal cannabis and may need creative strategies to avoid market decline if [recreational cannabis legalization] passes.”
However, predictions about marijuana’s potential to disrupt the tobacco industry might have been overblown, the study indicated. Searches for tobacco products increased by almost eight percent and so “tobacco companies may need to reexamine their presumption, and that anti-cannabis legalization is not in their best interest,” Wang said.
It’s not clear whether the analysis of tobacco search trends included cannabis-adjacent products such as blunts, rolling papers or vaporizer devices, which could overlap between tobacco and marijuana consumers. Marijuana Moment reached out to Wang for clarification but she did not immediately respond.
The research team said that their study is unique because it’s the first to analyze “large-scale unobtrusive behavioral data before and after policy change to unveil the treatment effect of [recreational cannabis legalization] using a difference-in-difference approach.”
“These findings on cross-commodity relationships help resolve the conflicting literature and provide distinct implications for practitioners,” the study authors wrote.
Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.
Legalizing Marijuana Leads To Fewer Illegal Grow Sites In National Forests, Study Finds
In news that Smokey Bear, iconic protector of all forests, would be happy to hear, research shows that reports of illegal marijuana grow operations on federally protected lands fell after states began legalizing it for adult use.
“Arguably,” the study authors write, “our models hint that outright, national recreational cannabis legalization would be one means by which illegal growing on national forests could be made to disappear.”
“[W]e find that recreational cannabis legalization is associated with decreased reports of illegal grow operations on national forests.”
The research, which was published in the journal Ecological Economics earlier this month, is thought to be the first of its kind to analyze the effects of legalization policies on illegal outdoor grows in national forests throughout the United States. A separate recent study found that cannabis cultivation on federal lands specifically in the Pacific Northwest declined after legalization.
Researchers with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service used existing data on the number of illegal grow sites reported between 2004 and 2016 in 111 national forests. In addition to incorporating other variables into their analysis (including state marijuana policies, retail price for consumers, risk of exposure and others), they also came up with six simulated scenarios with policy changes to create random effects models of the number of reported grows.
For example, in one scenario, the study’s authors estimated how many illegal grow sites would exist if current laws legalizing both recreational and medical marijuana were revoked. In another simulation, wholesale and retail sales taxes on legal marijuana were eliminated in states that had already approved the sale and consumption of cannabis in 2016.
According to the study’s findings, “policies legalizing recreational cannabis production and consumption are associated with significantly lower numbers of reported illegal grows on national forests.”
The study’s predictive models showed that eliminating current state laws legalizing access to marijuana would result in “double-digit percentage increases in reported grows on national forests, while further expansion of the set of states with such laws passed by statewide referenda in 2016 (but only instituting applicable laws in 2017 or later, post-dating our dataset) would be expected to reduce growing on national forests by a fifth or more.”
If all 23 states that had approved medical marijuana by 2016 moved to more broadly legalize for adult use, the study continues, illegal cultivation sites in national forests would decline anywhere from 35 percent to 51 percent. However, it concluded that legalization of medical cannabis across the U.S. alone would not affect grow operations in national forests.
Mere decriminalization of possession was also found to have no significant effect on the number of illegal farms, though models did show that harsher penalties for illegal production and possession of marijuana, as well as stricter regulations on CBD oil and similar products, did. Meanwhile, an increase in law enforcement presence only made a slight difference (a 2.5 percent decrease in reported illegal grows) if local agencies increased their manpower by 20 percent.
Another issue, of course, is the role of taxes. If states reduced how much they tax legal sales by 6 to 13 percent, the number of illegal grows would decline. As researchers point out, “availability of legal cannabis does not encourage illegal cultivation unless the after-tax price for legal cannabis is substantially elevated relative to the illegal product.”
“As a practical matter,” the study authors summarize, “the number of cannabis grows on national forests could be reduced in two opposite ways: (1) legalization, or (2) increased efforts to deter, incarcerate, and otherwise discourage participation in the illegal market. Redefining what is legal perhaps would yield reductions that are cost less for the Forest Service, at least in the narrow sense of cannabis law enforcement demands, and would reduce the damages associated with cannabis cultivation.”
Ecologists have raised concerns about the environmental impact illegal marijuana cultivation sites have on national forests, such as the use of highly toxic rodenticide to ward off pests.
Photo by Aphiwat chuangchoem/Pexels.
Most Addiction Specialists Support Legalizing Medical Marijuana, Study Finds
We already know 93 percent of Americans support legalizing medical marijuana. Now, thanks to new research, we also know a sizable majority of substance abuse clinicians do too.
But even though drug misuse professionals broadly back cannabis’s medical value, they also see risks associated with its use.
“While most participants agreed that medical marijuana should be legalized and that its ‘responsible’ use was ‘safe,'” the study concluded, “they also believed that it is often abused and has not been studied adequately. Consistent with prior research, we found that fewer addictions treatment professionals (approximately 70%) than members of the public supported legalization of marijuana for medical purposes.”
Generally speaking, many medical professionals who treat substance use disorders (SUD) believe abstinence from recreational drugs is the best practice. This new study, which published earlier last week in the Journal of Substance Use, aimed to get a better understanding of where they stood on the medical use of marijuana.
“Given that negative attitudes toward patients, regardless of the reason, may result in premature treatment termination and poorer quality care, it seems important to understand attitudes toward legalization of medical marijuana among SUD treatment professionals,” the researchers from Towson University in Maryland wrote.
Participants were asked to rate how much they agreed or disagreed with 22 statements, including:
- Marijuana is safe when used responsibly for medical purposes.
- Medical marijuana is often abused.
- A client can be in substance use disorder treatment when using medical marijuana.
- Marijuana can help reduce withdrawal symptoms
- Taking marijuana instead of other drugs is only replacing one addiction with another.
They were also asked to share their personal history with cannabis and whether or not they knew anyone who had used medical marijuana.
A total of 966 addiction clinicians completed the survey between February and May 2018. They were identified through professional certification boards in Alaska, Kansas, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Rhode Island, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
Most reported having used marijuana (74 percent), knowing a medical cannabis patient (73 percent) and knowing patients with addiction issues who’d used cannabis in their recovery (61 percent).
Additionally, most respondents thought marijuana should be legalized for medical purposes and that its use was safe, though only 38 percent said it was “not detrimental to one’s health.” Sixty-four percent said they believed medical cannabis is often abused.
Interestingly, however, many participants agreed that cannabis (including products that contain the cannabinoid CBD) could help with symptoms associated with addiction, such as anxiety and insomnia. While 70 percent said consuming marijuana is “trading one addiction for another,” most also thought it was acceptable for a person in SUD treatment to use medical marijuana.
“Overall,” the study‘s authors note, “our results suggest that addictions treatment providers have mixed opinions about medical marijuana legalization.”
Among the factors that appeared to influence participants’ attitudes toward medical marijuana were age—younger professionals were more open to the idea—past experience consuming cannabis and personal knowledge of someone who’d used cannabis for therapeutic purposes. Providers on the East Coast also viewed medical marijuana more favorably than in other parts of the country.
“These mixed attitudes may actually reflect a healthy skepticism,” researchers conclude. “That is, if the current trends continue, addictions treatment professionals may be poised to both accept medical marijuana legalization and to handle any associated negative consequences.”