Many people have had to take a urine test for cannabis, perhaps as a job requirement. Using the popular procedure, marijuana metabolites can in some cases be detected for weeks after a person’s last use. But here’s a question few may have thought to ask: Can THC be detected in semen?
According to a new study by a team of Harvard Medical School researchers, the answer is yes—at least sometimes. In a study of 12 participants who regularly consumed marijuana by inhalation, the researchers were able to detect delta-9 THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, in two subjects’ semen samples. And at least one metabolite of THC—what’s left over after the body processes the compound—could be detected in all samples capable of being analyzed. “Two semen samples,” the report says, “had insufficient volume to be analyzed.”
Why the focus on THC in semen? In a word, pregnancy. Men of reproductive age, the study’s authors note, “are the most prevalent consumers of marijuana, with 19.4% of men in the USA reporting use.” A 2018 study cited by the authors found that 16.5 percent of men and 11.5 percent of women reported using marijuana while attempting to conceive.
How exactly THC affects reproductive systems and childhood development are questions the Harvard authors don’t attempt to answer in the study. The primary goal of the proof-of-concept research, they explain, “was to determine whether THC can cross the blood-testis barrier.” On that front, they appear to have succeeded.
“In the setting of a growing repository of data surrounding the effects of the endocannabinoid system in the regulation and maintenance of fertility and early pregnancy,” the study says, “ours is the first report that the exogenous cannabinoid THC can be detected in any human reproductive matrix.”
Because of the interest in whether THC could be detected at all, researchers focused on regular, long-term marijuana consumers. All participants indicated they had used the drug between 25 and 30 days of the last month, and most said they had been regular consumers for at least five years. “Consequently,” the team said, “our study findings cannot be generalized to include ever users, light, or moderate users of marijuana.”
Of the two participants whose semen contained detectable levels of THC itself, samples contained 0.97 nanograms per milliliter and 0.87 ng/mL.
But it wasn’t clear what set those two participants apart. There was no correlation between semen THC and concentration of the metabolite THC carboxylic acid in urine, nor with time since last cannabis consumption, participant age or participant body mass index.
“It is puzzling that some, but not all, semen samples tested positive for THC,” the study says. “There were no obvious factors that were strongly associated with detectable semen THC; thus, we can propose few predictors of the presence of THC in human semen. Future directions (of research) include identifying characteristics that may affect semen detectable THC levels.”
How precisely THC affects semen—or the sperm within it, not to mention conception, pregnancy or childhood development—is still hard to say with certainty. As the Harvard researchers note in the study, “Evidence linking marijuana to reproductive outcomes is scarce and to date, often conflicting.”
One study of 1,200 young Danish men, for example, found that those who smoked marijuana regularly had lower sperm counts than those who did not. Another study, of 662 older, subfertile men in Massachusetts, found that men who had ever smoked marijuana had significantly higher sperm counts than those who’d abstained.
As for the effects of THC on sperm, or conception itself, those also remain unclear. “The effect of marijuana on human gametes and fertilization is relatively unknown,” the new paper says. Endocannabinoid receptors have been reported on sperm themselves, but “studies examining the direct effect of THC on human sperm are limited.”
Most research so far has either been observational, by measuring THC through self-reporting or blood testing, or studied the behavior of sperm that had been washed in a laboratory with a THC solution. “Our findings, that THC can be directly quantified in human seminal fluid, lay the groundwork to allow for future studies,” the new study says. “Since THC can be detected in the seminal fluid of some individuals, this might provide a direct method of measurement (rather than relying on self-reporting marijuana use, which is subjective and potentially unreliable, or serum levels which only reflect recent exposure) to bridge real-world clinical studies with the prior staged studies in which THC was directly incubated with washed sperm.”
While the THC-washed sperm showed some concerning effects, including decreased motility and mitochondrial oxygen consumption, the Harvard team acknowledged the concentrations of THC used in those studies were significantly stronger than anything observed in their semen study: “It should be noted that even the lowest concentration of THC with which former studies incubated sperm was over tenfold higher than the concentration of THC detected in the semen of our study subjects.”
In other words, the study is a stepping-stone to further research. And while the top-line findings might elicit some giggles, authors say the study is serious business.
“The ability to quantify cannabinoids in human reproductive tissues and fluids,” they conclude, “gives us the capability to directly study the effects of cannabis on early human reproduction.”
Feds To Send Marijuana And Hemp Samples To Labs As Part Of Large-Scale Testing Accuracy Study
A federal science agency is inviting labs to participate in a large-scale study to assess their ability to accurately analyze marijuana and hemp samples for their cannabinoid profile and possible contaminants.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) said in a notice on Thursday that it will provide samples of cannabis that it’s already analyzed to labs and then ask them to run their own tests. Once that’s complete, NIST will reveal the actual data and compare the numbers to identify any disparities.
The point of the study isn’t to expose labs that fail to provide accurate analyses; rather, it’s intended to help forensic analysts and the cannabis industry develop best practices. NIST, which is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, said it’s especially important given that hemp was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, while its higher THC cannabis cousin marijuana remains federally illegal.
“If you’re going to confiscate a farmer’s crop, or subject a person to prosecution, you want to be sure that measurement is accurate,” NIST research chemist Brent Wilson said in a press release.
Is it hemp or is it marijuana? Legally, there's a big difference. Now, NIST is helping labs increase the accuracy of the measurements they make to answer that question. Find out how: https://t.co/3tQZzzcleL pic.twitter.com/ntsmZuuGUb
— National Institute of Standards and Technology (@NIST) January 14, 2021
The agency has previously led research on analyzing hemp oil, but this one involving both hemp and marijuana will target flower, which is more challenging for labs. To get the samples for this new study, NIST ground down various cannabis buds and sorted them—”like a baker sifting flour”—to separate the material by particle size.
Wilson then “blended the powders into batches and carefully measured how much of each compound and contaminant was present in each batch.”
“NIST will send samples from those batches to participating labs,” the agency said. “All labs will receive legal hemp samples. Labs that are licensed to handle controlled substances can also request marijuana samples.”
Labs interested in participating in the study have until February 5 to enroll. Samples will be distributed in April.
While determining THC content is a central concern, the research will also look at CBD and other cannabinoids so that cannabis companies are able to ensure that their products meet legal standards and are properly labeled for consumers.
After a lab has analyzed the samples, it will report back to NIST with the results as well as information about the testing method it used. The results will be published, but they will be anonymized. The public will “be able to see the amount of variation across labs but not how any specific lab performed.”
“Our goal is to provide a learning opportunity for labs, not to publicize their performance,” NIST research chemist Melissa Phillips said.
Following the study’s completion, the agency will investigate which testing methods produce the most accurate results to inform the industry. Then it will re-run the test, which is expected to show “less variability in the lab measurements, as labs overall improve their methods.”
A description of the study exercise states that participating labs “may also elect to report only selected analytes (e.g., only reporting total THC, but not all cannabinoids).”
“Participants will be asked to report triplicate results for each sample provided using measurement procedures and calculations normally performed in their laboratories,” it says. “In addition, participants will also be asked to identify the type of sample preparation and analytical methods employed in their testing to facilitate conclusions about potential method bias.”
There are currently 46 labs that are listed as participants in NIST’s cannabis research program. That includes multiple private labs as well as one police department and a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. There are also facilities from Canada and the Netherlands enrolled.
In December, the Department of Justice announced that it was awarding NIST a grant to help to develop a method of differentiating hemp and marijuana.
The previous year, the Drug Enforcement Administration similarly announced that it was seeking a device to “provide specificity to distinguish between hemp and marijuana” since the former crop was legalized.
The complications resulting from hemp legalization is especially apparent in Texas, where marijuana possession arrests fell almost 30 percent from 2018 to 2019 following the state-level legalization of the non-intoxicating cannabis crop.
Prosecutors in the state have dismissed hundreds of low-level cannabis cases since hemp was legalized. And officials announced last year that labs wouldn’t be performing testing in misdemeanor cases, with the Department of Public Safety saying it “will not have the capacity to accept those.”
Photo courtesy of National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Best Music Playlists For Psychedelic Therapy Are Explored In New Johns Hopkins Study
Psychedelic therapy sessions often incorporate music—and typically that music is of the classical genre. But new research out of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine suggests there may in fact be no special value in playing a Mozart concerto or Chopin étude for tripping patients.
Gongs could work just as well, if not better, the study found.
“Western classical music has long been assumed to be the standard in psychedelic therapy,” researchers wrote in the study, published Tuesday in the American Chemical Society (ACS) journal Pharmacology and Translational Science. “The present data challenge this notion that Western classical music, or for that matter any specific genre of music, is an intrinsically superior form of music to support psychedelic therapy, at least for all people at all times.”
Analyzing a 10-person trial involving the use of psilocybin therapy to help people quit smoking tobacco, the Johns Hopkins team compared sessions featuring classical music with those involving overtone-based music, featuring instruments such as gongs, Tibetan singing bowls or the didgeridoo, among others.
“Although we found no significant differences between the two musical genres studied here,” the team wrote, “several trends suggested that the overtone-based playlist resulted in somewhat better outcomes and was preferred by a larger portion of this small sample of participants.”
Spoiler alert – they did about the same but a hint that the overtone playlist (gong etc.) did a bit better than Western classical. Apparently classical music is not such a sacred cow for psychedelic therapy. With @juststrickland and Albert Garcia-Romeu.
— Matthew W. Johnson (@Drug_Researcher) December 30, 2020
In other words, while the results don’t prove that overtone-based music yields better outcomes than classical, the findings nevertheless “call into question whether Western classical music typically played in psychedelic sessions holds unique benefit.”
As one of the study’s authors, Johns Hopkins researcher Matthew Johnson, put it in a recent tweet: “Apparently classical music is not such a sacred cow for psychedelic therapy.”
The researchers said the study “provides the first contemporary and within-subject experimental manipulation of session set and setting factors in psychedelic research” and is the “first fully randomized test of different musical genres supporting psychedelic therapy.”
Participants each had three therapy sessions, one featuring classical music, another featuring overtone music and a third session for which they could choose between the two genres. Psilocybin doses were between 20 milligrams and 30 milligrams per 70 kilograms of body weight.
Among the data researchers analyzed were participants’ evaluations of their own experiences, including “mystical experiences”—such as feelings of unity and transcendence of time and space—as well as “challenging experiences,” such as feelings of panic or losing sanity.
“Visual inspection of individual and average data indicated higher overall scores for overtone-based sessions compared to Western classical sessions,” the authors wrote. “This difference was of a medium effect size but was not statistically significant.”
As described in the paper there is about 25% overlap with the classic playlist we compared it to, link below. Most of that overlap was near onset and come down. A few tracks on the older classical playlist already fit the overtone-based genre.https://t.co/rKUsd6N005
— Matthew W. Johnson (@Drug_Researcher) December 31, 2020
Researchers also analyzed smoking abstinence outcomes based on the music genre participants selected for their third psychedelic therapy session, after sampling both genres. Participants who chose to listen to overtone music during the third session were more successful at quitting smoking—both immediately after treatment (83.3 percent) and over a period of about 30 months afterward (66 percent). By comparison, half of participants who chose Western classical music quit smoking immediately, and all of those people were still not smoking after 30 months.
Experts have long stressed the role of set and setting in a psychedelic experience, noting how both a person’s psychological state as well as their environment can affect the behavioral and clinical effects of entheogenic drugs. “Traditional laboratory contexts that contain overtly ‘sterile’ stimuli (e.g. white walls and medical equipment,” the authors note as one example, “have been suggested to increase the likelihood of negative reactions.”
While music is a standard feature of clinical psychedelic therapy, the new study says, the default by therapists to predominantly Western classical playlists is “likely due to recommendations present in early guidelines,” which specifically mentioned classical music.
But it may not be music at all, but instead a collection of sounds, that complements the psychedelic experience.
“The lack of superiority of the Western classical playlist is even more interesting considering that some of the overtone-based playlist tracts consisted of sounds without traditionally identifiable melody and/or rhythm and therefore might not be classified as songs or music by some,” the study says. “This suggests that the sounds capable of supporting psychedelic therapy sessions may go beyond the bounds of traditionally defined musical genres.”
The researchers concluded that the study lends support to the idea that “developing a process for generating patient-specific musical selections rather than providing standardized music may improve therapeutic outcomes.”
“For example, future work could evaluate how patient-selected music impacts therapeutic effects or identify individual factors predictive of response to varying musical genres or musical features other than genre to individualize session selections,” the wrote. “More broadly, these findings emphasize the need for the parametric study of psychedelic session components to either provide improved standardized conditions, or to individualize conditions to improve the therapeutic effects of psychedelic therapy across diverse and varied populations.”
Johns Hopkins University, where the study analysis was done, is widely regarded as a leading institution on psychedelic research. In 2000, it became the first U.S. institution to gain federal approval to reinstitute research into psychedelic drugs using subjects who didn’t already have a history of using the drug, and last year it launched the country’s first-ever psychedelic research center.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Workman
Youth Marijuana Use Remains Stable Amid Surge Of State-Level Legalization, Feds Report
Youth marijuana use continues to be stable, even as more states move to legalize the plant, according to the latest edition of an annual survey funded by the federal government.
The Monitoring the Future (MTF) report, released on Tuesday, found that cannabis consumption among adolescents “did not significantly change in any of the three grades for lifetime use, past 12-month use, past 30-day use, and daily use from 2019-2020.” That’s based on self-reports from 8th, 10th and 12th grade students.
What’s more, daily marijuana vaping actually decreased by more than half during that time period for 10th and 12th graders. It’s down to 1.1 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively.
NEWS: Rates of past-year #nicotine and #marijuana vaping among high schoolers remained steady from 2019 to early 2020, although they are still high. See the latest #MonitoringTheFuture survey results on teen drug use:https://t.co/giFEFnZaeB#MTF2020 pic.twitter.com/9epVIQbnzu
— nidanews (@NIDAnews) December 15, 2020
For all three grades, lifetime cannabis use, past 30-day consumption and daily use either remained the same or slightly decreased from 2019 to 2020, the survey shows. The only exception is daily use among 12th grade students, which ticked up by half a percentage point.
Perceptions of the harmfulness of marijuana also generally remained stable.
These results run counter to the narrative that prohibitionists have consistently put forward, arguing that the state-level legalization movement will lead to significant increases in youth cannabis use because it would normalize the behavior.
Advocates have countered that establishing regulated marijuana programs would restrict access to underage people, while at the same time mitigating the influence of the illicit markets where policies like ID checks are not required.
The 2018 MTF survey, which is conducted by the University of Michigan and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, also revealed that fewer adolescents are using marijuana now compared to 2012, when the first states moved to legalize cannabis.
These results are consistent with other federal data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The agency’s biennial Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that marijuana consumption among high school students declined during the peak years of state-legal recreational cannabis legalization.
There was “no change” in the rate of current cannabis use among high school students from 2009-2019, the survey found. When analyzed using a quadratic change model, however, lifetime marijuana consumption decreased during that period.
The prohibitionist argument that cannabis legalization would embolden young people to use cannabis has been repeatedly debunked in research. And the claim becomes all the more shaky each year as more states legalize legislatively or through the ballot.
Colorado and Washington were the first two states to legalize marijuana, in 2012. Since then, additional states have come on board with every election cycle. Most recently, Arizona, Mississippi Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota voters elected to enact the reform via the ballot last month.
Another study released by Colorado officials in August showed that youth cannabis consumption in the state “has not significantly changed since legalization” in 2012, though methods of consumption are diversifying.
An official with the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy’s National Marijuana Initiative went even further in July, admitting that, for reasons that are unclear, youth consumption of cannabis “is going down” in Colorado and other legalized states and that it’s “a good thing” even if “we don’t understand why.”
Past studies looking at teen use rates after legalization have found declines in consumption or a similar lack of evidence indicating there’s been an increase.
Last year, for example, a study took data from Washington State and determined that declining youth marijuana consumption could be explained by replacing the illicit market with regulations or the “loss of novelty appeal among youths.” Another study from last year showed declining youth cannabis consumption in legalized states but didn’t suggest possible explanations.
Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.