Is there something going on in the City of Angels we don’t know about? Three separate new studies out this month investigate the association between the prevalence of medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles County and marijuana use among teens and young adults. Their findings, however, are mixed.
As more states legalize marijuana use, local lawmakers have to decide whether they will allow dispensaries to open in their jurisdictions. A common argument from opponents is that the proximity to cannabis will negatively impact the communities in which these establishments reside. For example, many believe rates of crime and violence will rise, while supporters point out that cannabis businesses can fill otherwise-empty storefronts and usually have security guards and surveillance cameras on site that can deter crime at neighboring properties.
Another big concern for policymakers is whether high schoolers will be more likely to consume marijuana or use it more frequently because a dispensary is nearby or whether moving cannabis commerce into regulated establishments that ask for ID can actually dissuade youth consumption.
That’s what the new studies attempt to shed light on.
The first study, the dissertation of a doctoral student in the University of California Los Angeles School of Public Health, aimed to understand whether city ordinances that place restrictions on dispensaries or ban them altogether play a role in preventing high school students from consuming marijuana. Using a cross-sectional analysis with data from 57 L.A. County cities during the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years, study author Catherine Branson found that cities that banned marijuana dispensaries did not have lower rates of marijuana use among students.
“Neither dispensary bans nor the number of dispensaries in a city (normalized by population to a rate of dispensaries per 10,000 city residents) were associated with student marijuana use in cross sectional analyses comparing the prevalence of student marijuana use across 57 cities in LA County,” she found.
Rather, Branson writes, having strict rules in place for licensure for these businesses, as well as where they’re located, offers the “most potent effects on student marijuana use.”
“In this study, students’ marijuana use was more strongly associated with the proximity of the nearest unlicensed dispensary to their school and the density of dispensaries within a several blocks from their school. These localized effects highlight the importance of enforcing city regulations that restrict dispensaries from operating near schools, whether those regulations are minimum distance requirements or policies that ban dispensaries altogether.”
She continued, “Furthermore, that localized effects were noted only for unlicensed outlets and not for licensed dispensaries indicates that enforcing existing ordinances by closing unlicensed outlets near schools could be an excellent first step for cities looking to prevent marijuana use among their students.”
Another study, this one published in the journal Addiction, focused on how the growing number of medical cannabis dispensaries in L.A. County is related to frequency of use for young adults living nearby. Researchers surveyed 1,887 people between the ages of 18-22 and asked them questions about marijuana consumption in the past month, including how many times they used per day. They also calculated the density of medical marijuana dispensaries around respondents’ homes.
According to the study‘s findings, 84 percent of participants reported living within four miles of at least 10 medical cannabis storefronts. As such, researchers found those who lived in a neighborhood with a higher concentration of dispensaries had consumed more marijuana in the past 30 days than those who did not. Interestingly, the study also pointed to storefront marijuana signage as a potential factor.
“For [medical marijuana dispensaries, or MMDs] with marijuana signage,” the authors write, “after adding [medical marijuana] card status, associations between density of MMDs with signage and positive expectancies and times used in a day remained statistically significant, and the magnitude of associations was four times as large for number of times used in a day, and five times as large for positive expectancies compared to total MMD count.”
Alternatively, a third recent study, published in Substance Use & Misuse, found that the density of medical dispensaries in L.A. did not actually affect current use among young people. The parameters they utilized, however, were different from the aforementioned work.
The authors interviewed 329 young adults ages 18-26 in 2014-2015. To determine frequency, researchers asked participants how many days they’d used marijuana in the past 90 days, as well as how many hits they typically did per day. They also identified more than 400 operational medical marijuana dispensaries within the city and calculated the density per population for each ZIP code area.
Their analysis found that the “density of medical marijuana dispensaries per square mile in Los Angeles ZIP code areas was not associated with” how often people—whether they were medical marijuana patients or not—toked in the past three months. These results support other studies that have found no relationship between proximity to medical marijuana establishments and use.
“Based upon these results,” the new study‘s authors speculate, “one could infer that the arrival of new marijuana dispensaries into neighborhoods and subsequent concentration of dispensaries in particular locations will not impact use of marijuana use among current marijuana users who live in areas with the greatest density of dispensaries—including those who cannot legally purchase marijuana from nearby dispensaries.”
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash
FDA Clears Researchers To Study MDMA Use By Therapists Being Trained In Psychedelic Medicine
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already authorized clinical trials into the therapeutic potential of MDMA for patients with post-traumatic stress disorders—but now it’s given the green light to a psychedelics research institute to expand its studies by administering the substance to certain therapists.
Volunteer therapists who are being trained to treat people with PTSD will be able to participate in the Phase 1 trials to gain personal experience with the treatment option. This is a complementary research project that comes as the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is in the process of conducting Phase 3 trials involving people with the disorder.
The development comes months after Canadian regulators announced that certain therapists would be allowed to take psilocybin in order to gain a better understanding of the psychedelic when treating patients.
MAPS sought permission to proceed with the therapist-specific trials in 2019, but FDA placed them on a 20-month hold because of concerns about the merits, risks and credentials of investigators. MAPS appealed that hold, providing evidence about the study’s scientific value and ability of its staff, and FDA cleared them on Tuesday.
— MAPS (@MAPS) May 13, 2021
The organization “chose to dispute” FDA’s hold not just because of the impact it had on the planned studies, “but in an attempt to resolve an ongoing issue with the FDA regarding investigator qualifications across studies,” it said in a press release on Wednesday.
“While the term ‘dispute’ may seem adversarial, this process can actually strengthen the relationship and trust between us and our review Division and ensures the Division has support on this project from the [FDA] Office of Neuroscience,” MAPS Public Benefit Corporation (PBC) CEO Amy Emerson said. “This decision demonstrates how our strategic, data-driven strategy in challenging the FDA rulings can be successful.”
Now MAPS is able to launch the Phase 1 clinical trials into MDMA-assisted therapy for therapists.
It will be designed to “measure development of self-compassion, professional quality of life, and professional burnout among clinicians delivering the treatment to patients,” the association said.
Getting personal experience with the substance “is widely considered to be an important element in preparation and training to deliver psychedelic-assisted therapies.”
This will “support the goals of the MDMA Therapy Training Program to provide comprehensive training to future providers,” and it “builds capacity to deliver quality, accessible care to patients, pending approval of MDMA-assisted therapy as a legal prescription treatment,” MAPS PBC Director and Head of Training and Supervision Shannon Carlin said.
FDA first granted MAPS’s request for an emergency use authorization for MDMA in PTSD in 2017. The organization expects to complete its Phase 3 trails in 2022.
The scientific expansion move also comes as the psychedelics decriminalization movement continues to build in the U.S.
Frequent Marijuana Consumers Are Actually More Physically Active Than Non-Users, Study Finds, Smashing Stereotypes
In a stereotype-busting new study, researchers found that frequent marijuana consumers are actually more likely to be physically active compared to their non-using counterparts.
For decades, anti-cannabis propaganda has cast marijuana consumers as unmotivated couch potatoes. This government-funded ad is a perfect example:
But a study published in the Harm Reduction Journal on Thursday found the opposite to be true. A nationally representative analysis of accelerometer-measured sedentary behavior showed that people who frequently use marijuana—particularly those aged 40 and older—spend more time engaging in physical activity than non-users do.
“Our findings do not support the mainstream perception of cannabis users as living sedentary lifestyles,” the researchers concluded.
In general, they found that “there’s no significant differences between non-current cannabis users and light, moderate, or frequent cannabis users in minutes per day spent in [sedentary behavior].” The difference came down to the average minutes that each group spent in physical activity.
“After controlling for all covariates, frequent cannabis users engaged in significantly greater amounts of light [physical activity] and [moderate-to-vigorous physical activity] compared to non-current users,” the study states. “In the unadjusted model, moderate cannabis use predicted more minutes spent in [moderate-to-vigorous physical activity] compared to non-current use, but this association was not significant upon controlling for all covariates. Light cannabis users did not significantly differ from non-current users in time engaged in [physical activity.”
“The results suggest that frequent cannabis users engaged in more [physical activity] than non-current users, but spent similar amounts of time in [sedentary behavior],” the researchers said.
While the study indicated that light marijuana use is not associated with a statistically significant difference in time being physically active, those who infrequently use cannabis were more likely to self-report more moderate physical activity compared to non-users.
“In a national, population-based US sample, current cannabis use was significantly associated with accelerometer-measured [physical activity], such that frequent cannabis users engaged in greater minutes of light PA and [moderate-to-vigorous physical activity] compared to non-current users.”
The researchers also looked at the relationship between marijuana use, activity and age, finding that people over 40 who consumed cannabis moderately spent an average of 16 more minutes engaged in moderate physical activity each day than non-users.
To explain that trend, the study suggests that cannabis “is being used for exercise-induced pain recovery, since [physical activity] brings about pain and muscle soreness, and a decreased pain threshold and muscle hypersensitivity have been documented with increasing age.”
These findings “add to the cannabis and physical behavior literature by incorporating objective accelerometer measures,” the researchers concluded. “Further understanding of the association between cannabis use and health behaviors is essential to fully addressing the public health concerns associated with cannabis use.”
Legal Marijuana States See Reduced Workers’ Compensation Claims, New Study Finds
Legalizing marijuana for adult use is associated with an increase in workforce productivity and decrease in workplace injuries, according to a new study partly funded by the federal government.
In a working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, researchers looked at the impact of recreational cannabis legalization on workers’ compensation claims among older adults. They found declines in such filings “both in terms of the propensity to receive benefits and benefit amount” in states that have enacted the policy change.
Further, they identified “complementary declines in non-traumatic workplace injury rates and the incidence of work-limiting disabilities” in legal states.
These findings run counter to arguments commonly made by prohibitionists, who have claimed that legalizing marijuana would lead to lower productivity and more occupational hazards and associated costs to businesses. In fact, the study indicates that regulating cannabis sales for adults is a workplace benefit by enabling older employees (40-62 years old) to access an alternative treatment option.
“We offer evidence that the primary driver of these reductions [in workers’ compensation] is an improvement in work capacity, likely due to access to an additional form of pain management therapy,” the study, which received funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, states.
The implementation of adult-use legalization seems to “improve access to an additional channel for managing pain and other health conditions, suggesting potential benefits on populations at risk of workplace injuries,” it continues.
The study is based on an analysis of data on workers’ compensation benefit receipt and workers’ compensation income from
2010 to 2018 as reported in the Annual Social and Economic Supplement of the Current Population Survey.
“Our results show a decline in workers’ compensation benefit propensity of 0.18 percentage points, which corresponds to a 20 percent reduction in any workers’ compensation income, after states legalize marijuana for recreational use. Similarly, we find that annual income received from workers’ compensation declines by $21.98 (or 20.5%) post-[recreational marijuana legalization]. These results are not driven by pre-existing trends, and falsification exercises suggest that observing estimates of this magnitude is statistically rare.”
Researchers said that they’ve found evidence that cannabis use increases post-legalization among the age cohort they studied, but no such spike in misuse. Further, they found a decline in post-legalization prescriptions for medications used to treat chronic pain, indicating that some people are using marijuana as a substitute for traditional painkillers.
“We hypothesize that access to marijuana through [recreational marijuana laws] increases its medical use and, in turn, allows better management of symptoms that impede work capacity—e.g., chronic pain, insomnia, mental health problems, nausea, and so forth,” the study says. “Chronic pain management is likely to be particularly important in our context as this is the health condition most commonly reported among medical marijuana users.”
Beyond decreasing workers’ compensation claims and costs, legalization also is a boon to the economy by adding jobs in legal states.
The cannabis industry added more than 77,000 jobs over the past year—a 32 percent increase that makes the sector the fastest in job creation compared to any other American industry, according to a report released by the cannabis company Leafly last week.