Tag: research

The 5 Most Surprising Cannabis Stories of 2017

Nothing announces the end of a year like a countdown, so allow me to commence my list of the Top Five Most Surprising Cannabis Stories of 2017.

5. The Canadian mandate requiring citizens to store personal-use cannabis under lock and key. (Upside: the creation of thousands of jobs for private-residence lockbox inspectors?)

4. The old-school huffing and puffing of US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who sought to revive a “War on Drugs” approach to cannabis but failed to rally anyone beyond the ghosts in his mind.

3. The fact that switching from flowery bong hits to concentrated dab hits will suddenly make the former taste like what comes out of a garbage truck’s exhaust pipe. (This is a personal news story and thus unlinkable, but it BLEW MY MIND.)

2. The multifaceted promise cannabis has shown in combatting the opioid epidemic

And at the top of the heap…

1. The abrupt evolution of Orrin Hatch, the longstanding Republican senator for Utah, who this fall punctuated his historic career of conservatism by coming out swinging for medical cannabis.

What inspired Hatch’s about-face? The same thing that’s inspired about-faces by so many reactionary holdouts: a friend.

“It’s high time to address research into medical marijuana,” said Hatch while introducing the Marijuana Effective Drug Study Act of 2017 in September. “Our country has experimented with a variety of state solutions without properly delving into the weeds on the effectiveness, safety, dosing, administration, and quality of medical marijuana. All the while, the federal government strains to enforce regulations that sometimes do more harm than good. To be blunt, we need to remove the administrative barriers preventing legitimate research into medical marijuana, which is why I’ve decided to roll out the MEDS Act.”

Bizarre overreliance on stoner allusions aside, the MEDS Act explicitly aims to “improve the process for conducting scientific research on marijuana as a safe and effective medical treatment,” from streamlining cannabis research to “requiring the Attorney General to increase the national marijuana quota in a timely manner to meet the changing medical, scientific, and industrial needs.”

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This would be impressive from a lefty Democrat. From Hatch—who previously voted against decriminalizing possession of small amounts of cannabis and fought states seeking to establish medical marijuana programs—it’s borderline amazing.

What inspired Hatch’s about-face? The same thing that’s inspired about-faces by so many reactionary holdouts: a friend.

Hatch spoke of his inspirational friend—a young constituent with severe epilepsy—while introducing the MEDS Act in September.

“The current treatment for his condition, with no guarantee of success, would be invasive brain surgery,” said Hatch. “Compounds found in marijuana could significantly mitigate the severity of my friend’s seizures and even help him lead a normal life. But current regulations prevent the development of any such treatment from going forward. So this young man is left to suffer.”

All of us in the pro-cannabis community need to make space for (and have patience with) late bloomers finally seeing the light.

With this proclamation, Orrin Hatch became the most prominent example yet of an ever-more-common type: the anti-cannabis human whose mind is changed by the experience of someone they know.

For the last, irrational holdouts against medical marijuana, such direct personal connection to an MMJ beneficiary is apparently the only instructor.

On one hand, this is annoying. Must one’s personal belongings be engulfed in flames before one understands the need for a fire department? Couldn’t any one of the millions of Americans whose lives have been improved through medical marijuana sufficed as an inspirational example for Hatch?

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On the other hand, complaining about progress is a losing game, and all of us in the pro-cannabis community need to make space for (and have patience with) late bloomers finally seeing the light. They are a key component of the future of legal cannabis.

For now, let us bask in the inspirational words of Orrin Hatch, who wrapped his senate introduction of the MEDS Act by “[urging] my colleagues to join in our joint effort to help thousands of Americans suffering from a wide-range of diseases and disorders. In a Washington at war with itself, I have high hopes that this bipartisan initiative can be a kumbaya moment for both parties.”

Cannabis and Mental Health: Cause, Cure, or It’s Complicated? (Yes)

As the countdown to legal Canadian cannabis ticks forward, there’s growing interest in cannabis’s medical potential when it comes to mental illness, something that affects one in five Canadians.

Are those with mental illness using cannabis to help with symptoms, or are they using it as a result of having a mental illness?

Given those stats, and the reality that, outside of tobacco and alcohol, cannabis is the most common psychoactive substance used among the general population, it’s inevitable that the potential overlap of cannabis and mental illness will lead to a spike in questions for doctors.

And yet, many patients share a similar experience: When they approach their doctors about the possibility of using cannabis to help with mental illness, the suggestion is strongly dismissed. Since cannabis has a long way to go before it shakes off the stigma of being an illicit drug, some perceive it as a chicken-or-egg conundrum among those who use it to treat mental illness. Are those with mental illness using it to help with symptoms, or are they using it as a result of having a mental illness?

Because research into this quandary is minimal and doctors are often unforthcoming, the evidence is largely anecdotal.

Toronto-based photographer and activist Andy Lee uses cannabis, along with talk therapy, to treat his depression and anxiety. He came to this balance after trying antidepressants, and deciding they weren’t effective for him.

Since his doctor made it clear he was against the idea of medicinal cannabis to treat mental illness, Lee found another practitioner who was comfortable prescribing it. “I know this is a touchy subject and taboo but this worked,” he says.

Lee is now involved in cannabis and mental health advocacy.

“I know this is a touchy subject but this worked.”

Andy Lee on treating his depression with cannabis

Even though he’s found treatment that works, he admits there are risks to overusing cannabis. “It’s a healing plant but it shouldn’t be abused and taken for granted,” he says. “It’s like antibiotics, the positive effects diminish the more your body gets used to it.”

Claire Gabereau relates. For years, the Vancouver-based costume designer would chronically smoke cannabis. When she was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and borderline personality disorder, her doctor strongly discouraged her from consuming cannabis. Her psychiatrist, on the other hand, was more open-minded and never criticized Gabereau’s habits. But when an additional diagnosis determined she had substance-use disorder, she decided to go completely sober, rather than start antidepressants.

“I didn’t like [that my psychiatrist] was like ‘sobriety might be good for you, here’s a bunch of drugs,’” she says.

It’s been three months since Gabereau changed her habits and her depression and anxiety appear to have subsided. “I don’t want to go back to smoking it all the time because I’d definitely get paranoia and anxiety,” she says. “It can be used as a tool and medicine but since I’ve been abusing it for so long, it lost its value and purpose.”

Invaluable Research from Israel

Most scientists will agree that cannabis’s 100+ compounds, known as cannabinoids, have a clear effect on humans’ biology. But there are a lot of gaps in the research of the therapeutic role it can play when it comes to mental illness, especially in the US, where medical research is stifled by cannabis’s prohibitive designation as a schedule-I narcotic.

Shauli Lev-Ran (courtesy of the subject)

Shauli Lev-Ran  is an addiction psychiatrist based in Tel Aviv. He focuses on the psychiatric aspects of cannabis use and the interface between pain, psychiatric disorders, and risk of addition.

He regularly treats patients in his clinical practice with both psychiatric disorders and cannabis-use disorders. As legislation and regulations surrounding cannabis change across the US, Canada, and other countries, he started examining the connection between mental health and cannabis more deeply.

Despite his area of expertise, Lev-Ran admits he hasn’t found definitive answers when it comes to the chicken-or-egg theory of what comes first, mental illness or the dependency on cannabis. “It’s complex and there are a lot of methodical issues that confound our ability to get reasonable answers to these questions,” he says.

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In 2013, Lev-Ran conducted a study through the Centre for Mental Health and Addictions in Toronto. Based on data collected by the National Institute for Alcoholism Abuse and Alcoholism, it was a cross-sectional study of more than 43,000 people—the largest epidemiological study on psychiatric disorders and substance use abuse. Lev-Ran found people with mental illnesses are over seven times more likely to use cannabis weekly than those without a mental illness.

More specifically, the study analyzed the difference between the rates of cannabis use and abuse amongst people with psychiatric disorders compared to those without. The research was based on the subjects’ number and types of psychiatric disorders and the intensity of their cannabis use, which Lev-Ran admits is challenging to quantify. Unlike alcohol, there are no standard doses with cannabis use.

Lev-Ran found people with mental illnesses are over seven times more likely to use cannabis weekly than those without a mental illness.

“We can talk about frequency and we can talk about dose, but they’re not standardized,” he says. “If I smoke two joints a day that are low in THC, it’s one thing, but if I smoke skunk or high potency and I smoke a large joint without tobacco as a filler, in both cases the dose seems like the same but they’re very different.”

Lev-Ran followed up with a meta-analysis, culled from thousands of existing studies, and found that those who use cannabis are at an increased risk for developing depression. However, he noticed many of the individual studies within the meta-analysis left out significant considerations, such as childhood upbringing and a family history of substance abuse.

Lev-Ran followed up with another study in 2016, which surveyed both cannabis users and non-users who had never suffered from depression. It set to understand if cannabis users who never experienced depression were at higher risk of suffering from an onset of the mental illness, compared to non-users. The study also analyzed data from the National Institute for Alcoholism Abuse and Alcoholism. This time, it followed up on 34,000 individuals who had taken part in the 2013 study.

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Lev-Ran found that regardless of frequency (or infrequency) of use of cannabis, there was no difference between the rates of depression. Conversely, individuals with depression were at a higher risk to start using cannabis compared to those with no depression.

“One thing is to maybe say that cannabis isn’t very detrimental but it also shows that it isn’t very helpful.”

Shauli Lev-Ran

Next, Lev-Ran examined if cannabis works in favour for those with depression. He surveyed people with mental illness who used cannabis and those who didn’t and found very little difference between the two groups. It’s a conclusion that can be interpreted in two ways.

“One thing is to maybe say that cannabis isn’t very detrimental but it also shows that it isn’t very helpful,” he says, adding that the conclusion was only based on one study. “But this shows the line on how we explore these questions.”

What makes researching cannabis and its effect on mental illness challenging is that cannabis isn’t an all-encompassing substance. There are thousands of strains and hundreds of chemical compounds like cannabinoids and terpenes within the plant.

“It’s clear that we’re not talking about one uniform compound,” he says. “So lumping all cannabis users together is almost ridiculous.”

The research on psychotic disorders like bipolar or schizophrenia is more clear-cut. The consensus is that cannabis triggers such disorders and can lead to substantially worse outcomes. But risk for any disease or disorder is a combination of pre-disposition and exposure to risk factors. For people heritably predisposed to schizophrenia, using cannabis, particularly during adolescence, increases the risk of developing the mental illness.

PTSD Leads the Way

Zach Walsh spends a lot of time examining the ties between marijuana consumption, mental health, and addiction. As an associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, he oversees the Therapeutic, Recreational, and Problematic Substance Use lab, which studies cannabis use for therapeutic and recreational purposes.

Walsh says the only way to really know if mental illness precedes cannabis use or the other way around would be to follow people from an early age. That’s because most people start using cannabis around the same time they would demonstrate signs of mental illness—in their mid to late teens.

Walsh says the strongest evidence from his lab on cannabis’ effectiveness is among patients who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Say you started smoking at 14 and at 18 are diagnosed with depression. It’d be hard to say whether you were feeling little bits of depression and were dealing with it by smoking cannabis as a pre-depression syndrome,” he says.

Medical trials can help reveal whether people who have mental illnesses are better off using cannabis or not, but researchers are far from understanding much beyond that.

Walsh points to the stigma around cannabis, which is still illegal in most countries, and how it hinders the drug’s potential from being taken seriously as medicine. Since cannabis has been branded an illegal substance that’s often associated with criminality, people don’t associate it with relief from symptoms. That could take time to reverse.

“I think [cannabis] should be given a balanced assessment,” he says. “All [drugs] have risks and relative benefits. We just have this stigma around cannabis. We’re less critical of drugs that come from pharmaceutical.”

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Walsh says the strongest evidence from his lab on cannabis’ effectiveness is among patients who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, particularly in reducing nightmares. This is especially relevant for Canada’s Department of Veterans Affairs (VAC) and the Department of National Defense (DND), which are also reviewing existing research on the use cannabis for medical purposes. VAC will cover the costs of medicinal cannabis—to a limit of three grams a day—for some veterans who suffer from PTSD.

In a statement to Leafly, a Veterans Affairs official wrote: “Recognizing that this is still an emerging practice and field of study, the Department wants to ensure that the specific direction of its research initiative undertaken with DND will have the greatest impact on strengthening evidence on the effects of marijuana on the health of Veterans.”

“All (drugs) have risks and relative benefits. We just have this stigma around cannabis. We’re less critical of drugs that come from pharmaceutical.”

researcher Zach Walsh

Walsh suspects that future trials will focus on broader anxiety disorders, which are often treated with pharmaceuticals like Valium or Ativan.

“It’s worth looking at side by side because those drugs have side effects as well,” he says. “They can lead to tolerance and withdrawal.”

If patients with mental illnesses or anxiety disorders are going to try cannabis as a treatment, Walsh stresses the importance of self-reporting. Finding a strain that works could be likened to finding the right prescription and dosage if a patient were to go on anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication. Sometimes it takes a few months of trial and error to find the medicine that helps. By closely monitoring how certain strains and doses feel, a patient will get a better sense of what’s effective and what isn’t.

“As adults we should be given the choice,” he says. “The harms of cannabis have been well-tested even if the benefits haven’t been. I think adults can go in and make sufficient choices about whether they want to use cannabis or not.”

You Can’t Argue with Results

Toronto resident Alexandra Charendoff fully agrees, despite regularly being discouraged from cannabis use by a number of health care practitioners. After being  diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and agoraphobia, Charendoff found cannabis was the most powerful and effective way to relieve the anxiety that paralyzed her when she had to leave the house.

“It was almost instantaneous,” she says. “I can actually function when I smoke weed. It’s the only thing that’s had any impact. When I take an Ativan, I just want to lie down and sleep.”

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When she brought up the possibility with her doctor, “it was apparent he’d had this conversation multiple times before” but wasn’t in favour of going the medicinal-marijuana route. She wasn’t that surprised. Every time she’d been to the ER for treatment for an episode, doctors strongly railed against cannabis use, but never had any data to back up why. Charendoff felt their input was one-sided.

“They’ll say it’s not a good idea but there’s no room for conversation,” Charendoff says.

It’s likely the data on marijuana’s potential to treat symptoms of mental illness will spike once the drug is legalized in Canada, and more research is administered. Until then, doctors will continue fielding question about how cannabis can potentially help. If they don’t have answers, it’s likely that patients, like Lee and Charendoff, will continue to explore options themselves.

“I don’t think it’s going to cure my mental illness,” says Charendoff. “But it helps.”

Cannabis Report Tops National Academies’ 2017 Bestseller List

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine just released their 2017 bestseller list, and here’s what topped the list: The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research. 

The National Academies are three separate academies of leading researchers and scholars, organized under the federal government, that provide scientific analysis and advice to the nation. In 2017, the organizations published a total of 323 reports, but none was purchased and downloaded more than The Health Effects of Cannabis. That means a whole lot of people want scientifically accurate information about cannabis.

Topping the chart isn’t an insignificant indicator of interest. The National Academies put out a number of reports on urgent headline matters including immigration, CRISPR genome editing, health equity, Alzheimer’s and dementia, and climate change. And yet cannabis drew the most downloads.

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The report, published in January 2017, leans toward caution on cannabis, as would be expected from a federal organization. USA Today’s headline summed it up: “Marijuana can help some patients, but doctors say more research needed.”

Nick Jikomes, Leafly’s principal research scientist, went more in-depth on the report’s findings in this article, published earlier this year.

What else made the National Academies’ chart?

Here’s #2 through #10:

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2. Communicating Science Effectively: A Research Agenda

3. The Economic and Fiscal Consequences of Immigration

4. Human Genome Editing: Science, Ethics, and Governance

5. Communities in Action: Pathways to Health Equity 

6. Preventing Cognitive Decline and Dementia: A Way Forward

7. Seeing Students Learn Science: Integrating Assessment and Instruction in the Classroom

8. Valuing Climate Damages: Updating Estimation of the Social Cost of Carbon Dioxide

9. Information Technology and the US Workforce: Where Are We and Where Do We Go from Here?

10. Review of the Draft Climate Science Special Report

Massachusetts Regulators Busy Rolling out the Rules for Legal Cannabis

BOSTON (AP) — From “cannabis cafes” to “craft cooperatives,” regulators have been laying out a vision for what a potential multibillion dollar recreational marijuana industry might look like when retail sales begin next year in Massachusetts.The Cannabis Control Commission reached tentative agreement over the past week on an array of rules and regulations required to implement the law approved by voters last November and later modified by the Legislature.

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Promoting diversity and placing controls on the packaging, marketing and advertising of pot were other key issues discussed by the five-member panel, which is expected to formally approve the regulations in the coming days.

The rules would be open to public comment before being finalized in March.

Here are some highlights:

Social Consumption

A cannabis store typically works much like a liquor store: You go in, buy the product and take it home to consume.

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Regulators in Massachusetts and other legal recreational marijuana states have wrestled with the issue of when, where and how to let people use marijuana in social settings and other establishments.

A major question is whether smoking would be allowed in such establishments.

The commission ultimately settled on two types of on-site consumption licenses.

A primary use license would be for businesses that derive more than 50 percent of their income from marijuana sales. An example of such a business model would be a cannabis bar or cafe where patrons could gather and use marijuana with friends.

A major question, however, is whether smoking would be allowed in such establishments or if customers would be limited to using marijuana in other forms such as edibles. The commission plans to form a working group to make recommendations on “smoking and other forms of social consumption,” by July 1.

The second category, a mixed use license, would be available to businesses that may want to make cannabis available to customers in some fashion. Examples could include restaurants, movie theaters, yoga studios or even massage parlors that promote marijuana-infused lotions.

A restaurant, for example, might be able to offer a single-serving dish that has cannabis as an ingredient, but it couldn’t leave the premises. So forget takeout or doggy bags.

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Home Delivery

Can’t make it to the nearest marijuana store? Home delivery may be available under a strict set of rules laid out by the commission.

Upon delivery, drivers must obtain positive identification and proof that a buyer is 21 or older. The recipient must also sign for any delivery.

Products that are delivered must follow the same packaging requirements as if sold in a store. A single delivery of multiple products could not exceed $3,000 in value and deliveries could only be made during a store’s normal business hours.

Craft Cooperatives

Craft cooperatives would allow groups of people — with each member required to have lived in Massachusetts for at least a year — to organize as a limited liability company or similar business structure.

The cooperatives would be licensed to operate up to six marijuana cultivation locations and up to three additional processing or manufacturing facilities. While they could package and brand marijuana products and deliver them to retailers, craft cooperatives would not be permitted to sell directly to consumers.

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Marijuana Research Facilities

In what could foster greater scientific understanding of the health effects or medicinal value of cannabis, the commission agreed to create a special license category for marijuana research facilities.

Such facilities could cultivate or purchase marijuana, but not sell it.

Any testing done on humans would have to be approved by an institutional review board and test subjects must be 21 or older.

Diversity

State lawmakers have made clear they want opportunities provided in the legal marijuana industry for economically disadvantaged people — particularly residents of minority neighborhoods who were harshly impacted by the so-called “war on drugs” in recent decades.

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The commission agreed to designate as yet undefined “areas of disproportionate impact,” and offer what it called priority review for applicants for cannabis business licenses from those communities.

Applicants with a majority of owners who have lived in areas of disproportionate impact for at least five of the past 10 years would be offered priority review, as would any company in which at least 51 percent of employees or subcontractors have drug-related arrests on their records.

Priority review of an application would not guarantee a license.

All applicants, regardless of location or ownership makeup, would be required to submit to the commission an employment diversity plan and live up to that plan once licensed.

Is More CBD Better? The Science Behind CBD Dosing for Anxiety and Other Conditions

In 2015, the National Institute of Health allotted $21.2 million of its $111 million cannabinoid research budget towards projects exploring the medicinal potential of these compounds. These projects proposed to manipulate the body’s endocannabinoid system, either by modifying endocannabinoids or with phytocannabinoids from the cannabis plant.

While the primary psychoactive phytocannabinoid, delta 9-THC, has acknowledged medicinal value, cannabidiol (CBD) is widely known for its broad range of potential medicinal uses. In recognition of CBD’s vast potential, over $9 million in grants were awarded in 2015 to fund CBD-specific medicinal research.

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Much of this research has centered around the treatment of epilepsy, with studies showing that CBD has significant potential for treating the condition in children at high doses. A daily dose over 600 mg reduced seizure frequency by 39%. While this is a far greater amount than you’d find in many of the CBD consumables available at your local dispensary, many retail CBD products with lower levels of the cannabinoid are reported to be effective at treating anxiety, pain, and a host of other disorders, either through self-experimentation or anecdotal reports.

So why not crank up the CBD dose to reduce your anxiety? If a little is good, shouldn’t a lot be better? It turns out that for CBD, the answer is no; CBD’s medicinal efficacy might require a particular dose range. Call it a “Goldilocks Zone,” where there’s not too much CBD but not too little, either.

Intriguingly, this Goldilocks Zone differs for each disorder. For instance, CBD appears to treat anxiety at relatively low doses compared to the high doses used to treat epilepsy.

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Overshooting the Goldilocks Zone when trying to treat a given condition may reduce the efficacy of CBD. An animal study published back in 1990 found that low to moderate CBD doses reduced anxiety, but CBD’s anti-anxiety effect disappeared at higher doses. Importantly, the authors note an inverted-U response to CBD. Out of the four doses tested, the lowest dose had a moderate anti-anxiety effect, the second-lowest dose had the greatest anti-anxiety effect, the third dose had a moderate effect, and the highest dose had no effect.

While it may sound out of the ordinary, this “inverted-U” effect is actually quite common among drugs that affect multiple brain receptors, as CBD does. In fact, 37% of published toxicology articles report some degree of an inverted-U response, indicating that this is not a random event but instead reflects differential drug effects on brain targets.

Different doses of CBD may actually be more beneficial, depending on the ailment or condition being treated. (Leafly)

The wide spectrum of CBD’s medical indications—it is used as a treatment for pain, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other conditions—reflects its diverse set of brain and body targets. Since each of these many medical problems is impacted by CBD acting on specific receptors in the brain and body, differences in sensitivity for these targets may underlie CBD’s inverted U-response and define its Goldilocks Zone.

Right: The brain contains a huge a number of brain cells (neurons). Each neuron, represented here as a hexagon, is connected to many others. Left: The synapse is the site where two neurons communicate with each other. The “sender neuron” releases chemical signals called neurotransmitters, which stimulate receptors on the “receiver neuron.” There are many different receptor types in the brain, each one sensitive to different neurotransmitters. (Leafly)

Renowned cannabinoid pharmacologist Roger Pertwee described CBD actions at low, medium, and high doses in an oft-cited review published in The British Journal of Pharmacology. As expected, low doses of CBD impact fewer neural targets than high doses. At relatively low doses, CBD can block endocannabinoids like anandamide and phytocannabinoids like delta 9-THC from interacting with receptors in the nervous system. This blocking action is thought to explain CBD’s ability to reduce the adverse effects that can accompany delta 9-THC exposure such as anxiety.

Left: THC directly stimulates the CB1 receptor. This interaction underlies the major psychoactive effects of Cannabis consumption. Right: CBD reduces, or “antagonizes,” THC’s ability to stimulate CB1 receptors. This can decrease some of THC’s effects, especially negative effects like anxiety and short-term memory impairment. (Leafly)

CBD’s anti-anxiety effects can also be attributed to its activation and enhancement of specific serotonin receptors. Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter involved in mood regulation and stress response; low serotonin levels are thought to contribute to conditions including generalized anxiety disorder and major depression. A common pharmacological treatment for these conditions involves enhancing the amount of serotonin available in an effort to activate the receptors using selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs.

Rodent studies of CBD in anxiety and stress reveal that CBD similarly enhances serotonin receptor activation. In rats, a low-to-moderate dose of CBD has anti-anxiety effects following a stressful period of restraint (the rat equivalent of being placed in a straitjacket for an hour), but these anti-anxiety effects go away when the serotonin receptor 5-HT1a is blocked ahead of time. This suggests that low doses of CBD near the peak of the rodent’s inverted-U response reduce anxiety by activating 5-HT1a receptors.

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Similar CBD doses in humans have been shown to be effective at reducing anxiety in individuals with generalized social anxiety disorder, and low to moderate doses are effective at reducing stress and improving performance in a simulated public speaking event. These positive effects are associated with a restoration of normal brain activity in key regions associated with anxiety and emotional dysregulation.

The positive effects of CBD in treating anxiety are experienced at about 25% of the dose used to treat epilepsy. That higher effective dose level reflects additional CBD brain targets beyond those active in treating anxiety.

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While CBD activation of 5-HT1a receptors is insufficient to protect against seizures, a promising target for CBD’s antiepileptic effects is the receptor GPR55, which initiates a cascade of events that can have diverse effects in brain cells. CBD is an antagonist of GPR55, blocking its function and altering brain activity in a way that may protect against seizures. When administered in higher doses, though, the benefits of lower concentrations may be lost. Anti-anxiety effects, for instance, seem to be obstructed while higher concentrations of CBD work to block GPR55 receptors.

Identifying CBD’s many neural targets and their sensitivity is an exciting area of ongoing research. But knowing the optimal CBD dose for treating different conditions is a critical component of successful CBD treatment. The current research suggests that anxiety and depression-related disorders (e.g., obsessive compulsive disorder, autism, acute stress) respond best to low-moderate CBD doses, while epilepsy responds best to higher CBD doses.

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Being able to titrate CBD dosing for specific disorders will lead to more efficacious CBD-centric therapies and reveal treatment strategies that may be able to combat multiple ailments at once. CBD’s Goldilocks Zone for treating anxiety illustrates the need for an improved understanding of the compound’s therapeutic mechanisms, while highlighting its vast treatment potential.

Veterinarians Want Permission to Research Cannabis for Pets

BEND, Ore. (AP) — Dr. Byron Maas surveys a supply of marijuana products for dogs that lines a shelf in his veterinary clinic. They’re selling well.

“The ‘Up and Moving’ is for joints and for pain,” he explains. “The ‘Calm and Quiet’ is for real anxious dogs, to take away that anxiety.”

People anxious to relieve suffering in their pets are increasingly turning to oils and powders that contain CBDs, a non-psychoactive component of marijuana. But there’s little data on whether they work, or if they have harmful side effects. That’s because Washington has been standing in the way of clinical trials, veterinarians and researchers say. Now, a push is underway to have barriers removed, so both pets and people can benefit.

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Those barriers have had more than just a chilling effect.

When the federal Drug Enforcement Administration announced last year that even marijuana extracts with CBD and little or no THCmarijuana’s intoxicating component — are an illegal Schedule 1 drug, the University of Pennsylvania halted its clinical trials. Colorado State University is pushing ahead.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned companies that sell marijuana products online and via pet shops and animal hospitals that they’re violating laws by offering “unapproved new animal drugs.” The FDA threatened legal action.

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But, seeing potential benefits of CBDs, the American Veterinary Medical Association’s policy-making body said last summer it wants the DEA to declassify marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug “to facilitate research opportunities for veterinary and human medical uses.” It asked the board of the national veterinarians’ organization to investigate working with other stakeholders toward that goal. The board is awaiting a recommendation from two group councils.

“We lack the science to support use of medical marijuana products like CBD oils, not because researchers are unwilling to do the work, but because of bureaucratic red tape and over-regulation.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)

“The concern our membership has is worry about people extrapolating their own dosages, looking to medicate their pets outside the realm of the medical professional,” Board Chairman Michael Whitehair said in a telephone interview. “This is an important reason for us to continue the research.”

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, a conservative Republican, became an unlikely champion of this push when he introduced a bill in September that would open the path for more clinical research. While Hatch said he opposes recreational marijuana use, he wants marijuana-based drugs, regulated by the FDA, produced for people with disorders.

“We lack the science to support use of medical marijuana products like CBD oils, not because researchers are unwilling to do the work, but because of bureaucratic red tape and over-regulation,” Hatch said.

Dawn Boothe, of Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, is waiting for federal approval to begin a study of marijuana’s effects on dogs with epilepsy. The classification of marijuana products containing CBD as a Schedule 1 drug, the same category as heroin and LSD, creates a “major, major, major, terrible roadblock” for researchers, Boothe said in a phone interview.

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Treating Seizures in Dogs and Other Pets With CBD

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine were studying CBDs’ effects on dogs with osteoarthritis and pruritis, or itchiness, until the DEA released its policy statement.

“The ambiguity in this process has really brought us to a screeching halt,” said Michael DiGregorio, director of the university’s clinical trials center. “It is research that needs to be done, because there are a lot of CBD products out there.”

When it clarified that marijuana CBD extracts are Schedule 1 drugs, the DEA said it was assigning a code number to those substances to better track them and to comply with international drug control treaties.

DiGregorio complained that researchers seeking federal approval to study CBD products are told to provide certain data, but that data isn’t normally available until the study is done.

“If you don’t have the data, you can’t get the registration to do the work,” he said.

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On a recent morning, Maas took a break from seeing four-legged patients in the Bend Veterinary Clinic. A stethoscope dangling from his neck over green scrubs, Maas said his clients have reported CBDs help relieve pain, arthritis, anxiety, loss of appetite, epilepsy and inflammation in their pets.

“Unfortunately there’s not a lot of research out there, especially on animals, on CBD compounds,” Maas said. “The research is really necessary to help us understand how to actually use these compounds on our pets.”

Veterinarian Janet Ladyga of the Blue Sky Veterinary Clinic, also in Bend, said she doesn’t recommend marijuana products because of the unknowns.

“We don’t have a lot of evidence right now, so we don’t know the toxicity or the safety profile … and we don’t have any good evidence to show either if it’s safe or efficacious,” she said.

The study at Colorado State University aims to provide some data. The roughly two dozen dogs in the arthritis study and the 30 in the epilepsy tests are given either CBD oil or a placebo. For the arthritis study, activity monitors are attached to the animals’ collars, to determine if they’re more mobile when they’re taking CBD.

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Principal investigator Stephanie McGrath said she hopes the results will be a stepping stone for longer and more diverse studies, and that they provide useful information for human medicine.

“Every medication we’re taking has been given to a dog first,” the University of Pennsylvania’s DiGregorio noted.

Meanwhile, Boothe said she had everything ready to start her study in January, and was waiting for a green light from federal officials.

“I don’t know what’s taking so long,” she said.

UNM Study: Medical Marijuana an Alternative for Opioids

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — University of New Mexico researchers say the legal availability of medical marijuana has the potential to reduce opioid use among chronic pain patients.

The work of associate psychology professor Jacob Miguel Vigil and assistant economics professor Sarah See Stith was recently published in the journal PLOS ONE.

The results indicate a strong correlation between enrollment in New Mexico’s medical marijuana program and cessation or reduction of opioid use.

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Vigil says informal surveys showed a significant proportion of patients substituted their opioid prescriptions with cannabis.

The study tracked 37 habitual opioid using, chronic pain patients who enrolled in the state medical marijuana program between 2010 and 2015, compared to 29 patients with similar health conditions who didn’t enroll.

As of October, more than 44,000 people were enrolled in the state program.

5 Takeaways From Van der Pop’s ‘Women & Weed’

With nationwide legalization just around the corner, Canadian cannabis is shaping up to be a billion-dollar industry. However, gender dynamics already play a large part in the burgeoning field, which is why Van der Pop, North America’s leading female-focused cannabis brand, held its very first Women & Weed event earlier this month in downtown Toronto.

According to a study conducted by Van der Pop, 66% of women hide their cannabis usage.

Packed with researchers, producers, and designers, the day-long conference got us up close and personal with some of the incredible women breaking ground and setting standards in the legal cannabis space, covering everything from crafting policy to influencing the forthcoming retail market. Here are five key takeaways:

1. Van der Pop is launching two branded cannabis strains with WeedMD

April Pride, CCO and founder of Van der Pop, took the stage to welcome everyone and share some exciting news: a collaboration with the licensed medical marijuana producer WeedMD, for which Van der Pop will produce a pair of branded cannabis strains. The collaboration will stay true to the VdP brand with sleek, airtight, childproof, and UV-protected storage jars. “We’re confident that these carefully chosen, grown, and cultivated strains will fit in perfectly with the rest of our Van der Pop offerings,” shared Pride.

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2. Women still face stigma for using cannabis in their daily lives

According to a study conducted by Van der Pop, 66% of women hide their cannabis usage. On the panel “Weed: Where to Start,” panelists Ljubica Kstovic (co-founder of the Museum of Cannabis), and Irie Selkirk (head of medical outreach and education at Emblem Cannabis) mentioned that many of their female patients lack a trusted source to speak to about their cannabis use about and fear being stigmatized by coworkers and peers if they’re honest about using cannabis for health and wellness. The Van der Pop study echoed these statements, confirming that 70% of women feel cannabis use carries a stigma.

3. Licensed producers should lead the charge for medical research

Noting the lack of medical research on cannabis in Canada, Dr. Biljana Kostovic of the Etobicoke General Hospital called on licensed producers to start engaging the medical field, to see how different cannabinoids might work for different ailments, as well as possible interactions cannabis might have with other medications. 

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4. Cannabis cosmetics are happening

During the “Weed in Fashion, Beauty & Design” panel, we were introduced to Brandi Leifso, CEO and founder of Evio Beauty Group. Her story was captivating for a few reasons: She launched a highly successful all-natural line of cosmetics while living in a women’s shelter, and now she’s expanding the line into the cannabis industry. (According to a VdP survey, 60% of women are interested in cannabis-enhanced skin care products, and Leifso is ready to help.) While Leifso couldn’t release too many details, she mentioned having locked down a licensed producer and announced plans to donate $1 from every product to YWCA Canada. Go Brandi Leifso!

5. 32% of women want to work in the industry, so why aren’t there more of us?

Panelists Antuanette Gomez, chapter head of the cannabis organization Women Grow, and Tahira Rehmatullah, managing director of the financial group Hypur Ventures, noted the gender disparity that continues in the cannabis space. While it can seem discouraging, Rehmatullah urged the crowd to “be the change” we want to see, starting with inviting more women, women of colour, and queer women to the table for board positions and job opportunities. For interested newbies, Gomez suggests checking out one of the Women Grow monthly networking events, featuring panelists who discuss industry topics and can help connect, educate, and empower women all across the cannabis industry into different jobs and mentorship opportunities.

Maryland Companies to Study Medical Marijuana Vaping

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — With Maryland set to make medical marijuana available within weeks, two companies have formed a partnership to study how well vapor-inhalation devices work for patients.

Curio Wellness, of Lutherville, and Wellness Institute of Maryland, of Frederick, will conduct a research-and-development study of cannabis oil-filled vapor inhalation devices, the state health department announced Friday. The devices, also known as vape pens, can be used to vaporize marijuana, or heat it without burning it.

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The amount of medical marijuana products are expected to be low at first, the health department said, compared to inventories of products in other state’s that allow it. It could take licensed growers and dispensaries several months to reach full inventory, after becoming operational.

“It’s also worth noting that, for this study, only the Wellness Institute of Maryland dispensary will be providing products to patients who were pre-selected by the companies,” said Brian Lopez, chairman of Maryland’s medical marijuana commission. “But all licensed and operational dispensaries are expected to have products available by early December.”

So far, 14 marijuana growers and 12 processors have been licensed in Maryland. Six dispensaries also have been licensed.

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Medical marijuana will be available in the state for any condition that is severe in which other medical treatments have been ineffective, and if the symptoms “reasonably can be expected to be relieved” by marijuana. Patients with a chronic or debilitating medical condition that causes severe appetite loss, severe or chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures or severe muscle spasms also can have access, as well as people with glaucoma or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Maryland will allow not only physicians but nurse practitioners, dentists, podiatrists and nurse midwives to certify patients as eligible to receive marijuana.

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Maryland’s medical marijuana program has been delayed by setbacks. The state first approved it in 2013, but the effort stalled because it required academic medical centers to run the programs, and none stepped forward. The law was changed in 2014 to allow doctors certified by a state commission to recommend marijuana for patients with debilitating, chronic or severe illnesses.

‘I Spent the Next Day and a Half in Bed’: The Week in Cannabis Quotes

This week, we hear from a bevy of celebrities about cannabis, from long-time Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek trippin’ hard on some potent potables edibles, Larry Flint lashing out at the Trump administration, Bill Nye the Science Guy throwing shade at stoned ultimate frisbee players, and Woody Harrelson revealing which of his dinner companions was so narcissistic, he had to smoke a joint to get through the meal.

Plus, President Macron’s got a healthy nose, Chris Christie whinges about cannabis for the umpteenth time, and Singapore’s Home Affairs Minister is not impressed with Colorado’s legalization experiment. Here’s a roundup of quotes from the past week.

“Trump’s failure to mention Big Pharma is like attacking gambling and extortion rackets without mentioning the Mafia, or crystal meth without mentioning Mexican drug cartels. The President’s plan will address all of the symptoms, but not the root cause of the problem: Big Pharma’s greed and deception. Instead he’s letting his throwback attorney general wage war against the one cheap, totally safe alternative to these highly addictive and deadly drugs—cannabis. Oh, and guess which state has the highest rate of prescription opioid use in America: none other than Sessions’ own Alabama.”

– Hustler founder Larry Flynt, who issued a statement criticizing President Trump’s anemic declaration of a national opioid emergency while Attorney General Jeff Sessions continues to “[wage] federal war on states tha thave legalized marijuana for recreational consumption.” Flynt cited a study funded by the National Institutes of Health that showed legal medical marijuana states have experienced a reduction in opioid overdose deaths.

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“So, there are some of you who do not only smoke cigarettes, huh?”

– French President Emmanuel Macron, who detected the scent of cannabis in the air during his visit to French Guiana. He joked to the crowd, “I still have a nose,” and advised, “That will not help with your schoolwork.”

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Marijuana legalization will lead to more drug use, not less drug use, will lead to more death not less death, and the national institute of drug abuse has proven it. There is no reason, if I told you today that anything would make your child two and a half time more likely to be addicted to opioids, you would be getting them as far away from it as you possibly could.”

– New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who was the keynote speaker at an annual conference in Indiana that focuses on the state’s opioid and prescription drug crisis. Christie is famously anti-cannabis.

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“Colorado has chosen not to measure the outcomes of legalised marijuana, paying more attention to the commercialisation…People have referenced this as the grand experiment…and the only outcome they measure is the tax revenue, and that’s shameful and a disgrace.”

– Singapore’s Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, speaking at a forum about combating drug use

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“Now when I played ultimate frisbee very seriously, these guys I would play with would get high and they sucked when they were high.”

– Bill Nye the Science Guy talking to Now This about the need to push for more cannabis research (while also citing poor ultimate frisbee skills as a negative effect of cannabis consumption). He admitted he doesn’t like cannabis or the smell of it but encourages those of us who do to “knock [our]selves out.”

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“It was brutal. It was brutal. Uh, I’d never met a more narcissistic man. He talked about himself the whole time…I had to walk out like halfway through, smoke a joint, just to, just to like, steel myself for the rest of the dinner. It was brutal.”

– Woody Harrelson recounting to Bill Maher about the time he had dinner with Donald Trump

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“I had just arrived in California and went to a friend’s house for dinner, and there were brownies. I love brownies—I’m a chocoholic—and I didn’t realize that they were hash brownies. And… whoa. That threw me for a loop. I took down about a half-dozen. The dinner party was on a Friday, and I was not able to leave that house until Sunday afternoon. I spent the next day and a half in bed. It was not a good trip, and I have not done any of that stuff since!”

Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek to The Daily Beast, in which he recounts the time he first arrived in California and attended a “swanky party at a friend’s house” that had some extremely potent edibles available for consumption