Marijuana use amongst youth stable, but substance abuse admissions up

While marijuana use amongst youth remains stable, youth admission to substance abuse treatment facilities has increased.

Setting the Record Straight

HumboldtOne of NORML’s primary missions is to move public opinion sufficiently to legalize the responsible use of marijuana by adults. One of the ways we successfully achieve this goal is by debunking marijuana myths and half-truths via the publication of timely op-eds in online and print media. Since the mainstream media seldom casts a critical eye toward many of the more over-the-top claims about cannabis, we take it upon ourselves to set the record straight.

The majority of NORML’s rebuttals are penned by Deputy Director Paul Armentano. In the past few weeks, he has published numerous op-eds rebuking a litany of popular, but altogether specious claims about the cannabis plant – including the contentions that cannabis consumption is linked to heart attacks, psychosis, violence, and a rise in emergency room visits and traffic fatalities, among other allegations.

Below are links to a sampling of his recent columns.:

Blowing up the big marijuana IQ myth — The science points to zero effect on your smarts

Blowing the lid off the ‘marijuana treatment’ racket

The five biggest marijuana myths and how to debunk them

It took just one distorted study for the media to freak out over health risks marijuana

Cannabis mitigates opioid abuse — the science says so

Three new marijuana myth-busting studies that the mainstream media isn’t picking up on

For a broader sampling of NORML-centric columns and media hits, please visit NORML’s ‘In the Media’ archive here.

If you see the importance of NORML’s educational and media outreach efforts, please feel free to show your support by making a contribution here.

Analysis: Criminal Justice Referrals Driving Youth Marijuana Treatment Admissions

arrestedOver half of all young people entered into drug treatment for marijuana are placed there by the criminal justice system and this percentage is increasing, according to data published online in the journal Substance Use & Misuse.

A team of researchers from Binghamton University in New York and the University of Iowa reviewed youth marijuana treatment admission data (TEDS-A) during the years 1995 to 2012.

Investigators reported that youth admissions for cannabis rose 65 percent during the study period – from 52,894 annual admissions in 1995 to 87,528 in 2012. Admissions rose most precipitously among Latinos (an increase of 256 percent since 1995) and African American youth (an increase of 86 percent). Criminal justice system referrals rose 70 percent during this same period, and now account for 54 percent of all substance abuse admissions by young people.

Among those in treatment, half exhibited little if any evidence of suffering from marijuana dependence. Specifically, 30 percent of all young people admitted into marijuana treatment since 2008 had no record of having consumed cannabis in the 30 days prior to their admittance. Another 20 percent of those entered into treatment had use cannabis three times or fewer in the month prior to their admission. Prior evaluations of TEDS data among adults have yielded similar results.

“Our findings indicate that the severity of drug use involved in those admissions has decreased,” authors concluded. “This study highlights the importance of identifying youth in actual need of treatment services.”

Since the late 1990s, both youth use of marijuana and the prevalence of so-called ‘cannabis use disorder’ by young people have declined significantly.

An abstract of the study, “Trends in youth marijuana treatment admissions: Increasing admissions contrasted with decreasing drug involvement,” is online here. My commentary about the data, “Blowing the lid off the marijuana treatment racket,” appears on Alternet.org here.

DEA Reaffirms Stance That CBD Meets Schedule I Criteria — Reality Says Otherwise

oil_bottlesThe US Drug Enforcement Administration has publicly reiterated its position that cannabidiol, a non-psychotropic cannabinoid, is properly categorized under federal law as a schedule I controlled substance — meaning that, by definition, it possesses “a high potential for abuse,” “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States,” and lacks “accepted safety … under medical supervision.”

The agency has long contended that CBD, along with all organic cannabinoids, is — by default — a schedule I controlled substance because it is a naturally occurring component of the cannabis plant. (This position is similarly held by both the NIDA and the FDA.) Nonetheless, a growing body of science undermines the notion that CBD meets any of the criteria necessary for such classification.

Specifically, clinical trial data finds that CBD is “safe,” “non-toxic,” and “well tolerated” in human volunteers. Even the director of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse acknowledges that CBD is “not mind-altering” and that it “appears to be a safe drug with no addictive effects.”

Recently conducted controlled studies also acknowledge its therapeutic efficacy, particularly the ability of CBD dosing to mitigate treatment-resistant seizures, hypertension, and psychotic symptoms in humans. Other peer-reviewed data shows that CBD therapy holds promise for the treatment of “Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cerebral ischemia, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, other inflammatory diseases, nausea and cancer.”

That is why in addition to the thirty states that presently recognize medical cannabis, an additional 16 states also explicitly recognize the use of CBD as a viable medical treatment.

Nonetheless, it remains unlikely that the DEA is going to amend its position any time soon. Further, police in recent months have begun initiating raids of CBD retailers, such as those reported here, here, and here. That is why it is critical that members of Congress move forward with legislation to remove the cannabis plant from the Controlled Substances Act.

Presently, several pieces of federal legislation are pending to amend the federal classification of CBD as a schedule I substance. These include:

HR 2020: Passage of this act would exclude CBD from the federal definition of ‘marihuana.’

S. 1374/HR 2920: Passage of these Acts would exempt from federal prosecution those who are engaged in state-sanctioned medical cannabis activities; it would also remove CBD from the federal definition of ‘marihuana.’

HR 2273/S. 1008: Passage of these Acts would exclude CBD and CBD-rich cannabis plants from the federal definition of ‘marihuana.’

You can contact your members of Congress in support of these bills and other pending legislation by visiting NORML’s Take Action Center here.

Two New Virginia Laws Foreshadow Larger Cannabis Policy Changes

A common cliché for overcoming a difficult obstacle asks, “how do you eat an elephant?” The answer is, “one bite at a time.” In Virginia politics, the tough question facing cannabis policy reform advocates is, “how do you change the minds of political Elephants?” The answer is, “one law at a time.” Although progress in cannabis reform has been slow in Virginia, two recent bills signed by Governor Terry McAuliffe are significant signs that change is coming, and quicker than ever before.

Ending Automatic Driver’s License Suspension for Cannabis Possession

In May 2017, Gov. McAuliffe had a signing ceremony for Senator Adam Ebbin’s Senate bill 784 and Delegate Les Adams’ House bill 2051. These companion bills ended the absolute requirement that Virginians convicted of marijuana possession lose their driver’s license. Until this change, which takes effect July 1, the judge had no option but to suspend, even if the offense was totally unrelated to a vehicle. A driver’s license is necessary in commuter-based economies such as Virginia, where most residents work, attend school, receive medical treatment, or worship outside of their home city, and the public transportation is less then reliable.

Virginia NORML led the lobbying for this bill, and helped sway lawmakers in the General Assembly who were wary of the proposed changes. The legislators were convinced by explaining the law in detail, and highlighting the positive results from allowing individuals to maintain their license for work and education – no extreme rhetoric or exaggeration needed. Ryan Johnson, membership coordinator for Virginia NORML, testified for both pieces of legislation was congratulated by many thankful legislators at the ceremony.

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Gov. Terry McAuliffe (VA-D) and Ryan Johnson

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Ryan Johnson with Delegate Les Adams (R-16)

“With Virginia NORML’s guidance, I was able to craft impactful testimony, helping pass meaningful legislation that will make a difference for thousands of Virginians,” said Ryan Johnson at Gov. McAuliffe’s ceremony. “I was humbled by how many legislators thanked me for stepping outside of my comfort zone and sharing my story in the 2017 General Assembly.” 

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Del. Paul Krizek (D-44), Del. Les Adams (R-16) ,Sen. Scott Surovell (D-36), Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49), Ryan Johnson, Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30)

Watch the video

The new law is a significant step for cannabis policy reform in Virginia for two reasons. First, this is one of the very few marijuana-related criminal justice reforms that advocates have successfully pushed through the difficult, Republican-controlled House subcommittees. Those subcommittees are the sticking point for most criminal justice reform legislation, the bottle neck that prevents bills from proceeding to a full House vote. Second, this is important because it allows judges discretion to apply the standard first-offender’s program and community service to an adult discovered possessing cannabis somewhere completely removed from any vehicles. Admittedly, this is a small step. However, every step, even the very small ones, put Virginia closer to a more sensible criminal justice system that does not criminalize marijuana possession or consumption.

Welcome to the Medical Cannabis States Club, Virginia

In June 2017, Gov. McAuliffe had another bill signing ceremony, this one for Senator Marsden’s Senate bill 1027. This bill is significant because it officially makes Virginia a medical cannabis state. Medical cannabis dispensaries will be called “pharmaceutical processors,” and will become medical cannabis patients’ legal source of the cannabis oil permitted under Virginia law. The processors will be vertically integrated facilities. That means the plants will be grown, cured, and trimmed onsite; all extraction, distillation, and synthesis of custom biopharmaceutical medicines will be done in the on-site laboratory; and, finally, patients will interact with and receive medication from a pharmacist. Unlike the medical cannabis dispensaries in Colorado, this will more closely resemble a traditional pharmacy.

Virginia families were instrumental in getting this landmark legislation passed. However, despite the great success, the law has serious shortcomings. There will only be five (5) pharmaceutical processors. This places a huge burden on applicants, financially and logistically, and could result in the exclusion of start-up ventures owned by minorities, women, and veterans without access to large capital resources. Second, the related laws allowing patient access to medical cannabis is very short: one (1). Only one patient group, those with intractable epilepsy, can possess medical cannabis oil. The major legislative goal for the 2018 session is the “Let Doctors Decide” bill, which would end the eugenics-style creation of state-permitted patient groups and instead allow trained medical professionals to decide if cannabis would be effective for the individual patient’s treatment plan. Jenn Michelle Pedini was at the ceremony representing Virginia NORML, and spoke to the families of several epilepsy patients and lawmakers who had supported the bill.

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Sen. Dave Marsden (D-37) and many families watch as Gov. McAuliffe signs historic medical cannabis legislation. Photo courtesy Michaele White, Governor’s Office.

“It was an exciting day for the families who spent hours at the General Assembly gaining support for this bill which passed unanimously in both the House and Senate. We are looking forward to continuing this path next year and expanding the current law to include all patients for whom medical cannabis would provide relief,” said Beth Collins, Senior Director Government Relations and External Affairs at Americans for Safe Access, and mother of a child with intractable epilepsy.

These landmark bills are significant signs of the change coming in Virginia’s cannabis policy. Decriminalization is being studied by the State Crime Commission, following a request by Senate Majority leader Tommy Norment. The Driver’s License bill may be the first overly punitive prohibition measure to fall, and like dominoes, the changes to criminal justice reform will gain momentum and culminate in decriminalization of adult cannabis possession within the next couple years. The pharmaceutical processor bill is a huge hurdle for both patients seeking legal access to medical cannabis medications, and for individuals interested in the regulated cannabis industry. Although Virginia’s cannabis industry will fall under heavy regulation and oversight by the Commonwealth, the new industry presents new opportunities, jobs, and tax revenue.

Virginia NORML is the leading cannabis law reform organization in Virginia, but we can only continue our success in changing outdated laws with your help! The Summer of Change Campaign is currently underway, and we are trying to raise $42,000 to support our efforts in the 2018 session and the push for “Let Doctors Decide.” Virginia has a major election this year, and the outcome could determine the success – or failure – of our efforts. Donate today to the Summer of Change campaign! With your help, Virginia NORML will continue its track record of success in Richmond bringing marijuana policy reform.

Study: Cannabinoids Reduce Migraine Frequency

mj_researchThe prolonged daily administration of cannabinoids is associated with a reduction in migraine headache frequency, according to clinical trial data presented at the 3rd Congress of the European Academy of Neurology.

Italian researchers compared the efficacy of oral cannabinoid treatments versus amitriptyline – an anti-depressant commonly prescribed for migraines – in 79 chronic migraine patients over a period of three months. Subjects treated daily with a 200mg dose of a combination of THC and CBD achieved a 40 percent reduction in migraine frequency – a result that was similar to the efficacy of amitriptyline therapy.

Subjects also reported that cannabinoid therapy significantly reduced acute migraine pain, but only when taken at doses above 100mg. Oral cannabinoid treatment was less effective among patients suffering from cluster headaches.

“We were able to demonstrate that cannabinoids are an alternative to established treatments in migraine prevention,” researchers concluded.

Some five million Americans are estimated to experience at least one migraine attack per month, and the condition is the 19th leading cause of disability worldwide.

According to retrospective data published last year in the journal Pharmacotherapy, medical cannabis consumption is often associated with a significant decrease in migraine frequency, and may even abort migraine onset in some patients.

A just published review of several studies and case-reports specific to the use of cannabis and cannabinoids in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research concludes: “[I]t appears likely that cannabis will emerge as a potential treatment for some headache sufferers.”

An abstract of the study, “Cannabinoids suitable for migraine prevention,” appears online here.

Study: Patients Report Substituting Cannabis For Opioids, Other Pain Medications

medical_mj_shelfPain patients report successfully substituting cannabis for opioids and other analgesics, according to data published online in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research.

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley and Kent State University in Ohio assessed survey data from a cohort of 2,897 self-identified medical cannabis patients.

Among those who acknowledged having used opioid-based pain medication within the past six months, 97 percent agreed that they were able to decrease their opiate intake with cannabis. Moreover, 92 percent of respondents said that cannabis possessed fewer adverse side-effects than opioids. Eighty percent of respondents said that the use of medical cannabis alone provided greater symptom management than did their use of opioids.

Among those respondents who acknowledged having recently taken nonopioid-based pain medications, 96 percent said that having access to cannabis reduced their conventional drug intake. Ninety-two percent of these respondents opined that medical cannabis was more effective at treating their condition than traditional analgesics.

Authors concluded: “[M]ore people are looking at cannabis as a viable treatment for everyday ailments such as muscle soreness and inflammation. … [T]his study can conclude that medical cannabis patients report successfully using cannabis along with or as a substitute for opioid-based pain medication.”

The study’s conclusions are similar to those of several others, such as these herehereherehere, and here, finding reduced prescription drug use and spending by those with access to cannabis. Separate studies report an association between cannabis access and lower rates of opioid-related abuse, hospitalizations, traffic fatalities, and overdose deaths.

Full text of the study, “Cannabis as substitute for opioid-based pain medication: patient self-report,” appears online here.

Study: CBD Administration Reduces Blood Pressure

oil_bottlesOral CBD administration is associated with reduced blood pressure in healthy volunteers, according to clinical trial data published online in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Investigators from the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom assessed the effects of a single oral dose of 600 mg of CBD extract versus placebo in nine male subjects.

Cannabidiol administration reduced resting systolic blood pressure and stroke volume (the amount of blood pumped by the left ventricle of the heart in one contraction). Compared to placebo, CBD intake was associated with reduced BP levels following exercise and in response to stress. Increased heart rate was observed following CBD administration, but no “adverse events” were reported by participants either during or following the study sessions.

Authors concluded: “Our data show that a single dose of CBD reduces resting blood pressure and the blood pressure response to stress, particularly cold stress, and especially in the post-test periods. This may reflect the anxiolytic and analgesic effects of CBD, as well as any potential direct cardiovascular effects. … Further research is also required to establish whether CBD has any role in the treatment of cardiovascular disorders such as a hypertension.”

Full text of the study, “A single dose of cannabisiol reduces blood pressure in healthy volunteers in a randomized crossover study,” is online here.

Review Identifies 140 Controlled Clinical Trials Related to Cannabis

Marijuana researchScientists have conducted over 140 controlled clinical trials since 1975 assessing the safety and efficacy of whole-plant cannabis or specific cannabinoids, according to a new literature review published in the journal Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences.

A pair of German researchers identified 140 clinical trials involving an estimated 8,000 participants. Of these, the largest body of literature focused on the use of cannabis or cannabinoids in the treatment of chronic or neuropathic pain. Authors identified 35 controlled studies, involving 2,046 subjects, assessing the use of marijuana or cannabinoids in pain management. In January, the National Academy of Sciences acknowledged that “conclusive or substantial evidence” exists for cannabis’ efficacy in patients suffering from chronic pain.

Cannabinoids have also been well studied as anti-emetic agents and as appetite stimulants. Researchers identified 43 trials evaluating marijuana or its components for these purposes, involving total 2,498 patients. They also identified an additional 14 trials examining the role of cannabis or cannabis-derived extracts in the treatment of multiple sclerosis.

Researchers also identified several additional trials evaluating the use of cannabis or cannabinoids for Crohn’s disease, Tourette’s syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, glaucoma, epilepsy, and various other indications.

A 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that new drugs typically gain FDA approval on the basis of one or two pivotal clinical trials.

Full text of the study, “Medicinal uses of marijuana and cannabinoids,” appears online here.

Benefits of medical marijuana for treatment of epilepsy examined

Although cannabis had been used for many centuries for treatment of seizure disorders, medical use became prohibited in the 20th century. However, with the loosening of laws regarding medical marijuana, research and clinical use of marijuana-derived substances are increasing. This has prompted the publishing of an in-depth assessment of the potential of cannabinoids for the effective treatment of epilepsy. Cannabinoids are components of the cannabis plant.

Study: Inhaled Cannabis Controls Tics In Patients With Tourette’s Syndrome

Medical marijuanaInhaled cannabis is effective and well-tolerated in patients with Tourette’s Syndrome, according to clinical data published online ahead of print in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience.

A team of researchers at the University of Toronto retrospectively assessed the safety and efficacy of inhaled cannabis in 19 TS patients.

Researchers reported, “All study participants experienced clinically significant symptom relief,” including including reductions in obsessive-compulsive symptoms, impulsivity, anxiety, irritability, and rage outbursts. Eighteen of 19 patients experienced decreased tic severity. Cannabis was “generally well tolerated” by study subjects.

They concluded: “Overall, these study participants experienced substantial improvements in their symptoms. This is particularly striking given that almost all participants had failed at least one anti-tic medication trial. … In conclusion, cannabis seems to be a promising treatment option for tics and associated symptoms.”

Placebo controlled data has previously determined that oral THC dosing also improves tics and obsessive-compulsive behavior in TS patients. However, patients utilizing inhaled cannabis have generally shown greater overall improvement.

An abstract of the study, “Preliminary evidence on cannabis effectiveness and tolerability for adults with Tourette Syndrome,” is online here.

Cannabis reverses aging processes in the brain, study suggests

Memory performance decreases with increasing age. Cannabis can reverse these ageing processes in the brain. This was shown in mice by scientists at the University of Bonn with their colleagues at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel). Old animals were able to regress to the state of two-month-old mice with a prolonged low-dose treatment with a cannabis active ingredient. This opens up new options, for instance, when it comes to treating dementia.

Neuroscientists seek brain basis of craving in addiction and binge eating

A new article details the first step in revealing how craving works in the brain. Scientists have now proposed a quantitative model for drug addiction research. The model focuses on craving: the intense, urgent feeling of needing or wanting drugs. Their ongoing research and subsequent findings have the potential to open a new frontier of alcohol and substance abuse treatment.

Compound suggests chronic pain treatment without opioid or medical marijuana side effects

Neuroscientists have found evidence that the brain’s cannabis receptors may be used to treat chronic pain without the side effects associated with opioid-based pain relievers or medical marijuana.

Study: Medical Cannabis Use Associated With Improved Cognitive Performance, Reduced Use Of Opioids

Marijuana researchMedical cannabis administration is associated with improved cognitive performance and lower levels of prescription drug use, according to longitudinal data published online in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology.

Investigators from Harvard Medical School, Tufts University, and McLean Hospital evaluated the use of medicinal cannabis on patients’ cognitive performance over a three-month period. Participants in the study were either naïve to cannabis or had abstained from the substance over the previous decade. Baseline evaluations of patients’ cognitive performance were taken prior to their cannabis use and then again following treatment.

Researchers reported “no significant decrements in performance” following medical marijuana use. Rather, they determined, “[P]atients experienced some improvement on measures of executive functioning, including the Stroop Color Word Test and Trail Making Test, mostly reflected as increased speed in completing tasks without a loss of accuracy.”

Participants in the study were less likely to experience feelings of depression during treatment, and many significantly reduced their use of prescription drugs. “[D]ata revealed a notable decrease in weekly use across all medication classes, including reductions in use of opiates (-42.88 percent), antidepressants (-17.64 percent), mood stabilizers (-33.33 percent), and benzodiazepines (-38.89 percent),” authors reported – a finding that is consistent with prior studies.

Patients in the study will continue to be assessed over the course of one-year of treatment to assess whether these preliminary trends persist long-term.

Full text of the study, “Splendor in the grass? A pilot study assessing the impact of marijuana on executive function,” appears online here.

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