Industry leaders descended on the capital this week amid hopes the country at large is slowly embracing legalization
More than 200 cannabis industry leaders descended upon Washington this week in the hopes of persuading the US Congress to embrace the growing movement for marijuana legalization.
The marijuana business owners and advocates bustled between the hallways of the House and Senate, meeting with hundreds of congressional offices and rallying on the Capitol lawn over a three-day lobbying tour organized by the National Cannabis Industry Association.
The event, which brought members representing 23 states and the District of Columbia, was not the first of its kind. But the advocates hailed a new front in the battle for federal marijuana reform against the backdrop of a rapid evolution on how the issue is perceived in the nations capital.
Theres an air of legitimacy around our group that makes me hopeful that the stigma is going to fall away, said Blake Mensing, a cannabis attorney from Massachusetts who helps clients obtain local permits and state licenses for adult use cannabis businesses.
With public opinion polls showing record support among Americans for marijuana legalization, its little surprise that the high has spread to Congress.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have taken a flurry of actions in recent months that signal the shifting tides.
Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate majority leader, fast-tracked a bill in April that would legalize industrial hemp. The historical ban on hemp, which is derived from the cannabis plant, has long imposed barriers on the agriculture industry.
McConnell found an ally in his daily sparring partner Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, who announced his support for the proposal this month.
The marijuana industrys efforts include pushing for legislation that would grant legal marijuana businesses access to financial services, among other measures to prevent the federal government from prosecuting businesses that are in compliance with state laws.
The states have already proven that replacing the criminal marijuana markets with tightly regulated and transparent small businesses is working, said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA). Now the responsibility falls on Congress to reform federal laws so that the legal cannabis industry can be treated fairly, like any other legitimate business sector.
NEW YORK (CNN)New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has told top brass at the city’s police department to stop arresting people who are caught smoking marijuana in public, according to a City Hall aide.
This weekend, the mayor told the NYPD to issue summonses for smoking pot in public, instead of making arrests.
The NYPD has already begun a working group to evaluate its marijuana enforcement procedures and present its recommendations within 30 days, at the mayor’s request. The mayor made it clear this weekend that ending public marijuana smoking arrests is one of the changes he wants.
Any changes to NYPD’s policy on smoking in public would not take effect until the end of the summer.
NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Phil Walzak told CNN that the 30-day working group is already underway, and that the issue is “certainly part of that review.”
“The working group is reviewing possession and public smoking of marijuana to ensure enforcement is consistent with the values of fairness and trust, while also promoting public safety and addressing community concerns,” Walzak said.
Manhattan to end prosecution
De Blasio’s call to end arrests comes after both the the mayor and Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance made big announcements about marijuana enforcement on May 15.
The mayor publicly called on the NYPD to come up with a plan to make changes to its marijuana enforcement policies in the next month, and Vance said he would end prosecution of marijuana possession and smoking cases, starting August 1.
Under the current policy in Manhattan, people are arrested, fingerprinted and have to appear in court.
Last year, cops in Manhattan arrested people for smoking or possessing small amounts of marijuana a little more than 5,500 times. A disproportionate number of those arrested were minorities.
“The dual mission of the Manhattan DA’s office is a safer New York and a more equal justice system,” Vance said Tuesday. “The ongoing arrest and criminal prosecution of predominantly black and brown New Yorkers for smoking marijuana serves neither of these goals.”
Vance, a Democrat who is in his third term, said his office was discussing with New York City police and de Blasio what exceptions there should be to the policy.
New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill said that, while the department doesn’t target minorities, “there are differences in arrest rates, and they have persisted going back many years, long before this current administration. We need an honest assessment about why they exist … “
O’Neill said NYPD officers should not make arrests that don’t impact public safety.
Under the DA’s new policy, people who violate the law would be issued summonses. The NYPD does this in cases where possession is the most serious charge a person would face, O’Neill said.
According to the New York State courts system, police officers issue a criminal court summons when certain laws have been violated. “Most people who receive a summons are not arrested and fingerprinted unless they fail to show identification,” its website says.
Marijuana is a Schedule I drug under federal law and is illegal. Some states, like New York, have decriminalized marijuana, making it a violation and not a crime to possess small amounts of cannabis.
Medical marijuana is legal under New York law, but cannot be smoked.
In the year-and-a-bit since Donald Trump took office, Americans have witnessed a neck-wrenching 180-degree turn on an array of policy topics. One of the biggest has been with regard to drugs.
Between anti-marijuana moves by Trumps attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and apparent interest by the administration in making passing a drug test a condition for receiving food stamps in states that request it, Trump and key figures in his administration seem eager to jump back to a time in history when drug use that has become more or less accepted in society is again disqualifying and indeed criminal. And where Trump goes, the GOP often follows.
But is the Trump administration truly set on achieving this? Those of us watching drug policy debates in the era of Trump are feeling a little (OK, a lot of) whiplash.
The direction in which Sessions wants to take the country is clear. So too are Republicans views with regard to food stamps and drug testing.
With Trump, things are a bit murkier. He generally cultivated an anti-drug message with his death penalty for heroin dealers chat. Hes pushed that message in other ways too, such as the little noticed controversy in February, when Israel put the brakes on a plan to export marijuana to the U.S., apparently because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu didnt want to piss off Trump. Trump also claims never to have smoked pot, something that some pot advocates view as inherently likely to predispose him against cannabis.
Outside of Trump, the GOP itself seems to be in the midst of an evolution on pot. Or, at least, a process of self-discovery. Gardner was so adamant that states rights on the matter be respected that he threatened to hold up any nominees to the Department of Justice until Sessions and Trump backed down. Weve also learned that John Boehner is joining the board of a cannabis companya pretty big turnaround for a former speaker of the House known more for his love of wine than weed.
So what the heck is going on with the GOP and pot? The short answer is: a lot. But though much of it seems contradictory, there is still an obvious, ultimate direction. The GOP will, in the end, follow Gardner and Boehners path, even if that feels like an Olympic gymnast-level flip-flop for a lot of voters.
It used to be that the only pro-decriminalization or pro-legalization Republicans were Libertarians who voted GOP because they wanted tax cuts and a tiny bit more fiscal restraint (with the exception, perhaps, of some prominent figures at National Review who always took a surprisingly pro-decriminalization line on marijuana).
More recently, however, the pro-decriminalization ranks have been joined by the Koch brothers, especially Charles Koch, who champions criminal justice reform and sees issues like pot decriminalization and mandatory minimums reform as obviously related.
There are also Republicans from states where marijuana laws have been liberalized, leading to a booming new sector of the economy.
Gardner is one such figure. But more Gardners are on the way. While Sessions may believe the War on Drugs has failed because it has been prosecuted with insufficient zeal, youve got a whole raft of states represented by Republican officeholders who manifestly believe that the anti-pot aspect of it, at least, is stupid.
Its certainly economically unhelpful. Nine states have fully legalized recreational pot (including Alaska, a deep red state, and Colorado, Nevada, and Mainepurplish ones with GOP elected officials). Twenty-nine states have legalized medical marijuana (including the magenta-ish states of North Dakota, Arkansas, Montana, and West Virginia, and swing state New Hampshire).
Rank-and-file Republican voters are becoming much more opposed to the War on Weed too, according to an October 2017 Gallup poll. Maybe thats because veterans (who Republicans love to champion) claim marijuana helps them with physical and psychological battlefield injuries. Maybe its because of claims that legalization could help combat the opioid epidemic, which is ravaging Republican areas. Maybe its because Republicans are hearing from unlikely marijuana advocates like Michelle Malkin.
Or maybe its because Republicans still tend to consider themselves pro-business, and the pot business is growingfast. According to a report last year from Arcview Market Research, across North America, legal pot sales in 2017 were on pace to hit $9.7 billion. Thats 33 percent growth against the previous yearevidence of a booming market. Many Republicans may oppose pot use personally. But basically all Republicans love making and keeping money.
Whatever it is, the reality is this: The ranks of pro-legalization Republicans, like plants on weed farms, will continue to grow over time, while those sharing Sessions views will shrink and shrivel and decline. Thats a good thing, in terms of achieving limited government goals, and expanding personal libertysomething todays GOP could do with getting back to focusing on.
The debate may seem muddied now. But its heading in a very clear direction.
At the Ganja Goddess Getaway, yes, there are yoga classes and spiritual talks but the mother lode comes from the spliffs, edibles and pot-infused mocktails that aid the healing
Wearing a T-shirt with the slogan Mary Jane Smokewear, a woman with long, grey pigtails crawled towards me, offering a hit off a balloon bag inflated with marijuana vapours. I was sitting cross-legged under a Ganja Goddess Getaway-branded gazebo on a perfect California afternoon and it was the umpteenth time that day that a stranger had come over, unprompted, to share their weed.
The bag was just one way my fellow ganja goddesses were getting high. Plates piled with spliffs, giant blunts, laced caramel-pecan candies and fruity mocktails enhanced with pot-infused tinctures also made the rounds. At one point, I was handed a wizard pipe packed with a tiramisu. Where a domestic goddess might use cream and ladyfingers, a ganja goddess gets baking with alternating layers of green and hash.
This is a canna-holiday, California-style. After new laws permitting recreational marijuana use came into effect in the state on 1 January, canna-visionaries wasted little time integrating their product into the regions aspirational aesthetic. You can tour the sun-grown, craft cannabis fields of the norths Humboldt County while in Los Angeles marijuana chef Chris Sayegh plans to open the citys first high cuisine cannabis restaurant (working name: Herb).
(CNN)Last year, cops in Manhattan arrested people for smoking or possessing small amounts of marijuana a little more than 5,500 times. A disproportionate number of those arrested were minorities.
“The dual mission of the Manhattan DA’s office is a safer New York and a more equal justice system,” Vance said. “The ongoing arrest and criminal prosecution of predominantly black and brown New Yorkers for smoking marijuana serves neither of these goals.”
Vance, a Democrat who is in his third term, said his office was discussing with New York City police and the mayor what exceptions there should be to the policy.
New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill on Tuesday announced a working group will take the next 30 days to look at the enforcement measures by the department.
He said that, while the department doesn’t target minorities, “there are differences in arrest rates, and they have persisted going back many years, long before this current administration. We need an honest assessment about why they exist … .”
O’Neill said NYPD officers should not make arrests that don’t impact public safety.
Under the DA’s office new policy, people who violate the law would be issued summonses. The NYPD does this in cases where possession is the most serious charge a person would face, O’Neill said.
Under the current policy in Manhattan, people are arrested, fingerprinted and have to appear in court.
The DA’s office said this creates enormous costs for the legal system and alienates too many people.
“Such arrests can significantly impact job searches, schooling, family members, immigration status, and community involvement,” the DA said. There are often no punitive, rehabilitative or deterrent purposes in these cases, the DA said.
CNN reached out to the offices of district attorneys in other boroughs to see whether they are considering similar measures. Brooklyn already has a similar policy.
Queens County wants to wait to comment until after the 30-day NYPD working group analysis.
“It is our understanding that Mayor Bill de Blasio has directed the New York City Police Department to review its policy and practices. We will await the results of that review,” a spokesperson for Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown said.
Marijuana is a Schedule I drug under federal law and is illegal. Some states, like New York, have decriminalized marijuana, making it a violation and not a crime to possess small amounts of cannabis.
Medical marijuana is legal under New York law, but cannot be smoked.
States around the country — 29 of them, plus Washington DC — have legalized medical marijuana.
The American public largely supports the legalization of medical marijuana. At least 84% of the public believes the drug should be legal for medical uses, and recreational pot usage is less controversial than ever, with at least 61% of Americans in support.
Even though some medical benefits of smoking pot may be overstated by advocates of marijuana legalization, recent research has demonstrated that there are legitimate medical uses for marijuana and strong reasons to continue studying the drug’s medicinal uses.
There are at least two active chemicals in marijuana that researchers think have medicinal applications. Those are cannabidiol (CBD) — which seems to impact the brain without a high— and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — which has pain relieving properties and is largely responsible for the high.
But scientists say that limitations on marijuana research mean we still have big questions about its medicinal properties. In addition to CBD and THC, there are another 400 or so chemical compounds, more than 60 of which are cannabinoids. Many of these could have medical uses. But without more research, we won’t know how to best make use of those compounds.
More research would also shed light on the risks of marijuana. Even if there are legitimate uses for medicinal marijuana, that doesn’t mean all use is harmless. Some research indicates that chronic, heavy users may have impaired memory, learning, and processing speed, especially if they started regularly using marijuana before age 16 or 17.
For some of the following medical benefits, there’s good evidence. For others, there’s reason to continue conducting research.
Jennifer Welsh contributed to an earlier version of this story.
The best-supported medicinal use of marijuana is as a treatment for chronic pain.
A recent report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine said there was definitive evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids (which are found in the marijuana plant) can be an effective treatment for chronic pain.
The report said that is “by far the most common” reason people request medical marijuana.
There’s also strong evidence medical cannabis can help with muscle spasms.
That same report said there’s equally strong evidence marijuana can help with muscle spasms related to multiple sclerosis.
Other types of muscle spasms respond to marijuana as well. People use medical marijuana to treat diaphragm spasms that are untreatable by other, prescribed medications.
It doesn’t seem to harm lung capacity, and may even improve it.
Researchers looking for risk factors of heart disease tested the lung function of 5,115 young adults over the course of 20 years. Tobacco smokers lost lung function over time, but pot users actually showed an increase in lung capacity.
It’s possible that the increased lung capacity may be due to taking a deep breaths while inhaling the drug and not from a therapeutic chemical in the drug.
The smokers in that study only toked up a few times a month, but a more recent survey of people who smoked pot daily for up to 20 years found no evidence that smoking pot harmed their lungs, either.
The National Academies report said there are good studies showing marijuana users are not more likely to have cancers associated with smoking.
It may be of some use in treating glaucoma, or it may be possible to derive a drug from marijuana for this use.
Marijuana decreases the pressure inside the eye, according to the National Eye Institute: “Studies in the early 1970s showed that marijuana, when smoked, lowered intraocular pressure (IOP) in people with normal pressure and those with glaucoma.”
For now, the medical consensus is that marijuana only lowers IOP for a few hours, meaning there’s not good evidence for it as a long term treatment right now. Researchers hope that perhaps a marijuana-based compound could be developed that lasts longer.
It may help control epileptic seizures.
Some studies have shown that cannabidiol (CBD), another major marijuana compound, seems to help people with treatment-resistant epilepsy.
A number of individuals have reported that marijuana is the only thing that helps control their or their children’s seizures.
However, there haven’t been many gold-standard, double-blind studies on the topic, so researchers say more data is needed before we know how effective marijuana is.
It also decreases the symptoms of a severe seizure disorder known as Dravet’s Syndrome.
During the research for his documentary “Weed,” Sanjay Gupta interviewed the Figi family, who treated their 5-year-old daughter using a medical marijuana strain high in cannabidiol and low in THC.
The Figi family’s daughter, Charlotte, has Dravet Syndrome, which causes seizures and severe developmental delays.
According to the film, the drug decreased her seizures from 300 a week to just one every seven days. Forty other children in the state were using the same strain of marijuana to treat their seizures when the film was made — and it seemed to be working.
The doctors who recommended this treatment said the cannabidiol in the plant interacts with brain cells to quiet the excessive activity in the brain that causes these seizures.
Gupta notes, however, that a Florida hospital that specializes in the disorder, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Drug Enforcement agency don’t endorse marijuana as a treatment for Dravet or other seizure disorders.
A chemical found in marijuana stops cancer from spreading, at least in cell cultures.
One 2014 study found that marijuana can significantly slow the growth of the type of brain tumor associated with 80% of malignant brain cancer in people.
Still, these findings in cell cultures and animals don’t necessarily mean the effect will translate to people — far more investigation is needed.
It may decrease anxiety in low doses.
Researchers know that many cannabis users consume marijuana to relax, but also that many people say smoking too much can cause anxiety. So scientists conducted a study to find the “Goldilocks” zone: the right amount of marijuana to calm people.
According to Emma Childs, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago and an author of the study, “we found that THC at low doses reduced stress, while higher doses had the opposite effect.”
A few puffs was enough to help study participants relax, but a few puffs more started to amp up anxiety. However, people may react differently in different situations.
THC may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease
The 2006 study, published in the journal Molecular Pharmaceutics, found that THC (the active chemical in marijuana) slows the formation of amyloid plaques by blocking the enzyme in the brain that makes them. These plaques kill brain cells and are associated with Alzheimer’s.
Jody Corey-Bloom studied 30 multiple sclerosis patients with painful contractions in their muscles. These patients didn’t respond to other treatments, but after smoking marijuana for a few days, they reported that they were in less pain.
The THC in marijuana seems to bind to receptors in the nerves and muscles to relieve pain.
It seems to lessen side effects from treating hepatitis C and increase treatment effectiveness.
Treatment for hepatitis C infection is harsh: negative side effects include fatigue, nausea, muscle aches, loss of appetite, and depression. Those side effects can last for months, and lead many people to stop their treatment course early.
But a 2006 study in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology found that 86% of patients using marijuana successfully completed their Hep C therapy. Only 29% of non-smokers completed their treatment, possibly because the marijuana helps lessen the treatment’s side effects.
Marijuana also seems to improve the treatment’s effectiveness: 54% of hep C patients smoking marijuana got their viral levels low and kept them low, in comparison to only 8% of nonsmokers.
Marijuana may help with inflammatory bowel diseases.
University of Nottingham researchers found in 2010 that chemicals in marijuana, including THC and cannabidiol, interact with cells in the body that play an important role in gut function and immune responses. The study was published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.
The body makes THC-like compounds that increase the permeability of the intestines, allowing bacteria in. But the cannabinoids in marijuana block these compounds, making the intestinal cells bond together tighter and become less permeable.
But the National Academies report said there isn’t enough evidence to be sure whether marijuana really helps with these conditions, so more research is needed.
Researchers from rheumatology units at several hospitals gave their patients Sativex, a cannabinoid-based pain-relieving medicine. After a two-week period, people on Sativex had a significant reduction in pain and improved sleep quality compared to placebo users.
Other studies have found that plant-derived cannabinoids and inhaled marijuana can decrease arthritis pain, according to the National Academies report.
Marijuana users tend to be less obese and have a better response to eating sugar.
A study published in the American Journal Of Medicine suggested that pot smokers are skinnier than the average person and have healthier metabolism and reaction to sugars, even though they do end up eating more calories.
The study analyzed data from more than 4,500 adult Americans — 579 of whom were current marijuana smokers, meaning they had smoked in the last month. About 2,000 people had used marijuana in the past, while another 2,000 had never used the drug.
The researchers studied how the participants’ bodies responded to eating sugars. They measured blood-sugar levels and the hormone insulin after participants hadn’t eaten in nine hours, and after they’d eaten sugar.
Not only were pot users thinner, their bodies also had a healthier response to sugar. Of course, the study couldn’t determine whether the marijuana users were like this to begin with or if these characteristics were somehow related to their smoking.
While not really a health or medical benefit, marijuana could spur creativity.
Contrary to stoner stereotypes, marijuana usage has actually been shown to have some positive mental effects, particularly in terms of increasing creativity, at least in some contexts. Even though people’s short-term memories tend to function worse when they’re high, they actually get better at tests requiring them to come up with new ideas.
Researchers have also found that some study participants improve their “verbal fluency,” their ability to come up with different words, while using marijuana.
Part of this increased creative ability may come from the release of dopamine in the brain, which lowers inhibitions and allows people to feel more relaxed, giving the brain the ability to perceive things differently.
Cannabis soothes tremors for people with Parkinson’s disease.
Medical marijuana is legal in Israel for multiple conditions, and a lot of research into the medical uses of cannabis is done there, supported by the Israeli government.
Marijuana may help veterans suffering from PTSD.
In 2014, the Colorado Department of Public Health awarded $2 million to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (one of the biggest proponents of marijuana research) to study marijuana’s potential for people with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Naturally occurring cannabinoids, similar to THC, help regulate the system that causes fear and anxiety in the body and brain.
Marijuana is approved to treat PTSD in some states already — in New Mexico, PTSD is the number one reason for people to get a license for medical marijuana.
But there are still questions about the safety of using marijuana while suffering from PTSD, which this study — which has taken a while to get off the ground — will hopefully help answer.
Animal studies suggest that marijuana may protect the brain after a stroke.
Research from the University of Nottingham shows that marijuana may help protect the brain from damage from a stroke by reducing the size of the area affected by the stroke — at least in rats, mice, and monkeys.
This isn’t the only research that has shown neuroprotective effects of cannabis. Some research shows that the plant may help protect the brain after other types of brain trauma.
Marijuana might even protect the brain from concussions and trauma.
Lester Grinspoon , a professor of psychiatry at Harvard and marijuana advocate, recently wrote an open letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. In it, he said the NFL should stop testing players for marijuana, and that the league should start funding research into the plant’s ability to protect the brain instead.
This is a complicated one, because it involves effects that can be both positive and negative. Marijuana disturbs sleep cycles by interrupting the later stages of REM sleep. In the long run, this could be a problem for frequent users.
However, for people suffering from serious nightmares, especially those associated with PTSD, this can be helpful, perhaps in the short term. Nightmares and other dreams occur during those same stages of sleep. By interrupting REM sleep, many of those dreams may not occur. Research into using a synthetic cannabinoid — similar to THC but not the same — showed a significant decrease in the number of nightmares in patients with PTSD.
Additionally, even if frequent use can be bad for sleep, marijuana may be a better sleep aid than some other substances that people use. Some of those, including medication and alcohol, may potentially have worse effects on sleep, though more research is needed on the topic.
Cannabis reduces some of the pain and nausea from chemotherapy and stimulates appetite.
One of the most well-known medical uses of marijuana is for people going through chemotherapy. There’s good evidence that it’s effective for this, according to the National Academies report.
Cancer patients being treated with chemo suffer from painful nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. This can cause additional health complications.
Marijuana can help reduce these side effects, alleviating pain, decreasing nausea, and stimulating the appetite. There are also multiple FDA-approved cannabinoid drugs that use THC, the main active chemical in marijuana, for the same purpose.
Marijuana can help people who are trying to cut back on drinking.
Marijuana is safer than alcohol. That’s not to say it’s risk-free, but cannabis is much less addictive than alcohol and doesn’t cause nearly as much physical damage.
Research published in the Harm Reduction Journal found that some people use marijuana as a less harmful substitute for alcohol, prescription drugs, and other illegal drugs. Some of the most common reasons patients make that substitution are that marijuana has less negative side effects and is less likely to cause withdrawal problems.
Some people do become psychologically dependent on marijuana, and it is not a cure for substance abuse problems. But from a harm-reduction standpoint, it can help.
Still, it’s worth noting that combining marijuana and alcohol can be dangerous, and some researchers are concerned that this scenario is more likely than one in which users substitute a toke for a drink.
Medical marijuana legalization seems to reduce opioid overdose deaths.
While there are a number of factors behind the current opioid epidemic, many experts agree that the use of opioid painkillers to treat chronic pain has played a major role. It’s very risky to take powerful drugs that have a high risk of causing overdose and high addiction rates. Marijuana, which can also treat chronic pain, is far less risky.
Several studies have shown that states that allow medical marijuana have fewer opioid deaths. This effect seems to grow over time, with states who pass these laws seeing a “20% lower rate of opioid deaths in the laws’ first year, 24% in the third, and 33% in the sixth,” according to Stat News.
It’s hard to say that deaths went down because of medical marijuana legalization and not other reasons. But because the effect seems to get stronger the longer marijuana remains legal, researchers think marijuana is a likely cause of the decline in opioid deaths.
Read the original article on Business Insider. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Copyright 2017.
If you go to a doctor and ask them to recommend you medical marijuana, don’t expect them to fully understand how the drug works, both for you as an individual patient and in general as a therapy. Because no one really does.
With more and more states legalizing marijuana for medical or recreational use, cannabis is shedding its stigma and entering the mainstream. That means folks who’ve shied away from the stuff are getting better access, and exploring cannabis as a non-addictive treatment for ailments like pain. But that new interest is running smack dab into a big problem plaguing medical cannabis: The research on what marijuana can actually treat, what components of the plant matter, and how different patients respond to them, is severely lacking.
Just how much doctors are struggling with it becomes clear today in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. A study reveals that half of surveyed oncologists say they recommended marijuana to patients in the last year. But half of those didn’t think they actually had sufficient knowledge to make those recommendations.
The biggest question for oncologists is what cancer symptoms cannabis can really treat. The survey found respondents split when it comes to the treatment of pain: A third of oncologists said cannabis is equally or more effective than standard pain treatments, a third said it was less effective, and a third didn’t know. “But there seemed to be clear consensus that medical marijuana is a good adjunct to standard pain treatment, so a good add-on medication,” says Ilana Braun, lead author and chief of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute's Division of Adult Psychosocial Oncology. In fact, two-thirds of respondents said it’d be a good supplemental treatment.
According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine—which last year published a massive, big-deal review of cannabis research—“there is substantial evidence that cannabis is an effective treatment for chronic pain in adults.” It’s also been shown to help control nausea and vomiting.
Now, doctors have long prescribed a synthetic THC called dronabinol, aka marinol, for the treatment of nausea and weight loss. Problem is, side effects include paranoia and “thinking abnormal.” Beyond that, you wouldn’t want to try to get high on it because it’s missing the galaxy of other active compounds in cannabis. “If it worked—it rarely does work—but if it really did work it would be abused on the streets,” says physician Allan Frankel, a pioneer in medical cannabis. “For 15 cents a pill? That's how bad marinol is.”
The reason, Frankel says, is the so-called entourage effect, the interaction of dozens of other cannabinoids in marijuana like CBD (which is an extremely effective treatment for seizures, by the way) that may produce different therapeutic effects. So by that logic, with marinol, patients aren’t getting the full effect of the cannabis plant.
And that full effect would be? Well, nobody really knows—in part because the US government makes the stuff very, very difficult to study. In the eyes of the feds, it’s still a very illegal schedule I drug, the most tightly controlled category, and the DEA decides who gets crop to research. Researchers don’t have access to a variety of strains that might produce a variety of benefits, given different levels of CBD and THC and other compounds.
Even if you could study lots of different strains, it’s not always possible to tell what a patient is going to get at the dispensary. Flowers can be mislabeled, and the THC content of oils doesn’t always match what’s on the label. “Composition standardization is a giant mess,” says Jeff Raber, CEO of the Werc Shop, a lab that tests cannabis. “So for an ultra traditional doctor, I can understand where they're like, Man, we don't really know what that is, is that OK? It's not standardized like a pharmaceutical product.”
A doctor can’t just say, Take two marijuana pills and call me in the morning. And on a physiological level, we all handle cannabis differently. “Even if I tell everybody, go inhale a tenth of a gram, their inhalation depths and absorption rates are going to be different,” says Raber.
“Unfortunately, we are going a little bit blind,” says physician Bonni Goldstein, medical director of the Canna-Centers, which provides cannabis consultations for patients. “But what I'm finding in clinical experience is I learn from every patient, and so we try to use the scientific research that we do have.”
So doctors like Goldstein try to tailor cannabis as best they can for a patient’s needs. Her patients have the luxury of attentive, personalized cannabis consultations. “Someone retired who has cancer who doesn't have to get up in the morning and get somewhere may be able to take bigger doses during the day,” says Goldstein, “versus a mom of four who has kids in and out of activities, who has breast cancer.”
But your typical oncologist isn’t going to sit down with a patient for an hour to walk through their lifestyle and needs. So patients are left to experiment with dosages on their own, or consult with their local dispensary.
Because it turns out that dispensaries have some experience dosing cannabis. “Some of the top dispensaries that have been doing this for a while know this better than anybody else,” says Rob Adelson, president and CEO of Resolve, which makes a smart inhaler for medical marijuana patients. “There's still so much about the pharmacokinetics of this plant that we just don't know yet. So asking a doctor to come in to try to solve the problem without any more data than the dispensary has is hard.”
What Adelson sees cannabis promoting is a new paradigm of medical care. “We've heard this from many doctors, that they might not know about medical cannabis, might not want to promote it, and that a patient comes in and says, ‘I'd like to try it,’” he says. “And patients bring studies with them." That inversion of responsibility has its downsides: An elderly patient might not be aware of side effects like dizziness, for example. But at the same time, it's impossible to overdose. For better or worse, if doctors don't feel they have the knowledge to appropriately prescribe a drug, patients will fill that void.
More cannabis science
Another big unknown with cannabis is the issue of safety. Namely, the stuff that's grown in the wilds of California can be very, very dirty.
It turns out Oregonians are good at growing cannabis too good.
In February, state officials announced that 1.1m pounds of cannabis flower were logged in the states database.
If a million pounds sounds like a lot of pot, thats because it is: last year, Oregonians smoked, vaped or otherwise consumed just under 340,000lb of legal bud.
That means Oregon farmers have grown three times what their clientele can smoke in a year.
Yet state documents show the number of Oregon weed farmers is poised to double this summer without much regard to whether theres demand to fill.
The result? Prices are dropping to unprecedented lows in auction houses and on dispensary counters across the state.
Wholesale sun-grown weed fell from $1,500 a pound last summer to as low as $700 by mid-October. On store shelves, that means the price of sun-grown flower has been sliced in half to those four-buck grams.
For Oregon customers, this is a bonanza. A gram of the beloved Girl Scout Cookies strain now sells for little more than two boxes of actual Girl Scout cookies.
But it has left growers and sellers with a high-cost product thats a financial loser. And a new feeling has descended on the once-confident Oregon cannabis industry: panic.
(CNN)A majority of cannabis dispensaries in Colorado recommended their products to women posing as pregnant customers with morning sickness, clashing with doctors’ warnings about the potential harms, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.
Of 400 randomly selected dispensaries in Colorado, about seven in 10 recommended cannabis products as a treatment for morning sickness. Nearly two-thirds of the employees who answered these calls based these recommendations on “personal opinion,” and more than a third said cannabis was safe during pregnancy. Roughly 32% of employees recommended the caller talk to a health care provider without the caller having to bring it up herself.
“I was really surprised,” said study author Dr. Torri Metz, a high-risk obstetrician at Denver Health in Colorado, where marijuana was legalized in 2012. “I did not expect dispensaries to be recommending cannabis products to pregnant women.”
Metz said women seek information on cannabis use during pregnancy from a variety of sources beyond their doctors — including the internet, friends and family.
“Women are hesitant to disclose any kind of drug use in pregnancy to their health care providers for fear of potential legal ramifications or involvement by social services,” she said.
Experts worry that some of these women may seek advice from cannabis retailers, expecting that they have specialized knowledge on the drug’s safety during pregnancy.
In the study, medical dispensaries were more likely to recommend cannabis products than retail dispensaries: About 83% and 60% did so, respectively. The authors note that the employees they spoke to may not reflect the official policy of a given dispensary.
Dr. Katrina Mark, an OB-GYN who was not involved in the research, wrote in an email that the term “medical dispensary” is a “misnomer.”
“They are only licensed to dispense to people who have medical marijuana cards,” said Mark, an assistant professor in the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences. “This does not mean that they are staffed by people that have any sort of medical education.”
Still, experts say the science is still in progress, and human studies are primarily observational: “It is unethical to purposely expose women and their unborn babies to marijuana during pregnancy to study outcomes,” Mark said.
“Marijuana in pregnancy is … not as black and white as something like alcohol,” she added.
Though some dispensary employees did not make a recommendation in Metz’s study, some claimed that eating versus smoking cannabis products could make their products safer. Others recommended that the women not broach the subject with their doctors.
“Google it first. Then if you feel apprehensive about it, you could ask,” one employee told a researcher who posed as a pregnant customer.
“Maybe you have a progressive doctor that will not lie to you. All the studies done back in the day were just propaganda,” another employee said.
“It was hard to hear that, being a health care provider,” Metz said of employees’ unproven safety claims and recommendations that women not ask their doctors about it.
Metz and her colleagues wrote that there are no regulations in Colorado surrounding what recommendations and advice dispensaries can give to customers. Cannabis products in the state are, however, required to be labeled as follows: “There may be additional health risks associated with the consumption of this product for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning on becoming pregnant.”
Additionally, “there are insufficient data to evaluate the effects of marijuana use on infants during lactation and breastfeeding, and in the absence of such data, marijuana use is discouraged,” according to the recommendations.
The journal in which the new study appeared is the official publication of the organization.
Metz said she hopes this study will “engage the cannabis industry … in really coming together in terms of what the reasonable message should be providing to pregnant women.”
“I think that the majority of women are really trying to do the right thing for their pregnancy and for their baby,” she added. “I just think we need to get that information to their hands.”
There are conventional medications for morning sickness that are considered safe for pregnancy, such as vitamin B6 and doxylamine, an antihistamine sold under brands like Unisom. For some women, eating small, frequent meals and staying hydrated can help, Mark said.
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“My impression is that some women have a certain level of skepticism when it comes to the health care system,” she said, and that some might be “leery of taking ‘pharmaceuticals’ during pregnancy but view marijuana as a more ‘natural’ option.”
“Legalization does not equate to safety, particularly in pregnancy,” she said. “I actually think that the fact that dispensaries are providing any recommendations for treatment of medical conditions is very much overstepping appropriate boundaries.”
(CNN)Zimbabwe has just legalized growing marijuana for medicinal and research purposes — and several other African governments are considering tapping into the lucrative natural resource too.
More than 10,000 tons of cannabis are produced on the continent each year, according to a UN survey, which advocates believe could be worth billions of dollars in a rapidly expanding global market for legal weed.
African governments have not yet followed the trend of legalization seen in Europe and the Americas. However last year, Lesotho became the continent’s first country to offer legal licenses to grow marijuana, signaling a wider shift toward more liberal policies.
From Morocco to South Africa, there is growing interest in cashing in on a valuable crop. But in each case there are unique challenges to face.
Known locally as “mbanje,” Zimbabweans can now apply for a license to cultivate marijuana.
Previously, possessing, growing or using cannabis in Zimbabwe was illegal, and could come with sentences of up to 12 years in jail.
The renewable license permits companies and individuals to produce marijuana for five years.
The tiny, landlocked nation has few natural resources. But Lesotho is a giant of the marijuana trade.
“Cannabis is grown almost everywhere in the country,” a UNESCO report found, noting the industry is a leading contributor to the economy in a country plagued by poverty. Much of this comes through illicit trade with Lesotho’s larger, richer neighbor, South Africa.
The government has now signaled its intentions to bring the business out of the shadows by awarding the first license for cultivation and sale to South African alternative medicine company Verve Dynamics.
However, no formal steps have been taken to legalize or regulate the vast network of existing farmers and traders.
The North African state is famous for its hashish and is second only to Afghanistan as a producer of the substance, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Such dizzying numbers have underpinned a growing movement for legalization. In 2014, an opposition party in the Moroccan parliament with close ties to the monarchy proposed a bill to legalize marijuana production for medical and industrial use.
But the bill failed, and the movement suffered a further setback with the resignation of leading advocate Ilyas El Omari. There has also been opposition to legalization from conservative religious groups, and even cannabis farmers who are concerned their crop might lose value.
Malawi is well known for the prevalence and quality of marijuana production within its borders, including the sought after “Malawi Gold” strain.
The government is now cultivating hemp on a trial basis, ahead of potential legalization of the non-psychoactive cannabis strain for industrial uses such as fabric and food products. This represents a major development after a lengthy battle with drug control groups and religious leaders that fiercely opposed any softening of policy.
Both advocates and critics of legalizing hemp have suggested that marijuana could be next, a longstanding demand of the country’s Rastafarian minority, which claims that smoking ‘chamba’ is integral to their culture.
Ghanaians are heavy consumers of marijuana, according to the UNODC, which is prohibited but widely tolerated.
A pro-legalization campaign has been gathering momentum in recent years, with support from the former head of the Narcotics Control Board. The movement recently received another boost when the executive director of the Ghana Standards Authority suggested that state-led cultivation and export of marijuana could generate valuable income.
But a vociferous backlash from government officials and mental health experts showed this will not be easily achieved. The influential Christian Council of Ghana has also spoken out against legalization, warning this would “destroy the future of our young people.”
The continent’s last absolute monarchy is plagued by poverty, but boasts an abundance of marijuana.
Prominent public figures have suggested using the cannabis crop to boost the economy, including Swaziland’s housing and development minister, while the national commissioner of police has called for a study.
The Swazi House of Assembly has now appointed a committee to explore the possibility of legalization, according to recent reports.
However, similar proposals have been discussed for several years without moving forward, and police continue to make regular arrests for cultivation of marijuana.
One of the continent’s largest economies is also among its leading markets for marijuana, or “dagga” as it is locally known. South Africa produces around 2,500 tons a year, according to a UN report.
Several legal battles are ongoing over the future of the drug in South Africa. The Dagga Party won a landmark ruling this year to permit smoking in the home on privacy grounds, without changing the legal status of the herb.
The so-called “dagga couple” Julian Stobbs and Myrtle Clarke are going further in seeking the right to grow and consume marijuana, which could establish a far-reaching precedent.
The South African government has already published guidelines for medical marijuana, paving the way for legal licenses.
But medical authorities have warned that potential health risks may not be well understood, and public access will likely depend on the outcomes of clinical trials.