Tag Archives: cannabis

Cannabis can make your brain ‘slow’ even after the high wears off

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It’s no secret using cannabis impairs thinking and interferes with one’s ability to learn and perform complicated tasks. Reaction time and coordination are also negatively affected, which is why driving while under the influence of cannabis can be dangerous. But a new massive study, which merged the findings of over 10 meta-analyses comprising more than 43,000 people, found that cognitive impairments may linger well beyond the initial period of intoxication.

Cannabis brain fog

As cannabis legalization for both medical and recreational use has been amped up in recent years, most notably in North America, scientists are starting to have a more nuanced understanding of the long-term effects of cannabis. That’s important since cannabis is the most consumed psychoactive substance in the world, after alcohol and nicotine, despite its illicit status in most countries.

The highest rates of cannabis use are among adolescents and young adults. These groups are also the most susceptible to cannabis-induced cerebral alterations as a result of the activation of CB1 receptors in the frontoparietal and frontostriatal regions of the brain. It is therefore important to understand the cognitive risks of using cannabis.

With this in mind, researchers in Canada looked at the effects of cannabis on more than 43,000 people, both in the short and long term.

The study found that cannabis use was associated with small to moderate cognitive impairments in areas such as decision making, learning, and remembering through listening and reading, as well as extending the time someone needs to complete mental tasks. All these effects are dose-dependent and may vary due to tolerance. Genetics and underlying mental health disorders also can weigh heavily, which is why the degree of cognitive impairment can vary wildly from user to user.

“Our study enabled us to highlight several areas of cognition impaired by cannabis use, including problems concentrating and difficulties remembering and learning, which may have a considerable impact on users’ daily lives,” wrote Dr. Alexandre Dumais, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Université de Montréal and a study co-author.

These sorts of results have been highlighted by other studies before, so nothing groundbreaking thus far. But one of the findings that stood out was that some of these effects linger for a significant amount of time after intoxication wears off.

THC, the main psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis, is fat-soluble. Thus, it can stay stored in body fat and may gradually be released into the bloodstream for weeks. As such, there may be ‘residual’ cognitive effects that can persist long after acute intoxication has subsided. Although mild, these residual effects may remain significant after 25 days of abstinence from THC, especially among heavy users.

“Cannabis use in youth may consequently lead to reduced educational attainment, and, in adults, to poor work performance and dangerous driving. These consequences may be worse in regular and heavy users,” said Dumais.

The findings appeared in the journal Addiction.

Brain scans could help police detect cannabis impairment in drivers

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Driving under the influence of psychoactive drugs is a serious offense and a major catalyst for vehicle-related accidents. In order to detect irresponsible drivers and sanction them, law enforcement officers employ various tools such as breath analyzers to detect alcohol in a person’s system or rapid drug tests that can respond to specific markers for cocaine, marijuana, and other drugs. In the not-so-distant future, road checks could also employ mobile brain scanners that detect particular patterns of neural activity associated with intoxication. Scientists explain how this might work for cannabis impairment in a new study.

Just because you have THC in your system that doesn’t mean you’re not fit to drive

The alcohol content in the blood is closely related to alcohol-related impairment. Even though a breathalyzer indirectly measures the amount of alcohol in one’s breath, a measurement on the handheld device over a certain threshold of intoxication is very closely correlated with the person’s genuine inability to perform well on the road.

There are also breath tests for THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, but they’re not reliable for quantitative analyses. They just tell you if someone used marijuana recently, not how high they actually are. Prosecuting someone who legally used marijuana the night prior due to having THC detected in their breath the next morning is neither fair nor productive for law enforcement whose resources and man hours are stretched thin as they are.

In the United States, there are 18 states, along with Washington D.C. and Guam, that have legalized the recreational use and sale of marijuana. With more states planning similar legislative changes, there is now an important need for developing technological solutions that distinguish between impairment and mild intoxication with THC.

Unlike alcohol, a person’s concentration of THC in the body does not correspond well to functional impairment. People who use cannabis very often quickly develop tolerance and don’t have their driving impaired despite the high levels of THC in their system. Furthermore, THC’s metabolites — the byproducts of THC after the body’s metabolism breaks down the drug — can last in the bloodstream for weeks after cannabis use, well beyond the period one could be deemed intoxicated.

Testing strips or breath analyzers can only tell you if a person used marijuana, but not how much, how recently, or how intoxicated the user truly is. This is why researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital have developed a noninvasive brain imaging procedure that can reliably identify cannabis users whose performance is impaired in real-time.

For their study, 169 volunteers who use cannabis underwent functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) — a technique that measures blood oxygenation changes similar to fMRI, based upon the changes in absorption of light emitted by sources onto the surface of the head and measured by detectors — before and after receiving either oral THC or a placebo.

Those who reported feeling intoxicated after being given oral THC also showed an increased oxygenated hemoglobin concentration (HbO) — a type of neural activity signature from the prefrontal cortex region of the brain – compared to those who reported low or no intoxication. Although the same dose was given to all volunteers, there was a very wide range of impairment measured by the researchers, from very mild intoxication to obvious impairment, underscoring the unreliableness of using THC in the blood or oral fluid to identify impairment.

“Identification of acute impairment from THC intoxication through portable brain imaging could be a vital tool in the hands of police officers in the field,” said A. Eden Evins, MD, MPH, founding director of the Center for Addiction Medicine and senior author of the new study. “The accuracy of this method was confirmed by the fact impairment determined by machine learning models using only information from fNIRS matched self-report and clinical assessment of impairment 76 percent of the time.”

The research did not assess the practicality of using this method for assessing impaired driving, but it’s easy to see how this could be useful to law enforcement. There are cheap, mobile fNIRS devices that can be incorporated into a headband or cap and thus can be quickly set up by an officer to distinguish between cannabis impairment and simple exposure.

But it might take a while before you see brain scanners on the roadside. Besides the technical challenges, there are also important privacy concerns that need to be addressed whenever dealing with such sensitive data as someone’s brain activity.

“Companies are developing breathalyzer devices that only measure exposure to cannabis but not impairment from cannabis,” says Gilman. “We need a method that won’t penalize medical marijuana users or others with insufficient amounts of cannabis in their system to impair their performance. While it requires further study, we believe brain-based testing could provide an objective, practical and much needed solution.”

The findings appeared in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Combining cannabis with prescription drugs could lead to harmful interactions

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Cannabinoids found in marijuana and their metabolites could negatively interfere with a range of prescription drugs. According to researchers at Washington State University, using marijuana in combination with prescription drugs may either decrease the drugs’ positive effects or increase their negative side effects. In some cases, mixing the two may also cause toxicity and accidental overdose.

“Physicians need to be aware of the possibility of toxicity or lack of response when patients are using cannabinoids,” said Philip Lazarus, senior author on the papers and professor of pharmaceutical sciences at Washington State University. “It’s one thing if you’re young and healthy and smoke cannabis once in a while, but for older people who are using medications, taking CBD or medicinal marijuana may negatively impact their treatment.”

Lazarus and colleagues published a pair of studies that investigated the interactions between cannabis and two families of enzymes that together are responsible for metabolizing and eliminating more than 70% of the most commonly used pharmaceutical drugs. One study focused on cytochrome P450s (CYPs), while the other looked at UDP-glucuronosyltransferases (UGTs).

The comprehensive analysis not only looked at the role played by the most abundant and important cannabinoids — tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), and cannabinol (CBN) — but also their metabolites, the intermediate products of metabolic reactions catalyzed by various enzymes that naturally occur within cells.

Cannabinoids like THC or CBD stay in your body for just 30 minutes before they’re broken down into smaller molecules, each with different effects. These metabolites linger in the body for much longer, up to 14 days in some instances. They also build up in time with continued use so their concentration can be higher than the original cannabinoids. But despite their importance, the impact of these metabolites during interactions with other drugs has been overlooked by previous studies.

Researchers first worked with individual human kidney cells that allowed them to zoom in on a single enzyme at a time, and later validated their results in human liver and kidney specimens where many of these enzymes were present.

The results showed that cannabinoids and major THC metabolites inhibited several CYP enzymes, particularly those found in the liver. All three cannabinoids, especially CBD, inhibited two of the primary UGT enzymes found in the liver. CBD blocked three enzymes that account for 95% of kidney UGT metabolism, which plays a major part in clearing toxins and certain drugs from your system.

“If you have a kidney disease or you are taking one or more drugs that are metabolized primarily through the kidney and you’re also smoking marijuana, you could be inhibiting normal kidney function, and it may have long-term effects for you,” Lazarus said.

Many patients take prescription drugs for various chronic diseases, from diabetes to cancer. These conditions are painful to live with, which is why some patients self-medicate with cannabis or cannabis-derived products like CBD. But using these anti-inflammatory products may end up doing more harm than good when combined with certain drugs.

“Taking CBD or marijuana might help your pain but could be making the other drug you’re taking more toxic, and that increase in toxicity may mean that you can’t continue taking that drug,” said first author Shamema Nasrin, a graduate student in the WSU College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. “So, there could be serious ramifications for anti-cancer drugs, and that’s only one example of the many drugs that could potentially be affected by the cannabinoid-enzyme interactions we’re seeing.”

Both studies appeared in the journal Drug Metabolism.

Cannabis abuse can cause extreme sleep patterns: too little or too much sleep

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An increasing number of people use cannabis right before bedtime as a sleep aid, especially since recreational use has been legalized in many states and regions in North America. Recent research, however, suggests this habit does more harm than good, leading to disrupted sleep patterns that can negatively impact mood and overall physical and mental health. New findings have linked regular cannabis use to extreme nightly sleep duration: either sleeping less than 6 hours or, on the flipside, dozing off for more than 9 hours.

Cannabis and sleep

Only two-thirds of Americans get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep every night and more than half report daytime sleepiness virtually every day. Sleeping less than seven hours per day is associated with an increased risk of developing chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and frequent mental distress.

Sleep deprivation is on the rise in the United States and other industrialized countries. The troubles and stress of modern life are also accompanied by insomnia, which has made many turn to sleep aids.

Rather than buying pills, many Americans now opt for cannabis as a form of sleep aid. Cannabis may be a better alternative, but that doesn’t mean it’s not without risks.

In a new study published in the journal Regional Anesthesia & Pain Medicine, researchers at the University of Toronto combed through a dataset of a nationally representative sample of US adults aged 20-59. Among other things, the participants reported their sleep difficulties, such as having trouble falling asleep and sleeping too much in the preceding two weeks; and whether they regularly experienced daytime sleepiness in the preceding 30 days.

The participants also reported their cannabis use. The participants were classed as recent or non-users based on whether or not they used cannabis in the past 30 days.

A grand total of 21,729 people were included in the study, representing an estimated 150 million US adults. The researchers adjusted their statistical model to account for potential influential factors such as age, weekly working hours, a history of chronic disease, weight, smoking, heavy alcohol use, and prescription medication use, as well as use of sleeping aids like barbiturates and other sedatives.

Across the entire sample, the participants slept just short of 7 hours on average. Around 12% reported less than 6 hours of sleep while only 4% reported more than 9 hours of sleep. Both extremes are suboptimal for healthy sleep.

Heavy marijuana users were 64% more likely to experience short sleep and 76% more likely to experience long sleep.

Cannabis users were 34% more likely to report short sleep and 56% more likely to report long sleep than those who hadn’t used cannabis in the preceding 30 days, the study found. Moreover, they were also 31% more likely to respond that they had difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, as well as 29% more likely to see a doctor about sleep problems than non-users. Cannabis use didn’t seem to have any effect on daytime sleepiness.

The pattern of extreme sleep durations among cannabis users was most pronounced among heavy users — those who consumed cannabis on at least 20 out of 30 previous days. Compared to non-users, heavy users were 64% more likely to experience short sleep and 76% more likely to experience long sleep.

“Increasing prevalence of both cannabis use and sleep deprivation in the population is a potential cause for concern,” wrote the researchers led by Calvin Diep from the University of Toronto’s Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine.

“Despite the current literature demonstrating mixed effects of cannabis and various cannabinoid formulations on sleep architecture and quality, these agents are being increasingly used as both prescribed and unprescribed experimental therapies for sleep disturbances.”

Since this is an observational study, the researchers had no way to establish any causal relationship that may describe a mechanism by which cannabis could cause extreme swings in sleep duration, or why some sleep too little while others sleep too much. But this isn’t the first study to report something like this. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Addictive Diseases found that daily marijuana users scored higher on the Insomnia Severity Index and sleep-disturbance measures. An earlier study from 2014  found regular marijuana users take longer to fall asleep, struggle to maintain sleep, experience  non-restorative sleep and feel daytime sleepiness. 

“Our findings highlight the need to further characterize the sleep health of regular cannabis users in the population…Sleep-wake physiology and regulation is complex and research about related endocannabinoid pathways is in its early stages,” said the researchers from the University of Toronto.

Skunk marijuana has chemical compounds similar to garlic, which explains the similar odor

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Some cannabis strains have a distinctly tangy flavor that somewhat resembles garlic– and now scientists have found out why. After performing a comprehensive gas chromatography analysis of cannabis flowers, a team of scientists found that the “skunk-like” scent of certain strains can be narrowed down to specific volatile sulfur compounds. These chemicals are very similar to those found in garlic (allium sativum), which “suggests an opportunity to also investigate their potential health benefits,” the authors wrote in their study.

Cannabis has one of the most complex odors in the botanical world, with over 200 distinct aroma compounds previously reported thus far. Most of these volatile compounds belong to the terpenoid class (terpenes) and each strain has a dominant type of terpene that is responsible for their characteristic aroma. For instance, pinene is responsible for some strains’ pine-like fragrance, while caryophyllene is peppery.

Terpenes play a major role in the cannabis plant — and it’s not just the flavor and odor. Research suggests that cannabis terpenes play a considerable role in not only tempering the intoxicating effects of THC, but also creating synergy with phytocannabinoids and even increasing their therapeutic value. Researchers at the Israel Institute of Technology are even investigating marijuana terpenes as an anti-inflammatory agent to prevent the most severe, life-threatening cases of COVID-19.

Concerning the “skunk-like” odor of marijuana, some have suggested that it is owed to myrcene, an earthy or musky terpene. While a skunk’s defensive spray doesn’t contain terpenes, it has similar compounds called thiols. When these organic sulfurs mix together, they produce the potent, musky scent that people stay away from — unless it’s marijuana.

While terpenes may indeed contribute to the skunk-like odor of marijuana, a new study published in ACS Omega identified a new family of volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) containing the prenyl (3-methylbut-2-en-1-yl) functional group that is responsible for this scent. The concentrations of the discovered VSCs increase significantly toward the end of the flowering stage of growth, reach a maximum during curing, and then drop substantially after only 10 days of storage, the researchers found after performing an indoor greenhouse trial.

Credit: ACS Omega.

“We specifically focused on identifying VSCs for two reasons: First, the aroma of cannabis is often described as “skunk-like,” and as skunks are well known to possess several potent VSCs in their defensive aerosol spray, we suspected there could be similar compounds in cannabis. Secondly, VSCs are also important in the chemistry of other plants known for their oftentimes pungent aromas and flavors, including hops (Humulus lupulus), garlic (Allium sativum), and durian (Durio zibethinus),” the authors wrote in their study.

Garlic’s fragrance and flavor are owed to VSCs such as diallyl disulfide and triallyl disulfide, which are very similar to the newly identified compounds in cannabis. The researchers from Abstrax Tech in California also performed a chemical analysis on three concentrated cannabis extracts and found high concentrations of both 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol and 3-methyl-2-butenyl acetothioate, indicating that cannabis extract products can likewise have a pungent “skunky” aroma. Since garlic has health benefits, the authors believe the newly identified VSCs in cannabis may also provide medical benefits — something that warrants more investigation.

“Furthermore, identification of the reported VSCs definitively confirms the chemical origins of the odor of cannabis and provides a new family of secondary metabolites that can be investigated regarding their biosynthetic pathways and medicinal benefits,” the authors concluded.

Humans started growing cannabis 12,000 years ago — for food, fibers, and probably to get high

A new study traced back the origin of cannabis agriculture to nearly 12,000 years ago in East Asia. During this time cannabis was likely a multipurpose crop — it was only 4,000 years ago that farmers started growing different strains for either fiber or drug production.

Cannabis landraces in Qinghai province, central China. Credit: Guangpeng Ren.

Although it’s largely understudied due to legal reasons, cannabis is one of the first plants to be domesticated by humans. Archaeological studies have found traces of cannabis in various different cultures across the centuries, but when and where exactly was cannabis domesticated was still unclear.

Many botanists believed the plant emerged in central Asia, but a new study shows that east Asia (including parts of China) is the origin of domesticated cannabis.

A research team was led by Luca Fumagalli of the University of Lausanne and involved scientists from Britain, China, India, Pakistan, Qatar, and Switzerland. The researchers compared and analyzed 110 whole genomes of different plants, ranging from wild-growing feral plants and landraces to historical cultivars and modern hybrids.

They concluded that the ancestral domestication of cannabis plants occurred some 12,000 years ago, during a period called the Neolithic, and that the plants likely had multiple uses.

“We show that cannabis sativa was first domesticated in early Neolithic times in East Asia and that all current hemp and drug cultivars diverged from an ancestral gene pool currently represented by feral plants and landraces in China,” the study reads.

“Our genomic dating suggests that early domesticated ancestors of hemp and drug types diverged from Basal cannabis [around 12,000 years ago] indicating that the species had already been domesticated by early Neolithic times”, the study adds. The results go against a popular theory regarding the plant’s origin, the researchers add.

“Contrary to a widely-accepted view, which associates cannabis with a Central Asian center of crop domestication, our results are consistent with a single domestication origin of cannabis sativa in East Asia, in line with early archaeological evidence.”

When a study can land you in jail

Cannabis grown for drugs. Image credits: Esteban Lopez.

It’s hard to study cannabis, regardless of what your reasons are. You can’t just go around picking or buying plants because the odds are that’ll get you in trouble. To make matters even more difficult, if you want to see where a domesticated plant originated from, you have to collect samples from different parts of the world — which is even more likely to get you in trouble.

So for decades, researchers looked at indirect evidence. Most cannabis strains appear to be from Central Asia, and several cultures of that region have used cannabis for thousands of years, so that seems like a likely place of origin. It’s a good guess, but not exactly true.

Cannabis grows pretty much everywhere — that’s why it’s called “weed” — and just because people in Central Asia were quick to adopt the plant doesn’t necessarily mean they were the first ones to grow it.

After crossing legal and logistic hurdles, Fumagalli was able to gather around 80 different types of cannabis plants, either cultivated by farmers or growing in the wild. They also included 30 previously sequenced genomes in the analysis.

With this, they found that the likely ancestor of modern cannabis (the initial wild plant that was domesticated) is likely extinct. However, its closest relatives survive in parts of northwestern China. This fits very well with existing archaeological evidence, which shows evidence of hemp cord markings some 12,000 years ago. In particular, it seems to fit with a 2016 study by other scientists that said that the earliest cannabis records were mostly from China and Japan.

The early domestication of cannabis in the Neolithic could be a big deal. Cannabis isn’t exactly a food crop. You can indeed use it to get oil, and the seeds can be consumed but its main use is for fibers and for intoxication. Usually, when archaeologists look at a population domesticating a crop, they naturally think of food as a priority — but this would suggest that Neolithic folk also had, uhm, other priorities. Or simply, cannabis was a multi-purpose crop.

Diversifying crops

The team also identified the genetic changes that farmers brought over the centuries through selective breeding. They found that some 4,000 years ago, farmers started to focus on either plants that would produce fibers, or on those better suited for producing drugs.

For instance, hemp strains bred for fiber production have mutations that inhibit branching, which makes them grow taller and produce more fibers. Meanwhile, strains bred for drug production, have mutations that encourage branching and reduce vertical growth. This results in shorter plants that produce more flowers. In addition, plants grown for drug productions also have mutations that boost the production of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

For millennia, hemp (the cannabis grown for fibers) has been an important crop. Clothes, ropes, and various other products used hemp fibers, but the emergence of modern metalworking and modern synthetic fibers (such as nylon) led to its downfall, and the once-popular plant became all but forgotten. Until recently.

A modern cannabis greenhouse. Image credits: Richard T.

Recently, we’ve seen a resurgence in the interest in cannabis, for sustainable fiber production as well as medicinal and recreational purposes. With more and more countries decriminalizing the possession and growth of cannabis, the plant may be making a comeback — and for researchers looking to study its origin, that’s great news.

While this study offers an unprecedented view into the evolutionary history of cannabis, it’s still a relatively small sample size. Finding wild samples is hard — and feral samples you find today aren’t really wild, they’re just grown varieties that escaped and are now feral. Furthermore, even gaining access to cultivars can be difficult.

Maybe, as society becomes more inclined to consider cannabis, researchers can gain access to more resources about it as well. By studying its genomic history, scientists can also provide valuable insights into the desired functional properties of plants, helping growers develop better varieties both for medicine and for other uses.

The study has been published in Science Advances.

How good is CBD for stress and anxiety? What the science says so far

There are plenty of anecdotal reports that cannabidiol (CBD) has therapeutic effects that can help relieve anxiety and stress. But do such reports hold when scrutinized by science?

What’s CBD anyway?

Image credits: Elsa Olofsson.

CBD is a supplement derived from the cannabis plant. Like its cousin THC, it has a variety of touted health and wellness benefits that make it popular among millions of consumers. However, unlike THC, it has no psychoactive properties. In other words, CBD can’t make you high.

CBD is sold in a variety of forms, including oils, incense, bath bombs, vapor rubs, vape juice, candles, and even CBD gummies. CBD dispensaries are located all over the United States but are most commonly found in states where marijuana is legal for medicinal and recreational use. CBD may or may not be legal in your state or country, which is it’s in your best interest to verify the supplement’s legal status before making an online purchase.

Is CBD good for anxiety?

Cannabinoids trigger effects in the body by mimicking the effect of endocannabinoids (cannabinoids produced by the body), which play a crucial role in both brain and bodily functions. These substances attach themselves to cannabinoid receptors that are present throughout the body and are associated with detecting pain, appetite, immune function, mood, and more.

The human body has two types of receptors for cannabinoids, called the CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors. Whether it’s an annoying itch or a prick of pain, these two receptors on your skin cells will immediately start firing signals to dampen these unpleasant sensations.

CBD oils and lotions seem to bypass CB1 and CB2 receptors and directly stimulate the production of anandamide and 2-AG, neurotransmitters that block signals for pain and itch.

With this in mind, it’s no surprise to find that studies on mice suggest that CBD can help with pain and inflammation, with other avenues of therapy still in exploration. There is even evidence that CBD can boost productivity. But what about anxiety and stress?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), research shows that CBD can reduce stress in rats, which would make the cannabinoid appropriate for treating generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Accumulating evidence now also suggests that CBD is beneficial in the cardiovascular system, where it affects white blood cell migration and platelet aggregation, both linked to the stress response. During a double-blind randomized controlled study, healthy male volunteers who were given CBD had lower resting blood pressure as well as lower than expected blood pressure increases in response to stress.

Concerning other types of anxiety, in a 2011 study researchers have a group of people with social anxiety disorder (SAD) an oral dose of 400 milligrams of CBD, while a second group that acted as the control received a placebo. Those that received CBD experienced overall reduced anxiety compared to the control when speaking in public.

More recently, CBD has been shown effective at reducing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which affects approximately 10% of people at some point in life. The efficacy of CBD for PTSD has been shown in both animals and humans.

“Human and animal studies suggest that CBD may offer therapeutic benefits for disorders related to inappropriate responses to traumatic memories. The effects of CBD on the different stages of aversive memory processing make this compound a candidate pharmacological adjunct to psychological therapies for PTSD. CBD also shows an action profile with fewer side effects than the pharmacological therapy currently used to treat this type of disorder,” researchers wrote in a study published in the Frontiers in Neuroscience.

Finally, another study published in 2019 investigated the therapeutic effects of CBD for participants who came into a psychiatric clinic complaining of both anxiety and sleep problems. Anxiety scores decreased within the first month in about 80% of patients while sleep scores improved in 66% of patients.

 The bottom line is that there is some evidence that CBD can significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety and stress, and perhaps can help with other disorders. However, many of the studies that we reviewed were limited, in that they either only included animal models or used a rather small sample size when assessing human patients.

Given the scale and scope of CBD use, with millions of new users buying CBD products yearly, more research is warranted so that we might have a more accurate picture of the cannabinoid’s influence on the human body.

The lust for indoor cannabis has a nasty side effect: a lot of greenhouse gas emissions

As it becomes more and more popular across the United States, indoor production of cannabis is gradually becoming a big source of greenhouse gas emissions because of its electricity and natural gas consumption. The good news is that there’s a way around the nasty emissions: focus on outdoor production.

Image credit: Flickr / Frank.

Greener green

The US legal cannabis industry has rapidly grown from a US$3.5 billion industry to US$13.6 billion in annual sales. Colorado pioneered recreational legalization in 2012 and soon other states followed. There’s substantial consumer demand in the country, with 48% of the adults have tried cannabis at some point in their life and 13% having consumed it last year.

It’s grown to be quite the industry. But despite its rapid growth and spread there’s been no real research into its environmental impact — particularly greenhouse gas emission. A new study by researchers from the Colorado State University has now provided the most detailed accounting to date of the industry’s carbon footprint — which, as it turns out, is quite big.

“Policymakers and consumers aren’t paying much attention to environmental impacts of the cannabis industry,” Jason Quinn, co-author of the study, told Gizmodo. “There is little to no regulation on emissions for growing cannabis indoors. Consumers aren’t considering the environmental effect either. This industry is developing and expanding very quickly without consideration for the environment.”

For growers, indoor cultivation is usually the preferred choice as it offers a larger control over the plants’ habitat and you can do it anywhere on the globe. But the advantages come at a cost to the climate, as the plants are quite picky: they require ventilation, air conditioning, and heating to grow at the ideal level. Plus, the grow lights have to stay on around the clock, leading to large energy consumption.

The researchers created a model to assess the energy and materials used by indoor growing, which is the method chosen by 41% of US growers. The model was designed to mimic an actual growing warehouse and all its elements – from the grow lights and the pesticides to the water used as part of the drip irrigation system.

They gathered data from over 1,000 locations nationwide to complement their model and found that the top two factors contributing to emissions from indoor cannabis growing are climate control and high-intensity grow light for the plant.

The emissions were estimated between 2,283 and 5,184 kilograms of carbon dioxide per kilogram of dried flower. Put another way, the eighth of weed you buy legally in the US comes with a 19-kilogram carbon footprint.

Up to 80% of the emissions created by cannabis growing are caused by practices directly linked to indoor cultivation methods, according to the researchers. This means there’s a large potential to tackle the climate footprint by shifting the industry towards a more outdoor-based operation. In Colorado, moving all production outdoors would cut 1.3% of the state’s total emissions.

Of course, there are tradeoffs to outside growing, such as larger water use, exposure to theft, and larger land use. This is what researchers want to focus on next.

“There are tradeoffs between greenhouse gas emissions and land use, we just don’t know the magnitude yet because it hasn’t been researched. This is on our ‘to-do’ list for what’s next,” Hailey Summers, lead-author, told Anthropocene Magazine.

The study was published in the journal Nature Sustainability.

Synthetic CBD kills gonorrhea, may provide first new antibiotic to resistant bacteria in 60 years

Credit: Pixabay.

Since Alexander Fleming first purified penicillin in 1928, literally hundreds of millions of lives have been saved from potentially deadly infections. Could you imagine a world without antibiotics? That’s what keeps many doctors up at night, for it is a genuine prospect. Not because antibiotics will vanish overnight but rather because they’ve become increasingly ineffective as microbes have become more resistant.

Bacteria that are ‘resistant’ can multiply in the presence of various therapeutic levels of an antibiotic. In time such strains can become so widespread that new classes of antibiotics need to be used. But what happens if nothing at your disposal works?

The war against antibiotic-resistant bacteria has often been likened to an arms race, and scientists may have found an unlikely novel weapon: a cannabis compound.

According to new research published by scientists at the University of Queensland in Australia, synthetic cannabidiol, also known as CBD, can kill the bacteria responsible for gonorrhea, meningitis, and legionnaires disease.

“This is the first time CBD has been shown to kill some types of Gram-negative bacteria. These bacteria have an extra outer membrane, an additional line of defense that makes it harder for antibiotics to penetrate,” Dr. Mark Blaskovich, Director of the Centre of Superbug Solutions at the University of Queensland, said in a statement.

Gonorrhea is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections, but thanks to antibiotics it has always been easy to get rid of — until recently. Millions of people were prescribed antibiotics to cure their gonorrhea infection, but not everyone used the drugs as instructed. Some didn’t go through the full course of antibiotics, training a new generation of drug-resistant bacteria.

Already, older treatments such as penicillin are ineffective. In developed countries, for some cases doctors have reported that no available treatment options are effective. According to the World Health Organization, there are only three potential drug treatments in various stages of trials, but it’s not clear if they will prove effective against novel strains of gonorrhea that are becoming more widespread across the world.

This is where synthetic CBD may lend a helping hand. The second most abundant cannabidiol found in the plant Cannabis sativa has become increasingly popular in recent years. Unlike THC, CBD is non-psychoactive, meaning it doesn’t make you ‘high’. People who have used it, however, claim that it is relaxing and can ease anxiety.

Now, Blaskovich and colleagues have shown it may also act as an antibiotic in some situations. Besides gonorrhea, synthetic CBD was widely effective against a much larger number of Gram-positive bacteria than previously known, including antibiotic-resistant pathogens such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) or ‘golden staph’.

CBD was particularly effective at breaking down biofilms, such as dental plaque on the surface of teeth.

The scientists still aren’t exactly sure how CBD destroys bacteria. For now, they just know it works well. What’s more, it also seems less likely to contribute to bacterial resistance.

“Cannabidiol showed a low tendency to cause resistance in bacteria even when we sped up potential development by increasing concentrations of the antibiotic during ‘treatment’,” the researchers in Australia said.

“We think that cannabidiol kills bacteria by bursting their outer cell membranes, but we don’t know yet exactly how it does that, and need to do further research.”

The research is exciting considering we haven’t seen a new class of antibiotics for gram-negative infections since the 1960s. In the future, Botanix Pharmaceuticals Limited, a company that contributed formulation expertise to the research, is planning to test a topical CBD formulation in clinical trials for decolonization of MRSA before surgery. Phase 2 clinical trials are expected to commence early this year.

The findings appeared in the journal Communications Biology.

The chemicals that make skunks and some marijuana smell the same

Credit: Flickr, Jon Nelson.

Due to countless iterations of cross-breeding, there are now more marijuana flavors than there are colors in the rainbow. Some are piney, some are lemony, and others still can smell like a whole fruit basket. But some strains don’t exactly smell like roses — in fact, the opposite is true in this case. The clearest example is skunk weed, which, as the name implies, smells like an angry skunk.

How can a plant smell like a mammal? It all has to do with terpenes, a class of aromatic chemicals found not just in cannabis, but in many other plants and even some insects.

Secreted in the same glands that produce cannabinoids like THC and CBD, terpenes are aromatic oils that are responsible for the taste and smell of cannabis — but that’s not all that they do.

Research suggests that cannabis terpenes play a considerable role in not only tempering the intoxicating effects of THC, but also creating synergy with phytocannabinoids and even increasing their therapeutic value. For instance, Professor Dedi Meiri and the Israel Institute of Technology are investigating marijuana terpenes as an anti-inflammatory agent to prevent the most severe, life-threatening cases of COVID-19.

There are at least 200 different terpenes in cannabis, although only a handful gives off a dominant aroma. Pinene is responsible for some strains’ pine-like fragrance, while caryophyllene is peppery. The skunky funk of some strains is due to myrcene, an earthy or musky terpene.

While a skunk’s defensive spray doesn’t contain terpenes, it has similar compounds called thiols. When these organic sulfurs mix together, they produce the potent, musky scent that people stay away from — unless it’s marijuana. That’s because skunky strains are also highly potent. In fact, in many parts of the world, the term “skunk weed” has taken on a more generic meaning, describing highly potent pot rather than the aroma of particular strains.

Because myrcene is the most abundant terpene in the cannabis plant, all strains will smell a bit like a skunk, although some strains are certainly more pungent than others. Some of the famous skunky strains include Golden Ticket and Death Star. If you really don’t like the smell of skunk, less smelly strains include Lemon Haze, Alpha Blue, Kali Mist, Orange Bud, and Northern Lights, according to WikiLeaf.

In the future, high-tech growers could infuse marijuana with a variety of different terpenes of their choosing. In 2017, researchers at the University of British Columbia, Canada, sequenced the genomes of various cannabis plants to see what particular genes give certain strains their characteristic flavors. They found 30 terpene synthase genes that contribute to the diverse flavors of cannabis, which could be manipulated to generate more consistent desirable smells. This is already underway in the wine industry for grape genes that encode enzymes for various flavors.

CBD cream and lotion could relieve pain, but scientists are still figuring out how it works

Back, foot, and knee aches are among the most common ailments people suffer from, especially once old age sets in. To manage chronic pain, patients have been historically limited to opioids and standard anti-inflammatory meds, each with their own downsides and side effects, including addiction.

Most recently, research suggests that creams and lotions containing cannabidiol (CBD) — one of the many cannabinoids found in cannabis, which doesn’t make you high and could relieve limb pain without the harmful side effects of traditional treatments.

CBD topicals on the rise

Cannabinoids trigger effects in the body by mimicking the endocannabinoids (cannabinoids produced by the body), which play a crucial role in both brain and bodily functions. These substances attach themselves to cannabinoid receptors that are present throughout the body and are associated with detecting pain, appetite, immune function, mood, and more.

The human body has two types of receptors for cannabinoids, called the CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors. Whether it’s an annoying itch or a prick of pain, these two receptors on your skin cells will immediately start firing signals to dampen these unpleasant sensations.

CBD lotion and creams bypass CB1 and CB2 receptors and directly stimulate the production of anandamide and 2-AG, neurotransmitters that block signals for pain and itch. What’s more, CBD mutes any signal sent to CB1, which is why researchers find the cannabidiol so appealing –this means that they could develop safer pain treatment that won’t spark addiction and trigger euphoria like THC does (the other, more famous psychoactive ingredient produced by Cannabis sativa plants).

What’s more, CBD interacts with an enzyme called fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), which is responsible for flushing out excess anandamide (a factor in homeostasis) out of circulation. FAAH is known to break down and remove natural endocannabinoids, and CBD stops this breakdown, thereby increasing the endocannabinoids available in the body. Due to endocannabinoids’ balancing and healing effects on the body, consuming CBD may produce therapeutic benefits.

Studies on mice suggest that CBD may indeed have therapeutic value against pain and inflammation, with other avenues of therapy still in exploration. For instance, a 2017 study published in the journal Pain found that CBD relieved pain and hindered the development of more pain in rats with osteoarthritis.

Concerning topicals, however, scientists are still working to nail down the proper dose. For instance, the same quantity of CBD topical that brings relief to achy joints may be ineffective for treating nerve damage in the feet.

Nevertheless, the high concentration of cannabinoid receptors in the skin makes CBD topicals highly appealing. Previously, studies found that CBD-infused creams can help manage pain in patients with arthritis and rheumatism. And, in 2019, a study published in the journal Clinical Therapeutics found that CBD ointments improved clinical outcomes for patients with psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, and scarring thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties.

Patients, in turn, seem to be enthralled with CBD. According to a 2019 report from the Arthritis Foundation, 79% of 2,600 respodents who suffer from arthritis said they had considered using CBD or had already used it. What’s more, among those who used CBD in the past to treat their arthritis symptoms, 55% said they applied a topical product to their joints.

 “I’ll put it on and walk away and think, ‘I don’t have any pain,’” said Eileen Donovan of Ayer, Massachusetts, speaking to U.S. News about how she uses CBD for her arthritis.

However, it’s important to note that the effects of CBD on the body may vary from person to person.

The gap between science and anecdotal evidence

Besides dosage, scientists are looking to figure out how much coverage is most effective for rubbing CBD on the skin.

Meanwhile, consumers are purchasing CBD products in increasing numbers and volumes, attract by the prospect of pain and anxiety relief with little symptoms. The problem is that science hasn’t had time to catch up to the hype as most studies on CBD haven’t actually been carried on humans. Studies on animal models are famous for not always translating to humans, so this is another thing you should consider — especially if you’re taking other medications.

“There’s a lot of studies that have been done in animals and those tend to show that it’s anti-inflammatory and that it does have some analgesic effect,” Kevin Boehnke, Ph.D., research investigator in the department of anesthesiology and the Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center at the University of Michigan, told CNET. “Unfortunately they haven’t been well translated in humans.”

Zynerba Pharmaceuticals performed the only phase two clinical trial that we know of, using a CBD transdermal gel that the company developed in-house. The study involved 320 patients with knee osteoarthritis who received either 250 mg of ZYN002 4.2% CBD gel daily, 500 mg of ZYN002 daily, or a placebo, over 12 weeks. Although the study found some evidence of a reduction in pain and improvements in physical function, scores for measures of pain were not statistically different from placebos. 

While the effects of edibles and topical CBD on animals look positive, more scientific research is needed before definitive conclusions can be reached about its effects on humans. 

According to Yasmin Hurd, an addiction specialist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, CBD creams get absorbed into the skin, and from there the product ends up in the bloodstream.

“These are sometimes things people don’t appreciate when they are putting cream ‘only on my knee,’” says Hurd. “We also have a lot of seniors using CBD creams for arthritic pain and we need to know sooner rather than later whether this chemical cream used by so many people can indeed be effective.”

In order to find out more about how effective CBD and other cannabis-derived products are for various ailments, more research definitely needs to be done. For now, CBD is unregulated by the United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the only CBD-containing product approved by the FDA is a drug for epileptic seizures for patients with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome or Dravet syndrome.

Marijuana use among older Americans is on the rise

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

An increasing number of baby boomers in the United States are now using cannabis, a trend that is especially true among men, according to a recent study. About 5% of men and women aged 55 or older used marijuana or hashish in 2018, the authors reported.

Once shun and very frowned upon by society, recreational marijuana use is now not only deemed socially acceptable, it’s even legal in one way or the other in 33 states in the country.

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worchester were aware marijuana use is highest among young adults, but they wanted to see whether changing attitudes towards marijuana had any effect in older adults.

For their study, the researchers combed through three years worth of survey data, polled between 2016 and 2018, which asked 171,507 adults ages 55 and up about their cannabis use. The respondents were from 19 states and two territories.

According to the findings, 12.6% of men ages 60 to 64 reported using marijuana at least once in the past 30 days in 2018, up from just 8.9% in 2016. Over the same period, marijuana use almost doubled among men ages 65 to 69 (8.2% in 2018 vs 4.3% in 2016). Nearly 6% of male seniors aged 70 to 74 used cannabis in 2018, compared to just 3.2% in 2016.

Over the same study period, marijuana use changed very little among older women. During the three-year survey period, 6.7% of men aged 55 and older said they used marijuana or hashish compared to just 3.5% of women, the researchers concluded in Annals of Internal Medicine.

It’s not clear what caused the rise in marijuana use among older citizens. Cannabis use increased in states where the drug was legal for medical and/or recreational purposes. But the researchers also noticed a significant increase in states where there is no legal provision for the use of cannabis.

“It could be there are more people using marijuana for medical conditions. It could be there are more using it for recreational uses. It could be more people acknowledging use, in an environment when it’s easier to say that you use products when talking to someone from the government,” said co-researcher Bill Jesdale, an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, in Worcester.

“Whether that’s some sort of spillover effect as people see neighboring states loosening up and they start to feel more comfortable with it and interested in trying it out, it’s hard to know,” he added.

Pat Aussem, associate vice president of consumer clinical content development at the Partnership to End Addiction in New York City, says that, apart from recreational use, older adults are using marijuana to help with a number of medical problems, such as pain relief, neuropathy, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. This is possible with the help of the action of the THC, CBD, and other compounds of cannabis. She adds that, with the exception of chronic pain, spasms related to multiple sclerosis, and chemotherapy side effects, there is little to no scientific evidence that marijuana helps with other medical conditions. 

Should anyone be worried?

Another recent study published in the journal Drug Alcohol Review examined the effects of long-term cannabis use on brain health in middle-aged and older Israeli patients. In Israel, 25% of medical cannabis users are over the age of 65. The authors found that there was no significant difference in cognitive function between Israeli patients aged 50 and above who had a medical cannabis licence to manage pain relief, and those without a license.

Aussem, however, claims that marijuana could be harmful for older patients who are on other types of medication.

“There are hundreds of medications that interact with marijuana. For example, there is a concern that use of marijuana may increase the risk for bleeding in older adults on blood thinners,” Aussem said in a press release. “There are only a handful of states that mandate pharmacist involvement in medical marijuana dispensing, so many older adults are on their own to figure out product selection, dosing, drug interactions and adverse effects.”

“Many seniors likely experimented first-hand with cannabis during their youth and are now returning to it as a potential therapy to mitigate many of the health-related symptoms that come with older age, including chronic pain,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said. “Many seniors are well aware of the litany of serious adverse side-effects associated with available prescription drugs, like opioids, and they perceive medical cannabis to be a viable alternative.”

Cannabis was used for religious rites in Israel, archeologists find

It seems that priests in ancient Israel sometimes used marijuana in rituals. It’s the first evidence of the practice being done in the early history of Judaism.

Credit Israel Museum

Holy herb

A group of archeologists working on a 2,700-year-old altar in a desert shrine in Israel analyzed charred residues and found an interesting thing: cannabis.

The traces of weed were found on one of the altars of the temple at Tel Arad in the Negev desert in Israel. The substance was probably burned on purpose to get worshippers high on the psychoactive compounds, the researchers found.

Presumably, the goal was to induce or empower a religious ritual.

In fact, the archeologists strongly suspect that cannabis played a role in the rituals done at the Temple in Jerusalem. This is because the shrine at Arad was part of a fortress that kept safe one of the frontiers of the Kingdom of Judah at the same time the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem.

“We know from all around the Ancient Near East and around the world that many cultures used hallucinogenic materials and ingredients in order to get into some kind of religious ecstasy,” said lead author Eran Arie told CNN. “We never thought about Judah taking part in these cultic practices.”

Inside Arad, the researchers found in the past a massebah – a worked standing stone associated with ancient Levantine cultic activities and likely represented the presence of the deity in the shrine. On the steps leading to it, there were two altars that had been buried, which helped preserve the remains of burnt offerings.

The organic remains in the altars had already been analyzed in 1960 and the results were inconclusive, but the experts had assumed the altars were used to burn some type of incense.

Now, Arie and a group of archeologists applied more modern techniques and found that most of the substance in case was frankincense.

This was the first-time frankincense was identified in the Levant (the geographical area in the Eastern Mediterranean region of Western Asia that also hosts Israel). But that wasn’t the only surprise. On the smaller altar, 40 centimeters high, the team found rests of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabinol (CBN) — two substances that are found in cannabis.

The analysis of the chemicals in the residue showed that the frankincense and cannabis were mixed in with animal fat and dung. The researchers believe that the fat could have helped to achieve the needed temperature for the frankincense to release its aroma. Meanwhile, the dung probably helped to burn the cannabis at a lower temperature to so activate its psychoactive compounds.

There’s no evidence that the marijuana was grown in the Levant during the Iron Age, according to the researchers, which suggests it had to be imported and implied larger costs. That’s also the case of the frankincense, collected from Boswellia trees and brought in from Southern Arabia.

“If they just wanted to make the temple smell nice, they could have burned some sage, which grows in the area of Jerusalem,” Arie said. “Importing cannabis and frankincense was a big investment that could not be made by some isolated group of nomads, it required backing from a powerful state entity.”

The use of cannabis in Israel is now illegal but it has been decriminalized partially. Home use and possession of up to 15 grams and below are not enforced by the authorities. Its use is also allowed for some specified medical purposes. Israel is now seen as a global leader in medical cannabis research and innovation.

The study was published in the Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University

Scientists investigate cannabis terpenes as possible COVID-19 treatment

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Israeli researchers at the forefront of cannabis research are now investigating the potential of a formulation of cannabis terpenes in treating viral infections, COVID-19 included.

Is cannabis effective against COVID-19? Researchers want to know

Secreted in the same glands that produce cannabinoids like THC and CBD, terpenes are aromatic oils that are responsible for the taste and smell of cannabis — but that’s not all that they do.

Research suggests that terpenes play a considerable role in not only tempering the intoxicating effects of THC, but also creating synergy with phytocannabinoids and even increasing their therapeutic value.

In the context of the coronavirus crisis, researchers at the Israel Institute of Technology are testing the therapeutic potential of cannabis terpenes.

During previous severe coronavirus outbreaks, such as those caused by the SARS coronavirus in 2002-2003, researchers found that cannabis terpenes reduced disease severity and impact in both in-vitro and in-vivo. In a 2007 study published in the Journal of Medical Chemistry, Chinese scientists concluded that the terpenes blocked a certain protein that allows the virus to replicate its genetic material.

“Our lab has been approved to operate as a corona lab, and in doing so, we are promoting two studies based on existing cannabis studies,” Professor Dedi Meiri of the Israel Institute of Technology said in a statement for Health Europa.

“First, we will try to identify the plant’s own molecules that are capable of suppressing the immune response to the COVID-19 coronavirus – which causes inflammation and severe disease – to lower the immune system response without suppressing it, thereby providing better complementary treatment to the steroids, which completely suppress the immune system.”

Meiri and colleagues hope that the terpenes might modulate the effect of cytokine storms –– the overreaction of the body’s immune system that can cause complications and multiple organ failure.

The novel formulation is designed to be administered by direct inhalation.

Cytokines are small proteins released by many different cells in the body, including those of the immune system where they coordinate the body’s response against infection and trigger inflammation.

It’s believed that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can trigger cytokine storm syndrome, attacking healthy lungs, eventually causing their collapse.

Besides looking into terpenes’ potential to lower the immune system response, the Israeli researchers are also investigating how these cannabis molecules interact with the ACE2 receptor. It is thanks to this receptor, which is abundantly found in cells in the respiratory tract, that the coronavirus enters cells and begins replicating its genetic material.

“There is a process that examines the effect of cannabis molecules on proteins as well, and we are now examining which ones are relevant to the same receptor, with the goal of reducing its expression, making it difficult for the virus to enter the cell and proliferate,” Meiri said.

Previously, researchers at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, found that certain Cannabis sativa extracts could be used in treatments to prevent infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. 

A word of caution

The results of these preliminary studies shouldn’t by any means be considered an endorsement of cannabis in these trying times. COVID-19 is a severe respiratory illness that is known to aggressively attack the lungs. As such, those who smoke tobacco or marijuana might be at particular risk.

Research on cannabis as a COVID-19 treatment is still ongoing and it will likely take a long time before we have clear answers. In the meantime, don’t self-medicate and risk making matters worse.

Want to seal marijuana odor? Pack it in double vacuum-sealed bags, study says

Credit: Pixabay.

In 2017, a Colorado State Trooper pulled over a car to the side of Interstate 70 for a minor traffic infraction. The police officer, who works on highway narcotic smuggling, claims he immediately sensed a strong marijuana odor once he approached the car. He proceeded to conduct a probable cause search based on the strong smell and “other indicators”, which revealed two vacuum duffle bags filled with 52 pounds of marijuana, a wad of thousands of dollars in cash, and a secondary phone.

Later, in court, the defendant pleaded guilty for possession with intent to distribute. However, he challenged the motive of the search and did so in a highly unusual way for this kind of offense. His lawyer hired Dr. Avery Gilbert, a self-described “smell scientist” and “sensory psychologist”, and Dr. Joseph Diverdi, a professor of chemistry at Colorado State University, who examined the evidence and took samples of air inside the evidence bags holding the vacuum packs.

“There’s long tables just filled with bagged weed. I’d never seen anything like it,” Gilberg told Leafly. The marijuana was still in the double vacuum-sealed bags. “Coming as close as we could to sniffing those packages, I couldn’t smell a damn thing.”

In the lab, the two researchers examined the air samples with a gas chromatography machine, focusing on the concentrations of six terpenes known to give marijuana its conspicuous odor. The examination confirmed the researchers’ initial subjective assessment of the sealed marijuana — the odor molecules were in a far too low concentration to be detected by people.

Although the case was over (the man found with the marijuana in his possession received a two-year deferred sentence, a fine, and community service), the two researchers thought that marijuana odor concealment merits more scientific attention.

Back in the lab, they set up an experiment with 21 participants familiar with the smell of cannabis. The participants had to select the correct packaging that contained marijuana from ten sample pairs. Four different packaging methods were used: Ziploc bags, thin plastic produce bags, pop-top canisters, and a vacuum-sealed heavy plastic bag inside another vacuum-sealed bag. An open glass bowl was also used to act as a control.

The participants immediately recognized the package containing marijuana when it placed in an open glass bowl, the Ziploc bag, and the produce bag. The pop-top dispensary canister yielded mixed results.

However, vacuum-sealed marijuana seems to have been the least conspicuous out of all the packaging methods. According to the results, which were published in the journal Science & Justice, the “material packaged in doubly vacuum-sealed plastic was correctly identified at rates no different from chance.”

Since the experiment showed that people with experience handling marijuana had great difficulty identifying it in a double-sealed vacuum bag, what would be the odds that the officer could smell it (from outside the car while the bag was inside a suitcase)? That’s extremely unlikely.

The findings “may help address issues involving the detectability of cannabis aroma in law enforcement and other scenarios,” the researchers concluded.

Biotech company is sending cannabis to space to see how it mutates

Last week, a SpaceX Dragon capsule docked with the International Space Station (ISS), where it delivered three tons of goods, as well as a couple of super-muscular “mighty mice” for a genetic study. The company’s next resupply mission to the ISS is scheduled for March 2020, and will be packing another unique cargo: cannabis.

Credit: Pixabay.

The mission was contracted by Front Range Biosciences, an agri-tech company, in partnership with SpaceCells USA and BioServe Space Technologies. This doesn’t mean, however, that astronauts will get the chance to use it — although they’re technically the highest people in the universe, constantly orbiting the planet from more than 400 km from Earth

The shipment will contain hemp seeds, which is a cannabis strain with low levels of THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana. Hemp was made legal again last year, allowing the experiment to gain federal approval. Meanwhile, Cannabis sativa is still illegal at the federal level in the United States, although many states have legalized its medical and recreational use.

The experiment, made up of 480 plant cell cultures, will be stored in an incubator for 30 days, while scientists monitor its development remotely from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Besides hemp, plant cultures of coffee will also be grown and monitored on the space station.

Researchers are interested to see how microgravity and spaceflight affect the hemp and coffee cultures. There is evidence that suggests plants may experience mutations while growing in space. Researchers would like to study these mutations and see what happens to the plants once they are returned to Earth.

“We’ve been fortunate to be a leader in the new space industry and we’re excited to explore these amazing opportunities with the team at Front Range Biosciences and BioServe,” said Peter McCullagh, CEO of SpaceCells. “These are big ideas we’re pursuing and there’s a massive opportunity to bring to market new Chemotypes, as well as Plants that can better adapt to drought and cold conditions.  We expect to prove through these and other missions that we can adapt the food supply to climate change.”

Some of these mutations may turn out to be beneficial, so there is an incentive for commercial applications. For instance, the space-grown hemp and coffee may prove to be more resilient to climate change in some areas. Previously, ZME Science reported how global heating is causing a coffee crisis (Oh, boy!) — results suggest that coffee-suitable areas will be reduced 73–88% by 2050 across warming scenarios. Another study found that over half of the world’s wild coffee is facing extinction.

“We envision this to be the first of many experiments together,” said Louis Stodieck, Chief Scientist of BioServe Space Technologies at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “In the future, we plan for the crew to harvest and preserve the plants at different points in their grow-cycle so we can analyze which metabolic pathways are turned on and turned off. This is a fascinating area of study that has considerable potential.”

Cannabis reduces depression and suicidal thoughts in PTSD patients

A survey of more than 24,000 Canadians found that for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), medicating with cannabis reduced the likelihood of experiencing severe depression and suicidal thoughts.

Credit: Pixabay.

As of 2018, cannabis is legal both recreationally and medically in Canada. This has made the drug more readily available to the general population, but there is still much we don’t know about its effects on mental health.

“We know that with limited treatment options for PTSD, many patients have taken to medicating with cannabis to alleviate their symptoms,” says Stephanie Lake, the lead author of the study and a researcher at the University of British Columbia’s faculty of medicine’s school of population and public health. “However, this is the first time that results from a nationally representative survey have shown the potential benefits of treating the disorder with cannabis.”

Lake and colleagues analyzed data from Statistics Canada’s 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey – Mental Health (CCHS-MH), which covers Canadians aged 15 and older. The survey, which involved 24,089 respondents, included 420 cases (no pun intended) of clinically diagnosed PTSD. Among this group, 106 reported using cannabis during the past year (28.2%). Only 11.2% of the respondents who didn’t have PTSD used cannabis in the past year.

The results are pretty shocking. They suggest that PTSD patients who did not use cannabis were nearly seven times more likely to experience a recent major depressive episode and 4.7 times more likely to experience suicidal ideation compared to cannabis non-users without PTSD. Meanwhile, cannabis-using PTSD patients did not experience a recent depressive episode or suicide ideation.

Canada is thought to have one of the highest prevalence rates of PTSD in the world, affecting an estimated 9.2% of the population.

“We’re only just beginning to understand what the therapeutic potential of cannabis may be for a variety of health conditions,” says senior author Dr. M-J Milloy, Canopy Growth Professor of Cannabis Science at UBC. “These findings are promising, and merit further study in order to fully understand the benefits of cannabis for people living with PTSD.”

That being said, you should not medicate with cannabis on your own. Talk to your doctor so you can come up with the right therapeutic solution that is specially tailored to your particular condition.

The findings appeared in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

Exposure to THC causes alterations in the brain of unborn rats

A new study found that prenatal exposure of THC changes the behavior and brain chemistry of male rats. The main psychoactive compound found in cannabis has also been linked to hyperactive dopamine neurons and increased sensitivity to the effects of THC in pre-adolescent rodents.

Credit: Pixabay.

Miriam Melis, a neuroscientist at the University of Cagliari Cittadella Universitaria in Monserrato, Italy, administered THC to pregnant rats and then carefully studied the behaviors of the offspring.

Melis and colleagues found that male, but not female, offspring had a heightened susceptibility to THC. They also found that the rats’ dopamine neurons found in a brain region called the ventral tegmental area — which is involved in reward motivation — were hyperactive.

Previous research had linked prenatal cannabis exposure to psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia and forms of psychosis later in adolescence, and the authors believe that these latest findings may explain why.

The researchers were able to correct the dopamine hyperactivity and behavioral changes by treating the adolescent rats with pregnenolone, an FDA-approved drug meant to treat schizophrenia, autism, and bipolar disorder.

“This is an exciting finding that suggests a therapeutic approach for children born to mothers who used cannabis during pregnancy,” said Joseph Cheer, PhD, a Professor of Anatomy & Neurobiology and Psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “It also raises important questions that need to be addressed such as how does pregnenolone exert its effects and how can we improve its efficacy? Do these detrimental effects persist into adulthood, and if so, could they also be treated in a similar way?”

The findings, which were published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, come on the backdrop of growing cannabis legalization in the United States. Some pregnant women use cannabis to treat symptoms of morning sickness and anxiety but this new evidence suggests that there may be long-term consequences for the babies’ brain development. More research is required to clarify this association.

People used marijuana in rituals 2,500 years ago

East Asians grew cannabis over 6,000 years ago, but it’s not entirely clear what they did with it. Most evidence shows that they were consuming its oily seeds and making clothes and rope from the plant’s fibers, but evidence for inhalation and smoking remains limited. A cemetery from 2,500 years ago might help us better understand how ancient people used cannabis for its mind-altering properties.

The grave from above. Image credits: Xinhua Wu.

Jirzankal Cemetery lies some 3,000 meters above sea level, in the Pamir Mountains. It’s a rocky environment, riddled with circular mounts of earth covering tombs. The tombs themselves are outlined by one or two rings of stones, while black and white stone strips run across the site’s entire surface. It’s an important site that has remained remarkably intact over the centuries.

A team led by archaeologist Yimin Yang of the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing found and analyzed chemical residues on 10 wooden burners (braziers) found in eight tombs at the site. When they analyzed these burners, they found an unusually high level of THC (the psychoactive substance inside cannabis) inside nine of them, as well as two stones that had been heated to burn plants — a clear indication that ancient people were using marijuana for burial rituals.

Ancient cannabis plants have much lower THC content than today’s plants, which have been carefully selected for this purpose. For the plants meant to be used for clothes and rope, the THC quantity was virtually negligible, and even for the ancient plants such as those found at the Jirzankal Cemetery, the effects wouldn’t have been quite as strong. Nevertheless, it seems that high up in the mountains, ancient Chinese were using the plants to also get (ritually) high.

It’s not known whether these people grew the plants themselves or if they harvested them from the wild. But, what is known is that this marijuana smoking might also tell us a thing or two about trade at the time.

It’s a remarkable indication of how early humans were interacting with the surrounding environment.

“I think this is a wonderful example of how closely intertwined humans are and have been with the world around them,” said archaeobotanist Robert Spengler of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, who was also a co-author of the study.

“They impose evolutionary pressures on the plants around them, and in some cases this actually leads to domestication. Humans have always sought out plants with secondary metabolites that have an effect on the human body. Premodern humans had an intimate understanding of the plants around them.”

This is hardly the first ancient indication of cannabis usage. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote of cannabis smoking some 2,500 years ago in the steppes of central Asia. High-elevation mountain passes such as the area around Jirzankal were part of important trade routes along the early Silk Road, which linked China to Europe and the rest of Western Asia. Spengler, who works at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, says that cannabis may have been a significant trade commodity.

“Our study implies that knowledge of cannabis smoking and specific high-THC varieties of the cannabis plant were among the cultural traditions that spread along Silk Road exchange routes,” Spengler said at a recent conference.

In support of this theory, previous chemical analyses from bones and teeth found in the Jirzankal Cemetery indicated that people were eating plants grown outside of China, presumably brought along the Silk Road. Some items (including silk and a harp brought from West Asia) also supports this theory.

The research has been published in Science Advances.

Americans spend $150 billion a year on illicit drugs

The amount of money spent by Americans on cannabis, cocaine, and heroin in 2016 reached $150 billion, according to a RAND Corporation report. The study showed that most of the spending came from a small share of people who use drugs on a daily or near-daily basis.

Credit: Flickr

The amount spent on these four drugs fluctuated between $120 and $145 billion per year between 2006 and 2016, according to the research. This is comparable with the $158 billion spent by Americans on alcohol in 2017, according to a different analysis.

“To better understand changes in drug use outcomes and the effects of policies, policymakers need to know what is happening in markets for these substances,” said Greg Midgette, the study’s lead author, an assistant professor at University of Maryland and an adjunct policy researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research organization

Apart from estimating expenditures on drugs such as cannabis, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine, researchers from RAND used a variety of sources of information about drug use and drug prices to also estimate the number of people who use these substances and how much they consume, and how much they spend on consumption.

Looking specifically at cannabis, from illegal and state-licensed sources, the report showed its spending increased by 50% from 2006 to 2016, going from $34 to $52 billion. The market for cannabis is roughly the size of the cocaine and methamphetamine markets combined.

From 2010 to 2016, the number of individuals who used cannabis in the past month increased by nearly 30 percent, from 25 million to 32 million, according to the report.

At the same time however, the consumption of cocaine dropped from 2006 to 2015 and then picked up in 2016, the report showed. There were 2.4 million individuals who used cocaine on four more or days in the past month in 2015 and 2016, the results show.

The consumption of heroin increased by approximately 10 percent per year between 2010 and 2016, according to the analysis. Whereas most heroin consumed in the United States comes from poppies grown in Mexico, the introduction of synthetic opioids like fentanyl into heroin markets has increased the risk of using heroin.

There was a steady increase in the amount of heroin seized within the United States and at the southwest border from 2007 through 2016. Changes in the composition of heroin users, potentially involving increased use among individuals without criminal histories, have increased the uncertainty underlying these estimates.

Estimates about methamphetamine use are subject to the greatest uncertainty, largely because national data sets do a particularly poor job of capturing its use, the researchers explain. The federal government discontinued a critical data collection effort in 2003, the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring, or ADAM.

“While there is considerable uncertainty surrounding national methamphetamine estimates, multiple indicators suggest methamphetamine use has exceeded its previous peak around 2005,” concludes Beau Kilmer, co-author of the report and director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center.