Tag Archives: marijuana

Brain scans could help police detect cannabis impairment in drivers

Credit: Pixabay.

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.

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.

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.

Young Americans are drinking less, but they’re using weed and prescription drugs more than ever before

College-age Americans are staying away from booze compared to their peers 20 years ago, according to a new study. However, the use of marijuana and mixed use of alcohol and marijuana is more common among them today, as is polysubstance abuse.

Image via Pixabay.

While we all know that alcohol isn’t good for you, it has been the recreational drug of choice for many around the world since antiquity. But younger people in the USA were moving away from alcohol between 2002 and 2018, a new study reports, even among those not enrolled in college.

But it seems that to be human is to fall to vice, for the same study found that the use of marijuana and alcohol and marijuana together has increased.

High hopes, low drinking

“We’re encouraged by the significant decreases in alcohol use disorder–for both college and noncollege participants,” said lead author Sean Esteban McCabe, director of the Center for the Study of Drugs, Alcohol, Smoking and Health at the University of Michigan School of Nursing. “Alcohol-related consequences are one of the leading causes of mortality and morbidity for young adults.”

“The prevalence of alcohol use disorder in both groups in 2018 was roughly half of what it was in 2002. We are excited to learn about these drops in disordered drinking.”

The percentage of college-enrolled young US adults (aged 18-22) from the US that abstained from drinking alcohol increased from 20% in 2002 to 28% in 2018, while in those not in school this figure rose from 24% to 30%. More excitingly, alcohol abuse — problematic behaviors ranging from binge-drinking to straight-up alcohol addictions — decreased roughly by half in both groups. All in all, very good news from both a public health perspective as well as in regard to these groups’ quality of life.

But that hole in our hearts (and glasses) demanded to be filled — as such, more people are turning to marijuana, to both marijuana and alcohol, or to prescription drugs. While there seems to be less misuse regarding these two than what we’ve seen regarding alcohol in the past, the team cautions that we still need to keep a close eye on the situation and nip any potential issues in the bud.

The study used data from a nationally-representative survey of 182,722 young adults. For the 2015-2018 interval, the team also looked at the link between prescription drug misuse and trends in alcohol and marijuana consumption. However, they say they were particularly surprised by the drop in alcohol consumption and misuse. The findings give us cause for hope “even with increases in marijuana use disorder and co-use of alcohol and marijuana”, according to Ty Schepis, professor of psychology at Texas State, co-author of the study.

“Points of concern that deserve more attention are the rise in co-use of alcohol and marijuana, as we know that polysubstance use can have more negative consequences and be more difficult to treat,” he adds.

Roughly three-quarters of those who reported “disordered use” of both substances during the previous year had also used prescription drugs, some illicitly. The majority of these participants admitted to misusing their prescription drugs.

So on the one hand, people seem to be getting better at managing their alcohol intake, perhaps by employing marijuana as a crutch. On the other hand, more young people seem to be using or misusing several substances at once (not just marijuana or alcohol), which obviously isn’t very healthy or a very good sign that all is well in society.

“For example, from 2015 to 2018, only 2.5% of young adults who abstained from both alcohol and marijuana reported misusing prescription drugs, while 25.1% of co-users misused prescription drugs,” Schepis said. “That is a tenfold difference with potentially dangerous consequences.”

The findings, however, can help inform better strategies aimed at helping people overcome such issues in the future. Current interventions tend to focus on a single substance at a time and are “less effective” at tackling polysubstance abuse, according to McCabe.

“The finding that abstinence is increasing among college students and young adults not in college is very important for U.S. colleges and universities to take into account moving forward,” he said. “These findings reinforce the importance of the need to support those young adults in recovery and abstinence for other reasons. There are over 1 million U.S. young adults in recovery and a wide variety of resources are needed to support these individuals.”

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.”

Study finds 27% of CBD products wouldn’t pass dosage standards for legal marijuana

Credit: Pixabay.

Hemp-derived CBD is classed as a supplement by the FDA and is not held to the same scrutiny as legal marijuana products.

Many hemp-derived CBD products would face a hard time being allowed on the market if they were held to the same standard as legal marijuana products. According to a new market report performed by LeafReport, 27% of CBD products that they tested had a variance in the potency of their ingredients that wouldn’t pass the standards for legal marijuana industries.

CBD products, like tinctures, oils, topicals and ingestibles are classed as supplements. As such, the FDA does not regulate CBD companies like they do those that are in the business of selling legal marijuana products.

This means that consumers have to take the manufacturer’s word for it. But, as these findings show, consumers often aren’t receiving exactly what they’re paying for — and, in some cases, the variance in CBD amounts is very significant.

Out of the 37 different CBD products that were tested by researchers at the testing lab Canalysis Laboratories, four products had margins of errors between 10% and 20%, one product had a 20% to 30% variance, while four missed the CBD content that they advertised by 30%. The maximum cannabinoid variance allowed in the marijuana industry is 10%, and 27 out of the 37 products that were tested fell within this margin.

Credit: LeafReport.

This means that, in some cases, consumers may be buying less CBD than they bargained for. On the flipside, they might be buying more CBD than advertising, because the variance goes both ways.

For LeafReport analysts, these results were actually encouraging.

“Actually, when we conducted the study, we expected to see worse results. We thought we would see a lot of products that have a larger variance than 10 percent, which is the acceptable variance,” Noa Gans, a researcher for LeafReport, told Westworld. “Most of the products really had the acceptable variance, except for ten. So for us, we find that the market has matured, and that brands really do take care to be conscious of the CBD in their products.”

All of the CBD products analyzed by the study were manufactured by brands that were viewed as industry leaders. Less established brands might have an even larger variance, which is why LeafReport advises consumers to vet CBD products from new brands before making a purchase.

In order to be on the safe side, consumers should look for CBD products that have a certificate of analysis and batch report” to see lab testing results and product sourcing information.

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.”

Which CBD Gummies Are the Best for Pain Management?

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

CBD is touted as a wonder drug by some, being hailed as a solution for anxiety, lack of sleep, and chronic pain. While the claims about CBD are sometimes exaggerated, there is scientific evidence suggesting it can be used to manage pain — which is why many people choose to buy various CBD products. Most CBD products are sold as oils, but there are also other edible options, including quirky things like CBD gummies.

CBD gummies are a great way to introduce CBD into your daily life. This easy to ingest format makes the amazing pain-relieving power of CBD palatable for many.

What is CBD?

For those who don’t already know, let’s answer tackle the elephant in the room: What is CBD?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the dozens of cannabinoid compounds found in the cannabis plant. CBD oil can be made from both marijuana or hemp cannabis plant, and can be extracted in a number of ways. However, in order for CBD products to be considered legal, it must come from a hemp plant and have low (0.03%) or no THC levels.

CBD is stimulating a lot of interest among scientists in recent years, and while a lot has been discovered about this compound, research continues. Many companies are using CBD to help people achieve pain relief since the chemical is known for reducing chronic pain and anxiety.

Which CBD Gummies Are the Best for Pain?

If you are interested in taking CBD gummies for pain relief, you might be wondering: which product(s) should I choose? Which ones are right for me? At the end of the day, it really comes down to personal preference; however, these are 5 of our favorite CBD gummies for pain:

Verma Farms

Starting off the list is Verma Farms and their amazing CBD gummies. If the taste is your biggest concern, these are the gummies for you. They come in a variety of flavors, and all of them taste really good. Their gummies range from 250mg dosages to 500mg dosage per pack of gummies.

These are a great starting point if you are looking for CBD gummies that help relieve pain.

Hemp Bombs

Next up is Hemp Bombs. These gummies are a bit stronger than the Verma Farms options. Hemp Bombs offers their gummies in 450mg per 30 and 750mg per 30 packages. Their high-potency line is a great gummy for those looking for a bit more without going overboard. An all-around option if you will.

Fab CBD

Speaking of amazing all-around CBD gummies, Fab CBD is definitely worth considering. Just like the high-potency line from Hemp Bombs, Fab CBD’s gummies are dosed at 750mg per 30 packages. On top of their potency level, they are made with all-natural products like tapioca and grape juice–this makes them very tasty, yet, powerful!

Eden’s Herbals

Eden’s Herbals have amazing choices for you to control your pain with. Their CBD gummies come in a variety of levels, like 500mg, 1000mg, and even 1200mg. Their Eden’s Apple flavor is especially strong and is dosed at the 1200mg! Check them out if you are looking for high dosage medicine.

Happy Hemp

If you really need a large dosage to manage your pain, you want to check out Happy Hemp’s CBD gummies. These come in really high doses, like 1500mg and 3000mg. However, they also make entry-level gummies with 250mg and 750mg levels.

If you are looking for more about CBD gummies and how they can impact your pain symptoms, check out this informational piece on Entrepreneur. If you are looking to manage chronic pain or medical conditions of any sort, please consult with a doctor.

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.

Credit: Pixabay.

Soybeans might combat marijuana’s cardiovascular side-effects

Credit: Pixabay.

Credit: Pixabay.

Soybeans have proven beneficial in a number of ways. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the most recently identified upside is preventing marijuana-induced blood vessel damage. According to recent tests, a compound found in the legume has been shown to block damage to the lining of blood vessels in the heart and circulatory system. This may one day provide a way to prevent negative cardiovascular issues from marijuana use, especially as medical use for the drug increases.

Cardiovascular side effects, including changes in heart rate and blood pressure, have also been discovered when people take FDA-approved medications containing a synthetic version of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—the main hallucinogenic compound in marijuana.

“These medications are prescribed to reduce the nausea and vomiting induced by chemotherapy and to increase appetite in certain people with acquired immune deficiency syndrome,” said Tzu-Tan “Thomas” Wei, the study’s lead author and assistant professor of pharmacology in the College of Medicine at National Taiwan University in Taipei City. “The goal of our studies is to investigate the mechanisms of marijuana-induced damage and discover new drugs to prevent those side effects.”

In the AHA research, scientists used endothelial cells — cells that line the interior surface of blood vessels and lymphatic vessels — derived from five healthy adults. When they exposed the cells from the individuals to THC they found that the exposure to the chemical compound induced inflammation and oxidative stress. These two issues have been found to affect the linings of blood vessels and have been associated with the advancement of heart disease.

The effects of THC occur after it binds to one of two cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) that are found throughout the brain and body and are also acted on by naturally occurring cannabinoids. When treated with JW-1, an antioxidant compound found in soybeans, access was blocked to the CB1 receptor and the effects of THC exposure on endothelial cells were eliminated.

“(A)s an antioxidant, JW-1 may have neuroprotective effects,” said Weis. “Discovering a new way to protect blood vessels without psychiatric side effects would be clinically important with the rapid growth of cannabis use worldwide.”

The study has not yet been published in peer-reviewed publications.

Credit: Pixabay.

Researchers reveal how marijuana develops pain-relief molecules 30 times stronger than Aspirin

Credit: Pixabay.

Credit: Pixabay.

Canadian researchers at the University of Guelph have discovered how the Cannabis sativa plant generates pain-relieving molecules. In the future, the authors of the new study hope that biochemistry could enable a new class of painkillers based on Cannabis which doesn’t share the dangers of opiates.

“There’s clearly a need to develop alternatives for relief of acute and chronic pain that go beyond opioids,” said Prof. Tariq Akhtar, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, co-author of the new study published in the journal  Phytochemistry. “These molecules are non-psychoactive and they target the inflammation at the source, making them ideal painkillers.”

Prof. Akhtar and colleagues used biochemistry and genomics to investigate how the cannabis plant produces cannflavin A and cannflavin B, two flavonoids — one of the largest nutrient families known to scientists. Flavonoids include over 6,000 polyphenolic plant compounds and are one of the reasons why fruits and veggies are good for you. Previously, researchers established that flavonoids exhibit anti-inflammatory, anti-thrombogenic, antidiabetic, anticancer, and neuroprotective activities through different mechanisms of action in vitro and in animal models.

Cannaflavins A and B were first identified in 1985 by studies that found that the compounds’ anti-inflammatory effects are 30 times stronger, gram-for-gram, than acetylsalicylic acid, or Aspirin.

Unfortunately, these promising molecules haven’t been closely investigated ever since because cannabis research used to be highly regulated. But, today, cannabis is legal in Canada and researchers like Prof. Akhtar are free to study the plant as they please.

What’s more, huge leaps in genomics research means that there is now a trove of potential applications for cannabis waiting to be discovered.

“Our objective was to better understand how these molecules are made, which is a relatively straightforward exercise these days,” said Akhtar. “There are many sequenced genomes that are publicly available, including the genome of Cannabis sativa, which can be mined for information. If you know what you’re looking for, one can bring genes to life, so to speak, and piece together how molecules like cannflavins A and B are assembled.”

The team of researchers at the University of Guelph uncovered the genes responsible for creating cannflavins A and B. However, since the cannabis plant produces these molecules at such low levels, the scientists plan on developing a biological system that creates the flavonoids in large quantities.

Most people suffering from chronic pain use opioid painkillers to manage their condition. These drugs work by blocking the brain’s pain receptors but, in doing so, also carry significant side effects and the potential for addiction, and can even cause death. In 2018, tens of thousands of Americans were killed by overdosing on prescription opioid painkillers.

Cannflavins do not carry the same risks as opioids because they can block pain by reducing inflammation — a totally different approach.  In the future, the researchers hope that cannabis-based flavonoids will become widely accessible through a variety of medical products such as pills, creams, patches, and other options.

Grinder weed.

Legal recreational marijuana wreaks havoc on illegal markets, study finds

If you want to stop drug dealers from pushing cannabis, new research suggests, legalizing its recreational use definitely works.

Grinder weed.

Image via Pixabay.

Researchers from the University of Puget Sound and the University of Washington report that legalizing recreational cannabis can increase the use of the drug but, more crucially, shifts purchases from the illicit market to legal outlets. The results are based on an analysis of wastewater samples from one Western Washington population center over several years.

Whitening market

“We set out to perform a wastewater-based analysis that explored the impact of newly legalized retail cannabis sales on its use, and to determine if this approach could estimate the size of the legal marketplace,” says Dan Burgard, chair of the chemistry department at Puget Sound and lead author of the paper.

Burgard’s team analyzed samples of wastewater collected between 2013 and 2016 from two treatment plants in Western Washington. Collectively, the two plants serve around two hundred thousand locals. The researchers tested samples from 387 days spread over three years. The team relied on a new analysis method for faster and more accurate assessments of illicit drug consumption compared to existing measures.

Raw wastewater samples were collected at treatment plants and analyzed for drugs and their metabolites — the byproducts created by our bodies as they process a given substance — at extremely low concentrations (parts per billion or parts per trillion levels). These figures were used to track drug consumption trends, both legal and illegal. While the approach doesn’t allow for the team to track individual users’ habits, they do show overall trends. For example, the concentration of the metabolites can be used to calculate the actual number of doses of a drug used in a particular area.

Based on the readings, the team estimates that THC-COOH — THC, the psychoactive component in cannabis — in the wastewater increased by 9% per quarter, on average, from December 2013 to December 2016. During roughly the same time, August 2014 to December 2016, recreational cannabis sales increased at around 70% per quarter on average. In other words, the increase in legal sales of cannabis far outstripped the rise in THC-COOH in raw wastewater — showing that users are making a massive shift towards legal avenues of getting their fix.

“Given that wastewater represents a total population measure, these findings suggest that many established users switched very quickly from the illegal to the legal market,” says Burgard. “This is the strongest statement possible regarding displacement of the illegal market.”

The findings come to flesh-out our understanding of how the legalization of cannabis for recreational purposes impact both its use and the illicit market. In the past six years nine U.S. states (Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon, Nevada, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, Michigan, and the District of Columbia) have legalized the adult use of recreational cannabis, as did the countries of Uruguay and Canada, making such data valuable to policymakers there and in other areas of the world. Caleb Banta-Green, interim director and principal research scientist at the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute and co-author of the paper, says:

“This project was designed to aid the understanding of how the sales of adult recreational cannabis impact its total consumption within a population. We believe this will be a valuable tool for local, state, national and international policy makers as they assess and consider Washington’s recreational cannabis law.”

“Existing measures, particularly surveys are subject to important biases and limitations, including potential changes in self-report as social norms change as well as very limited information on the amount of THC actually consumed. Wastewater based estimates help address these limitations.”

One of the main findings of this study, the team explains, is that legalization does (at least in part) eliminate black market sales of marijuana.

The paper “Using wastewater-based analysis to monitor the effects of legalized retail sales on cannabis consumption in Washington State, USA” has been published in the journal Addiction.

Most Americans with a medical marijuana license use it to treat an evidence-based condition

Credit: Pixabay.

Researchers have combed through state medical marijuana registry data seeking to understand whether people were using cannabis for evidence-based reasons. The findings might surprise some critics who believe most people go to dispensaries to procure marijuana for recreational use. According to the study, the vast majority of users were seeking treatment for an evidence-based medical condition, with chronic pain accounting for 62.2% of all patient-reported qualifying conditions.

Marijuana is classed as a Schedule I substance at the federal level (in the same company as heroin and ‘bath salts’), meaning the government believes that it has no accepted medical benefit and has a high potential for abuse. However, there are 33 states that have approved medical marijuana and 10 states where marijuana is legal for recreational use.

But while the marijuana legalization movement has spread fast, the science has not nearly kept up with it — and federal restrictions bear much of the blame. So even though medical marijuana may be useful in treating chronic pain, nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy, and multiple sclerosis (MS) spasticity symptoms, many doctors do not have the necessary training and guidelines at their disposal to recommend this drug to their patients.

Seeking to find out how Americans are using medical marijuana, researchers at the University of Michigan used data from state registries to identify patterns of use. Immediately, the most visible issue that they encountered was the unexpected lack of available data. Only half of the states kept tabs on patient-reported qualifying conditions (illnesses that allowed a patient to obtain a medical marijuana license) and only 20 states reported data on the number of registered patients.

“This is especially concerning in the case of California, as some estimates suggest that California may have as many patients as the entire rest of the country combined,” the authors wrote.

Even so, the number of patients included in the study was large enough to provide statistically relevant outcomes. The number of people who are using cannabis to manage their illness is growing rapidly, from 641,176 licenses in 2016 to 813,917 in 2017. The actual number of patients is likely in the millions — and an exact figure might be available in the coming years.

In order to establish the study participants’ patterns of use, the researchers grouped their conditions into evidence categories pulled from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report on cannabis and cannabinoids — a review of 10,000 studies on the health effects of medical and recreational cannabis use. The authors found that 85.5% of participants had licenses for the treatment of an evidence-based condition, with chronic pain leading the list of patient-reported qualifying conditions. “This finding is consistent with the prevalence of chronic pain, which affects an estimated 100 million Americans,” stated the authors of the study published in the journal Health Affairs.

Multiple sclerosis spasticity symptoms were the second most common patient-reported qualifying condition, followed by chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, posttraumatic stress disorder, and cancer.

According to lead author Kevin Boehnke, these findings show that more and more people are using cannabis to manage their pains and that the evidence-based use of cannabis is at direct odds with its current drug schedule status.

“Since the majority of states in the U.S. have legalized medical cannabis, we should consider how best to adequately regulate cannabis and safely incorporate cannabis into medical practice,” Boehnke said.

Credit: Pixabay.

Just a little bit of cannabis is enough to change the teen brain

Teenagers who have smoked only one or two joints in their entire lives have more gray matter in certain areas of the brain than teens who have never tried cannabis. The findings warrant more attention to the low-level use of cannabis among adolescents and its potential effects on cognition later in life.

Credit: Pixabay.

Credit: Pixabay.

Most studies that assess the long-term impact of marijuana on cognition generally involve adult heavy users and their results can be contentious. Some have found impairments in memory and attention that endure beyond the period of intoxication, while others found only minimal effects on cognitive function after cessation.

What seems more and more clear is that using marijuana in adolescence carries significant risks. The human brain is plastic, meaning it constantly changes its ‘wiring’, strengthening and weakening neural connections throughout life. This phenomenon is the most pronounced from the months before birth to our twenty-first birthday. One study by researchers at the University of Melbourne performed MRI scans on the brains of regular marijuana users who started in adolescence and compared the scans to a group who never smoked. The results suggested that the neural connections between the brain’s left and right hemisphere were impaired in marijuana users, indicating poorer internal communication. Another study, this time in New Zealand, followed more than a thousand participants from birth to age 38, showing that those who started smoking marijuana in their teens had lower IQs in their thirties compared to their childhood.

It should be mentioned that such studies have not found a causal relationship between consuming marijuana as teens and poorer cognitive performance later in life. For instance, it could be that smokers’ brains may have been different, to begin with. However, seeing how the earlier someone started smoking, the more pronounced the effects were, it could very well be that marijuana may alter cognitive performance in those who smoked as teens.

Now, a new study suggests that even a little bit of marijuana could change teens’ brains. The study involved 46 kids from Ireland, England, France, and Germany who reported having used cannabis only once or twice by age 14. Researchers at the University of Vermont, USA, identified brain regions rich in cannabinoid receptors that showed structural differences in teenagers. Specifically, the teens showed an increase in gray matter volume in those brain areas.

“Consuming just one or two joints seems to change gray matter volumes in these young adolescents,” Hugh Garavan, a Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Vermont, said in a statement.

Regions showing significantly greater gray matter volume in the brains of teens who had tried cannabis. Credit: Orr et al., JNeurosci (2019).

Regions showing significantly greater gray matter volume in the brains of teens who had tried cannabis. Credit: Orr et al., JNeurosci (2019).

The biggest differences in gray matter were in the amygdala, which is involved in fear and other emotion-related processes, and in the hippocampus, involved in memory development and spatial abilities.

“The implication is that this is potentially a consequence of cannabis use,” Garavan says. “You’re changing your brain with just one or two joints. Most people would likely assume that one or two joints would have no impact on the brain.”

It’s not clear what this increase in brain volume means, as cognitive abilities were not assessed. According to the researchers, during adolescence, the brain undergoes a sort of “pruning process” by which it gets thinner, rather than thicker, as synaptic connections are redefined. It could be that early interaction with cannabis may disrupt this pruning process.

In light of recent evidence suggesting the teen vulnerability to THC, the researchers call for more research that might investigate the connection.

The findings were reported in the Journal of Neuroscience. 

Is CBD oil safe for pregnant women?

Credit: Pixabay.

Following a wave of legalization all around the world, including the United States, cannabidiol (CBD) has been all the rage lately. Unlike THC, ingesting CBD won’t get you high, but it does have some science-backed medical benefits. For instance, one study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that “CBD was associated with significantly decreased subjective anxiety.” Another study found that topical CBD application reduced pain and inflammation symptoms without any side effects.

These sort of findings might prompt many pregnant women to try CBD oil, especially those who had already been suffering from some chronic pain before their pregnancy. But just because something is safe for adults that doesn’t make it good for kids or a developing fetus.

CBD research is lacking

Cannabidiol is one of the dozens of cannabinoid compounds found in the cannabis plant. CBD oil can be made from both marijuana or hemp cannabis plant and can be extracted in a number of ways. However, in order for CBD products to be considered legal, it must come from a hemp plant and have low (0.03%) or no THC levels.

Cannabinoids trigger effects in the body by mimicking the endocannabinoids which play a crucial role in both brain and bodily functions. The human body has two types of receptors for cannabinoids, called the CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors. The CB1 receptors are involved in coordination and movement, pain, emotions, and mood, thinking, appetite, and memories, and other functions. THC attaches to these receptors. Meanwhile, CBD2 receptors interact with the immune system, affecting inflammation and pain.

Until not long ago, scientists used to think that CBD oil acts on CB1 and CB2 receptors, but new research showed that’s not the case. Instead, the cannabinoid affects the mechanism that binds specific receptors involved in anxiety (serotonin 5-HT1A) and pain (vanilloid TRPV1).

However, while such progress is encouraging, research CBD is lagging far behind the stupendous rise of the product’s popularity. Even marijuana-related research is woefully lacking, let alone CBD.

For instance, there is no study, peer-reviewed or otherwise, that has investigated the effects CBD oil might have on pregnant women or offspring.

“We know cannabidiol works on the same class of receptors as THC, but in different ways,” said Dr. James Lozada, Obstetric Anesthesiologist with Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“These receptors help our brains develop normally. Otherwise, we don’t have a lot of information about the effects CBD has on pregnant women and their babies. Because of the uncertainty, I recommend not using these products during pregnancy — because we just don’t have enough information to say whether it could harm your growing baby.”

According to research, marijuana use has not been associated with birth defects, stillbirth or preterm birth. This, in itself, is good news for pregnant women who have decided to take CBD oil, but this is by no means an endorsement. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. For instance, because cannabinoid receptors are involved in brain development, some fear that CBD oil might disrupt fetal brain development. However, others believe the opposite effect could be true — that is promoting healthy fetal brain development — since CBD can promote neurogenesis.

So, there’s still significant uncertainty regarding CBD for pregnant women at this point. Perhaps the biggest safety concern at the moment is the fact that CBD is primarily sold as a supplement, not a medication. This means that, in the United States, it is not regulated by the FDA. In other words, the safety and purity of the CBD oil product can be questionable, to say the least.

Bottom line: it’s better for pregnant women to avoid CBD oils or related marijuana products until clinical trials deem such products safe. As always, speak to your doctor before making any important decision that might influence the wellbeing and development of your baby.

Marijuana use teens

Teen cannabis users who abstain for a month can learn better

Marijuana use teens

Credit: Pixabay.

Teens and young adults who regularly use cannabis but abstained for a whole month showed marked improvements in memory functions that are important for learning. This was the first time that researchers tracked cognitive changes over time associated with quitting cannabis use.

“Our findings provide two pieces of convincing evidence,” Randi Schuster, director of Neuropsychology at the Center for Addiction Medicine in the Massachusetts General Hospital’s Department of Psychiatry, lead author of the paper.

“The first is that adolescents learn better when they are not using cannabis. The second – which is the good news part of the story – is that at least some of the deficits associated with cannabis use are not permanent and actually improve pretty quickly after cannabis use stops.”

According to the researchers, 13% of middle and high school students use cannabis, with daily use increasing between grade 8 and 12.

Previously, the same team of researchers found that cannabis users aged 16 and under had problems assimilating new information, something that wasn’t observed among users 17 or older. This suggests that the psychoactive compounds found in marijuana may interfere in some way with the cognitive development of certain groups of teens, whose brains are still in development. Another 2014 study of 16- to 19-year-olds who use cannabis found abnormalities in their brain’s gray matter.

Schuster and colleagues enlisted 88 participants aged 16 to 25, all of whom smoked cannabis at least once a week. The aim of the study was to compare the cognitive performance of young cannabis users who stopped drug use for 30 days with a group that carried on as usual with cannabis use. The two groups were randomized in order to control for factors such as pre-existing differences in mood, cognition, and motivation, but also the frequency and intensity of cannabis use.

Participants were financially rewarded in order to incentivize their abstinence. Regular urine tests were performed in order to ensure that participants in the abstinence group stayed on the track and didn’t skew the results.

According to the results of cognitive testing, the ability to recall new information and to learn improved in the group that stopped cannabis use. No such effect was observed in the group that carried on as usual. In particular, the greatest improvement occurred in the first week of abstinence. A month of cannabis abstinence was not linked to any improvements in attention.

“The ability to learn or ‘map down’ new information, which is a critical facet of success in the classroom, improved with sustained non-use of cannabis.” Schuster says. “Young cannabis users who stop regular – weekly or more – use may be better equipped to learn efficiently and therefore better positioned for academic success. We can confidently say that these findings strongly suggest that abstaining from cannabis helps young people learn, while continuing cannabis use may interfere with the learning process.”

Next, the researchers plan on studying whether attention and memory continue to improve after longer periods of abstinence.

The findings appeared in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

Credit: Pixabay.

One in ten heavy cannabis users who quit experience withdrawal symptoms

Credit: Pixabay.

Credit: Pixabay.

More Americans are using cannabis than ever before, thanks to the legalization of medicinal and recreational use in many states in the country. In the past, the negative effects of marijuana use have been greatly exaggerated, but that doesn’t mean abusing the drug is without consequences.

Case in point: psychiatrists found that 12% of frequent marijuana smokers experienced Cannabis Withdrawal Syndrome (CWS), whose symptoms include emotional, behavioral, and physical changes.

CWS was officially recognized in 2013 when it was included in the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is used by clinicians and psychiatrists to diagnose psychiatric illnesses.

In a new study, researchers at Columbia University performed the first large-scale assessment linking CWS to psychiatric disorders among frequent cannabis users in the United States. To qualify as a frequent cannabis user, the researchers define as using the drug three or more times a week during the last 12 months.

Deborah Hasin, a professor of Epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, along with colleagues, analyzed data from the 2012-2013 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions-III. The survey involved face-to-face interviews with 36,309 participants about their substance use.

The researchers zoomed in on 1,527 participants from the survey which were identified as frequent cannabis users. They found that among those who quit, the most commonly reported withdrawal symptoms included nervousness/anxiety (76%), hostility (72%), sleep difficulty (68%) and depressed mood (59%). Physical withdrawal symptoms included headaches, shakiness/tremors, and sweating, though these were less prevalent than behavioral and emotional symptoms.

Writing in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, the authors reported that CWS symptoms were associated with a family of psychiatric disorders, including mood disorders, anxiety disorders (social phobia, agoraphobia, and panic disorder), personality disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

There was no association between CWS and a family history of drug and alcohol abuse. A family history of depression, however, could predict CWS to some degree.

“Cannabis withdrawal syndrome is a highly disabling condition,” noted Hasin, who is also a professor in the Department of Psychiatry. “The syndrome’s shared symptoms with depressive and anxiety disorders call for clinician awareness of cannabis withdrawal symptoms and the factors associated with it to promote more effective treatment among frequent cannabis users.”

As attitudes and laws surrounding marijuana continue to change, it is important that the public is made more aware of the potential ill-effects they might be exposing themselves to. As a new disorder, there is much to be learned about CWS.

“Most users of the newer modes of administration–vaping and edibles–also smoke cannabis. Therefore, for users in modes other than smoking, the amount of consumption could be underestimated,” said Hasin. “Given the increase in cannabis potency in recent decades, developing reliable measures to investigate the effect of cannabis concentration and mode of administration will be important in advancing our understanding of cannabis withdrawal syndrome.”

Interview with Bluebird Director of Science Lex Pelger on CBD

Recently, I was able to call Lex Pelger, Director of Science for Bluebird Botanicals. We also hooked up digitally so I could send him some further questions via email. The company provides CBD (cannabidiol) products to consumers. The CBD extract allows for some of the benefits of marijuana but without the intoxicating high. Pelger is quite passionate about the use of CBD and the science behind it.

Lex Pelger on His Interest in CBD and the Science of It

Lex Pelger.

(Slight edits have been made to the following interview dialogue for clarity and accuracy.)

Me: As a Science Director at Bluebird Botanicals, what are a few of the most common tasks you’re faced with on a daily basis?

Lex: One of the main parts of my job is education. I teach our customer care team about what’s known about the cannabinoids and human health as well as talk to customers about what might work for them. I also go to conferences and working on research questions to make sure that we have the most accurate science available. I also do a good bit of writing articles, lecturing and answering questions from journalists about the cannabinoid world.

Me: In your experience, how have you seen CBD help people affected by the THC in ordinary cannabis?

Lex: For people who do not enjoy the psychoactivity of THC or who are very sensitive to even small amounts of it, full plant extract CBD can be a great way to harness the healing powers of the cannabis without getting any kind of high.

Me: What are the most notable benefits CBD can produce in people?

Lex: CBD supports health and wellness in people via the endocannabinoid system and its interactions with the neuronal, immune and hormonal systems of the body. In general, CBD can be seen as a balancing agent for the body.

Me: Bluebird offers CBD health products in a variety of forms, such as liquid extracts and capsules. To what varying ailments do these differently-applied products pertain? Is one compound better than the others in some circumstances?

Lex: The main difference in the ingestion method is the personal preference of the person and the amount of time until onset. For people with acute needs, there are vape pens to get the cannabinoids into your system within a few seconds. For effectiveness that lasts for most of the day, people like to take the oils orally. We’ll also soon have topicals and that’s a great way to get cannabinoids into the system through the skin.

Me: What was the educational process like to get into this field of science?

Lex: For me, I spent five years reading the peer-reviewed literature and traveling the continent interviewing experts and listening to cannabis users. That was the best education.

Me: Bluebird’s website displays a growing line of “pet products.” Could you explain a few of these how they can improve the lives of domesticated animals?

Lex: The cannabinoids tend to work on mammals in the same ways. Since anything with a spinal column has an endocannabinoid system, we like having pet products to help our animal friends feel better too.

Me: Have CBD products been tested a lot on animals?

Lex: A lot of CBD has been given to animals in this country and we certainly hear good stories about the results but the scientific literature is quite scant on the topic.

Me: How do the effects of low-THC hemp differ between humans and other mammals?

Lex: There does not seem to be much difference aside from the smaller weights that necessitate giving less to smaller animals.

Me: Could you go over the relationship between CBD and someone’s endocannabinoid system?

Lex: There’s two main known receptors in the endocannabinoid system: CB1 & CB2. It’s funny but CBD doesn’t activate either of those. But it does modulate how other molecules bind to those receptors and that’s why the presence of CBD can lessen the negative psychoactive effects from THC.

CBD is actually a very wide-ranging compound with at least 80 different targets at the biochemical level of the human body. That’s why it can do so many different things for different people. Molecularly, you might compare [it] to a Swiss Army knife.
Me: The endocannabinoid system has far-reaching effects in several areas of the human body, but which other system do you think relies most heavily on it?
Lex: It is especially tied up with the neuronal system, the immune system, and the hormonal system. However, since those are still some of the most mysterious areas of science, the complete picture of these interactions is not yet formed.

Pelger Talks on the Culture and Media Behind the CBD Business

Me: Obviously, our culture has produced many notions which throw a negative light on marijuana and items associated with it. How do you think this effect can be reversed?
Lex: Storytelling and education. People believe the stories of others and as more and more people share about what the cannabinoids have done for them, more people will have the courage to give them a try.
Me: You run the Greener Grass Podcast; so you’re already working to spread the facts about hemp and its medicinal uses. As the host, what have been some of the highlights of the podcast in your opinion?
Lex: I especially loved sitting down with Dr. Julie Holland. She’s a NYC psychiatrist who doesn’t hold back and she’s great about giving the nuts and the bolts about what works.

Me: You’re the author of two novels rooted in science (The Elephant Folio and The Queer Chapter) which cover a bit of marijuana’s past as well as the endocannabinoid system. What do you think your favorite element of these novels is?
Lex: I liked watching them come together. Of course, I have outlines when I start writing but the end product grows and transforms so much that you’re utterly surprised by how it turns out. In fact, I can still sit down and read them with enjoyment because I forget exactly what happens next.
Me: How many hemp-related graphic novels do you think you’ll end up writing? Do you think you would ever stop?
Lex: If I keep following my captain Herman Melville and use the structure of Moby Dick, I just have 133 more books left to write. Luckily, I have them all sketched out and outlined on my wall so now it’s just a matter of taking the next decade or two to fill them in.
Me: Lastly, where do you see laws regulating marijuana and CBD products going in the future?
Lex: I hope that the laws around cannabis will continue to liberalize while still keeping consumer safety at the forefront. But I’ve studied too much about the history of the War on Drugs to not think that a horrible backslide will occur that continues to use the War on Marijuana as a tool of racist oppression against ‘those people’ just as Nixon originally designed it.