Tag Archives: THC

THC and CBD during early pregnancy might cause alcohol-like fetal defects

Scientists have shown in a new study that one-time exposure during early pregnancy to cannabinoids (CBs) like THC or CBD can trigger growth abnormalities in the developing embryo. This was the first time that such a connection has been highlighted in the mammalian womb.

Scott Parnell, an assistant professor of cell biology and physiology at the University of North Carolina, administered either cannabinoids or cannabinoids with alcohol in varying amounts to female mice in their eight-day of pregnancy, which corresponds to 3-4 weeks of pregnancy in humans. This early pregnancy period is the most vulnerable for a developing embryo and is especially dangerous due to the fact that many women are not aware they are pregnant during this stage.

The study went on to show that the one-time use of CBD and THC, which are the primary ingredients in marijuana, caused brain and facial development effects similar to those experienced during fetal alcohol syndrome. When alcohol was administered together with either CBD or THC, the birth defects doubled.

“The development of the embryo in this time period is very similar across all vertebrates,” said Parnell in a statement. “In this study we also test a synthetic cannabinoid in zebrafish that yielded similar growth deformations as the natural CBs. Having the same results across animal models reinforces our findings.”

Parnell says that CBD and THC may be causing defects as a result of interactions at the cellular level that disrupt signaling between molecules and cells that control growth and development.

Left: brain of control mouse. Right: brain of a mouse exposed to alcohol and cannabinoids on the 8th day of pregnancy.

The CBD concentration was equivalent to what is considered a therapeutic range for humans, while the THC concentration was similar to that reached by a person smoking cannabis.

“The interaction between alcohol and CBs we witnessed is very concerning,” said the study’s first author, Eric Fish, PhD, research associate in the UNC School of Medicine Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies. “Previous studies have shown that CBs and alcohol are frequently used together, and for pregnant women we’re learning that could be very dangerous to a developing child.”

In the future, the researchers would like to run more tests but for now, the findings are worrisome.

According to previous 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 trigger growth abnormalities in the developing brain — which is exactly what he new study showed. However, others believe the opposite effect could be true — that is promoting healthy fetal brain development — since CBD can promote neurogenesis.

“We know that there is no safe period to drink alcohol during a pregnancy, and I think this research shows the same is likely true of marijuana use,” Parnell said.

The study appeared in the journal Nature Research.

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.

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.

Credit: Phyto.

Scientists pinpoint CBD dose for safe pain and anxiety relief without the cannabis high

One of the main chemical compounds found in cannabis, known as cannabidiol (CBD), may provide pain relief and anti-anxiety effects to consumers. What makes CBD extract particularly appealing is the fact that it provides medical properties without the high typically associated with using cannabis. While there is still much to be learned, a new study has now pinpointed the effective dose of CBD for safe pain relief.

Credit: Phyto.

Credit: Phyto.

Cannabis has over 100 chemical compounds, called cannabinoids, that act on certain receptors in cells and alter neurotransmitter release in the brain. The most famous cannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is responsible for the psychoactive effects of the drug.

Both CBD and THC have the exact same molecular structure: 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms. However, the two chemical compounds can have opposite effects on the body due to slight differences in how atoms are arranged. For instance, THC is known to strongly stimulate the CB1 receptor, leading to altered sensory perception, impaired motor skills, and anxiety — in other words, it’s psychoactive. Until recently, it was thought that CBD also stimulates CB1, but only slightly, causing conflicting effects with THC, such as relief from anxiety, stress, and hyper-excitability. Simply put, CBD is a nonpsychoactive compound, whereas THC produces a ‘high’.

Researchers at the Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) and McGill University, Canada, wanted to find out at what dose CBD becomes effective. In doing so, they learned that CBD doesn’t act on CB1 cannabinoid receptors like THC but through the mechanism that binds specific receptors involved in anxiety (serotonin 5-HT1A) and pain (vanilloid TRPV1).

The team found that rats that were given an intravenous dose of 5 mg/kg/day of CBD increased 5-HT firing through desensitization of 5-HT1A receptors. Seven days of treatment with CBD reduced mechanical allodynia (when pain is experienced despite there being no obvious cause for pain), decreased anxiety-like behavior, and normalized 5-HT activity, the researchers found.

“We found in animal models of chronic pain that low doses of CBD administered for seven days alleviate both pain and anxiety, two symptoms often associated in neuropathic or chronic pain,” first author of the study Danilo De Gregorio, a post-doctoral fellow at McGill University, said in a statement.

The findings are important in today’s context of marijuana legalization and the boom of marijuana-related supplements, such as CBD oil. The extract has become so popular that you can now find it everywhere and in all sorts of formats. There are CBD tinctures, cookies, topical creams, and even CBD-infused lattes. However, the market has grown far faster than the science can keep up with, especially since marijuana is illegal at the federal level in the United States, making cannabis research extremely cumbersome. For instance, we don’t know if it is safe to give CBD oil to children and CBD supplements are unregulated, which means that products can vary wildly from manufacturer to manufacturer.

“There is some data showing that CBD provides pain relief for humans but more robust clinical trials are needed,” said  Dr. Gabriella Gobbi, who led the new research published in The Journal of the International Association for the Study of Pain.

“Our findings elucidate the mechanism of action of CBD and show that it can be used as medicine without the dangerous side effects of the THC,” she added. “This research is a new advancement for an evidence-based application of cannabis in medicine.”

Cannabis oil improves Crohn’s disease symptoms

A new study found that cannabis oil significantly improves Crohn’s disease symptoms. Surprisingly, the effect doesn’t seem to be due to cannabis’ anti-inflammatory properties.

Credit: Pixabay.

Anecdotal reports suggested to Dr. Timna Naftali, a gastroenterologist and a professor at Tel Aviv University,  that cannabis seems to help people with Crohn’s disease. Naftali thought that the effect may be related to cannabinoid action that reduces inflammation in the gut, so she and colleagues set out to investigate this connection.

[panel style=”panel-success” title=”What is Crohn’s disease? ” footer=””]Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) characterized by inflammation of the digestive, or gastrointestinal (GI) tract. In fact, Crohn’s can affect any part of the GI tract, from the mouth to the anus, but it is more commonly found at the end of the small intestine (the ileum) where it joins the beginning of the large intestine (or colon).

It’s important to note that one shouldn’t confuse an IBD disease, such as Crohn’s, with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is a different type of disorder that affects the muscle contractions of the bowel. IBS is not characterized by intestinal inflammation, nor is it a chronic disease. [/panel]

The Israeli researchers performed a randomized, placebo-controlled study involving 50 participants with severe forms of the disease. Each participant was given a dose of cannabis oil containing a 4:1 CBD to THC ratio.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the dozens of cannabinoid compounds found in the cannabis plant. CBD interacts with the receptors of the endocannabinoid system, predominantly the CB1 and CB2 receptors that are found mainly in the brain and immune cells. Delta9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the active substance found in marijuana, which is responsible for its psychoactive effect. Unlike THC, CBD is not only non-psychoactive, but it actually blocks the high one typically experiences when ingesting cannabis.

The researchers found that 65% of the participants who were given CBD products entered clinical remission. This group also reported significant improvements in their quality of life. Only 35% of the placebo group met remission criteria at the end of the study.


In 2011, Naftali performed a small observational study involving 30 Crohn’s disease patients in Israel, which found that those who smoked 1-3 joints daily reported a positive effect on their disease severity. Patients don’t actually have to smoke to get the benefits, however. As the new study shows, ingesting oil can be just as effective and today there are a lot of options on the market, although choosing the best CBD oil can be challenging.

But despite the symptomatic improvements, the researchers found that the CBD oil didn’t have any effect on the gut inflammation that is responsible for the disease — surprising, as cannabis is known to have anti-inflammatory properties. Perhaps cannabinoids interact with a person’s biology in such a way that it treats Crohn’s disease symptoms without actually interfering with inflammation.

“We have previously demonstrated that cannabis can produce measurable improvements in Crohn’s disease symptoms but, to our surprise, we saw no statistically significant improvements in endoscopic scores or in the inflammatory markers we measured in the cannabis oil group compared with the placebo group,” Naftali said in a statement.

“We know that cannabinoids can have profound anti-inflammatory effects but this study indicates that the improvement in symptoms may not be related to these anti-inflammatory properties,” the researcher added.

In the future, Naftali and colleagues plan to investigate cannabis’ anti-inflammatory properties on other IBDs.

“There are very good grounds to believe that the endocannabinoid system is a potential therapeutic target in Crohn’s disease and other gastrointestinal diseases,” Dr. Naftali said. “For now, however, we can only consider medicinal cannabis as an alternative or additional intervention that provides temporary symptom relief for some people with Crohn’s disease.”

The findings have not yet been peer-reviewed or published in a journal. Researchers presented their conclusions recently at the UEG Week Vienna, 2018.

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.
Credit: Public Domain.

The Science and Sourcing Behind CBD

Credit: Public Domain.

Credit: Public Domain.

CBD has been a phenomenon in the world of health and medicine recently with more studies linking this cannabinoid to several health benefits.

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.

Research has uncovered a myriad of benefits that CBD has on the mind and the body including alleviating pain, inflammation, anxiety, and seizures. It is also linked with improving sleep, mental clarity, heart health, muscle recovery, regulated blood pressure and helping to decrease the risk of developing cancer.

Clearly, there are a number of advantages that CBD brings to the table, but what’s the science behind it?

CBD and The Endocannabinoid System

CBD’s effects all come down to the body’s endocannabinoid system, which is a network of 5-HT receptors that are activated and play a role in maintaining homeostasis in the body. Homeostasis affects pain, mood, and appetite among others other factors. CBD interacts with the receptors of the endocannabinoid system, predominantly the CB1 and CB2 receptors that are found mainly in the brain and immune cells. While the body already has its own set of cannabinoids, introducing CBD to the body enhances the efficacy of the endocannabinoid system.

While CBD does not actually bind directly with these receptors, it interacts with them indirectly and modulates many non-cannabinoid receptors and ion channels. The endocannabinoid system determines how the body processes and utilizes cannabinoids.

How Does CBD Take Effect in The Body?

CBD’s therapeutic effect on the body occurs in several ways including the following:

5-HT1A Serotonin: CBD has been shown to activate 5-HT1A serotonin receptors in the body, which can help alleviate anxiety, reduce nausea and vomiting, regulate appetite and improve sleep. They’re found in the central and peripheral nervous systems and stimulate many different chemical messages, which can either produce an excitatory or inhibitory response.

TRPV1 Receptors: CBD binds to TRPV1 receptors in the endocannabinoid system, which helps to reduce pain and inflammation, and regulate body temperature.

GPR55 Protein Receptors: cannabidiol acts as an antagonist to GPR55 protein receptors. By blocking it, CBD can help to hinder bone reabsorption associated with osteoporosis and modulate blood pressure. It can also help to reduce the spread of cancerous cells throughout the body as GPR55 has been associated with the proliferation of cancer cells.

PPARs: CBD plays a role in activating PPARs, which have been associated with reducing the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease and even have anti-cancer effects. PPARs are located on the surface of the cell’s nucleus. By activating the PPAR-gamma receptor, CBD has an anti-proliferative effect on cancer cells. The activation of PPAR-gamma also diminishes amyloid-beta plaque, which is associated with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. This is why CBD can be an effective agent for Alzheimer’s patients. Further, diabetics can find much use for CBD and its activation of PPAR receptors because they regulate genes involved in insulin sensitivity.

CBD Formulas

The types of CBD formulas typically fall under one of two categories: full spectrum and isolate.

Full spectrum CBD formulas: these products include all the cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. Every cannabinoid found in the plant offers different health benefits for a wide range of ailments. CBD certainly offers plenty of health benefits on its own, but all other cannabinoids also have something to offer. Many people debate whether CBD products that contain the full spectrum of cannabinoids are more effective.

Isolate CBD formulas: these products contain CBD that has been isolated from other cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. Because of this, these formulas may not provide the same amount of relief as full spectrum formulas. That said, CBD isolates can be used to effectively treat several different ailments, and, in many cases, CBD isolate is the preferred formula type. For some, it may not always be necessary to take advantage of full spectrum CBD and sometimes, other cannabinoids can even cause negative reactions.

Both full spectrum and isolate CBD formulas have their place in the world of medicine and can provide the precise effects that users want.

CBD Oil Sources

As mentioned earlier, CBD that’s extracted from marijuana plants contains THC, while CBD that’s derived from the hemp plant contains very little to no THC. It’s the latter of the two that is legal in the US at the federal level, though this is still the topic of much debate.

Generally speaking, hemp-derived CBD formulas are more easily accessible because of their legal status. They’re also more highly favored among those who prefer not to experience the mind-altering effects of cannabis while still taking advantage of its medicinal and therapeutic effects.

Hemp-derived CBD is considered safer for certain people to take, such as children, the elderly, and even pets because of its low THC content. CBD oil that is extracted from hemp is just as potent as marijuana-derived CBD on a molecular level after it has been extracted.

Knowing exactly where the CBD comes from is very important for users, especially those who wish to avoid THC and its psychoactive effects as well as those who want to remain compliant with the law.

It’s also important to conduct some research on the manufacturers who produce CBD. Some products that are marketed as hemp-derived CBD can still contain higher levels of THC than the legal limit. There are some manufacturers who produce CBD products that contain more THC and less CBD than what they claim. Once you’re satisfied with a certain manufacturer, you might want to order bulk CBD oil in order to offset costs associated with long-term treatment. 

This is why it’s vital that consumers research the manufacturers that they’re buying their CBD oil from, read product labels and review third-party lab reports.

There is plenty of research out there to back up the efficacy of CBD on the mind and body. And as cannabis products become more widely accepted, more studies investigating CBD’s properties on human health will be carried out. Understanding how CBD works in the body and doing some research into the manufacturers who source and produce CBD products are important factors for consumers to consider before making a purchase

Image: quickmeme.com

What happens in the brain when you mix marijuana and alcohol

Image: quickmeme.com

Image: quickmeme.com

Both the effects of marijuana and alcohol have on the human brain have been widely studied, but the same thing can’t be said about the combination of the two, which is rather odd considering a lot of people enjoy a drink or two while packing a bowl. Scott Lukas, a professor at Harvard Medical School, investigated what happens in the brain while cross-faded in 2011 and came to some surprising conclusions.

First off, it’s important to note that marijuana (THC to be more specific) and alcohol are two psychoactive substances that are far from being similar to one another. THC acts upon the brain’s cannabinoid receptors, sparking intense cognitive effects like paranoia, a distorted sense of time, attention deficit and more. Alcohol, on the other hand, depresses the nervous system with significant consequences to motor skills – walking in a straight line can be the arduous quest while in the drunken haze.

So, one might think that if you smoke and drink at the same time, the two effects will combine. Neurochemistry is far more complicated than adding left and right, though. Lukas found that not only did the two effects combine, but in some instances, the effects considerably became amplified. For instance, Lukas noticed that people who smoked a joint and also drank a lot of alcohol (a couple of shots) had twice as much THC in their blood than those who didn’t drink at all. Oddly, this seems to happen only when you drink first, and then smoke.

This happens, Lukas says, because alcohol opens up blood vessels in the gastrointestinal tract helping the THC to be absorbed more efficiently.

Also, those who smoked and drank self-reported the high effects much sooner and rated their high as ‘better’. However, this works only to a point. If you drink too much before lighting the first joint, you risk getting ‘greened out’. That is, suffering from nausea, bouts of vomiting, and an intense urge to lie down.

[SEE ALSO] Energy drinks combined with alcohol makes you drink more

Oddly enough, in a second study run by Lukas and colleagues, the researchers found smoking first followed by drinking results in less alcohol in the bloodstream. THC seems to alter the motility of the gastrointestinal tract in such a way that it lowers alcohol levels.

While all this may sound pretty impressive, it’s important to note that combining alcohol and marijuana enhances not only the high but also the lows. Impaired judgment and increased heart rate – usual symptoms while high on weed – are stronger. It’s also worth being aware that marijuana has an antiemetic effect, meaning it makes it harder for the body to vomit. As you likely know, vomiting is the body’s first line of defense against severe alcohol intoxication. In extreme cases, a user might choke on the vomit and die. Combining weed and alcohol could also be potentially dangerous for people with heart problems and also increases the risk of accidents.

Bottom line: alcohol and marijuana can mix well but only if you’re very sensible about the quantities you ingest. Like anything, don’t go overboard.

cannabis

What is THC: the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana

cannabis THC

Credit: Pixabay.

Delta9-Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC for short, is the active substance found in marijuana. It is responsible for its psychoactive effects. THC binds to cannabinoid receptors found in certain areas of the brain associated with cognition, memory, pleasure, coordination and time perception, producing a euphoric high in the process.

THC is naturally found in the resin produced by glands present in Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indicaBesides THC, there are actually many other cannabinoids present in the resin, possibly more than a hundred.

What are cannabinoids

2000px-Tetrahydrocannabinol

The THC molecule. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

THC was first isolated by Israeli chemist Raphael Mecholaum in 1964. Mechlaum synthesized THC from Lebanese hashish and his groundbreaking research opened the flood gates for research on both cannabinoids and endocannabinoids.

Cannabinoids act on central nervous system by imitating endocannabinoids, molecules which occur naturally in the human body. Not all, of them, however, are nearly as potent as THC. In fact, most of them aren’t psychoactive at all. For instance, Cannabidiol  (CBD) — another cannabinoid and possibly the 2nd most famous one after THC — is not only nonpsychoactive, it actually blocks the high from THC. Many medical marijuana proponents and enthusiast claim CBD is actually responsible for the positive medical effects of marijuana but, like most things related to marijuana, the science isn’t out yet.

Other important cannabinoids worth mentioning are:

  • Cannabigerol (CBG). This is essentially the stem cell of all cannabinoids. It is the precursor to THC, CBD, CBC and the rest. CBG is nonpsychoactive but it can turn into THC and THCV, the two molecules that will get you high. According to a 2011 study, CBG is a COX-2 inhibitor which acts by the same mechanism that aspirin, ibuprofen and other NSAIDs use to combat inflammation
  • Cannabichromene (CBC). Most strains contain CBC albeit in small amounts. According to a University of Mississippi study, CBC has antidepressant-like effects. CBC is also a potent anti-inflammatory substance, according to another study. 
  • Cannabinol (CBN). This is actually oxidized THC. It won’t get you high like THC, however, it’s a very powerful sedative which shows promise against insomnia and nerve pain, according to a study. Some marijuana users who are aware of the sedative effects of CBN will intentionally leave weed buds exposed out in the open to produce more CBN and self-medicate. Don’t try this at home.
  • Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV). As the name implies, THCV is a cannabinoid very similar to THC. But although the two molecules might look the same, they’re not exactly so. Like THC, THCV is psychoactive — even more so, some claim since it produces a euphoric high that is often described as psychedelic. One huge difference between THC and THCV is that the former provokes an appetite, the famous munchies, while the latter suppresses it.

A question marijuana-curious scientists have always pondered is why cannabinoids exist in the first place. Cannabinoids are secondary metabolites, meaning they’re substances that the plant produces which have no primary purpose in its development, whether it’s reproduction, photosynthesis or growth. Nature isn’t ‘stupid’ though. Seeing how any secondary metabolites have specific negative impacts on other organisms such as herbivores and pathogens, many scientists claim these have a protective value, like a sort of immune system.  Other famous secondary metabolites include nicotine and cocaine.

THC side effects

After the THC molecule binds to cannabinoid receptors, the interaction stimulates cells in the brain to release dopamine, the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter responsible for euphoria. In doing so, THC also interferes with how information is being processed in the hippocampus, a horseshoe-shaped brain area that is responsible for the storage and retrieval of memories.

It’s worth keeping in mind that the way marijuana is taken determines the onset of effects. If smoked as a joint or inhaled through a bong or vaporizer, the effects of THC can be felt usually within a few minutes, sometimes a couple of seconds. If ingested with food, usually baked goods like brownies or muffins, the effects last longer, about 30 to 60 minutes or so.

Once the effects of marijuana set in, the user’s heart rate will jump by 20 to 50 beats/min, eye blood vessels expand lending blood-shot eyes and the bronchial passages open up. THC may also induce hallucinations, delusions, anxiety, and, in some cases, paranoia. The effects last on average about two hours but impaired motor control may persist after the high wore off.

Other short-term effects of THC include:

  • relaxation;
  • dry mouth;
  • altered perception of time;
  • hunger/munchies;
  • energy but also drowsiness;
  • memory impairment;
  • sedation/pain relief;

It’s important to note that the short-term effects of THC vary wildly from strain to strain according to potency. Because little research has been done on pure form THC, many of the supposed effects may be due to other cannabinoids. Terpenes, which are compounds that produce flavor and fragrance in plants, may also be involved. Effects will also vary from person to person according to body chemistry and mood. For instance, some people will become very anxious after ingesting THC while others will feel more relaxed or elated.

THC: from reefer madness to a drug beloved by many

Still from the movie Reefer Madness.

Still from the movie Reefer Madness.

Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug used around the world, though many states and nations have legalized or are in the process of doing so in the past decade. Since the first statewide medical marijuana laws went into effect in California in 1996, the number of Americans with legal access to the drug has steadily grown. Twenty states and the District of Columbia now permit the sale of various forms of marijuana for medical purposes.

The speed with which Americans are now considering legalizing marijuana has taken everyone by surprise considering its history of prohibition.

The first attempt at federal regulation of marijuana came in 1906, with the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act. According to the act, companies were required to clearly label certain substances, including cannabis, on their medicine so customers can avoid it. Then, between 1914 and 1925, after an extremely unsuccessful attempt at prohibiting alcohol, temperance campaigners turned to opiates, cocaine, and marijuana. During this time,  twenty-six states passed laws prohibiting the plant with little debate and virtually no resistance from behalf of the public. That’s not all that surprising considering smoking cannabis was largely a habit of immigrants and the lower class back then.

Journalists, politicians, police, and the middle-class were not at all familiar with cannabis and this fact was exploited by some groups who were bent on turning the drug into a vessel of everyone’s greatest fears: addicting, personality-destroying, violence-causing.

“How many murders, suicides, robberies, criminal assaults, holdups, burglaries and deeds of maniacal insanity it causes each year can only be conjectured,” wrote Harry J. Anslinger in a 1937 article in American Magazine titled “Marijuana, Assassin of Youth.” Aslinger was a former assistant commissioner of the Prohibition Bureau who headed the U.S. Treasury Department’s Narcotics Bureau from 1930 to 1962 and one of the most vocal marijuana prohibitionists. In the same year, the Marijuana Tax Act, which regulated the drug by requiring dealers to pay a transfer tax, passed in the House. The rule effectively banned marijuana use and sales. Also in 1937, the now famous propaganda scare movie Reefer Madness appeared.

Steadily but surely, marijuana was demonized in the eyes of the public by journalists and politicians who had no patience for distinction among narcotics. Heroin, cocaine, and marijuana were all ‘dope’. In the 1970s, the Marijuana Tax Act was replaced with the Controlled Substances Act which established Schedules for ranking substances according to their dangerousness and potential for addiction. Cannabis was placed in the most restrictive category, Schedule I, supposedly as a place holder while then President Nixon commissioned a report to give a final recommendation. Alas, it has remained a Schedule I drug ever since despite a 5000-year history as a therapeutic agent across many cultures.

THC medical risks

Teenagers who use THC run at risk of affecting their brain development. Heavy marijuana users can trigger anatomical changes in the brain that affects memory among other things. Credit: Pixabay.

Teenagers who use THC run at risk of affecting their brain development. Heavy marijuana users can trigger anatomical changes in the brain that affects memory among other things. Credit: Pixabay.

Today, laws and public tolerance for the drug are moving in the direction of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, before the first attempts at federal regulation. At the same time, there are many things about the science of marijuana that are as unclear as they were a century ago.

For one, marijuana does not make the youth homicidal or hell-bent on raping innocent school girls. That’s something everyone is fortunately (or hopefully) aware is not true.

However, there seems to be a reverse wave of positive propaganda in favor of marijuana. Social media abounds with claims of marijuana being a miracle medicine for anything from a bad toothache to, of course, cancer.

The truth is, we know very little because marijuana in the United States is still illegal at the federal level so any researcher has to go through numerous loopholes, including the DEA, to get the plant for study. Remarkably, even though pot is used by millions of Americans and you can find it almost everywhere to buy off the book, there is only one single supplier of marijuana in the United States for research purposes, the University of Mississippi. As such, progress is very slow but there are still some things we know about the risks of THC.

Because THC impairs motor control, users shouldn’t drive. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, cannabis is the second-most common psychoactive substance found in drivers’ blood after alcohol.

According to a study which followed 1,037 New Zealanders from birth to middle age, marijuana doesn’t seem to cause physical health problems, with one notable exception: the gums. Results suggest those who used marijuana over the last 20 years showed an increase of periodontal disease compared to those who didn’t, starting from age 26. Marijuana smokers did not differ from non-users on any other health measure.

There are some consequences for cognition and brain health related to smoking marijuana, however. Teenagers and youngsters who smoked marijuana daily (or several times a week) for three years or more performed poorly on memory tasks and showed abnormal changes in their brain structure, according to a Northwestern Medicine study.

According to researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse in Bethesda, marijuana users who have abused the drug (who had smoked a median of about five joints a day, 5 days a week, for 10 years) showed damage in the brain’s pleasure center.  Some marijuana abusers also seem to react to anxiety-inducing stimuli similarly to people diagnosed with anxiety disorders. And one University of Warwick study found a link between cannabis use and an increased occurrence of mania symptoms or manic episodes.

A 2016 study followed the effects of highly potent strains with high Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol content. It found heavy users showed anatomical alterations in a region of the brain called the corpus callosum, which connects the two cerebral hemispheres. The study set out to investigate whether there was any association between heavy use of potent strains and the onset of psychosis. No such association was found.

Smoking marijuana can also cause bronchitis which can be avoided by using alternative ingesting methods like edibles or vaping.

study from March 2016 found a link between poorer verbal cognitive function and consistent cannabis use. For every five years of cannabis use, participants couldn’t remember a word for a 15-word list. The sample size was rather small so the findings might be rather inconclusive.

There is no evidence that suggests using cannabis can cause cancer. That being said, smoking anything, whether it’s tobacco, marijuana or broccoli is bad for your health and should be avoided as much as possible.

THC medical benefits

Many people swear that cannabis oil can treat and even cure cancer but there is no scientific evidence that this is so yet. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Many people swear that cannabis oil can treat and even cure cancer but there is no scientific evidence that this is so yet. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

According to Dr. Sanjay Gupta, only 6% of marijuana research studies the benefits out of nearly 20,000 recent papers (post 1930’s/1940’s). As such, research into the medical benefits of marijuana is still rather in an early stage with much to learn about both the good and bad things to come out of long-term use.

“It doesn’t have a high potential for abuse, and there are very legitimate medical applications. In fact, sometimes marijuana is the only thing that works,” he wrote. “We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that.” (Gupta is a converted pro-marijuana physician)

In 2014, a study showed that inhaled cannabis can significantly mitigate Parkinson’s symptoms, and another one also showed some promise in easing pain and fighting depression.

Scientists at the Salk Institute labs in San Diego have published preliminary evidence that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other compounds found in cannabis can remove amyloid beta, the toxic protein most commonly associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers from the same Salk Institute found evidence that cannabinoids might be neuroprotective against the symptoms of Alzheimer’s but their study only involves neurons grown in a dish in the lab.

Researchers from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).found that people with PTSD had lower levels of anandamide, an endogenous cannabinoid compound, compared to those who did not show signs of PTSD.

In 2015, Dalhousie University researchers found marijuana relieves pain and repairs arthritic joints thanks to the pain-detecting nerves that are filled with cannabinoid receptors. According to the researchers, the cannabinoids control the pain signal that fires from the joint to the brain. Elsewhere, British researchers at the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Disease concluded cannabinoids provide a statistically significant improvement in pain at movement and rest but also improves the quality of sleep.

THC and CBD-based medications seem to have an effect in treating various afflictions associated with multiple sclerosis like muscle spasms, inflammation, gastrointestinal issues, mood issues, and pain.

Yale University researchers found cannabis causes the brain to produce a different set of chemicals that transform the feeling of fullness into a hunger that is never quite satisfied. Intriguingly, people who smoke cannabis regularly do not tend to gain weight – if anything they are less likely to be obese. This property makes cannabis appealing for those suffering from various illness that affects appetite.

Dr. Mark Ware, Associate Professor in Family Medicine and Anesthesia at McGill University, conducted the first ever long term study on the effects of medical cannabis; he studied 216 individuals with chronic pain and 215 controls (chronic pain but no current cannabis use) from seven clinics across Canada. They found the reduction in pain from using 2.5g herbal cannabis per day was statistically significant but lower than expected.

Concerning the therapeutic properties of THC and other cannabinoids against cancer, anecdotal evidence abounds but the science itself is far more debatable.Researchers first began studying the anti-cancer properties of cannabinoids back in the 1970s, and many hundreds of scientific papers looking at cannabinoids and cancer have been published since then, according to Cancer Research UK. The problem is virtually all of them have been done using cancer cells grown in the lab or animal models, and a lot of times such findings can’t be translated to humans. Moreover, some studies suggest that although high doses of THC can kill cancer cells, they also harm crucial blood vessel cells. Cancer cells can develop resistance to cannabinoids and start growing again.

According to Cancer.gov, “the only published trial of any cannabinoid in patients with cancer is a single, small study of intratumoral injection of delta-9-THC in patients with recurrent glioblastoma multiforme, which demonstrated no significant clinical benefit.” All eight patients involved in the clinical trial died within a year. But because the trial showed some response,  cannabinoids are worth pursuing in clinical trials. Hopefully, we might learn more.

Dronabinol and Nabilone/Cesamet, two synthetic pill forms of THC, are FDA-approved and currently being used to treat nausea and vomiting associated with chemo.

 

 

Low doses of THC can relieve stress, while high doses to the opposite

When it comes to marijuana’s medical potential, the ongoing debate is still pretty heated. Take stress and anxiety for example — studies have shown both positive and negative effects associated with consumption, and at the moment, it’s still unclear how much good it can do (despite anecdotal evidence and despite what your friends might tell you). Now, a new study found that it’s all about the quantity: lower quantities do help, but higher quantities do more harm than good. Emma Childs, one of the study authors, explains:

“We found that THC at low doses reduced stress, while higher doses had the opposite effect, underscoring the importance of dose when it comes to THC and its effects.”

white widow thc stress

A hybrid Cannabis strain (White Widow)which contains one of the highest amounts of cannabidiol. Image credits: Lenny Montana.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the active psychoactive constituent of cannabis. Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Chicago wanted to better understand the practical effects of THC in regards to stress. They recruited 42 healthy volunteers 18 to 40 years old with some cannabis consumption experience, but who were not daily users. They then divided them into three groups,:

  • a low-dose group, which got 7.5 milligrams of THC,
  • a high-dose group, which got 12.5 milligrams of THC,
  • and a placebo group, which got empty tablets.

These are very low doses, because researchers didn’t want to subject the volunteers to the unhealthy effects of THC. The doses were administered through pills, not through smoking.

“The doses used in the study produce effects that are equivalent to only a few puffs of a cannabis cigarette,” said Childs, noting that it is difficult to compare doses of smoked cannabis to doses of ingested THC. “We didn’t want to include a much larger dose, because we wanted to avoid potential adverse effects or cardiovascular effects that can result from higher doses of THC.”

There were two study sessions, five days apart, each lasting four hours. First, after taking the THC pill, participants were told to relax and let the substance to enter the bloodstream. Then, they were asked to spend 10 minutes preparing for a mock interview. The five minute interview offered no feedback whatsoever to the participants, and during it, they were asked to carry out relatively simple but stress-inducing tasks, such as counting backwards from a five-digit number by subtracting 13. During the second session, after the two hour relaxation period, they were simply asked to talk about their favorite book or movie, and then play solitaire for five minutes.

Before, after, and throughout both tasks, key stress indicators (blood pressure, heart rate, cortisol) were measured. Self-assessment forms were also handed to the participants.

Researchers learned that participants who were on the low-dose group were significantly less stressed throughout the tasks than the placebo group, whereas the high-dose group exhibited a completely opposite trend. These latter participants were more likely to label the tasks as “challenging” and “threatening” and required more pauses during the mock interview.

“Our findings provide some support for the common claim that cannabis is used to reduce stress and relieve tension and anxiety,” Childs said. “At the same time, our finding that participants in the higher THC group reported small but significant increases in anxiety and negative mood throughout the test supports the idea that THC can also produce the opposite effect.”

THC stress

High doses of THC were associated with higher stress. Image via Pixabay.

Still, the study should be taken with a grain of salt, as 42 participants is not that big of a sample size. Researchers would like to carry out similar studies with a wider range of subjects, but the problem is that cannabis studies are notoriously difficult to carry out, due to laws and regulations.

Considering that the low dose is equivalent to a slight buzz, and the high dose to a mild high, and also considering how widespread cannabis consumption is across the world, the need to study these effects becomes more and more evident. Hopefully, regulators will also understand this.

“Studies like these — examining the effects of cannabis and its pharmacological constituents under controlled conditions — are extremely important, considering the widespread use of cannabis for both medical and non-medical purposes,” she said. “Unfortunately, significant regulatory obstacles make it extremely difficult to conduct this type of research — with the result that cannabis is now widely available for medical purposes with minimal scientific foundation.”

Journal Reference: Emma Childs, Joseph A. Lutz, Harriet de Wit –: Dose-related effects of delta-9-THC on emotional responses to acute psychosocial stress. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2017.03.030

CBD oil seems to reduce the frequency of seizures in children suffering from a rare form of epilepsy. Credit: Phyto.

CBD oil made from cannabis cuts rare epileptic seizures in half

CBD oil seems to reduce the frequency of seizures in children suffering from a rare form of epilepsy. Credit: Phyto.

CBD oil seems to reduce the frequency of seizures in children suffering from a rare form of epilepsy. Credit: Phyto.

Scientists gave children with a severe form of epilepsy a non-psychoactive form of medical cannabis and found the number of seizures dropped. What’s more, some of the children don’t have any seizures at all now. This is the first time scientists document a form of medical cannabis treating severe epilepsy despite the numerous anecdotal evidence presented on the TV or the internet.

43% of epileptic children had a 50% reduction in seizure frequency with cannabidiol (CBD)

For their study, the team of researchers enlisted 120 children and young adults across the US and Europe who are suffering from Dravet syndrome. This is a genetic dysfunction of the brain that begins in the first year of life with frequent and/or prolonged seizures. Current treatment options are limited, and the constant care required for someone suffering from Dravet syndrome can severely impact the patient’s and the family’s quality of life. The mortality rate is also very high, up to 20%. It’s an incredibly devasting disease with no cure in sight.

During the course of the randomised, double-blind and placebo-controlled trial, the researchers measured seizure frequency over a 14-week treatment period with cannabidiol or CBD, as it’s also known. Cannabidiol is one of at least 113 active cannabinoids identified in cannabis. CBD is the second most abundant compound in hemp, typically representing up to 40% of its extracts. Because CBD is an extract, it doesn’t contain THC which is the intoxicating and (in most parts of the world) illegal substance that is responsible for causing marijuana users to get “high”. But both CBD and THC interact with cells within our bodies by activating the cannabinoid receptors which transmit signals within our bodies, causing different physiological effects.

At the end of the trial, the frequency of convulsive seizures per month decreased considerably from 12.4 to 5.9 for the children who were given CBD compared to an insignificant 14.8 to 14.1 among the placebo control group. Overall 43 percent of children with the syndrome had a 50 percent reduction in seizure frequency with cannabidiol. Even more remarkably, 5 percent of the participants report seizures had stopped altogether.

“This is a major scientific breakthrough”, said  Professor Ingrid Scheffer from the University of Melbourne in a statement.

“If you can render any child or adult seizure free, that’s huge. It could contribute to stopping any further deterioration, or help development in a positive sense.”

For 1 in 20 children, the seizures stopped altogether

The participants also reported feeling better overall. When the children’s caregivers were asked to fill in the Global Impression of Change questionnaire — a scale which rates change in a patient — the patient’s overall condition improved by at least one category in 62 percent of the cannabidiol group, compared with only 34 percent of the placebo group.

If you use social media and you’re a Millennial, chances have it you’ve already seen various videos and memes of unidentified people who had their epilepsy seizures reduced by smoking cannabis or ingesting CBD oil. Some of these videos may be true nevertheless this is the first time science has proven this may be true.

“It’s the first scientific evidence that cannabidiol works. There have been anecdotal reports in the past, and people with firm beliefs that it works in epilepsy, but this is the first time it’s been proven,” Scheffer said.

While the results are very promising, the researchers caution that CBD isn’t a cure for this dreadful disease. Even so, for the estimated 1 percent of the population that has epilepsy or 65 million people globally, CBD could drastically change their lives for the better. Dravet syndrome is a rare condition though affecting around 1 in 16,000 people, so the next challenge will be investing whether or not the finding translate to other forms of epilepsy.

“But it does give cause to be optimistic about further research for its use. It also raises a lot of questions, not just in terms of the treatment of epilepsy, but where else it could be applied medicinally,” Professor Scheffer said.

“Cannabidiol is likely to be an important addition to our group of anti-epileptic tools,” he concluded.

The findings appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Is secondhand marijuana smoke as damaging as tobacco smoke?

With the increased acceptance and legalization of marijuana in many parts of the world, studies are now trying to determine its effects on health. Although many think of marijuana smoke as less harmful than tobacco smoke, a new study suggests that secondhand smoke poses dangers to our cardiovascular system whether it stems from marijuana or tobacco.

Image credit Pixabay

Image credit Pixabay

The study found that in laboratory rats exposed to secondhand smoke from a marijuana cigarette, blood vessels had difficulty widening, much like the vessels in rats who were exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke.

“While the effect is temporary for both cigarette and marijuana smoke, these temporary problems can turn into long-term problems if exposures occur often enough and may increase the chances of developing hardened and clogged arteries,” said Matthew Springer, professor of medicine at the University of California and senior author of the study.

In addition, the data revealed that rats exposed to marijuana smoke for one minute took 90 minutes to recover fully, approximately three times as long as rats that were exposed to tobacco smoke. However, when the researchers removed tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) from the marijuana cigarettes, the blood vessel disruption was still observed, suggesting that it is the burning smoke rather than the active components of marijuana responsible for the narrowing of the rats’ blood vessels.

As of now, long-term studies on the effects of marijuana on cardiovascular function are limited, especially when it comes to secondhand smoke. There is even some evidence that although inhaling marijuana poses immediate and temporary cardiovascular risks, its modulation of the endocannabinoid system can actually slow down the development of atherosclerosis. Additional long-term research will need to be conducted to get a final answer on the exact negative effects of marijuana smoke.

“There is widespread belief that, unlike tobacco smoke, marijuana smoke is benign,” Springer said. “We in public health have been telling the public to avoid secondhand tobacco smoke for years, but we don’t tell them to avoid secondhand marijuana smoke, because until now we haven’t had evidence that it can be harmful.”

“Increasing legalization of marijuana makes it more important than ever to understand the consequences of exposure to secondhand marijuana smoke,” the team concluded. “It is important that the public, medical personnel, and policymakers understand that exposure to secondhand marijuana smoke is not necessarily harmless.”

Journal Reference: One Minute of Marijuana Secondhand Smoke Exposure Substantially Impairs Vascular Endothelial Function. 27 July 2016. 10.1161/JAHA.116.003858

Scientists engineer yeast that creates active marijuana compound, THC

Scientists have genetically modified yeast to produce the main psychoactive substance in marijuana, THC. Responsible for most of weed’s effects (including the high), THC can also be used for medical purposes, to treat symptoms of HIV infection and chemotherapy.

Image: Brett Levin/Flickr

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), or to be more precise, its main isomer (−)-trans-Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol is the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis. In April 2014 the American Academy of Neurology published a systematic review of the efficacy and safety of medical marijuana and marijuana-derived products in certain neurological disorders, identifying 34 studies that meet the necessary criteria and that document its potential medical uses.

“This is something that could literally change the lives of millions of people,” Kevin Chen from Hyasynth Bio, a US-based company that’s been engineering yeasts to produce both THC and cannabidiol – another active compound that has shown promise as a medical treatment – said in a statement.

Researchers from the Technical University of Dortmund in Germany published their results in the journal Biotechnology LettersThey looked into which genes of the marijuana plant produce THC, and then engineered those genes into yeast, which now creates THC itself.

The goal here isn’t just to create THC – because you know, marijuana is doing a pretty good job at that – but to find a better way to create THC in countries where the growth of marijuana is illegal even for research purposes. Synthetic versions of the substance are currently available, but the goal of the German researchers was to find a more efficient and cheaper way of producing it. Yasmin Hurd, a professor of neuroscience and psychiatry at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, told Tech Insider that using all the compounds in marijuana simultaneously is like “throwing 400 tablets in a cocktail and saying ‘take this,'” rather than figuring out which component of that cocktail is really beneficial for the specific disease. We need to somehow figure out what compounds have medical potential. Hopefully, this yeast will help.

Despite the recent surge in the news about cannabis’ medical properties, there is a limited evidence that it is actually effective against the conditions it is currently prescribed for. Researchers are currently trying to delimitate its actual benefits from wishful thinking.

Journal Reference: Bastian Zirpel, Felix Stehle , Oliver Kayser – Production of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid from cannabigerolic acid by whole cells of Pichia (Komagataella) pastoris expressing Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid synthase from Cannabis sativa l. Biotechnology Letters

Today’s marijuana is more potent than it used to be, study finds

With the increasing attention marijuana has been receiving lately, especially with the legalization in states like Colorado and Washington, it’s high time (heh) someone took a look at how pot has actually changed along the years . Now, a study conducted by Charas Scientific, one of a handful of labs certified to test the potency of marijuana in Colorado, we know that weed today is much stronger than it used to be.

“We’ve seen a big increase in marijuana potency compared to where it was 20 or 30 years ago,” lab founder and director of research Andy LaFrate, Ph.D., said in a video released by ACS. Based on testing in laboratory equipment, “I would say the average potency of marijuana has probably increased by a factor of at least three. We’re looking at average potencies right now of around 20 percent THC.”

A hybrid Cannabis strain (White Widow) flower coated with trichomes, which contain more THC than any other part of the plant. Image via Wikipedia.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main  psychoactive constituent (or cannabinoid) of cannabis. First isolated in 1964 THC potentially has numerous medical applications, but also seems to pose health hazards (at least with heavy consumption). It’s not clear how the increase in potency affects the medical potential or health hazards. Higher concentrations of THC can have unpredicted results, for better or for worse. The increase is significant.

“As far as potency goes, it’s been surprising how strong a lot of the marijuana is,” LaFrate said of the samples his lab has tested in recent months. “We’ve seen potency values close to 30 percent THC, which is huge.”

According to the institute, the potency of marijuana has been steadily growing for the past few decades. They said that as of 2012, marijuana confiscated by police agencies nationwide had an average THC concentration of about 15 percent, up from about 4 percent in the 1980s.

THC concentrations were likely manipulated by growers through cross breeding. The process of cross-breeding may also be responsible for another change in the makeup of some of the marijuana tested by Charas Scientific – the reduction of cannabidiol. Many samples turned out to contain little or no cannabidiol, or CBD, the compound responsible for most medical uses.

Another startling find was the discovery of contaminants in numerous samples – both biological and chemical.

“It’s pretty startling just how dirty a lot of this stuff is,” LaFrate said. Some plants turned out to be harboring fungi or bacteria. “It’s a natural product,” he said. “There’s going to be microbial growth on it no matter what you do. So the questions become: What’s a safe threshold? And which contaminants do we need to be concerned about?”

Previous testing at another Colorado lab, reported by CBS News last year, found mold, mildew, E. coli and salmonella in some marijuana.

Scientists explain the munchies: it’s all about smell

It’s one of the most known effects of marijuana – you get a powerful surge in appetite (especially a craving for sweets) after smoking (or inhaling or ingesting the drug) – something colloquially referred to as “the munchies”.

While for casual users this is a minor and not troubling side effect (often times even enjoyable), for medicinal users who use it to complement chemotherapy, it’s a very big advantage, as the therapy causes a lack of appetite. But for years, scientists have struggled to understand how marijuana’s active ingredient—tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC—stimulates appetite. Now, they have finally been successful.

A new study published today in Nature Neuroscience showed that, in mice, THC fits into receptors in the brain’s olfactory bulb, significantly increasing the animals’ ability to smell food and leading them to eat more of it. Basically, it increases appetite by increasing the smell receptors for food – you simply smell and taste the food more accurately. Because scent and taste are so closely related, it likely allows us to better taste flavors as well.

They confirmed this in experiments – when they engineered mice without cannabinoid receptors in their olfactory bulbs, the THC had no effect.

Interestingly enough, this is probably connected to how the plant started producing THC in the first place: it’s a defense mechanism against herbivores, so that after eating it, the animals feel disoriented and avoid it in the future, but they do feel hungry and instead focus on other plants.

It’s quite likely that what happens in mice happens in humans as well. Previous research has found that the drug also acts on receptors in a region of the brain called the nucleus accumbens, increasing the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine—and the sensation of pleasure—that comes as a result of eating while high.

Via Smithsonian.

Edit: The research was carried out by a team led by Giovanni Marsicano of the University of Bordeaux

Journal Reference: The endocannabinoid system controls food intake via olfactory processes. Nature Neuroscience
(2014).  doi:10.1038/nn.3647

Study shows non-hallucinogenic cannabinoids can work as effective anti-cancer drugs

What tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active hallucinogen in marijuana can do in several diseases has been researched for decades, but now, a new study has shown that the non-hallucinogenic components of cannabis act as effective anti-cancer agents.

cannabinoid

The team from St George’s University of London was led by Dr Wai Liu; they used a number of cannabinoids to test their efficiency against leukaemia alone or in combination with each other. Out of the 6 cannabinoids tested, each demonstrated anti-cancer properties just as effective as those seen in THC, and even more important, they were much more effective against cancer cells when used in combination with each other.

“This study is a critical step in unpicking the mysteries of cannabis as a source of medicine. The cannabinoids examined have minimal, if any, hallucinogenic side effects, and their properties as anti-cancer agents are promising., said Dr. Liu.”

“These agents are able to interfere with the development of cancerous cells, stopping them in their tracks and preventing them from growing. In some cases, by using specific dosage patterns, they can destroy cancer cells on their own. Used in combination with existing treatment, we could discover some highly effective strategies for tackling cancer. Significantly, these compounds are inexpensive to produce and making better use of their unique properties could result in much more cost effective anti-cancer drugs in future.”

How it works

Many people will go out and say that this is just one of those studies which finds out way to kill cancer cells in a Petri dish but has no promise in real life – that’s not the case. This type of research has already shown it can shrink or even eliminate tumors in living mice, so we’re dealing with something which has a real potential to fight against cancer.

Here’s a simple explanation of how cannabinoids work on the human body: we have 2 cannabinoid (CB) receptors. CB1, the first receptors, are in the brain, and they make you high when activated. CB2 on the other hand are expressed in bodily tissues, and overly expressed in cancer cells and they are responsible for the secondary effects of cannabis. THC (the main constituent of marijuana) activates both; however, researchers have shown that that chemicals can be used to activate the CB2 receptor by itself. In general, when CB2 receptors are activated on cancerous cells, an anti-proliferative effect is observed. Also, cancer cell death is achieved, while leaving healthy cells untouched.

cb1 cb2

However, what has to be said is that in vitro alterations on growth/viability are not very unique – there are quite possibly thousands of compounds (most of which are natural, found in plants) which could have a similar effect. In vitro studies basically show that the compound has some promise and that it should be further researched. Furthermore, I’m all for using THC or other cannabinoids (for medical purposes or pleasure), but you shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking that THC is a panacea of some sort.

Scientific Reference.

marijuana_Addiction

Marijuana addiction and abuse treatment shows promising results

While there’s a lot of talk and debate around medicinal marijuana, dispensed for its curative properties against cancer and other ailments, not much is discussed on how marijuana addiction can be treated. Marijuana abuse has always been used by governments as a wild card for keeping it illegal, although the actual extent of it has never been fully assessed mostly because marijuana research is not being backed-up properly. What’s certain is that marijuana addiction is real, both psychological and physical, granted it’s been dramatized beyond its true extent (remember reefer madness). Psychiatrist at University of Maryland, in College Park believe they may have developed an effective treatment against marijuana abuse, after they tested their compound on addicted rats and monkeys with promising results.

marijuana_AddictionKynurenic acid is a naturally occurring chemical compound in the brain, which works by blocking dopamine receptors in key areas of the brain related to marijuana consumption. THC, the active psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, when presented in the brain stimulates the release of dopamine – the feel good neurotransmitor that’s often associated with the high sensation. Dopamine is a reward signal which can be triggered by anything from eating junk food, to joyful experiences, to sex, to drugs.

“Any drug of abuse has to do with dopamine,” said study researcher Robert Schwarcz, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland, in College Park. “We found out few years ago that kynurenic acid controls dopamine. All we had to do was put those things together,” Schwarcz said.”

Dopamine receptors are activated by THC in a specific area of the brain called the ventral tegmental area (VTA), stimulating the release of the brain chemical and consequent feel good rush. Other marijuana abuse treatments concentrated on blocking or inhibiting dopamine receptors in the VTA area, however the drugs caused certain unwanted side effects.

Kynurenic acid —  which is produced by the breakdown of a chemical found in bananas and turkey, called tryptophan — naturally inhibits dopamine receptors and as such the researchers believe a drug based on this compound will have fewer side effects. For their trials, the researchers turned rats and monkeys addicted to THC.  The animals were then placed in a chamber where they would self-administer THC. No, there weren’t any joints or bowls lighten by the animals. Instead, the rats and squirrel monkeys had a level from where they could procure their synthetic THC at will.

After the animals had their kynurenic acid levels boosted, scientists found that these would push the THC lever less often. In another experiment, the researchers took the animals off of the THC or synthetic drug for a while, and then increased their kynurenic acid levels while giving them a small dose of THC, or a cue associated with taking the drug. They found this prevented the animals from going back to their passed habits. If also applicable in humans, this means that kynurenic acid might help a lot of people from relapsing – a huge problem whenever substance abuse is concerned. What’s interesting is that kynurenic acid may be used to target other parts of the brain that work with other drugs, so in theory at least you could develop treatments for other substances as well: alcohol, cocaine, meth and so on.

Still, the researchers have to go through human clinical trial first. Hopefully, their results may be replicated in human subjects as well.

Findings were reported in the journal Nature Neuroscience.