Tag Archives: weed

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.

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.

Traffic sign.

Cannabis legalization increases traffic fatalities — but mostly in neighboring, un-legalized states

New research from the Monash University looks at the effect cannabis legalization has on traffic fatalities.

Traffic sign.

Image via Pixabay.

Three US states have legalized recreational cannabis sales (RCS) so far: Colorado and Washington in 2015, followed by Oregon in 2015. But does the ol’ herb impact traffic fatalities? New research from the Monash University says yes — especially in areas bordering these states.

Cannabis tourism

“The effect of cannabis legalisation on traffic fatalities is a growing public health concern,” says Dr. Tyler Lane, lead author of the study.

“The results suggest that legalising the sale of cannabis for recreational use can lead to a temporary increase in traffic fatalities in legalising states. This spills over into neighbouring jurisdictions through cross-border sales, trafficking, or cannabis tourists driving back to their state of residence while impaired.”

The team calculated a baseline number of deaths resulted from traffic accidents in the three states and nine neighboring jurisdictions — Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, British Columbia, Oregon, California, and Nevada — prior to legalization.

They compared this with figures of traffic fatalities recorded after legalization to get the number of additional deaths per month compared to states that had not changed cannabis laws. Traffic fatalities increased only temporarily, they report — this increase lasted for about one year following legalization. The study area sums up a population of roughly 27 million people, and saw an additional 170 deaths in the first six months following legalization, the team reports.

However, the team was also surprised to find that neighboring states and provinces saw a slightly larger increase in fatalities than the studied areas. This effect was more pronounced in population centers closest to the border of a legalizing state. The team believes this comes down to cannabis users driving interstate to make purchases before returning under the influence.

This ‘cannabis tourism’ has important implications for both legalizing states and their neighbors, the team explains. Furthermore, the results may be applicable elsewhere, too, as prohibitions against cannabis are lifted.

“Our findings suggest that policymakers should consult with neighbouring jurisdictions when liberalising cannabis policy to mitigate any deleterious effects,” says Dr. Lane.

She adds that these results stand in contrast to research on medicinal cannabis, which suggests it decreases traffic fatalities. One reason for the difference may be that medicinal users tend to substitute cannabis for other substances, including alcohol, which have a greater effect on impairment. Recreational users are less likely to substitute and more likely to combine alcohol and cannabis, which has a much bigger effect than either in isolation.

The paper “Traffic fatalities within US states that have legalized recreational cannabis sales and their neighbours” has been published in the journal Addiction.

Marijuana legalization helps decrease opioid consumption, research shows

Every day, 90 Americans die from opioid overdoses, according to existing research. Two new studies published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine now show that in states where marijuana is legal, opioid prescriptions decreased significantly.

Image credits Flickr / Jeffrey Beall.

Researchers have analyzed prescription data from Medicare Part D and Medicaid from the past five years and discovered that opioid prescriptions and the average daily dose of opioids patients took were significantly lower in areas where marijuana is legal.

“In this time when we are so concerned — rightly so — about opiate misuse and abuse and the mortality that’s occurring, we need to be clear-eyed and use evidence to drive our policies,” said W. David Bradford, an economist at the University of Georgia and an author of one of the studies.

“If you’re interested in giving people options for pain management that don’t bring the particular risks that opiates do, states should contemplate turning on dispensary-based cannabis policies.”

Previous research suggests the same. A 2014 paper discovered that in states where cannabis use is legal for medical purposes, nearly 25 percent fewer deaths from opioid overdoses occurred.

One of the studies revealed that Medicare patients filled 14% fewer opioid prescriptions after medical cannabis use became legal. The other study, which monitored Medicaid opioid prescriptions, found that participants filled nearly 40 fewer opioid prescriptions per 1,000 people (4%) each year after their state passed laws that made cannabis accessible — states that legalized both medical and recreational marijuana showed greater falls in opioid prescriptions.

With the arrival of fentanyl on the black market, doctors fear we’ll see even more cases opioid overdose. This powerful opioid is up to 100 times more potent than morphine. Due to its powerful effect, fentanyl doses are very small, which is actually a problem. Overdoses usually occur when miscalculating the amount of drug administered, and it’s easier to go wrong with smaller doses. When fentanyl became a go-to drug for dealers, opioid deaths immediately spiked due to its high potency at low doses. Basically, people did not know that surpassing the dosage with only a few micrograms might be fatal.

So, the findings seem positive from a public health point of view. Marijuana is generally perceived as ‘safe’, and according to The National Center for Biotechnology Information, there is insufficient evidence to support or refute a statistical association between cannabis use and death due to cannabis overdose — in other words, there’s not enough data to say that cannabis use can or cannot be fatal, which, relative to fentanyl, makes it super-duper safe.

One recent paper even suggested that opioids didn’t provide any more relief for chronic arthritis pain than over-the-counter painkillers.

The studies also discovered differences in decline in opioid prescription between the states that legalized medical marijuana: states with dispensaries open for business saw the greatest decrease in opioid prescriptions, while states without active dispensaries saw a far less dramatic decline — about 14% and 7%, respectively

Bradford said that this made sense. The difference between picking up ready-to-use marijuana and growing your own plant with little support from the authorities is huge.

One impediment in substituting opioids with marijuana is that neither Medicaid nor Medicare will reimburse people for the money they spend on marijuana.

“I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation that suggested that a daily pain management dose of hydrocodone would be about $10 out of pocket in the U.S,” Bradford said, although Medicare Part D plans cover much of that.

Last year, a daily dose of marijuana cost around $6 — and that sum should be smaller by now, Bradford said. “It’s becoming relatively comparable in cost.”

“I know policymakers are often skeptical of cannabis. But we need to be terrified of things like fentanyl, and we need to be willing to use evidence-based approaches to help address that,” Bradford added. “Cannabis looks like it could be one,” he concluded.

Pot twist: Cannabis component helps fight addiction in new study

A new study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology has revealed that a non-psychoactive and non-addictive ingredient of the Cannabis sativa plant can help reduce the risk of relapse among cocaine and alcohol addicts. According to lead author Friedbert Weiss, non-psychoactive cannabinoids could have important medical benefits in the fight against substance addiction.

Image via Pixabay/futurefilmworks

Addiction is a powerful, vicious monster that lives inside yourself. The battle is an extremely hard one and it often carries stretches out over years and years — potentially for an entire life. Many abstinent addicts find it even harder to control themselves in drug-related settings or when they experience stress or higher levels of anxiousness. For them, it’s a true struggle to dismiss their impulses when offered an addictive drug like alcohol or cocaine.

Researchers wanted to study the effect of Cannabidiol (CBD) on drug relapse in a rat model. CBD is a non-psychoactive compound of the plant Cannabis sativa (I suppose you already know that’s weed). CBD has been considered as a treatment for neurological and psychiatric disorders, and more recently also as a treatment for drug and alcohol addiction.

“The efficacy of the cannabinoid [CBD] to reduce reinstatement in rats with both alcohol and cocaine – and, as previously reported, heroin – histories predicts therapeutic potential for addiction treatment across several classes of abused drugs,” says Weiss.

Scientists applied a gel containing CBD once per day for a week to the skin of lab rats. The rodents had a history of deliberate daily alcohol or cocaine self-administration, leading to addiction-like behavior.

Next, they performed a number of tests to observe the rats’ reaction to stressful and anxiety-provoking situations, as well as behavior tests that measured impulsivity — a psychological trait associated with drug addiction. The research team reported that CBD reduced relapse provoked by stress and drug cues. CBD also reduced anxiety and impulsivity in the rats.

The authors wrote: “CBD attenuated context-induced and stress-induced drug seeking without tolerance, sedative effects, or interference with normal motivated behavior. Following treatment termination, reinstatement remained attenuated up to ≈5 months although plasma and brain CBD levels remained detectable only for 3 days. CBD also reduced experimental anxiety and prevented the development of high impulsivity in rats with an alcohol dependence history.”

Authors hope that insight into the mechanisms by which CBD exerts these effects will be investigated in future research. They believe that the findings are proof of CBD’s potential in relapse prevention, CBD’s major benefits being its actions across several vulnerability states, and long-lasting effects with only brief treatment.

“Drug addicts enter relapse vulnerability states for multiple reasons. Therefore, effects such as these observed with CBD that concurrently ameliorate several of these are likely to be more effective in preventing relapse than treatments targeting only a single state,” Weiss concludes.

Marijuana farm in Colorado. Credit: Pixabay.

Marijuana Scientists Are Getting High Wages

Marijuana farm in Colorado. Credit: Pixabay.

Marijuana farm in Colorado. Credit: Pixabay.

Marijuana has almost always been a controversial topic in public and in the scientific community as well. It makes headlines, and is, of course, the craving of many addicts. Many renowned authors have sampled the cannabis drug in the hopes of improving or embellishing their creative writings. Such writers include Alexander Dumas, Victor Hugo, Jack Kerouac, Carolyn Cassady, and William S. Burroughs.

The recreational use of the drug also assisted in feeding the Hippie Movement of the 1960’s and ’70’s. It has been the subject of much discussion, resulting in several publications dedicated solely to this purpose such as The High Times and Dope Magazine. However, marijuana does seem to have some healthful pros going for it when applied properly in certain circumstances. Among a number of benefits, it has been known to protect the brain following a stroke, to control some kinds of muscle attacks, and even to reduce the spread of cancerous cells.

The historical record places the date of one of the earliest medicinal uses of cannabis in the 2700’s BC in China. Emperor Shen Nung who reigned during that time wrote that it was employed to help with ailments such as rheumatism and malaria. In the 16th century AD, it was introduced in the Americas. Since then, practically anything having to do with weed makes headlines. In particular, current information relating to the legalities of the drug makes for hot news.

California, the Golden State, is the eighth state to make the recreational use of marijuana legal as of January 1, 2018. Now Hollywood stars (and all the others who want to) are free to openly smoke weed whenever they please. But medical marijuana is a different animal in the legal game because, as it has already been stated, it can improve or safeguard human health in some cases. Medical marijuana is currently legal to use in 29 of the 50 states.

A lot of “dough” can be made off of dope. Those in the business of growing and providing pot can definitely make a decent income from it. But many of the people doing this have found their banks will not allow their cannabis cash to be deposited. This is because marijuana is illegal under federal law. (The banks are operated by the federal government.) So I would not advise anyone to go down that type of career path. If pot fascinates you, there are other job opportunities which are growing more popular as they are in demand.

One such open career choice is for cannabis researchers, sometimes referred to as “weed scientists.” By the year 2020, it is predicted the marijuana science industry will be employing about 300,000 individuals. Simple tasks such as bud trimming can pay anywhere from $8 to $12 per hour. More experienced positions for marijuana scientists are comprised of tasks like teaching, conducting research, and even formulating regiments for biological control agents. In order to go into this profession, one has to have a valid interest in topics like weed science (duh), soil science, and agriculture. An aspiring weed scientist will require a BS degree in an area such as agronomy, horticulture, or soil science. The specific type of education required will depend on the kind of work one wants to go into.

marijuana legalization imeline

Marijuana use among teenagers drops to lowest since 1994, despite widespread legalization


Credit: Pixabay.

One highly cited argument against the legalization of recreational marijuana is that this would spike use among teens. According to the latest figures released by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), only 6.5 percent of individuals aged 12-17 use marijuana on a monthly basis, the lowest point since 1994.

An estimated 24 million Americans aged 12 or older in 2016 were current users of marijuana, or 8.9 percent of the United States’ population in this age group. Overall, more Americans use cannabis than anytime between 2002 to 2015. According to the NSDUH, this upward trend is to a larger extent due to increased use among adults aged 26 or older and, to a lesser extent, the increase in marijuana use among young adults aged 18 to 25.

 Past Month Marijuana Use among People Aged 12 or Older, by Age Group: Percentages, 2002-2016. Credit: NSDUH.

Past Month Marijuana Use among People Aged 12 or Older, by Age Group: Percentages, 2002-2016. Credit: NSDUH.

Nearly 21 percent of Americans between 18 and 25 use marijuana at least once a month, while monthly usage is reported to be 14.5 percent among adults aged 26 to 34. At the same time, alcohol use has declined among the same age groups suggesting American adults are replacing liquor with herb.

Teens are less interested in both marijuana and alcohol

The percentage of underage individuals who reported current alcohol use in 2016 was lower than the percentages in 2002 through 2014. Despite these declines over time, about 1 in 5 individuals aged 12 to 20 in 2016 drank alcohol in the past month.

Current Alcohol Use among People Aged 12 to 20: Percentages, 2002-2016. Credit: NSDUH.

Current Alcohol Use among People Aged 12 to 20: Percentages, 2002-2016. Credit: NSDUH.

As for teens, the percentage of adolescents in 2016 who were current marijuana users was lower than the percentages in most years from 2009 to 2014, but it was similar to the percentage in 2015. The recreational psychoactive drug seems to have fallen out of favor among teens, with use on a downward trend since 2002, even though many recreational shops opened around the country in 2014. In 2002, 8.2 percent of teens used marijuana on a monthly basis. Overall, the current trendline suggests teens are less interested in cannabis regardless of whether it’s legal or not.

In 1996, California became the very first state in the country to legalize medical marijuana. Twenty years later, there are now a total of 29 states — and Washington, D.C. — that allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes, and of those, eight and the District also allow recreational use for adults.

marijuana legalization imeline

Credit: Third Way.

These are encouraging results, since teens seem to be the only vulnerable age group to the potentially damaging effects of cannabis use. Studies have shown that heavy marijuana consumption among teens can damage the brain (specifically grey matter), causing cognitive decline, poor attention and memory, and decreased IQ. Heavy marijuana users among adults can lead to poor memory and abnormal brain structure, but effects are not nearly as pronounced as those in teens that may linger into adulthood.

“It needs to be emphasized that regular cannabis use, which we consider once a week, is not safe and may result in addiction and neurocognitive damage, especially in youth,” said Krista Lisdahl, PhD, director of the brain imaging and neuropsychology lab at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

weed in united states

One in Eight Americans say they regularly smoke pot — almost double since 2013

weed in united states

Credit: Pixabay

According to a recent Gallup poll, the percentage of American adults who confess regularly smoking marijuana has nearly doubled since 2013. The poll reveals 13 percent of Americans say they smoke regularly, while 43 percent say they’ve tried the drug at least once in their lifetimes, up from 38 percent in 2013.

gallup poll

Cannabis is illegal in most of the United States, but twenty-three states have laws permitting medical marijuana. Then there’s AlaskaColoradoOregonWashington and the District of Columbia where recreational use of marijuana is fully legal.

“It costs a huge amount of money to states,” Obama said in an interview in March 2015, speaking to Vice’s Shane Smith. “What I’m encouraged by is you’re started to see not just liberal democrats but also some very conservative Republicans recognize that this doesn’t make sense, including the libertarian wing of the Republican Party. They see the money and how costly it is to incarcerate.

“At a certain point, if enough states end up decriminalizing, Congress may then reschedule marijuana.”

In the last five years, marijuana laws have been considerably relaxed which has helped make pot more easily available. Most importantly, it has relaxed consumers in the face of the law as well, making them more confident and open to answer polls like this honestly. All in all, marijuana has been greatly destigmatized in recent years.

Very briefly, the other main take aways the Gallup poll found after it interviewed 1,000 American adults in all 50 states and the District of Columbia:

  • Age and religiousness were important factors in predicting whether or not a person had ever tried marijuana.
  • Almost 1 in 5 U.S. adults under 30 said they’ve tried pot, but not more than 1 in 10 in other older age groups.
  • Interestingly, more adults ages 30 to 49 and 50 to 64 said they had tried marijuana than adults ages 18 to 29. They had time to catch up.
  • Americans who go to church every Sunday were far less likely to smoke than those who rarely or never attended.
  • Only 2 percent of weekly church goers said they regularly smoke compared to 14 percent of those who said they don’t go to church.
  • Geography also played a part. Western U.S. citizens were the most likely to currrently use marijuana. Compared to the rest of the country, the highest use seems to be recorded in places like San Francisco and Denver.
smoking weed

No, silly, NASA won’t pay you to smoke weed in bed for three months

The fake story of the week on facebook goes to “NASA Will Pay You 18000 Usd To Stay In Bed And Smoke Weed For 70 Straight Days“. Stoners all over the interwebs went crazy over it and would have joined by the millions if only they could find an apply button. Of course nobody could apply because it’s freaking fake. Dammit, people!

smoking weed

Photo: VanStyles

OK, now that we’ve got that out of the way let’s talk some real science because this headline is half true. NASA is actually conducting a series of experiments called the Bed Rest Studies were volunteers have to stay in bed and not walk for at least three months.

The purpose of the study is to research the effects of microgravity on the human body. By having subjects lie in bed for 70 days straight, the body should be subjected to muscle atrophy akin to that experienced by astronauts in space. The beds are tilted head-down at a six-degree angle. This tilt causes body fluids to shift to the upper part of the body and sets off cardiovascular events that are similar to what we see in a space flight.

“Being able to test new ideas on Earth saves invaluable flight time,” says Joe Neigut, Flight Analog project manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “What the bed rest does to their [test subjects] physiology and how the exercise countermeasures benefits their physiology helps us better prepare and protect astronauts when they are in space. In fact how it affects the physiology can be applied to everyone on earth.”

And yes, participants do actually get $18,000 for lying in bed — $1,200 per week for a total of 15 weeks. Oh, and another thing. “Couch potatoes is not an accurate description for what we are looking. Subjects need to be very healthy,” says NASA’s news chief, Kelly Humphries.

“We want to make sure we select people who are mentally ready to spend 70 days in bed. Not everyone is comfortable with that. Not every type of person can tolerate an extended time in bed,” says Dr Cromwell.

“Once they qualify physically and mentally, we do rigorous physical exercises to test muscle strength and aerobics capacity. We want people who have the physical and psychological characteristics of an astronaut. They should be able to do the kind of activities that astronauts do.”

The first runs of the project were made in 2013, and the last one in 2015. One participant documented his experience in an editorial for VICE, if you’re interesting to hear how it was.

“Beyond the pain, I learned that it was nearly impossible to perform everyday tasks while slanted at the negative six degree angle. Taking showers consists of dousing myself with a hand-held shower head, and it’s especially hard to clean my back, legs, and feet. Reading books is exhausting, since I have to hold my arms outstretched in lieu of lifting my head up. Using my laptop is equally strange while lying down. Every time I brush my teeth, I feel like I’m going to choke on the toothpaste. Then I have to spit into a cup, but it inevitably dribbles down my cheek and through my beard every damn time,” the authors wrote for VICE.

There’s no word yet if a new round of the experiment will be made by NASA, and neither have any results been shared.

Remember, if it sounds too good to be true it usually isn’t.


Start-up develops new robot that identifies and removes weeds

Start-up company Deepfield Robotics has developed a field vehicle that can distinguish weeds from useful crops and eliminate them. The technology, called Bonirob, can not only make farming more efficient, but it can also reduce some of its environmental impact.

Image via FWI.

About the size of a small car, Bonirob can do a host of things to make farmers’ life easier, by monitoring how well new crop varieties grow, if there is any pest damage, and how much fertilizer and water they need. Currently, samples need to be taken and brought back to the lab for analysis.

[ALSO SEE] The farmers of the future will all be robots

But perhaps even more impressive, the robot can distinguish between crops and weeds according to the shape of their leaves and destroy the weeds mechanically by slamming them into the ground, rather than chemically. Unwanted plants are simply slammed into the ground with a rod.

Several pictures are uploaded in the robot’s memory, which then uses machine learning to accurately identify them, even in difficult conditions or when they are partially covered by other plants. The robot then gets better and better at identifying them.

Professor Amos Albert, general manager of Deepfield Robotics, explains:

“Over time, based on parameters such as leaf colour, shape, and size, Bonirob learns how to differentiate more and more accurately between the plants we want and the plants we don’t want.”

Bonirob is the result of a public joint project funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, in collaboration with Bosch and the Osnabrück University of Applied Sciences.

weed skunk

Smoking skunk might triple the risk of psychosis

South Londoners who smoke skunk weed – a much more potent strain of cannabis – were found to be three times more likely to register at hospitals with first-episode psychoses, according to a study made by British researchers. The research has many shortcomings though, as is to be expected from a case-control design where it’s always difficult to account for external variables. As the old saying goes, correlation does not equal causation, so take these findings with a grain of salt. The study is valuable however considering it’s among the few which actually considered the relationship between cannabis use and psychosis, often ignored by mainstream cannabis research. Cannabis is used by millions of people worldwide, yet its long-term effects are seriously under reported.

Stinky skunk weed

weed skunk

Credit: Marijuana Venture

Some people might confuse skunk as another slang term for cannabis, when in fact it’s a different strain altogether with much greater potency.  It has around two to three more times of the main active ingredient – tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Around 10% of all users will have an unpleasant experience with the drug, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Long-term use of the drug can have a depressant effect, reducing a person’s motivation.

Links between increased incidents of psychosis among skunk users have been reported before, but interpretations have been mixed. Former government adviser Professor David Nutt wrote in 2009 that despite skunk being around for at least a decade, there had been no obvious rise in schizophrenia. In fact, he said, evidence shows psychosis and schizophrenia have been in decline among the British population, despite cannabis being used by a growing number of people over 30 years.

The latest report published in Lancet Psychiatry is based on scientists’ work with 410 patients, aged 18-65, who presented at south London hospitals with a first episode of psychosis. The patients exhibited schizophrenic behaviour such as hearing voices or suffering delusions for at least a month. To compare, the researchers identified a control group of 370 healthy participants from the same area, some of whom also smoked cannabis. They found that those with psychosis were much more likely to have used skunk every day, than to have never used cannabis. Interestingly enough, those who smoked hash every day were no more likely to have psychosis than people who never tried cannabis. Hash is thought of as a ‘cleaner’ cannabis, with around 5% THC, as opposed to 15% THC found in skunk.

Sir Robin Murray, professor of psychiatric research at King’s College London, warned however that the study doesn’t provide a causal link.

“The argument initially was that the people who are going to smoke cannabis are a bit odd anyway,” he said. “In south London, two-thirds of people have used cannabis and it seems unlikely that two-thirds of people are abnormal.”

Skunk and hash use were self-reported in this study, which means researchers had to rely on patients being good judges of how often they smoked, how much and, most importantly, what they smoked. Considering there are all sort of street smokes sold all over South London, like synthetic powerful highs known as “Spice”, the findings become even more controversial. A more refined, close to reality reporting would have been obtained if blood tests and analysis had been made.

Murray doesn’t discount the findings, however, and actually think hash should be recommended to hardcore smokers looking to quit. He likens the experience to alcohol abuse.

“You’re not going to go psychotic after a couple of puffs,” he said. “It’s like alcohol – drinking the odd glass of wine is fine, but if you’re drinking a bottle of whisky a day you’re heading for trouble.”

Some headlines in British newspapers today were in the lines of “one in four of all serious mental disorders caused by skunk”, but sensationalism aside if skunk does indeed cause an increased risk of psychosis, then more efforts should be made considering its widespread use, especially among teenagers. In this respect, the paper does make some steps forward.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta is a neurosurgeon and CNN's chief medical correspondent. (c) CNN

Only 6% of Marijuana research studies medical benefits, says Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Dr. Sanjay Gupta is an established neurosurgeon, but you all might know him better as CNN’s chief medical correspondent through the various live interventions he’s had along the years on television as well as some feature documentaries. Last night, his most recent documentary, called “WEED”, premiered on CNN as you might have already guessed, it’s all about marijuana and its medicinal potential.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta is a neurosurgeon and CNN's chief medical correspondent. (c) CNN

Dr. Sanjay Gupta is a neurosurgeon and CNN’s chief medical correspondent. (c) CNN

Two things come off as rather surprising from the very get go. One, the CNN-produced documentary, despite being objective enough portraying marijuana from both sides of the fence, is clearly pro-marijuana for medicinal use, offering a number of examples of clinical cases where marijuana treated patients when everything else failed. This is something that we rarely get to see in mainstream media. Second, Gupta himself is now a reformed pro medical use marijuana advocate – until recently, he actually actively sought to discredit marijuana use.

“Well, I am here to apologize,” writes Gupta in a recent editorial for CNN, where he talked about WEED and some of his findings during the research for the documentary.

“I apologize because I didn’t look hard enough, until now. I didn’t look far enough. I didn’t review papers from smaller labs in other countries doing some remarkable research, and I was too dismissive of the loud chorus of legitimate patients whose symptoms improved on cannabis.”

For his documentary, Gupta feverishly sorted through thousands of marijuana related studies. According to him, the U.S. National Library of Medicine  pulled up nearly 20,000 more recent papers (post 1930’s/1940’s). What startled him was that the majority of these papers were focused on the harms of marijuana (addiction, lung cancer, bad trips etc.), and only 6% of them actually investigated its medical potential.

Weed: evil or good. Just study it and find out!

In today’s context, this is rather worrisome. In the US, and other parts of the world as well, much talk has been made around marijuana dispensaries – whether these should be allowed in other states, whether it actually works, so on and so forth. Considering the significant lack of studies and clinical trials, however, these discussions become more or less intractable until significant and reliable data can be gathered. Data following clinical use of marijuana would settle such interminable discussions as it would offer the necessary scientific framework through which palpable conclusions could be drawn.

Here’s the problem though, one that Gupta highlights both in his article and recent documentary, “WEED”, namely you can’t make any science on marijuana. Why not? Well you first need to get it (dealers don’t count) and be approved by a number of government agencies (FDA, DEA etc.), then go through a cumbersome bureaucratic process.

“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.”

Marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule I substance by the federal government, meaning according to the government, not only does it have no medical value , but is put on the same wagon with substances like cocaine or heroin.

“With 20 states already approving it, I think advocacy has already been demonstrated,” Lyle Craker, a horticulturist who directs the Medicinal Plant Program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, told PopularScience.com

No matter how many states approve marijuana, it still won’t make a difference since marijuana is illegal federally which means you can’t have clinical trials on humans, nor access funds, unless you get specific approval from government bodies. Craker has been trying for many years to appeal to government agencies to rethink their view on medical marijuana. For the past decade he has been trying, in association with the Multidisciplinary Association For Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), a nonprofit that sponsors medical research into the therapeutic properties of psychedelics and marijuana,  to establish a research farm to grow marijuana for medical researchers, only to be denied repeatedly by federal authorities.

Difficulties in approaching Marijuana research

As specified earlier, you can’t get your marijuana for research use from a local dealer, that would be illegal. Here’s the ironic and, at the same time, horrendous part. In all likelihood, in a 10 mile radius from any major medical research institute it’s likely you’ll find someone who sells pot, but as a researcher, even if you get your research funded and approved, your work’s cut out for you.

 “As far as federally approved research, nothing is going on that I’m aware of, except for Mississippi [where the National Institute on Drug Abuse grows marijuana for its research] and a study going on in California,” Craker said.

“Scientists can get research marijuana from a special farm in Mississippi, which is astonishingly located in the middle of the Ole Miss campus, but it is challenging. When I visited this year, there was no marijuana being grown,” wrote Gupta.

For a period of 11 years, the state of California funded clinical research into medical marijuana through theCenter for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California, San Diego. There, a series of small human trials found cannabis to be effective in treating pain in patients with multiple sclerosis and HIV.

“Obviously it can be done,” says Igor Grant, a professor at UCSD and the center’s director. “We’ve conducted the studies, but I think an ordinary researcher without the support of the state would be hard pressed to do it. It’s just a difficult and cumbersome process.”

For now, the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research has put its experimental work on hold indefinitely. “We would like to in the future seek federal support,” Grant says, “but at this time I think the federal position is not really supportive of this kind of endeavor.”

Elsewhere, in countries like Spain and Israel, politics are being revised such that proper research may assert the medical properties of marijuana. Some of work so far has been investigating properties such as the  anti-cancer effects of marijuana or the ability to  alleviate symptoms of PTSD.

Weed: not all that safe, still not researched enough

Of course, weed’s not all shine and wonder. Gupta talks in his documentary about certain downsides to marijuana consumption, from addiction (9% addiction among users, compared to 20% for cocaine users and 25% for heroin users) to psychological and physiological disorders (panic attacks, anxiousness, inability to concentrate, loss of short term memory), to right down brain damage. The latter might seem startling, but during his investigations, Gupta found studies and talked to physicians who claim that marijuana use under the age of 16 hampers brain development – just like any other psychoactive substance for that matter. Alcohol is far worse in this sense.

With this in mind, parents and the general public alike should pay particular attention in the matter and ought to get involved in what truly means marijuana regulations. According to Gupta, some 30% of high school students (no pun intended) are smoking cannabis. Were they to be informed on the potential damage they might subject themselves to, during this period of brain development, many of them might not try it until they reach a proper, responsible age. For that matter, actually, there are millions of people through out the US, young and old, who smoke regularly marijuana. Despite this, we don’t fully know how it affects people, good or bad, because the government is being too restrictive about it.

There’s not one single case of reported death from marijuana overdose or related consumption. Since it doesn’t kill you or cause any obvious kind of major damage, the government most likely doesn’t see an urgent need into extensively studying marijuana’s properties using the scientific method. Not nearly enough at least, considering the sheer number of consumers in the country and through the world for that matter. And that’s just irresponsible.

For e-mail and rss subscribers, “WEED”  – the documentary – can be viewed by accessing this web page in your browser. There’s an embedded video. 

Captain obvious presents his 5 favorite studies from 2009


It’s been a busy year indeed, especially with the LHC doing it’s thing again, Hubble was repaired and there was a lot of medical research being done, even with more money being invested in advertising than research. However, last year was also remarkable for the… not so remarkable studies, to say the least. In that line, here are the best ‘Duh!’ studies that took place in 2009.

Coed dorms fuel sex and drinking


That’s right folks, coed dorms are way more fun than regular ones
I mean, coed dorms are bad, encouraging unhealthy habits that might be avoided otherwise. Detailed in the Journal of American College Health, this stunning discovery sheds new light … aww c’mon, everybody knows it: they’re the party center of the universe ! And even if nothing else, there’s hormone filled students, boys and girls, living literally meters away from each other – things are bound to happen. Nice pick, captain.

Sweets taste better when you’re high

weedzIn a study that’s completely unrelated to the previous one (cross my heart), Yuzo Ninomiya of Kyushu University in Japan spent quite a lot of time to find out what 1 in 3 students could have told you on the spot: sweets taste absolutely great after you’ve smoked some pot. What the study basically found was that “endocannabinoids both act in the brain to increase appetite and also modulate taste receptors on the tongue to increase the response to sweets”; endocannabinoids also make it impossible to read that sentence.

Large quantities of red and processed meat are bad for you


Yeah, that double hamburger is a cruel mistress, isn’t it ? Studies published in the Archives of Internal Medicine announced that consuming large quantities of such products can cause a huge number of problems, such as, well… death.

“For overall mortality, 11 percent of deaths in men and 16 percent of deaths in women could be prevented if people decreased their red meat consumption” the researchers wrote.

High heels lead to foot pain


In what is the mother of all no-brainers, a study published in Arthritis Care & Research concluded that woman wearing high heels are more likely to report pain their feet. I really don’t want to add anything more here except for the fact that as far as I’m concerned, high heels are a useless fashion trifle, and have nothing at all to do with beauty.

Child with depressive parents are affected


Unfortunately, the effect parents have on their children is underestimated and often neglected (at least partially); few things can be worse than having a depressed parent, and kids have an innate sense that allows them to feel this kind of things, even though you may try to hide it. Among others, the child tends to feel more responsible, which puts more pressure on him, more alone, and have lower expectations.