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SCIENCE

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director March 25, 2014

    At a public signing ceremony today, Utah’s Republican Gov. Gary Herbert will approve House Bill 105 — aka “Charlee’s Law.” The law, and others like it, ostensibly allows children with treatment-resistant pediatric epilepsy access to extracts of the marijuana plant high in the cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD).

    While some media outlets are reporting that the passage of these measures are akin to ‘approving medical marijuana,’ such claims are far from accurate.

    Specifically, Utah’s HB 105 — which takes effect on July 1 — is largely unworkable. As written, the law only exempts from state prosecution those with “intractable epilepsy” who possess a cannabis extract that contains more than 15 percent CBD and no more than 0.3 percent THC. Patients must receive a written recommendation from a Utah board certified neurologist and be registered with the state Department of Health before seeking such extracts, which for the time being may only be procured from outside of the state. The extracts must be produced in a lab that possess a state-license to manufacture such products.

    While this language may appear to allow Utah patients to procure CBD products in neighboring medical cannabis states like Colorado, the likelihood of this scenario is highly doubtful. Colorado’s medical marijuana law only allows those who are state residents and who possess a state-issued patient identification card to legally purchase such products. In other words, Utah parents would have to violate Colorado law to obtain high-CBD extracts (which are likely to only be available from a medical dispensary, not a retail cannabis market). Colorado medical marijuana dispensaries would also be in violation of not just the letter of the law, but also the spirit of the law by providing a product they know is intended to be transported across state lines — a clear violation of the guidelines put forward in the August 2013 Department of Justice memo which call for “preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal in some form to other states.”

    Utah’s forthcoming law also calls on the state Department of Agriculture “to grow or cultivate industrial hemp for the purpose of
    agricultural or academic research,” ostensibly for the purpose of one-day producing high-CBD cannabis medicines. However, it remains to be seen whether such industrial crops can yield therapeutically effective CBD extracts or whether federal lawmakers would even allow such a state-sponsored research project to move forward.

    In Alabama, members of the House and Senate unanimously approved CBD-specific legislation, Senate Bill 174 aka “Carley’s Laws,” late last week. Republican Gov. Robert Bently has announced his intent to sign the measure into law.

    However, like the Utah law, Alabama’s forthcoming law will also be largely unworkable for those who seek to benefit from it. The measure appropriates $1 million dollars for University of Alabama-sponsored research in CBD extracts. Whether such research will actually take place is another story. Because CBD is, like the cannabis plant itself, classified under federal law as a schedule I controlled substance, multiple federal agencies — including the FDA, DEA, NIDA (US National Institute of Drug Abuse), and PHS (Public Health Service) must all sign off on any clinical investigation of the drug — a process that typically takes several years and often ends with federal regulators rejecting the protocol outright. Yet, under “Carley’s Law,” patients may only legally access CBD under if it is “prescribed” during the course of such a federally approved clinical trial.

    Nevertheless, despite these obvious limitations in implementation, lawmakers in various other states — including Florida, Kentucky, Minnesota, South Carolina, and Wisconsin — are considering passing similar measures. (A similar Georgia measure died when lawmakers adjourned late last week.) While the passage of these measures may pose symbolic victories for legislators, they fail to provide tangible benefits to the constituents that they are intended to serve.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director March 24, 2014

    Dogs trained to detect the presence of illegal drugs are most likely to provide false alerts in situations involving the search of a motor vehicle, according to the findings of a study published online in the journal Forensic Science International.

    A team of researchers from the United States and Poland assessed the ability of trained drug sniffing dogs to accurately detect the presence controlled substances – including marijuana, hashish, amphetamines, cocaine and heroin – in various environments.

    Dogs were most likely to correctly identify the presence of contraband, particularly marijuana, during searches of individual rooms. If the dog had previous exposure to the room prior to the search, it was least likely to provide a false alert (83 percent correct identifications versus 10 percent false alerts).

    Dogs were far less reliable in scenarios designed to mimic real-world traffic stops. In situations where dogs accessed the perimeter of a motor vehicle, the animals accurately alerted to the presence contraband only 64 percent of the time. Fifteen percent of the time dogs failed to recognize the presence of illicit drugs. Twenty-two percent of the time the dogs indicated that illegal drugs were present when they were not.

    Drug dogs’ failure rates were even more pronounced in situations where the animals had access to the inside of a vehicle. In this scenario, dogs correctly responded to the presence of contraband only 58 percent of time. They provided false alerts 36 percent of time.

    Previous studies have similarly documented drug dogs’ tendency to provide false alerts. In 2011, researchers at the University of California at Davis reported that the performance of drug-sniffing dogs is significantly influenced by whether or not their handlers believe illicit substances are present. That same year, a review of Australian government statistics, published in the Sydney Morning Herald, found that some 80 percent of drug dog alerts in New South Wales yielded no illicit substances.

    In 2005, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Illinois v Caballes that an alert from a police dog during a traffic stop provides a constitutional basis for law enforcement to search the interior of the vehicle.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director March 18, 2014

    Michigan physicians may now authorize cannabis for the treatment of post traumatic stress.

    Members of the Medical Marihuana Review Panel voted 6 to 2 to expand the state’s list of qualifying conditions to include PTSD. The Director of the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs has signed off on the recommendation.

    This is the first time that regulators have expanded the state’s list of qualifying conditions since voters initially legalized the physician authorized use of cannabis in 2008.

    Six other states — Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New Mexico, Nevada, and Oregon — explicitly allow for the use of cannabis to treat symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Nevada regulators expanded their law to include PTSD earlier this year. Oregon and Maine lawmakers amended their medical cannabis laws last year to include post-traumatic stress.

    California physicians may recommend medical cannabis at their discretion.

    Clinical trial data published in the May issue of the journal Molecular Psychiatry theorized that cannabinoid-based therapies would likely comprise the “next generation of evidence-based treatments for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).”

    Post-traumatic stress syndrome is an anxiety disorder that is estimated to impact some eight million Americans annually. To date, there are no pharmaceutical treatments specifically designed or approved to target symptoms of PTSD.

    Last week, federal officials at the Public Health Service approved the use of cannabis in a privately funded pilot trial at the University of Arizona College of Medicine to assess its potential risks and benefits in war veterans suffering from PTSD, including the plant’s potential impact on subjects’ anxiety, suicidality, and depression. Although the study was initially approved by the FDA in 2011, neither PHS nor the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) signed off on the protocol until this month. Both agencies, as well as the US DEA, must approve any clinical trial involving cannabis.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director

    A rise in the self-reported consumption of cannabis during the years 2006 to 2010 corresponds with a significant decline in Americans’ use of cocaine and methamphetamine during this same time period, according to a new RAND study commissioned by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).

    Researchers estimate that Americans increased their consumption of cannabis by approximately 30 percent during the years 2006 to 2010. During this same time, authors estimated that the public’s use of cocaine and methamphetamine declined, with Americans’ use of cocaine falling by half.

    Americans’ consumption of heroin remained largely stable throughout the decade, the study reported. According to statistics compiled by the US Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration, an estimated 4.5 million Americans have tried heroin in their lifetimes. By comparison, an estimated 12 million Americans have tried methamphetamine, 37.5 million have tried cocaine, and 111 million have consumed cannabis.

    Authors estimated that Americans spent approximately one trillion dollars on the purchase of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine between 2000 and 2010.

    Commenting on the report, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said, “These figures belie that notion that marijuana exposure is an alleged ‘gateway’ to the use of other illicit substances and instead suggest that for some people, cannabis may be a substitute for other so-called ‘hard drugs’ or even an exit drug.”

    Survey data published in 2013 in the journal Addiction Research & Theory reported that among a cohort of medical marijuana consumers, 75 percent of subjects acknowledged that they used cannabis it as a substitute for prescription drugs, alcohol, or some other illicit substance.

    A 2010 study published in the Harm Reduction Journal reported that cannabis-using adults enrolled in substance abuse treatment programs fared equally or better than nonusers in various outcome categories, including treatment completion.

    Full text of the study, “”What America’s Users Spend on Illegal Drugs, 2000-2010,” is available online from the Office of National Drug Control Policy here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director March 17, 2014

    Inhaling whole-plant cannabis provides symptomatic relief in patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD), according to observational trial data published in the March/April edition of the journal Clinical Neuropharmacology. Parkinson’s is a progressive disorder of the central nervous system that results in tremor, slowed movement, and muscle rigidity.

    Investigators at Tel Aviv University, Department of Neurology evaluated Parkinson’s disease symptoms in 22 patients at baseline and 30-minutes after inhaling cannabis.

    Researchers reported that inhaled cannabis was associated with “significant improvement after treatment in tremor, rigidity, and bradykinsea (slowness of movement). There was also significant improvement of sleep and pain scores. No significant adverse effects of the drug were observed.”

    They concluded: “[T]his observational study is the first to report an amelioration of both motor and non–motor symptoms in patients with PD treated with cannabis. The study opens new venues for treatment strategies in PD especially in patients refractory to current medications.”

    Israel has formally allowed for the licensed production and distribution of the substance for therapeutic purposes since 2011.

    An abstract of the study, “Cannabis (Medical Marijuana) Treatment for Motor and Non–Motor Symptoms of Parkinson Disease: An Open-Label Observational Study,” is online here.

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