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SCIENCE

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director September 2, 2016

    no_marijuanaProhibitionists often claim that legalizing and regulating marijuana will increase youth access to the plant. But newly released federal data says just the opposite.

    Fewer young people are reporting that marijuana is ‘easy’ to obtain, according to an analysis released this week by the US Centers for Disease Control.

    Investigators from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the CDC evaluated annual data compiled by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health for the years 2002 to 2014. Researchers reported that the percentage of respondents aged 12 to 17 years who perceived marijuana to be “fairly easy or very easy to obtain” fell by 13 percent during this time period. Among those ages 18 to 25, marijuana’s perceived availability decreased by three percent.

    Researchers further reported that “since 2002, the prevalence of marijuana use and initiation among U.S. youth has declined” – a finding that is consistent with numerous prior studies.

    By contrast, authors reported an uptick in use among adults. However, they acknowledged that this increase in adult marijuana consumption has not been associated with a parallel increase in problematic use. There has been “steady decreases in the prevalence of marijuana dependence and abuse among adult marijuana users since 2002,” the study found. Those adults experiencing the greatest percentage increase in marijuana use during the study period were respondents over the age of 55.

    A separate analysis of the data published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry similarly acknowledged no observed increase in marijuana use disorders. A previous assessment of marijuana use patterns since 2002, published earlier this year in JAMA Psychiatry, also reported a decline in the percentage of adults reporting problems related to their marijuana use.

    Full text of the CDC study, “National estimates of marijuana use and related indicators – National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2002-2014,” appears online here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director August 10, 2016

    imgresThe United States Drug Enforcement Administration has rejected a pair of administrative petitions that sought to initiate rulemaking proceedings to reschedule marijuana under federal law.

    Although the DEA’s ruling continues to classify marijuana in the same category as heroin, the agency also announced in a separate decision that it is adopting policy changes designed to expand the production of research-grade cannabis for FDA-approved clinical studies.

    Presently, any clinical trial involving cannabis must access source material cultivated at the University of Mississippi — a prohibition that is not in place for other controlled substances. Today, the agency announced for the first time that it will be seeking applications from multiple parties, including potentially from private entities, to produce marijuana for FDA-approved research protocols as well as for “commercial product development.” This change was initially recommended by the DEA’s own administrative law judge in 2007, but her decision was ultimately rejected by the agency in 2011.

    Below is a statement from NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano regarding the DEA’s decisions:

    For far too long, federal regulations have made clinical investigations involving cannabis needlessly onerous and have placed unnecessary and arbitrary restrictions on marijuana that do not exist for other controlled substances, including some other schedule I controlled substances.

    While this announcement is a significant step toward better facilitating and expanding clinical investigations into cannabis’ therapeutic efficacy, ample scientific evidence already exists to remove cannabis from its schedule I classification and to acknowledge its relative safety compared to other scheduled substances, like opioids, and unscheduled substances, such as alcohol. Ultimately, the federal government ought to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act altogether in a manner similar to alcohol and tobacco, thus providing states the power to establish their own marijuana regulatory policies free from federal intrusion.

    Since the DEA has failed to take such action, then it is incumbent that members of Congress act swiftly to amend cannabis’ criminal status in a way that comports with both public and scientific opinion. Failure to do so continues the federal government’s ‘Flat Earth’ position; it willfully ignores the well-established therapeutic properties associated with the plant and it ignores the laws in 26 states recognizing marijuana’s therapeutic efficacy.

    Under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act of 1970, the cannabis plant and its organic cannabinoids are classified as Schedule I prohibited substances — the most restrictive category available under the law. By definition, substances in this category must meet three specific inclusion criteria:

    The substance must possess “a high potential for abuse”; it must have “no currently accepted medical use” in the United States; and, the substance must lack “accepted safety for use … under medical supervision.”

    Substances that do not meet these criteria must, by law, be categorized in less restrictive federal schedules (Schedules II through V) and are legally regulated accordingly. Alcohol and tobacco, two substances widely acknowledged to possess far greater dangers to health than does cannabis, are not classified under the Controlled Substances Act.

    A recent review of FDA-approved clinical studies evaluating the safety and efficacy of herbal cannabis concluded: “Based on evidence currently available the Schedule I classification is not tenable; it is not accurate that cannabis has no medical value, or that Information on safety is lacking.”

    Added Armentano: “The DEA’s decision is strictly a political one. There is nothing scientific about willful ignorance.”

    The DEA has previously rejected several other rescheduling petitions, including a 2002 petition filed by a coalition of marijuana law reform and health advocacy organizations, and a 1972 petition filed by NORML. The petitions that triggered this latest DEA action were filed in 2009 by a nurse practitioner and in 2011 by then-Govs. Christine Gregoire of Washington and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director August 9, 2016

    pain_reliefMarijuana consumers do not access health care services at rates that are higher than non-users, according to data published online ahead of print in the European Journal of Internal Medicine.

    Researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin assessed the relationship between marijuana use and health care utilization in a nationally representative sample of 174,159,864 US adults aged 18 to 59 years old.

    Authors reported “no significant increase in outpatient health care visits and overnight hospital admissions in marijuana users compared to non-users.” They also reported that those who consumed cannabis multiple times per day were no more likely to seek health care patient services as compared to those who used the substance less frequently.

    They concluded, “[C]ontrary to popular belief, … marijuana use is not associated with increased healthcare utilization, [and] there [is] also no association between health care utilization and frequency of marijuana use.”

    A previous assessment, published in 2014 in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, similarly reported that the use of marijuana within the past three months was not associated with adverse effects on health, comorbidity, ER visits, or hospitalization.

    An abstract of the study, “Marijuana users do not have increased healthcare utilization: A National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) study,” appears here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director July 12, 2016

    substitutionThe enactment of statewide medicinal cannabis laws is associated with a quantifiable decline in the use of traditional prescription drugs, according to data published in the July edition of the scientific journal Health Affairs.

    Investigators at the University of Georgia assessed the relationship between medical marijuana legalization laws and physicians’ prescribing patterns in 17 states over a three-year period (2010 to 2013). Specifically, researchers assessed patients’ consumption of and spending on prescription drugs approved under Medicare Part D in nine domains: anxiety, depression, glaucoma, nausea, pain, psychosis, seizures, sleep disorders, and spasticity.

    Authors reported that prescription drug use fell significantly in seven of the nine domains assessed.

    “Generally, we found that when a medical marijuana law went into effect, prescribing for FDA-approved prescription drugs under Medicare Part D fell substantially,” investigators reported. “Ultimately, we estimated that nationally the Medicare program and its enrollers spent around $165.2 million less in 2013 as a result of changed prescribing behaviors induced by … jurisdictions that had legalized medical marijuana.”
    Investigators estimated that prescription drug savings would total more than $468 million annually were cannabis therapy to be accessible in all 50 states.

    They concluded, “Our findings and existing clinical literature imply that patients respond to medical marijuana legislation as if there are clinical benefits to the drug, which adds to the growing body of evidence suggesting that the Schedule I status of marijuana is outdated.”

    An abstract of the study, “Medical marijuana laws reduce prescription medication use in Medicare Part D,” is available online here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director June 13, 2016

    no_marijuanaThe passage of statewide laws regulating the consumption of cannabis by adults and/or qualified patients is not associated with increased rates of teen marijuana use, according to a statistical analysis of results from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

    CDC data reports that the percentage of high-schoolers ever reporting having used cannabis fell from an estimated 43 percent in 1995 to just under 39 percent in 2015. The percentage of teens currently using cannabis (defined as having used marijuana at least once in the past 30 days) also declined during this same period, from 25 percent in 1995 to just under 22 percent in 2015.

    During this time period, two-dozen states enacted statutes permitting qualified patients to consume cannabis, and four states enacted laws permitting the commercial production and retail sale of marijuana to adults.

    The Youth Risk Behavior Survey results are consistent with those of numerous other studies — such as those here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here — finding that changes in cannabis’ legal status are not associated with increased use among adolescents.

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