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SCIENCE

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

    no_marijuanaThe enactment of statewide laws permitting the physician-authorized use of cannabis therapy has not stimulated increases in marijuana use by young people, according to findings published in The International Journal on Drug Policy.

    A team of researchers from Columbia University in New York City reviewed federal data regarding rates of self-reported, monthly marijuana use among 12 to 17-year-olds between the years 2002 and 2011.

    While the study’s authors acknowledged that many medical marijuana states possess greater overall rates of youth cannabis use compared to non-medical states, they affirmed that these jurisdictions already possessed elevated use rates prior to changes in law, and that the laws’ enactment did not play a role in influencing youth use patterns.

    “While states with MML (medical marijuana laws) feature higher rates of adolescent marijuana use, to date, no major U.S. national data set, including the NSDUH (US National Survey on Drug Use in Households), supports that MML are a cause of these higher use levels,” investigators concluded. “[W]hen within-state changes are properly considered and pre-MML prevalence is properly controlled, there is no evidence of a differential increase in past-month marijuana use in youth that can be attributed to state medical marijuana laws.”

    Their findings are similar to those of a separate 2015 study assessing the relationship between state medical marijuana laws and rates of self-reported adolescent marijuana use over a 24-year period in a sampling of over one million adolescents in 48 states. Researchers in that study reported no increase in teens’ overall cannabis use that could be attributable to changes in law, and acknowledged a “robust” decrease in consumption among 8th graders. They concluded “[T]he results of this study showed no evidence for an increase in adolescent marijuana use after the passage of state laws permitting use of marijuana for medical purposes. … [C]oncerns that increased marijuana use is an unintended effect of state marijuana laws seem unfounded.”

    Other studies reaching similar conclusions are available here, here, here, here, and here.

    The abstract of the study, “Prevalence of marijuana use does not differentially increase among youth after states pass medical marijuana laws: Commentary on and reanalysis of US National Survey on Drug Use in Households data 2002-2011,” appears online here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director February 25, 2016

    wheelchair_patientMembers of Australia’s House and Senate approved legislation this week to amend federal law to permit for the licensed production and distribution of cannabis to qualified patients.

    The measure amends the Narcotic Drugs Act of 1967 to allow “for the cultivation and production of cannabis and cannabis resin for medicinal and scientific purposes,” and to authorize “a state or territory government agency to undertake [in the] cultivation and production of cannabis and [in the] manufacture of medicinal cannabis products.”

    The move by Parliament follows recent efforts by several Australian territories to provide patients participating in clinical trials with access to the plant.

    “This is an historic day for Australia and the many advocates who have fought long and hard to challenge the stigma around medicinal cannabis products so genuine patients are no longer treated as criminals,” Minister for Health Sussan Ley said in a statement. “This is the missing piece in a patient’s treatment journey and will now see seamless access to locally-produced medicinal cannabis products from farm to pharmacy.”

    Government officials will still need to develop and approve regulations for the new program before any production licenses can be issued.

    Canada, Israel, and the Netherlands are among the handful of nations that presently provide federal licenses to private growers to supply medical marijuana to qualified patients. Colombia, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico are also expected to begin licensing medical marijuana manufacturing in the near future.

    In 2013, Uruguay officials approved legislation authorizing the retail production and sale of cannabis to those age 18 and older. Consumers in that country are anticipated to be able to begin purchasing cannabis at state-licensed pharmacies by mid-2016.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director February 24, 2016

    flag_of_canadaA federal court in Canada ruled today that government officials cannot prohibit physician-authorized patients from growing their own supply of medical cannabis.

    The decision strikes down regulations enacted in 2013 that sought to take away patients’ longstanding authority to grow personal use quantities of cannabis. The court opined that the regulations unduly infringed upon patients’ liberties and that they were “not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”

    The judge’s ruling provides Parliament with six months to create new rules governing the regulation and distribution of medical cannabis in a manner that no longer requires patients to obtain medicine solely from federally-licensed, private third party providers.

    NORML Canada‘s John Conroy served as lead counsel for the plaintiffs in the case, while NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano served as an expert witness and filed an affidavit in the case.

    Canadian officials first legalized the physician authorized use, possession, and home cultivation of medical marijuana in 2001. Those regulations were significantly amended in 2013 in a manner that sought to prohibit qualified patients from continuing to receive cannabis from Health Canada or from growing it themselves.

    Last year, newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to amend Canada’s marijuana laws in a manner that regulates the plant’s use and sale for all adults.

    Text of the decision, Allard et al. v Canada, is online here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director February 22, 2016

    for_painThe long-term, daily use of cannabis is associated with improved analgesia and reduced opioid use in patients with treatment-resistant chronic pain conditions, according to clinical trial data reported online ahead of print in The Clinical Journal of Pain.

    Investigators with Hebrew University in Israel evaluated the use of cannabis on pain in a cohort of 176 patients, each of whom had been previously unresponsive to all conventional pain medications. Subjects inhaled THC-dominant cannabis daily (up to 20 grams per month) for a period of at least six months.

    A majority of participants (66 percent) experienced improvement in their pain symptom scores after cannabis therapy, and most reported “robust” improvements in their quality of life. Subjects’ overall consumption of opioid drugs declined 44 percent by the end of the trial, and a significant percentage of participants discontinued opioid therapy altogether over the course of the study.

    Authors concluded, “In summary, this long-term prospective cohort suggests that cannabis treatment in a mixed group of patients with treatment-resistant chronic pain may result in improved pain, sleep and quality of life outcomes, as well as reduced opioid use.”

    The Israeli results are similar to those reported in a 2015 Canadian trial which concluded that chronic pain patients who use herbal cannabis daily for one-year experienced reduced discomfort and increased quality of life compared to controls, and did not possess an increased risk of serious side effects.

    According to data published in 2014 in The Journal of the American Medical Association, US states with medical marijuana laws experience far fewer opiate-related deaths than do states that prohibit the plant. Investigators from the RAND Corporation and the University of California, Irvine reported similar findings in 2015, concluding, “States permitting medical marijuana dispensaries experience a relative decrease in both opioid addictions and opioid overdose deaths compared to states that do not.” Clinical data published in 2011 in the journal Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics previously reported that the administration of vaporized cannabis “safely augments the analgesic effect of opioids.”

    A review published earlier this year in the Canadian Journal of Anesthesia assessing the clinical use of cannabinoids for pain in over 1,300 subjects concludes, “Overall, the recent literature supports the idea that currently available cannabinoids are modestly effective analgesics that provide a safe, reasonable therapeutic option for managing chronic non-cancer-related pain and possibly cancer-related pain.”

    An abstract of the study, “The effect of medicinal cannabis on pain and quality of life outcomes in chronic pain: A prospective open-label study,” appears online here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director February 16, 2016

    joint_budA report published last fall claiming that an estimated three in ten consumers of cannabis suffer from a ‘use disorder’ has been dismissed in a new study published in JAMA Psychiatry.

    Investigators at the Washington School of Medicine in St. Louis assessed trends in marijuana use and the prevalence of marijuana use disorders during the years 2002 to 2013. Researchers determined that the self-reported use of cannabis by adults increased an estimated 19 percent, but that reports of cannabis-related problems actually declined during this same period.

    “We’re certainly seeing some increases in marijuana use,” the lead researcher of the new study said. “But our survey didn’t notice any increase in marijuana-related problems. Certainly, some people are having problems so we should remain vigilant, but the sky is not falling.”

    Separate evaluations of self-reported marijuana use by young people have determined that rates of cannabis use by high-school students is significantly lower today than it was 15 years ago.

    Full text of the study, “Recent Trends in the Prevalence of Marijuana Use and Associated Disorders in the United States,” appears online in JAMA Psychiatry here.

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