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SCIENCE

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director October 8, 2013

    United States Supreme Court yesterday declined to review a lower court ruling upholding the federal government’s classification of cannabis as a Schedule I prohibited substance that lacks medical utility or adequate safety.

    In January, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the US Drug Enforcement Administration had acted properly when it rejected an administrative petition calling for a scientific review of marijuana’s safety and therapeutic efficacy. Petitioners had requested a hearing to determine whether existing science contradicts the federal categorization of cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance that possesses “a high potential for abuse;” “no currently accepted medical use in treatment;” and “a lack of accepted safety for the use of the drug … under medical supervision.” The DC Court of Appeals affirmed the DEA’s position that insufficient clinical studies exist to warrant a judicial review of cannabis’ federally prohibited status. On Monday, the US Supreme Court denied an appeal to review that decision, rejecting petitioners’ argument that adequate peer-reviewed studies already exist to sufficiently contradict the plant’s placement in Schedule I – the same classification as heroin and PCP.

    The DEA’s stance willfully ignores volumes of scientific studies. For example, a 2012 review of FDA-approved clinical trials assessing the safety and therapeutic efficacy of cannabis, published in The Open Neurology Journal, concluded: “Based on evidence currently available the Schedule I classification [of marijuana] is not tenable; it is not accurate that cannabis has no medical value, or that information on safety is lacking.”

    The case is Americans for Safe Access et al. v. Drug Enforcement Administration, case number 13-84, in the United State’s Supreme Court.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director August 27, 2013

    The administration of THC modulates emotional processing in healthy volunteers, according to placebo-controlled crossover trial data published online by the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology.

    Investigators from the United Kingdom and the Netherlands performed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) on 11 healthy male subjects. Following the administration of THC or placebo, researchers assessed subjects’ brain activity during their exposure to stimuli with a negative (‘fearful faces’) content or a positive content (‘happy faces’). They hypothesized that THC administration would reduce subjects’ negative bias in emotional processing and shift it towards a positive bias. A bias toward negative stimuli has been linked to diagnoses of certain mental illnesses such as depression.

    As anticipated, authors reported a reduction brain activity after THC administration when subjects’ processed stimuli with a negative emotional content. Conversely, researchers reported increased brain activity following THC administration when subjects’ processed stimuli with a positive emotional content.

    They concluded: “These results indicate that THC administration reduces the negative bias in emotional processing. This adds human evidence to support the hypothesis that the endocannabinoid system is involved in modulation of emotional processing. Our findings also suggest a possible role for the endocannabinoid system in abnormal emotional processing, and may thus be relevant for psychiatric disorders such as major depression.”

    An abstract of the study, “The endocannabinoid system and emotional processing: A pharmacological fMRI study with ?9-tetrahydrocannabinol,” appears online here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director August 13, 2013

    The passage of medical cannabis laws is associated with a reduction in the public’s consumption of alcohol and with fewer incidences of alcohol-related traffic fatalities, according to data published in the Journal of Law and Economics.

    Investigators at Montana State University, the University of Oregon, and the University of Colorado assessed data regarding both alcohol consumption and traffic fatality rates for the years 1990 to 2010.

    Authors wrote: “Using individual-level data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) …, we find that MMLs (medical marijuana laws) are associated with decreases in the probability of [an individual] having consumed alcohol in the past month, binge drinking, and the number of drinks consumed.”

    Researchers further acknowledged that this general decline in the public’s use of alcohol was likely responsible for a parallel decline in the number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities.

    They wrote:

    “Using data from FARS (federal Fatality Analysis Reporting System) for the period 1990–2010, we find that traffic fatalities fall by 8–11 percent the first full year after legalization. … Why does legalizing medical marijuana reduce traffic fatalities? Alcohol consumption appears to play a key role. The legalization of medical marijuana is associated with a 7.2 percent decrease in traffic fatalities in which there was no reported alcohol involvement, but this estimate is not statistically significant at conventional levels. In comparison, the legalization of medical marijuana is associated with a 13.2 percent decrease in fatalities in which at least one driver involved had a positive BAC level. The negative relationship between the legalization of medical marijuana and traffic fatalities involving alcohol lends support to the hypothesis that marijuana and alcohol are substitutes.”

    Authors determined, “We conclude that alcohol is the likely mechanism through which the legalization of medical marijuana reduces traffic fatalities. However, this conclusion does not necessarily imply that driving under the influence of marijuana is safer than driving under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol is often consumed in restaurants and bars, while many states prohibit the use of medical marijuana in public. If marijuana consumption typically takes place at home or other private locations, then legalization could reduce traffic fatalities simply because marijuana users are less likely to drive while impaired.”

    The abstract of the study, “Medical marijuana laws, traffic fatalities, and alcohol consumption,” is available free online here. NORML has several additional papers specific to the issue of cannabis and psychomotor performance available online here.

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director August 8, 2013

    CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta has reversed his previous opposition to marijuana law reform and delivered a full throated defense of cannabis’ medical applications in an editorial published this week on CNN.

    In his own words:

    Over the last year, I have been working on a new documentary called “Weed.” The title “Weed” may sound cavalier, but the content is not.

    I traveled around the world to interview medical leaders, experts, growers and patients. I spoke candidly to them, asking tough questions. What I found was stunning.

    Long before I began this project, I had steadily reviewed the scientific literature on medical marijuana from the United States and thought it was fairly unimpressive. Reading these papers five years ago, it was hard to make a case for medicinal marijuana. I even wrote about this in a TIME magazine article, back in 2009, titled “Why I would Vote No on Pot.”

    Well, I am here to apologize.

    Click here to read the full article.

    Dr. Gupta, a neurosurgeon and CNN’s chief medical correspondent, explains how he mistakenly bought into certain government propaganda surrounding cannabis, but through continued research and his experiences filming his upcoming documentary “Weed” (which airs on CNN on Sunday at 8pm ET and PT) completely changed his mind on the plant and its efficacy.

    I mistakenly believed the Drug Enforcement Agency listed marijuana as a schedule 1 substance because of sound scientific proof. Surely, they must have quality reasoning as to why marijuana is in the category of the most dangerous drugs that have “no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse.”

    They didn’t have the science to support that claim, and I now know that when it comes to marijuana neither of those things are true. 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.

    NORML applauds Dr. Gupta for openly apologizing for his role in how Americans have been “terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States” on the issue of marijuana and his recent advocacy in favor of marijuana law reforms, something we can only hope will continue. Sanjay appeared on Piers Morgan Live last night to promote his new documentary, this segment alone demands some attention for his ability to explain the medical applications of cannabis and the hypocrisy of our current laws in an intelligent and articulate manner.

    If current momentum sustains itself, Sanjay Gupta (who was named Forbes #8 Most Influential Celebrity in 2011) is just one more of what will become a long line of prominent and respected media and medical professionals who will speak up against our failed cannabis prohibition. His advocacy can have nothing but a net positive effect on the current dialogue going on in mainstream America surrounding marijuana and help continue to push public opinion in our favor.

    Sanjay Gupta’s “Weed” airs this Sunday on CNN at 8pm ET and PT

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director August 6, 2013

    People who consume cannabis are more likely to be knowledgeable about the substance’s health effects than are those who abstain from it, according to survey data reported online in the International Journal of Public Health Policy.

    Researchers at the University of Zurich in Switzerland assessed the health literacy of some 12,000 male subjects. Investigators reported that those subjects who consumed cannabis, alcohol, and tobacco “searched for information about substances significantly more often via the Internet than abstainers.” These subjects also “reported better knowledge of risks associated with substance use and a marginally better ability to understand health information than abstainers,” the authors found.

    In particular, subjects who reported consuming cannabis weekly were four times more likely to search for health-related information as compared those who abstained, the study found.

    Researchers concluded, “Substance users appear to be more informed and knowledgeable about the risks of substance use than non-users.”

    Read the abstract of the study, “Health literacy and substance use in young Swiss men,” here.

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