Loading

brain

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director April 27, 2017

    Cannabis PenaltiesA recently released white paper published by the National District Attorneys Association is calling for the federal government to strictly enforce anti-cannabis laws in states that have regulated its production and distribution for either medical or recreational purposes.

    The working group, which consists of D.A.s and prosecutors from more than a dozen states (including representatives from adult use states like California and Colorado), hopes to influence the Trump administration to set aside the 2013 Cole memorandum. That memorandum, authored by former US Deputy Attorney General James Cole, directs state prosecutors not to interfere with state legalization efforts and those licensed to engage in the plant’s production and sale, provided that such persons do not engage in marijuana sales to minors or divert the product to states that have not legalized its use, among other guidelines.

    “To maintain respect for the rule of law, it is essential that federal drug enforcement policy regarding the manufacture, importation, possession, use and distribution of marijuana be applied consistently across the nation,” the NDAA paper concludes.

    Predictably, authors repeat numerous falsehoods about marijuana and marijuana policy in an effort to bolster their call for a federal crackdown. Specifically, authors allege that cannabis damages the brain to a far greater extent than alcohol and that statewide regulations have increased young people’s access to the plant. Both claims are demonstrably false.

    The NDAA opines, “[Marijuana] is not like alcohol … because alcohol use does not cause the same type of permanent changes to teens’ ability to concentrate and learn.” Yet, well controlled studies dismiss the contention that cannabis exposure causes permanent structural damage to the brain.

    Specifically, a 2015 study assessed brain morphology in both daily adult and adolescent cannabis users compared to non-users, with a particular focus on whether any differences were identifiable in the nucleus accumbens, amygdala, hippocampus, and the cerebellum. Investigators reported “no statistically significant differences … between daily users and nonusers on volume or shape in the regions of interest” after researchers controlled for potentially confounding variables. In contrast to marijuana, researchers acknowledged that alcohol “has been unequivocally associated with deleterious effects on brain morphology and cognition in both adults and adolescents.”

    The NDAA further claims, “Legalization of marijuana for medical use and recreational use clearly sends a message to youth that marijuana is not dangerous and increases youth access to marijuana.”

    But data from the US Centers for Disease control reports that young people’s access to marijuana has fallen by 13 percent since 2002. The agency further reports, “Since 2002, the prevalence of marijuana use and initiation among U.S. youth has declined” – a finding that is consistent with numerous prior studies.

    Moreover, state-specific post-legalization data published in March by the Colorado Department of Public Health concludes: “[M]arijuana use, both among adults and among youth, does not appear to be increasing to date. No change was observed in past 30-day marijuana use among adults between 2014 (13.6 percent) and 2015 (13.4 percent). Similarly, there was no statistically significant change in 30-day or lifetime marijuana use among high school students between 2013 (lifetime: 36.9 percent, 30-day: 19.7 percent) and 2015 (lifetime: 38.0 percent, 30-day: 21.2 percent).” 2016 data compiled by Washington State Department of Social and Health Services similarly finds that “rates of teen marijuana use have remained steady” post legalization.

    The National District Attorneys Association is the largest and oldest prosecutor organization in the country. Their mission is to be “the voice of America’s prosecutors and strives to support their efforts to protect the rights and safety of the people in their communities.”

    The full text of the their paper, entitled “Marijuana Policy: The State and Local Prosecutors’ Perspective,” is available online here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director December 29, 2015

    2015: The Year In Review - NORML's Top 10 Events That Shaped Marijuana Policy

    NORML reviews the top news stories of 2015.

    #1 Congress Reauthorizes Medical Marijuana Protections
    Members of Congress approved language in the fiscal year 2016 omnibus spending bill that continues to limit the federal government from taking punitive action against state-licensed individuals or operations that are acting are in full compliance with the medical marijuana laws of their states. The provisions reauthorize Section 538 of the Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015, which states, "None of the funds made available in this act to the Department of Justice may be used … to prevent … states … from implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana."

    #2 Federal Judge Upholds Marijuana’s Schedule I Status
    A federal judge in April rejected a motion challenging the constitutionality of cannabis’ classification as a Schedule I prohibited substance. "At some point in time, a court may decide this status to be unconstitutional," Judge Kimberly Mueller said from the bench. "But this is not the court and not the time." Judge Meuller had presided over five days of hearings in October 2014 in a challenge brought by members of the NORML Legal Committee.

    #3 Medical Cannabis Access Associated With Less Opioid Abuse
    States that permit qualified patients to access medical marijuana via dispensaries possess lower rates of opioid addiction and overdose deaths, according to a study published in July by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a non-partisan think-tank. The findings mirror those published in 2014 in The Journal of the American Medical Association concluding, "States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8 percent lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws."

    #4 DC Depenalizes Marijuana; Arrests Plummet
    Despite threats from members of Congress, District officials implemented voter-approved legislation earlier this year eliminating penalties associated with the possession and cultivation of personal use quantities of marijuana by adults. Following the law’s implementation, marijuana-related arrests in the nation’s capital fell 99 percent.

    #5 Marijuana Law Changes Don’t Change Youth Use, Attitudes
    Rates of youth marijuana use are unaffected by changing laws, according to data published in July in The American Journal of drug and Alcohol Abuse. Investigators evaluated trends in young people’s attitudes toward cannabis and their use of the substance during the years 2002 to 2013 – a time period where 14 states enacted laws legalizing the medical use of the plant, and two states approved its recreational use by adults. "Our results may suggest that recent changes in public policy, including the decriminalization, medicalization, and legalization of marijuana in cities and states across the country, have not resulted in more use or greater approval of marijuana use among younger adolescents," researchers reported.

    #6 Gallup Poll: More Americans Than Ever Say Marijuana Should Be Legal
    Fifty-eight percent of Americans believe that "the use of marijuana should be made legal," according to nationwide survey data released in October by Gallup pollsters. The percentage ties the highest level of support ever reported by Gallup, which has been measuring Americans’ attitudes toward cannabis since the late 1960s. The percentage is more than twice the level of support reported in the mid-1990s.

    #7 Study: Marijuana Use Not Associated With Changes In Brain Morphology
    Marijuana use is not associated with structural changes in the brain, according to imaging data published in January in The Journal of Neuroscience. Investigators assessed brain morphology in both daily adult and adolescent cannabis users compared to non-users. They found "no statistically significant differences … between daily users and nonusers on volume or shape in the regions of interest" after researchers controlled for participants’ use of alcohol. "[T]he results indicate that, when carefully controlling for alcohol use, gender, age, and other variables, there is no association between marijuana use and standard volumetric or shape measurements of subcortical structures," researchers reported.

    #8 Marijuana Consumers Less Likely To Be Obese, Suffer Diabetes Risk
    Those who consume cannabis are 50 percent less likely to suffer from metabolic syndrome as compared to those who do not, according to findings published in November in The American Journal of Medicine. Metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors, including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, unhealthy cholesterol levels, and abdominal fat, which are linked to increased risk of heart disease and adult onset diabetes, among other serious health consequences. The findings are similar to those of previous studies reporting that those who use cannabis are less likely to be obese or suffer from diabetes.

    #9 NHTSA: THC-Positive Drivers Don’t Possesses Elevated Crash Risk
    Drivers who test positive for the presence of THC in their blood are no more likely to be involved in motor vehicle crashes than are drug-free drivers, according to a case-control study released in February by the United States National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration. Authors reported that drivers who tested positive for the presence of THC possessed an unadjusted, elevated risk of accident of 25 percent (Odds Ratio=1.25) compared to controls (drivers who tested negative for any drug or alcohol). However, this elevated risk became insignificant (OR=1.05) after investigators adjusted for demographic variables, such as the drivers’ age and gender. The study is the largest of its kind ever conducted in the United States.

    #10 Legal Marijuana States Collect Over $200 Million In New Tax Revenue
    Taxes on the legal production and sale of cannabis in the states of Colorado and Washington have yielded over $200 million in new revenue since going into effect in 2014, according to calculations reported by The Huffington Post in September. Colorado collected more than $117 million dollars from marijuana sales while Washington collected over $83 million. Cannabis sales commenced in Oregon in on October 1, 2015 and have yet to begin in Alaska.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director August 26, 2015

    Latest JAMA Studies Largely Fail To Support Past Claims About Marijuana And Brain HealthTwo new studies published online today in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Psychiatry provide little support for previous claims that cannabis exposure is significantly harmful to the developing brain.

    The first study, which assessed the effects of cannabis exposure on brain volume in exposed and unexposed sibling pairs, reported that any identifiable differences “were attributable to common predispositional factors, genetic or environmental in origin.” By contrast, authors found “no evidence for the causal influence of cannabis exposure” on brain morphology.

    The trial is “the largest study to date examining the association between cannabis exposure (ever versus never used) and brain volumes.”

    The study is one of two recent clinical trials to be published in recent months rebutting the claims of a widely publicized 2014 paper which alleged that even casual marijuana exposure may be linked to brain abnormalities, particularly in the region of the brain known as the amygdala. In January, researchers writing in The Journal of Neuroscience reported “no statistically significant differences … between daily [marijuana] users and nonusers on [brain] volume or shape in the regions of interest” after researchers controlled for participants’ use of alcohol. Similarly, today’s JAMA study “casts considerable doubt on hypotheses that cannabis use … causes reductions in amygdala volumes.”

    A second study appearing today in the journal assessed whether cannabis use during adolescence is associated with brain changes that may be linked to an increased risk of schizophrenia. While researchers reported finding an association among male subjects who possessed a high genetic predisposition toward schizophrenia, authors reported that no such association existed among male subjects who were at low risk for the disease, or among females in either the high risk or low risk categories. The finding is consistent with the theory that early onset cannabis use may potentially exacerbate symptoms in a minority of subjects predisposed to the disease, but it contradicts claims that marijuana exposure is a likely cause of schizophrenia, particularly among those who are not already vulnerable to the disease.

    Abstracts of both new studies appear online in JAMA Psychiatry here and here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director February 10, 2015

    Study: Marijuana Use Not Associated With Previously Reported Changes In Brain MorphologyIt was less than a year ago when the mainstream media was chock-full of headlines like this one: ‘Brain changes associated with casual marijuana use in young adults, study finds.’ The alarmist headlines were in response to a controversial paper published by researchers at Harvard University in Boston and Northwestern University in Chicago which alleged to have found differences in brain morphology in a cohort of 20 college-age marijuana users as compared to 20 non-users. The study’s investigators attributed the differences to subjects’ cannabis use.

    But a funny thing happened when a team of scientists from the University of Colorado and the University of Kentucky tried to replicate these results in a separate, larger sample (158 participants) of subjects after rigorously controlling for both groups’ use of alcohol.

    They couldn’t.

    Writing in the January 28 edition of The Journal of Neuroscience, authors summarized:

    “[T]his retrospective study examined brain morphology in a sample of adult daily marijuana users (n = 29) versus nonusers (n = 29) and a sample of adolescent daily users (n = 50) versus nonusers (n = 50). Groups were matched on a critical confounding variable, alcohol use, to a far greater degree than in previously published studies.

    We acquired high-resolution MRI scans, and investigated group differences in gray matter using voxel-based morphometry, surface-based morphometry, and shape analysis in structures suggested to be associated with marijuana use, as follows: the nucleus accumbens, amygdala, hippocampus, and cerebellum.

    No statistically significant differences were found between daily users and nonusers on volume or shape in the regions of interest. Effect sizes suggest that the failure to find differences was not due to a lack of statistical power, but rather was due to the lack of even a modest effect.”

    Why the contradictory results? Investigators speculated that previously reported imaging studies failed to adequately control for the impact of alcohol, a substance that “unlike marijuana, … has been unequivocally associated with deleterious effects on brain morphology and cognition in both adults and adolescents.” In other words, researchers theorized that previously reported differences in the brain images of marijuana consumers as compared to non-users were likely because of subjects consumption of booze, not cannabis.

    They concluded, “In sum, the results indicate that, when carefully controlling for alcohol use, gender, age, and other variables, there is no association between marijuana use and standard volumetric or shape measurements of subcortical structures. … [I]t seems unlikely that marijuana use has the same level of long-term deleterious effects on brain morphology as other drugs like alcohol. The press may not cite studies that do not find sensational effects, but these studies are still extremely important.”

    An abstract of the study, “Daily Marijuana Use Is Not Associated with Brain Morphometric Measures in Adolescents or Adults,” is online here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director November 12, 2014

    NORML’s Deputy Director today on Alternet.org addressed new media claims that cannabis use can potentially shrink the brain:

    [excerpt] A new study identifying minor differences in the brain imaging of habitual marijuana consumers compared to non-users may be ideal for stimulating sensational headlines (e.g., “Regular pot smokers have shrunken brains, study says,” Los Angeles Times, November 10), but tells us little in regard to whether pot poses actual health risks.

    Specifically, an MRI scan revealed less gray matter in the orbital frontal cortex of pot-smoking subjects compared to those who had never used the drug. Researchers also identified increased connectivity between certain regions of the brain in regular marijuana users compared with non-users.

    So precisely what do these findings tell us in regard to pot use and health? Not much. Since the study design is not longitudinal, investigators cannot determine whether these differences are caused by subject’s cannabis use, whether these differences existed prior to subjects’ ever trying cannabis, or whether these differences persist when users’ cannabis consumption ceases.

    Most importantly, investigators in this study failed to determine whether any of these differences are positively associated with any measurable adverse performance outcomes, such as cognitive performance or quality of life. It may be that these cannabis users are functioning in their daily lives in a manner that is indistinguishable from controls, in which case the imaging differences may hold little if any real-world significance. (In fact, one of the paper’s authors acknowledged, “[C]hronic users appear to be doing fine.”)

    Full text of NORML’s response, “Media Leaping to Extremely Faulty Conclusions from Study on the Effects of Marijuana on the Brain,” appears online here.

Page 1 of 3123