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  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director July 6, 2010

    Investigators and pundits alike are fond of calling for ‘more research’ into the safety and efficacy of marijuana and its active compounds. Ironically, when such calls are heeded and new research is published, nobody wants to talk about it.

    For example, researchers at the State University of New York (SUNY), Upstate Medical University in Syracuse published data in the June issue of the journal Pharmacology concluding that the administration of the plant cannabinoids delta-8-THC and delta-9-THC halted cellular respiration and tumor growth in human oral cancer cells. Specifically, investigators reported that cannabinoids were a “potent inhibitor” of Tu183 human cancer cells, a notoriously difficult to treat type of oral cancer.

    Of course, this is hardly the first time that pot’s compounds have been demonstrated to possess anti-cancer properties. As has been widely reported here and elsewhere, US government researchers were first aware of this finding over 35 years ago, and today there exist published scientific studies demonstrating that cannabinoids can inhibit the proliferation of a wide range of cancers — including brain cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer, skin cancer, pancreatic cancer, biliary tract cancer, and lymphoma. Nonetheless, abstract prohibitionist concerns regarding marijuana’s supposed cancer risk continue to dominate the headlines while actual scientific studies debunking these allegations tend to go unnoticed.

    Similarly, preclinical data published online last week in the journal Cell Communication and Signaling reported that the administration of the non-psychoactive cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD) increases adult neurogenesis (the active production of new neurons) in laboratory animals. Authors speculated that cannabis’ pro-neurogenic effects may explain why the plant appears to be useful in the treatment of certain neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease or ALS.

    As I wrote last week, to date there are now over 20,000 published studies or reviews in the scientific literature pertaining to marijuana and its active compounds — making marijuana the most studied plant on Earth. But what’s the point in further research if nobody even bothers to pay attention to the research that’s already been done?

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 26, 2010

    The mainstream media loves to spill ink hyping the allegation that marijuana causes mental illness, particularly schizophrenia. In fact, it was in March when international media outlets declared that cannabis use ‘doubled’ one’s risk of developing the disease. Yet when research appears in scientific journals rebuking just this sort of ‘reefer madness,’ it generally goes unreported.

    Such is the case with a pair of just-published studies slated to appear in the journal Schizophrenia Research. The first study, conducted by a team of researchers at various New York state hospitals, the Yale University School of Medicine, and the National Institutes of Mental Health assessed whether there exists a causal association between cannabis use and the age of onset of psychosis in patients hospitalized for the first time for an episode of schizophrenia.

    Despite previous media claims to the contrary, researchers concluded:
    “Although the onset of cannabis use disorder preceded the onset of illness in most patients, our findings suggest that age at onset of psychosis was not associated with cannabis use disorders. Previous studies implicating cannabis use disorders in schizophrenia may need to more comprehensively assess the relationship between cannabis use disorders and schizophrenia, and take into account the additional variables that we found associated with cannabis use disorders.”

    A separate study slated for publication in the same journal assessed the cognitive skills of schizophrenic patients with a history of cannabis use compared to non-users. Authors reported that patients with a history of marijuana use “demonstrated significantly better performance on measures of processing speed, verbal fluency, and verbal learning and memory” compared to abstainers. Marijuana use was also associated with better overall GAF (Global Assessment of Functioning) scores compared to those of non-users.

    Authors concluded: “The results of the present analysis suggest that (cannabis use) in patients with SZ (schizophrenia) is associated with better performance on measures of processing speed and verbal skills. These data are consistent with prior reports indicating that SZ patients with a history of CUD (cannabis use disorders) have less severe cognitive deficits than SZ patients without comorbid CUD. … The present findings also suggest that CUD in patients with SZ may not differentially affect the severity of illness as measured by clinical symptomatology.”

    Both study’s findings are in line with previous (though virtually unreported) research indicating that marijuana is unlikely to instigate incidences of schizophrenia in the general population, that cannabis use among patients with the disease is associated with higher cognitive function, and that at least some schizophrenics find subjective relief from symptoms of the illness by using pot. Nonetheless, odds are the nobody from the mainstream media will be champing at the bit to report on them.

    Bottom line: marijuana’s complex relationship with schizophrenia is far from understood, and likely won’t be for some time. But that doesn’t give the MSM a free pass to only promote one side of the story.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director December 29, 2009

    UPDATE!!! In a 12/29 e-mail communication with the San Diego Union-Tribune‘s Newsroom Operations Manager (in reference to their coverage below), she pledges: “I will follow up with our online staff right now. We will get it corrected or taken down.” Yet, as of 11am pst today the story still appears online in its original form. Those who live in southern California may also wish to voice their opinion at: http://www.signonsandiego.com/contactus/.

    For anyone who missed the worldwide corporate media’s hysterical anti-pot headlines last week, here’s a sampling:

    Cannabis more damaging to adolescent brains than previously known
    via Emax Health
    “New research shows that teens who consume cannabis daily can suffer anxiety and depression. Smoking marijuana can have long-term irreversible effects on adolescent brains, and is more harmful to teens than previously known.”

    Teen marijuana use affects brain permanently: study
    via CBC News
    “The findings suggest daily marijuana use by teens can cause depression and anxiety, and have an irreversible effect on the brain.”

    Pot damage on teens worse than thought
    via UPI wire services
    “Daily consumption of marijuana in teens can cause depression and anxiety, and have irreversible long-term effect on the brain, Canadian researchers say.”

    Cannabis brain damage worse in teens than thought: study
    via The Canadian Press
    “The effects of daily cannabis use on teenage brains is worse than originally thought, and the long-term effects appear to be irreversible, new research from McGill University suggests.”

    Sounds scary, huh? It’s meant to. Only there’s three serious problems with the mainstream media’s alarmist coverage.

    1) No adolescents — or for that matter, any human beings whatsoever — actually participated in the study.

    2) No actual cannabis was consumed in the study.

    3) No permanent brain damage was reported in the study.

    Don’t believe me? Well then, check out the actual source of the headlines yourself.

    Chronic exposure to cannabinoids during adolescence but not during adulthood impairs emotional behaviour and monoaminergic neurotransmission
    via PubMed

    “We tested this hypothesis by administering the CB(1) receptor agonist WIN55,212-2, once daily for 20 days to adolescent and adult rats. … Chronic adolescent exposure but not adult exposure to low (0.2 mg/kg) and high (1.0 mg/kg) doses led to depression-like behaviour in the forced swim and sucrose preference test, while the high dose also induced anxiety-like consequences in the novelty-suppressed feeding test. … These (findings) suggest that long-term exposure to cannabinoids during adolescence induces anxiety-like and depression-like behaviours in adulthood and that this may be instigated by serotonergic hypoactivity and noradrenergic hyperactivity.”

    To summarize: Investigators administered daily doses of a highly potent synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonist WIN,55,212-2 to both adolescent rats and adult rats for 20 days. Days following their exposure, researchers documented altered serotonin production in younger rats. (Why investigators presumed that the change in serotonin production would be permanent I have no idea. After the initial 20-day waiting period, researchers do not appear to have tested the rats’ serotonin levels ever again.) Researchers also documented supposed depression-like and anxiety-like behavior in certain rats, based on various elaborate animal models and preference tests.

    Yet somehow based on this speculative preclinical evidence, the mainstream media — in unison — proclaimed:

    Reefer badness
    via San Diego Tribune

    “A study of Canadian teenagers … found that smoking the illicit drug is harder on young brains than originally thought. Writing in the journal Neurobiology of Disease, researchers at McGill University in Montreal said daily consumption of cannabis in teens can cause significant depression and anxiety and have an irreversible long-term effect on the brain.”

    In truth, the purported ‘study’ never said anything of the sort!

    So why the does the MSM consistently get the story wrong when it comes to pot? You can check out my previous thoughts on the issue here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director August 25, 2009

    Well, that only took a month.

    Earlier today Reuters News Wire finally took the time to report that lifetime marijuana use is associated with a reduced risk of head and neck cancer. That’s according to the findings of a population-based case control study of some 1,000 subjects, published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research.

    But you already know this because NORML initially posted the news in July.

    To review, here is what the study found:

    Authors reported, “After adjusting for potential confounders (including smoking and alcohol drinking), 10 to 20 years of marijuana use was associated with a significantly reduced risk of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma … [as was] moderate weekly use.”

    Subjects who smoked marijuana and consumed alcohol and tobacco (two known high risk factors for head and neck cancers) also experienced a reduced risk of cancer, the study found.

    “This association was consistent across different measures of marijuana use (marijuana use status, duration, and frequency of use). … Further, we observed that marijuana use modified the interaction between alcohol and cigarette smoking, resulting in a decreased HNSCC risk among moderate smokers and light drinkers, and attenuated risk among the heaviest smokers and drinkers.

    Notably, Reuters‘ writers took a much more skeptical view of the study’s findings, as evident by the headline:

    Could smoking pot cut risk of head, neck cancer?
    via Reuters Health

    Strange that Reuters would frame their headline in the form of a question. After all, the study’s authors expressed no such reservations, concluding in the final line of their abstract, “Our study suggests that moderate marijuana use is associated with reduced risk of HNSCC (head and neck cancer).”

    Reuters skepticism continues:

    It’s unclear why marijuana would prevent cancer, if in fact the study is borne out by others, but the authors note that chemicals in pot called cannabinoids have been shown to have potential antitumor effects. Other studies have linked marijuana use to a reduced risk of some cancers, such as cancer of the prostate, and now head and neck cancer.

    … Overall, however, research on the effects of marijuana on human health is mixed. Some studies have suggested the drug can increase a person’s risk of heart attack or stroke and cause some cancers such as lung cancer.

    Let’s take things one at a time, shall we. First, it’s hardly ‘unclear’ as to why marijuana would be cancer-preventive. To quote the scientific journal Nature Reviews Cancer from 2003:

    Cannabinoids: potential anticancer agents
    via Nature Reviews Cancer

    Cannabinoids inhibit tumor growth in laboratory animals. They do so by modulating key cell-signaling pathways, thereby inducing direct growth arrest and death of tumor cells, as well as by inhibiting tumor angiogenesis and metastasis. Cannabinoids are selective anti-tumor compounds, as they can kill tumor cells without affecting their non-transformed counterparts.

    Reuters unnamed author(s) further add the caveat: “if in fact the study is borne out by others.” News flash: this study was performed precisely because pot’s cancer preventive effects had been “borne out in others,” such as this:

    Study finds no cancer-marijuana connection
    via The Washington Post

    The largest study of its kind has unexpectedly concluded that smoking marijuana, even regularly and heavily, does not lead to lung cancer. … “We hypothesized that there would be a positive association between marijuana use and lung cancer, and that the association would be more positive with heavier use,” he said. “What we found instead was no association at all, and even a suggestion of some protective effect.”

    Reuters further states: “Other studies have linked marijuana use to a reduced risk of some cancers, such as cancer of the prostate, and now head and neck cancer.” Notably, the wire service failed to include that cannabinoids also have documented anti-cancer fighting abilities in the treatment of: brain cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer, skin cancer, and pancreatic cancer — just to name a few.

    And finally, Reuters obligatorily adds that pot’s effects on health are ‘mixed,’ alleging that “some studies have suggested the drug can increase a person’s risk of heart attack or stroke and cause some cancers such as lung cancer.” Ah yes, the ever elusive “some studies.”

    Well, as for cannabis smoking and lung cancer, that claim was rebutted by the largest study of its kind, profiled above. As for the alleged risk of “heart attack or stroke,” a large-scale population study by Kaiser Permanente reportedno association of marijuana use with cardiovascular disease hospitalization or mortality.”

    That said, I’m all for the media espousing skepticism regarding claims about cannabis. Of course, were the MSM to apply this same attitude to the federal government’s claims about marijuana and pot prohibition, we wouldn’t have to suffer through stories like these, now would we?

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director August 18, 2009

    To follow up on yesterday’s blog post, here are the findings of yet another just published study that the mainstream media will undoubtedly ignore.

    Effects of cannabis on lung function: a population-based cohort study
    via nih.gov

    The effects of cannabis on lung function remain unclear and may be different to tobacco. We compared the associations between use of these substances and lung function in a population-based cohort (n=1037). … Cumulative cannabis use was associated with higher forced vital capacity, total lung capacity, functional residual capacity, and residual volume. Cannabis was also associated with higher airways resistance but not with forced expiratory volume in 1 second, forced expiratory ratio, or transfer factor. These findings were similar amongst those who did not smoke tobacco.

    By contrast, tobacco use was associated with lower forced expiratory volume in 1 second, lower forced expiratory ratio, lower transfer factor, and higher static lung volumes, but not with airways resistance. Cannabis appears to have different effects on lung function to those of tobacco.

    Just in case you think that this is the first time that researchers have failed to document a decline in lung function in marijuana users, well, think again. And again. And again.

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