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  • 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 December 1, 2015

    cbd_trichomesThe enactment of statewide laws permitting the use of cannabis for therapeutic purposes is associated with an annual reduction in obesity-related medical costs, according to data published online ahead of print in the journal Health Economics.

    Investigators at Cornell University in New York and San Diego State University in California reviewed twelve years of data from the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System to examine the effects of medical marijuana laws on body weight, physical wellness, and exercise.

    Researchers reported, “[T]he enforcement of MMLs (medical marijuana laws) is associated with a 2% to 6% decline in the probability of obesity. … Our estimates suggest that MMLs induce a $58 to $115 per-person annual reduction in obesity-related medical costs.”

    For those age 35 or older, authors determined that the passage of medical cannabis laws is “associated with an increase in physical wellness and frequent exercise consistent with the hypothesis of some medicinal use of marijuana.” For younger adults, researchers theorized that obesity declines were the result of less alcohol use.

    They concluded, “These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that MMLs may be more likely to induce marijuana use for health-related reasons among older individuals, and cause substitution toward lower-calorie recreational ‘highs’ among younger individuals.”

    The findings are similar to those of other recent observational studies, such as those here and here, concluding that cannabis use is associated with reduced body mass index and obesity.

    The abstract of the study, “The Effect of Medical Marijuana Laws on Body Weight,” appears online here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director November 13, 2015

    cbd_trichomesCurrent consumers of cannabis are 50 percent less likely to suffer from metabolic syndrome as compared to those who have never used the substance, according to findings published online ahead of print 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/or type 2 diabetes, among other serious health consequences.

    Investigators from the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine analyzed the association between cannabis use and metabolic syndrome in a cohort of nearly 8,500 subjects aged 20 to 59 who participated in the 2005-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. Researchers classified subjects as suffering from metabolic syndrome if they possessed more than three of the following symptoms: elevated fasting glucose levels, high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, elevated systolic/diastolic blood pressure, and increased waist circumference.

    Among subjects with no history of cannabis use, 19.5 percent met the criteria for metabolic syndrome. By contrast, 17.5 percent of former users and only 13.8 percent of current users met the criteria.

    “Among emerging adults, current marijuana users were 54 percent less likely than never users to present with metabolic syndrome,” investigators reported. Specifically, mean fasting glucose levels were significantly lower among current marijuana users when compared to never users, while waist circumference was significantly lower among males who reported current marijuana use when compared to those with no cannabis use history.

    “These findings have important implications for the nation as marijuana use becomes more accepted and we simultaneously face multiple epidemics of obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes,” authors concluded.

    The findings are consistent with those of previous observational studies showing an inverse relationship between cannabis use and diabetic markers, and support previous population data showing that those who use cannabis typically possess smaller waist circumference and lower body mass index than those who do not.

    An abstract of the study, “Metabolic Syndrome among Marijuana Users in the United States: An Analysis of National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Data,” is online here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director August 12, 2015

    Study: Cannabis Users Less Likely To Be Obese, Possess Lower Diabetes RiskA history of cannabis use is associated with a lower likelihood of obesity and diabetes, according to population-based data published in the journal Obesity.

    Investigators from the Conference of Quebec University Health Centers assessed cannabis use patterns and body mass index (BMI) in a cohort of 786 Inuit (Arctic aboriginal) adults ages 18 to 74. Researchers reported that subjects who consumed cannabis in the past year were more likely to possess a lower BMI, lower fasting insulin, and lower HOMA-IR (insulin resistance) as compared to those who did not use the substance.

    Specifically, researchers reported that cannabis users possessed an average BMI of 26.8 compared to an index of 28.6 for non-users, after controlling for age, gender and other factors. Those subjects who reported using cannabis but never having used tobacco, or who were former users of tobacco, possessed on average the lowest BMI.

    Authors concluded: “In this large cross-sectional adult survey with high prevalence of both substance use and obesity, cannabis use in the past year was associated with lower BMI, lower percentage fat mass, lower fasting insulin, and HOMA-IR. … The inverse association observed in our work supports evidence from a larger proportion of previous cross-sectional and follow-up investigations. … As a result, cannabinoids from cannabis may be viewed as an interesting avenue for research on obesity and associated conditions.”

    Observational trial data published in 2013 in the American Journal of Medicine reported that subjects who consumed cannabis possessed favorable indices related to diabetic control compared to those without a history of recent marijuana use. Separate observational trial data published in 2012 in the British Medical Journal reported that marijuana users had a lower prevalence of type 2 diabetes and possessed a lower risk of contracting the disease than did those with no history of cannabis consumption, even after researchers adjusted for social variables such as subjects’ ethnicity, family history, and levels of physical activity.

    Cross-sectional data published in 2011 in the American Journal of Epidemiology similarly reported that the prevalence of obesity in the general population is sharply lower among marijuana consumers than it is among nonusers.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director June 10, 2013

    Preclinical study data published online in the scientific journal Nutrition & Diabetes reports that tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) — a naturally occurring analogue of THC — possesses positive metabolic effects in animal models of obesity.

    British researchers assessed the effects of THCV administration on dietary-induced and genetically modified obese mice. Authors reported that although THCV administration did not significantly affect food intake or body weight gain in any of the models, it did produce several metabolically beneficial effects, including reduced glucose intolerance, improved glucose tolerance, improved liver triglyceride levels, and increased insulin sensitivity.

    Researchers concluded: “Based on these data, it can be suggested that THCV may be useful for the treatment of the metabolic syndrome and/or type 2 diabetes (adult onset diabetes), either alone or in combination with existing treatments. Given the reported benefits of another non-THC cannabinoid, CBD in type 1 diabetes, a CBD/THCV combination may be beneficial for different types of diabetes mellitus.”

    Last month, Harvard Medical School researchers published observational data in The American Journal of Medicine reporting that subjects who regularly consume cannabis possess favorable indices related to diabetic control as compared to occasional consumers or non-users of the substance. Writing in an accompanying commentary, the journal’s Editor-in-Chief stated: “These are indeed remarkable observations that are supported, as the authors note, by basic science experiments that came to similar conclusions. … I would like to call on the NIH and the DEA to collaborate in developing policies to implement solid scientific investigations that would lead to information assisting physicians in the proper use and prescription of THC in its synthetic or herbal form.”

    Observational trial data published in 2012 in the British Medical Journal previously reported that adults with a history of marijuana use had a lower prevalence of type 2 diabetes and possess a lower risk of contracting the disease than did those with no history of cannabis consumption, even after researchers adjusted for social variables such as subjects’ ethnicity and levels of physical activity.

    Previously published preclinical data also indicates that the administration of cannabidiol (CBD) halts the development of type 1 (juvenile) diabetes in mice genetically predisposed to the condition.

    Full text of the study, “The cannabinoid ?9-tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) ameliorates insulin sensitivity in two mouse models of obesity,” is available online here.

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