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  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director November 30, 2015

    cannabis_pillsCannabis use is associated with improved outcomes in opioid-dependent subjects undergoing outpatient treatment, according to data published online ahead of print in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

    Researchers at Columbia University assessed the use of cannabinoids versus placebo in opioid-dependent subjects undergoing in-patient detoxification and outpatient treatment with naltrexone, an opiate receptor antagonist. Investigators reported that the administration of oral THC (dronabinol) during the detoxification process lowered the severity of subjects’ withdrawal symptoms compared to placebo, but that these effects did not persist over the entire course of treatment. By contrast, patients who consumed herbal cannabis during the outpatient treatment phase were more readily able to sleep, were less anxious, and were more likely to complete their treatment as compared to those subjects who did not.

    “One of the interesting study findings was the observed beneficial effect of marijuana smoking on treatment retention,” authors concluded. “Participants who smoked marijuana had less difficulty with sleep and anxiety and were more likely to remain in treatment as compared to those who were not using marijuana, regardless of whether they were taking dronabinol or placebo.”

    The findings replicate those of two prior studies, one from 2001 and another from 2009, reporting greater treatment adherence among subjects who consumed cannabis intermittently during outpatient therapy.

    Population data from states where medicinal cannabis is permitted report lower rates of opioid-abuse and mortality as compared to those states where the plant is prohibited. Clinical data and case reports also indicate that the adjunctive use of cannabis may wean patients from opiates while successfully managing their pain. Survey data of state qualified medical cannabis patients demonstrates that subjects with access to the plant often substitute it for opioids because they perceive it to possess fewer adverse side effects.

    Overdose deaths involving opioids have increased dramatically in recent years. While fewer than 4,100 opiate-induced fatalities were reported for the year 1999, by 2010 this figure rose to over 16,600 according to an analysis by the US Centers for Disease Control.

    An abstract of the study, “The effects of dronabinol during detoxification and the initiation of treatment with extended release naltrexone,” appears online here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director July 14, 2015

    Study: Medical Cannabis Access Associated With Reduced Opioid AbuseStates that permit qualified patients to access medical marijuana via dispensaries possess lower rates of opioid addiction and overdose deaths, according to a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a non-partisan think-tank.

    Researchers from the RAND Corporation and the University of California, Irvine assessed the impact of medical marijuana laws on problematic opioid use, as measured by treatment admissions for opioid pain reliever addiction (compiled from the years 1992 to 2012) and by state-level opioid overdose deaths (compiled from the years 1999 to 2013).

    “[S]tates permitting medical marijuana dispensaries experience a relative decrease in both opioid addictions and opioid overdose deaths compared to states that do not,” authors reported. They found that women over the age of 40 showed the most significant decrease in problematic opioid use.

    Data published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine reported that the enactment of statewide medicinal marijuana laws is associated with significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates. “States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8 percent lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws,” investigators reported.

    Overdose deaths involving opioid analgesics have increased dramatically over the past decade. While fewer than 4,100 opiate-induced fatalities were reported for the year 1999, by 2010 this figure rose to over 16,600 according to an analysis by the US Centers for Disease Control.

    An abstract of the study, “Do Medical Marijuana Laws Reduce Addictions and Deaths Related to Pain Killers?”, is available online here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director December 30, 2014

    2014: The Year In Review - NORML's Top 10 Events That Shaped Marijuana PolicyNORML reviews the top news stories of 2014.

    #1 Marijuana Legalization Measures Win Big On Election Day
    Voters in Oregon and Alaska decided on Election Day in favor of statewide initiatives legalizing the commercial production and sale of marijuana for adults, while voters in the nation’s capitol and in numerous other cities nationwide similarly decided on local measures to eliminate marijuana possession penalties.

    #2 Colorado And Washington Begin Regulating Retail Marijuana Sales
    Two states, Colorado and Washington, initiated retail marijuana sales in 2014. Colorado’s program began on January 1. In Washington, state-licensed retail outlets began legally selling cannabis to adults in July.

    #3 Congress Enacts Measure Protecting State-Sponsored Medi-Pot Programs
    President Barack Obama signed spending legislation into law in December that included a provision limiting the Justice Department’s ability to take criminal action against state-licensed individuals or operations that are acting in full compliance with the medical marijuana laws of their states. The amendment 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.”

    #4 Congress Moves To Permit State-Sanctioned Hemp Cultivation
    Federal lawmakers approved legislation in February permitting state-sponsored hemp cultivation to move forward despite the plant’s federal status as a Schedule I prohibited substance.

    #5 Federal Judge Hears Challenge To Cannabis’ Schedule I Status
    United States District Judge Kimberly Mueller heard five days of testimony in October in regard to the constitutionality of marijuana’s Schedule I status under federal law. Defense counsel and their experts argued that the scientific literature is not supportive of the plant’s present categorization. Judge Mueller is expected to make her ruling in early 2015.

    #6 JAMA: Fewer Opiate-Related Deaths In Medical Marijuana States
    The enactment of statewide medicinal marijuana laws is associated with significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates, according to data published in August in JAMA Internal Medicine. Researchers reported, “States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8 percent lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws.”

    #7 President Acknowledges That Booze Is More Harmful Than Marijuana
    Consuming cannabis is less harmful to the individual than is drinking alcohol, President Barack Obama acknowledged in January in an interview with The New Yorker. “I don’t think it (marijuana) is more dangerous than alcohol,” he stated. He added, [W]e should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time.”

    #8 Study: Medical Marijuana States Have Fewer Violent Crimes
    Medicinal cannabis laws are not associated with any rise in statewide criminal activity, according to data published in April in the journal PLoS ONE. “Medical marijuana laws were not found to have a crime exacerbating effect on any of the seven crime types. On the contrary, our findings indicated that MML precedes a reduction in homicide and assault,” authors concluded. “In sum, these findings run counter to arguments suggesting the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes poses a danger to public health in terms of exposure to violent crime and property crimes.”

    #9 NYT Editors Opine In Favor Of Legalizing Cannabis
    The New York Times editorial board in July called upon federal lawmakers to end the criminalization of cannabis for those over the age of 21. The paper’s editors opined: “The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana. … Moderate use of marijuana does not appear to pose a risk for otherwise healthy adults. … [W]e believe that on every level, … the balance falls squarely on the side of national legalization.”

    #10 Americans Say Marijuana Is Less Harmful To Health Than Sugar
    Americans believe that consuming cannabis poses less harm to health than does the consumption of tobacco, alcohol, or sugar, according to the findings of a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released in March. Respondents were asked which of the four substances they believed to be “most harmful to a person’s overall health.” Most respondents said tobacco (49 percent), followed by alcohol (24 percent) and sugar (15 percent).

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director August 25, 2014

    The enactment of medicinal marijuana laws is associated with significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates, according to data published online today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine.

    A team of investigators from the University of Pennsylvania, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore conducted a time-series analysis of medical cannabis laws and state-level death certificate data in the United States from 1999 to 2010 — a period during which 13 states instituted laws allowing for cannabis therapy.

    Researchers reported, “States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws.” Specifically, overdose deaths from opioids decreased by an average of 20 percent one year after the law’s implementation, 25 percent by two years, and up to 33 percent by years five and six.

    They concluded, “In an analysis of death certificate data from 1999 to 2010, we found that states with medical cannabis laws had lower mean opioid analgesic overdose mortality rates compared with states without such laws. This finding persisted when excluding intentional overdose deaths (ie, suicide), suggesting that medical cannabis laws are associated with lower opioid analgesic overdose mortality among individuals using opioid analgesics for medical indications. Similarly, the association between medical cannabis laws and lower opioid analgesic overdose mortality rates persisted when including all deaths related to heroin, even if no opioid analgesic was present, indicating that lower rates of opioid analgesic overdose mortality were not offset by higher rates of heroin overdose mortality. Although the exact mechanism is unclear, our results suggest a link between medical cannabis laws and lower opioid analgesic overdose mortality.”

    In a written statement to Reuters Health, lead author Dr. Marcus Bachhuber said: “Most of the discussion on medical marijuana has been about its effect on individuals in terms of reducing pain or other symptoms. The unique contribution of our study is the finding that medical marijuana laws and policies may have a broader impact on public health.”

    Added co-author Colleen L. Barry in USA Today: “[The study’s findings] suggest the potential for many lives to be saved. … We can speculate … that people are completely switching or perhaps supplementing, which allows them to lower the dosage of their prescription opioid.”

    Nationwide, overdose deaths involving opioid analgesics have increased dramatically over the past decade. While fewer than 4,100 opiate-induced fatalities were reported for the year 1999, by 2010 this figure rose to over 16,600 according to an analysis by the US Centers for Disease Control.

    An abstract of the JAMA study, “Medical Cannabis Laws and Opioid Analgesic Overdose Mortality in the United States, 1999-2010,” appears online here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director July 16, 2013

    Cannabis consumption is associated with mitigated symptoms of opiate withdrawal in subjects undergoing methadone maintenance treatment, according to the findings of a new study published online in The American Journal on Addictions.

    Investigators at the Farber Institute for Neurosciences at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia assessed the use of cannabis in 91 opiate-dependent subjects undergoing methadone maintenance treatment. Researchers found that subjects seeking methadone treatment who acknowledged a history of cannabis use reported “significantly less daily expenditure on acquisition of opiates.”

    Authors additionally reported that subjects’ use of cannabis during treatment was associated with less severe symptoms of withdrawal on the clinical opiate withdrawal scale (COWS), an index designed to serve as an objective measure of opiate withdrawal. “[I]ncreased cannabis use was found to be associated with lower severity of [opiate] withdrawal in a subset of the sample with available chart data,” authors wrote. “These results suggested a potential role for cannabis in the reduction of withdrawal severity during methadone induction.”

    They concluded, “The present findings may point to novel interventions to be employed during treatment for opiate dependence that specifically target cannabinoid–opioid system interactions.”

    A 2009 study published in the same journal previously reported that moderate cannabis use and improved retention in naltrexone treatment among opiate-dependent subjects.

    Full text of the study, “Impact of cannabis use during stabilization on methadone maintenance treatment,” appears online in The American Journal on Addictions.

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