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SCIENCE

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director February 1, 2019

    Patients authorized to legally use medical cannabis frequently substitute it in place of benzodiazepines, according to a pair of new studies published this week. Benzodiazepines are class of drugs primarily used for treating anxiety. According to data compiled by the US Centers for Disease Control, the drug was attributed to over 11,500 overdose deaths in 2017.

    In the first study, Canadian researchers assessed the relationship between cannabis and benzodiazepines in a cohort of 146 patients enrolled in the nation’s medical marijuana access program. They reported that 30 percent of participants discontinued their use of anti-anxiety medications within two-months of initiating cannabis therapy, and that 45 percent did so by six-months. “Patients initiated on medical cannabis therapy showed significant benzodiazepine discontinuation rates after their first follow-up visit to their medical cannabis prescriber, and continued to show significant discontinuation rates thereafter,” authors concluded.

    In the second study, investigators at the University of Michigan surveyed over 1,300 state-registered medical cannabis patients with regard to their use of opioids and benzodiazepines. They reported that 53 percent of respondents acknowledged substituting marijuana for opioids, and 22 percent did so for benzodiazepines.

    These findings are consistent with numerous other papers — such as those here, here, here, and here — documenting patients’ use of cannabis in place of a variety of prescription drugs, particularly opioids and anti-anxiety medications.

    Full text of the study, “Reduction of benzodiazepine use in patients prescribed medical cannabis,” appears in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research here.

    An abstract of the study, “Pills to pot: Observational analyses of cannabis substitution among medical cannabis users with chronic pain,” appears in The Journal of Pain here.

    Additional information is available in NORML’s fact-sheet, “Relationship between marijuana and opioids,” here.

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director January 24, 2019

    Representatives Lou Correa (D-CA) and Clay Higgins (R-LA) and Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) have introduced legislation, HR 712 / S. 179: The VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2019 to facilitate federally-sponsored clinical research into the safety and efficacy of medical cannabis among veterans.

    The legislation “would direct VA to conduct clinical research with varying forms of medicinal cannabis to evaluate the safety and effects of cannabis on health outcomes of veterans with PTSD and veterans with chronic pain.”

    Click here to send a message to your lawmakers and encourage them to cosponsor the bill

    This legislation is similar, yet stronger, to a bill by the same name that successfully passed the House Veterans Affairs Committee last year yet was denied consideration by the full House of Representatives by Republican congressional leadership.

    Upon introduction, Rep. Lou Correa said, “Last year my bill became the first cannabis bill to pass the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. This year I will work to make this the first veterans cannabis bill to pass the House. The momentum, support, and dedication are there. We need to get this done for our veterans. With the opioid crisis raging across America, it is imperative to the health and safety of our veterans that we find alternative treatments for chronic pain and service-related injuries.”

    According to nationwide survey data conducted by The American Legion in 2017, 39 percent of respondents affirmed that they “know a veteran” who is using the plant medicinally. Furthermore, twenty-two percent of respondents said they themselves “use cannabis to treat a mental or physical condition.”

    Click here to send a message to your lawmakers and encourage them to cosponsor the bill

  • by NORML October 18, 2018

    The total number of peer-reviewed scientific papers dedicated to cannabis, and the therapeutic use of cannabis in particular, has increased exponentially in recent years, according to data published the journal Population Health Management.

    Israeli researchers assessed trends in the number of scientific publications specific to cannabis as compared to all scientific publications during the years 2000 to 2017. They reported: “The overall annual number of scientific publications … increased 2.5 times between 2000–2017 from 531,664 to 1,282,229. In contrast, the corresponding number for publications on cannabis increased 4.5 times … and increased 9-fold for publications on medical cannabis.”

    Overall, authors identified just over 29,000 cannabis-centric scientific papers published during the study period, with over 3,300 of those dedicated to the subject of medical marijuana. Papers specific to medical cannabis were most likely to address its use in the treatment of HIV, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, nausea, or epilepsy.

    Over 60 percent of the papers were classified as “original research,” and 66 percent of all scientific papers originated from authors in the United States.

    Commenting on the findings, NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “These results stand in stark contrast to the popular narrative that we lack adequate scientific understanding of cannabis and its effects. In fact, ample studies already exist to contradict cannabis’ federal, schedule I status as a substance without medical utility, lacking acceptable safety, and possessing a high potential of abuse.”

    He added, “More clinical research is welcome, but unfortunately science has never driven marijuana policy. If it did, the United States would already have a very different policy in place.”

    An abstract of the study, “Trends in publications in medical cannabis from the year 2000,” appears online here.

  • by Kevin Mahmalji, NORML Outreach Director October 3, 2018

    With 47 states and the District of Columbia permitting the use of marijuana or its extracts in some form, new questions concerning employers’ rights, lawful marijuana use by employees, and maintaining a safe workplace have been raised. The biggest issue? While it’s legal to possess and consume marijuana in several states, it’s still illegal under federal law, an inconsistency that has created some confusion for employers who are unsure how to address marijuana in the workplace from a policy perspective. This untenable situation puts millions of law-abiding and responsible adults at risk of losing their employment simply because of a THC-positive drug test.

    Workplace Drug Testing

    Urinalysis testing is the most common form of pre-employment and workplace drug testing, but because it only detects trace metabolites (inert waste-products) of past use of a wide range of substances, they fail to prove either impairment or how recently marijuana was consumed. This activity is particularly discriminatory in the case of marijuana, where such metabolites may be detectable for weeks or even months after consumption.

    Surprisingly, there is no requirement for most private employers to have a drug-free workplace policy of any kind. However, there are a few exceptions such as federal contractors and safety-sensitive positions (e.g. airline pilots, truck and bus drivers, train conductors, etc.). Even employers who are required to maintain a drug-free workplace are not required to use drug testing as a means to enforce company policies.

    Impairment Detection

    New technology developed in recent years provides an extraordinary opportunity to change the way we discuss the issue of workplace drug testing. By embracing a new strategy that emphasizes the importance of impairment detection and workplace safety, we can reframe the conversation to focus on creating a 21st century workplace that’s free of dangerous impairment levels, not just from illegal substances, but also alcohol, prescription drugs, stress, and fatigue.  

    That’s why we’re stressing the importance of impairment detection. One example of such a technology is from Predictive Safety, a company based in Centennial, Colorado that created AlertMeter, which measures a person’s cognitive abilities with a 60 second test and can easily be used on most smart devices.

    “The road to normalization is about detecting impairment, not past marijuana use. The only thing that should matter is, ‘Are you fit for work?,’ not, ‘Have you ingested marijuana?,’” said Carol Setters of Predictive Safety.

    Vforge, an aluminum fabrication company has been using this new technology for several years. As a result, they’ve seen a 90% decrease in drug testing costs and a 70% reduction in worker compensation claims – further proof that a new strategy focused on impairment detection is not only beneficial for employees, but more profitable for companies as well. This changes the dynamic of the conversation all together.

    AlertMeter: https://vimeo.com/253068230

    Unlike drug tests that do not measure impairment, implementing reasonable impairment testing contributes to safe workplaces while protecting individual rights.

    What’s Being Done?

    NORML chapters from around the country are shifting their attention to protecting honest, hardworking marijuana consumers from antiquated, discriminatory workplace drug-testing practices, in particular the use of random, suspicionless urine testing. Earlier this year NORML chapters in Colorado and California worked diligently to address the issue legislatively, but experienced push back from conservative lawmakers and pro-business organizations, respectively.

    Several states including Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine*, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania Massachusetts and Rhode Island currently prohibit employers from discriminating against workers based on their status as a medical marijuana patient. Laws in Arizona, Delaware, and Minnesota specify that a positive drug test alone does not indicate impairment. Similar protections have long applied to medical use of opiates and other prescription drugs.

    Looking ahead, NORML chapters in California, Colorado, Oregon, Nevada, and Washington are planning their legislative strategies and educating lawmakers on the issue in advance of their 2019 state legislative sessions. We’ll likely see legislation to address workplace drug testing introduced in California, Oregon and Colorado while chapters in other states will focus their time and energy on educational efforts.

    At the federal level, Representative Charlie Crist recently introduced H.R. 6589: The Fairness in Federal Drug Testing Under State Laws Act, bipartisan legislation that would explicitly prohibit federal agencies from discriminating against workers solely because of their status as a marijuana consumer, or testing positive for marijuana use on a workplace drug test.

    Marijuana Legalization and Workplace Safety

    Mounting evidence continues to prove there is no logical reason why adult marijuana consumers should be treated with any less respect, restricted more severely, and denied the same privileges we extend to responsible adults who enjoy a cocktail after a long day at the office. As a matter of fact, researchers with Colorado State University, Montana State University, and American University came to the conclusion that the legalization and regulation of medical marijuana is associated with a 19.5% reduction in the expected number of workplace fatalities.

    “Our results suggest that legalizing medical marijuana leads to a reduction in workplace fatalities among workers aged 25–44. This reduction may be the result of workers substituting marijuana in place of alcohol and other substances that can impair cognitive function and motor skills.”

    Read more here: http://blog.norml.org/2018/08/10/study-medical-cannabis-access-laws-associated-with-fewer-workplace-fatalities/

    Additionally, researchers with Quest Diagnostics recently found that the rate of positive drug tests in Colorado, where medical and adult-use marijuana is legal, increased by 1% between 2016 and 2017 while the national average increased by 4% during the same timeframe.

    “When Colorado and Washington state legalized recreational marijuana, a short-lived spike occurred in the rate of positive drug tests, but it has since tapered off,” said Barry Sample, Quest’s senior director for science and technology.

    Read more here: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/legal-marijuana-hasnt-led-to-epidemic-of-high-workers/

    The following factsheet highlights several recent peer-reviewed studies assessing the potential impact of marijuana regulation on workplace safety and performance: http://norml.org/aboutmarijuana/item/marijuana-legalization-and-impact-on-the-workplace

    Considering marijuana’s increasingly legal status and availability in states across the country, consumers should no longer be forced to choose between a job and consuming a legal substance that doesn’t impair the facilities because of outdated employment practices.

  • by Kevin Mahmalji, NORML Outreach Director September 28, 2018

    We as advocates of marijuana law reforms have never been in a better position than we are today to further our cause. Prior to states like Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, and others, legalizing and regulating marijuana, there was very little data to support our arguments to end marijuana prohibition. But, things have changed.

    So, is the legalization and regulation of marijuana working? Of course it is, but we must be able to articulate why it’s working to be successful in our efforts. We can start by looking at some of the data regarding the impact marijuana legalization is having on public health and safety. Study after study published by the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, the National Academies of Sciences, the Centers for Disease Control, the Journal of Adolescent Health and the American Journal of Public Health are providing us with all the information we need to make fact-based, data-driven arguments in support of ending marijuana prohibition.

    Regardless if you’re looking at state-level data related to crime, teen access and use or the decline in opioid use, hospitalizations and overdose, the legalization and regulation of marijuana is having a positive impact. And this is no longer our opinion; it’s fact, backed by legitimate research and data. The information is there. We no longer have to speculate about the potential impacts marijuana legalization will have on public health and safety, and other areas of concern. We can now depend on facts and data to further our efforts to end marijuana prohibition.

    Touting the economic benefits of legalization such as tax revenues and job creation can also be helpful in our push to end marijuana prohibition. To date, there have been between 125,000 and 160,000 full-time jobs created as a result of the legalization and regulation of marijuana. This includes those who work directly with the plant (e.g., cultivation, bud tenders, infused products) as well as ancillary businesses such as packaging, gardening supplies and lighting companies. Regarding tax revenues, Nevada’s regulated adult-use program generated over $55 million within the first ten months of its roll out. While Colorado’s pulled in more than $245 million in tax revenue for 2017.

    If you’re working to advance marijuana law reform efforts on the local, state or federal level, these studies can be used to persuade opponents of legalization that ending marijuana prohibition is a step in the right direction, or at the very least, neutralize their prohibitionist rhetoric. Am I suggesting there’s no need to continue to closely monitor the impact marijuana legalization is having on public health and safety? Absolutely not.

    With only a handful of states enacting laws to legalize and regulate adult-use marijuana, the jury is certainly still out on whether or not marijuana can be regulated in a way that’s safe and productive for society, so I expect a healthy and thoughtful debate around the issue for years to come. However, since Congress approved the Marihuana Tax Act in 1937, we as advocates of marijuana law reforms have never had access to more fact-based evidence supporting our longstanding argument that ending marijuana prohibition is not only good public policy, it’s the right thing to do.

    For more than 45 years NORML chapters have been the driving force behind policy decisions on the local and state level. Have you connected with your local NORML chapter? If there isn’t one in your community, please email NORML Outreach Director Kevin Mahmalji at KevinM@NORML.org for help with starting your own!

    Ready to start a NORML chapter in your hometown? Click here to find out how!

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