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An in-depth look at the study that discovered THCP, a cannabinoid more potent than THC

A new cannabinoid has been discovered, and the ramifications could be massive. Scientists funded by the UNIHEMP research project have discovered a new psychoactive molecule: Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabiphorol, or THCP; and they believe that there are great scientific implications for the phytocannabinoid

Phytocannabinoids are cannabinoid molecules that are specifically produced by plants. There are several types of cannabinoids, including endocannabinoids, synthetic cannabinoids, and phytocannabinoids. 

Endocannabinoids are compounds that are produced within the body by an organism’s endocannabinoid system; and synthetic cannabinoids are man-made chemicals that cannot be found in nature. Phytocannabinoids, on the other hand, are a different beast altogether. They are those that naturally occur in plants and are found in a variety, including echinacea. However, the plant species in which phytocannabinoids are most prominent is cannabis.

Because of cannabis’ status as a Schedule I controlled substance in the US, there are several barriers that prohibit the scientific study of the plant and its constituents. Thus, a considerable portion of cannabis research takes place abroad. Many clinical and laboratory studies of cannabis take place in Israel and Canada, where there is federal research funding to support this work; but, the newly discovered THCP was characterized by a group of Italian scientists.

Unlike the US, government funding for cannabis research is relatively commonplace in Europe. The discovery of THCP was enabled by the UNIHEMP project, which is sponsored by the European Regional Development Fund. A multi-disciplinary team of Italian scientists was responsible for the discovery of this novel cannabinoid, led by Giuseppe Cannazza of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia.

The researchers’ findings were published in late 2019 in the journal Nature.

THCP is 33-times more active than THC

Throughout the duration of the project, the group studied a medicinal cannabis cultivar, dubbed FM2, which was supplied by the Military Chemical Pharmaceutical Institute in Florence. Using a variety of scientific characterization techniques, the researchers observed two novel cannabinoids, THCP and CBDP, and isolated them from other cannabinoids that were present. Following this discovery, the group artificially synthesized THCP and CBDP to create reference materials, and the synthesized versions were successfully used to verify the natural expression of the two cannabinoids in the FM2 cultivar.     

After the confirmation of the identity of the two cannabinoids, the group turned its focus to THCP. To study the compound, they pursued an in vitro experiment with cultured cells. This experiment tested the binding affinity of THCP with CB1 and CB2 receptors, using synthetic cannabinoids as reference materials. It was shown that, when comparing THCP-related results to the previously reported data of other cannabinoids against the CB1 receptor, THCP is 33-times more active than delta-9 THC. 

This finding is critical because the group also found that the chemical was present in FM2 at 0.0029%, whereas THC was found to be expressed at 3.9%; so, even in smaller amounts, THCP is more active than THC.

They also tested the cannabimimetic activity of the molecule. Cannabimimetic activity is a measure of how well a substance replicates the effects of more well-characterized cannabinoids which bind to the CB1receptor. An in vivo experiment involving mice was performed. Herein, the influence of THCP on body temperature, spontaneous activity, immobility, and pain was determined — the results of these tests confirmed that THCP acts similarly to other cannabinoids like delta-9 THC.

Will THCP be important?

According to the study, even at lower doses, THCP has more cannabimimetic activity than THC. Further, the group posits that THCP could account for the wide variability of patient responses in cannabis-based therapies, even amongst cultivars with equal THC doses. This means  that cannabis’  psychotropic effects, which the scientific community attributes to THC, may actually be due to the presence of THCP. 

Unfortunately, none of the original researchers could be reached for comment. However, experts in the field do have varying opinions regarding the study. Dr. Cecilia J. Hillard of the Medical College of Wisconsin said, “I think it is well designed.” She goes on, “[The study] has two important gaps, in my opinion. First, they should have compared the in vivo effects of THCP to that of THC ‘head to head’ so that relative potencies could be assessed. Second, I would like to know whether THCP has greater efficacy to activate the [CB1 receptor] in particular. THC is relatively safe because it has low efficacy at the receptor. If THCP has high efficacy (like the synthetic analogs that have also increased the tail length), it is a more concerning finding, as it would suggest that strains making a lot of THCP could be more dangerous to use than those that do not.” 

Expanding on how THCP could be more dangerous, Hillard continued, “The so-called ‘spice’ compounds are synthetic agonists of the CB1 receptor. They are full agonists, meaning that they are very strong activators of the CB1 receptor. Compared to THC, these drugs have significant adverse effects and produce significant dependence (addiction). So, my issue is that we do not know yet whether THCP is like THC, a partial agonist, or like the synthetic compounds, a full agonist. And my concern is that, if it is the latter, cannabis strains high in THCP will have more adverse effects than those that are low.”

Dr. Samuel Banister of The University of Sydney states, “[The study] was well designed and executed,” concurring with Dr. Hillard. However, he goes on to disagree with the group’s assessment that THCP may account for the variability of psychotropic effects across various cannabis cultivars: “While this possibility cannot be ruled out, the known potency differences for THC and THCP at cannabinoid receptors is relatively small, while the difference in abundance of each in cannabis is enormous. The same is true of CBD and CBDP, although CBD requires even higher doses to achieve many of its pharmacological effects. For this reason, I do not feel that minor or trace phytocannabinoids like THCP or CBDP contribute significantly to the psychoactive effects of different cannabis strains.” 

How this novel cannabinoid plays out in both medical and recreational use is yet to be determined, as much more research is needed. Nonetheless, this new evidence suggests that analytical laboratories in US regulated markets may need to expand their testing panel to include THCP.

Featured graphic by David Lozada/Weedmaps



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Study Says Smaller Doses of Marijuana Improve Sex Quality

“Start low, go slow.” That’s what budtenders usually tell new consumers about dosing to help them partake in cannabis responsibly. The mantra also summarizes the results of a new paper that reviewed current research on how marijuana affects different aspects of sex, including desire.

“Several studies have evaluated the effects of marijuana on libido, and it seems that changes in desire may be dose-dependent,” the review’s authors wrote. “Studies support that lower doses improve desire but higher doses either lower desire or do not affect desire at all.”

Although there’s a growing body of research that suggests consuming marijuana can lead to heightened libido and better orgasms, quality studies are limited because of legal restrictions. The review’s authors set out to understand what the data currently show about how cannabinoids such as THC affect female sexual functioning. Their findings were published in October 2019 in Sexual Medicine Reviews.

“When evaluating sexual pleasure, most studies show that marijuana has a positive effect,” they concluded. “Marijuana use with sex has also been associated with prolonging orgasm or improving the quality of orgasm. Only one study that we reviewed reported that marijuana use inhibits orgasm; however, that study specifically looked at dysfunction as opposed to overall function.”

“The data indicate dose-dependent effects on female sexual desire and receptivity, such that low doses generally facilitate or have no effect but high doses inhibit.”

For their analysis, researchers reviewed 12 human studies and eight animal studies published between 1970 and 2019. Here are some of their findings:

Preclinical studies involving animals

  • Estrogen-primed female hamsters who were given THC were more receptive to mating and more likely to initiate mating with a male hamster than those that were not.
  • When estrogen or progesterone were detected in female rats, THC appeared to enhance lordosis, a position in which the back is arched downward. Lordosis is a measure that scientists use to assess female sexual receptivity. When the rats were administered with very high doses of THC, they were not as receptive to mating.
  • Some endocannabinoid receptor agonists and antagonists, such as SR141716 and anandamide, were also found to affect sexual motivation. In one experiment, rats given anandamide were found to be more sexually motivated (they visited male rats more). In another experiment, rats given SR141716 were less sexually motivated.

Clinical studies

  • A number of surveys reviewed in the current paper found that women were more likely to say marijuana increased their sexual desire than men. A 1974 study, for example, found that 57.8% of female college students reported an increase in libido, compared with 39.1% of males. In that same study, researchers found the effects of cannabis to be dependent on how much participants consumed. “Although 71% of female participants reported increased sexual motivation after one joint, the percentage of women reporting increased desire decreased after a larger consumption of marijuana (greater than four joints) (49.5%),” the review stated.
  • Another study from India and Nepal had similar findings regarding the relationship between dose and effects. The authors hypothesized that people may feel less interested in sex after consuming high doses of cannabis because of the associated sedative effects.
  • How frequently people consume marijuana appears to matter in sex, too. A study published earlier this year found that women who used cannabis regularly before sex had 2.13 higher odds of reporting satisfactory orgasms.
  • One study did suggest marijuana use inhibits orgasm, but, as the review’s authors point out, researchers in that work asked questions that focused on sexual dysfunction, not overall sexual function.

Understanding how cannabinoids affect women’s sexual functioning is imperative, the review’s authors conclude. Not only could better research lead to developing therapeutic options to help women, but it could also help researchers better understand sexual functioning in general.

Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Researchers who conducted a review of pre-clinical animal model and clinical human studies on marijuana’s effects on sexual function recommended that future trials should focus on cannabinoids’ effects on women.

“The information we have is limited to rodent studies and questionnaires that rely on memory, with none of the human studies yet being capable of delineating dose, timing, or other objective measures,” the authors wrote. “Although there appears to be a dose dependency that separates putative excitatory effects from inhibitory effects on female sexual desire, orgasm, and reproductive function, and frequency of use also plays a role, it is not clear to what extent the psychoactive properties of the various cannabinoids play a role.”

Featured image:  Lower doses of marijuana may heighten libido and improve orgasm quality compared with higher doses of marijuana, researchers concluded in their findings published October 2019 in the journal Sexual Medicines Review. (Gina Coleman/Weedmaps)


This article was republished from Marijuana Moment under a content-syndication agreement. Read the original article here. 



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Study Finds Smoking Marijuana Best for Relieving Pain

Among the overwhelming variety of cannabis products available on the market today, the most effective for pain relief appears to be whole dried marijuana flower and products high in THC, a new study finds.

Whole cannabis flower was associated with greater pain relief than were other types of products, and higher tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels were the strongest predictors of analgesia and side effects prevalence across the five pain categories,” researchers from the University of New Mexico (UNM) wrote. “In contrast, cannabidiol (CBD) levels generally were not associated with pain relief except for a negative association between CBD and relief from gastrointestinal and non-specified pain.”

Using data from a mobile app that aims to educate users about cannabis products and help them track their experiences, the researchers found that most people who reported self-medicating with marijuana have short-term, yet significant, relief from pain. 

“In our sample,” they wrote, “we observed an average pain reduction of roughly 3 points on a standard 0 to 10 visual analogue pain scale, consistent with its application as a mid-level analgesic.”

The findings, published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine in late July 2019, are the latest in a robust body of scientific literature that shows marijuana can help people with different kinds of pain.

The study’s goal was to gauge how the severity of pain changed and what side effects were experienced after cannabis consumption, and whether these effects differed by product. Researchers used information gleaned from the Releaf app, a mobile software program developed by three of the study’s authors and released in 2016. The app allows users to monitor their symptoms before, during, and after consuming cannabis, thus helping them to understand the differences between products and delivery methods.

According to user-generated data reported in the Releaf app collected over more than two years, most cannabis users found a noticeable reduction in pain after consumption. Flower delivered the same sensation of pain relief as concentrates and topicals, and more relief than edibles, capsules, or tinctures. Flower smokers reported fewer negative side effects than concentrate consumers. (Photo by Gina Coleman/Weedmaps News)

The study — which calls the Releaf data set “the largest database of real-time cannabis administration sessions in the U.S.” — analyzed 20,513 cannabis sessions recorded in the app by 2,987 people between June 6, 2016, and October 24, 2018.

“Perhaps the most surprising result,” lead author Xiaoxue Li said in a statement, “is just how widespread relief was with symptom relief reported in about 95 percent of cannabis administration sessions and across a wide variety of different types of pain. The results suggest that cannabis flower with moderate to high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol is an effective mid-level analgesic.”

On average, users reported their starting pain to be 5.87 on a scale of 1 to 10. After consuming marijuana, that number fell to 2.77 — a decrease of 3.1 points.

“Among the limited number of product characteristics that are typically made available to consumers, we found that consumption of whole, natural cannabis flower was associated with greater anesthetic potential than were most other types of products,” the authors wrote.

The study also found:

As for other reactions, patients were more likely to report positive effects than negative effects: they cited dry mouth and feeling foggy as the most common negative side effects, while feeling relaxed and peaceful were frequently reported as the most positive ones. Additionally, while CBD levels didn’t affect pain much, the cannabinoid did appear to decrease the likelihood of having negative side effects.

“The current findings,” the study concludes, “show that self-directed medical cannabis treatment, especially among users of higher THC products, is associated with significant improvements in at least short-term pain relief, perhaps a major reason why cannabis has become one of the most widely used medications in the United States.”

In a statement, Jacob Vigil, another study author and UNM associate professor of psychology, said the reason why dried cannabis flower may be more effective for pain is because of its “numerous constituents that possess analgesic properties beyond THC, including terpenes and flavonoids.” These compounds probably work together to increase cannabis’ therapeutic effects, he said.

“Our results confirm that cannabis use is a relatively safe and effective medication for alleviating pain, and that is the most important message to learn from our results,” Vigil continued. “It can only benefit the public for people to be able to responsibly weigh the true risks and benefits of their pain medication choices.”


Feature image: Among myriad consumption products and forms available, smokable flower is the most effective pain delivery method, according to a study by University of New Mexico researchers published in July 2019. (Photo by Gina Coleman/Weedmaps News)

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Recreational Marijuana Markets Are Source for Self-Medication, Study Finds

Researchers asked 1,000 adult-use cannabis consumers at two Colorado dispensaries what they use cannabis for, and a new study has found residents are self-medicating with recreational marijuana.

 Among consumers surveyed, 65% use it to relieve pain and 74% use it for better sleep. A majority of those surveyed claimed it helped them reduce the use of other medications. 

“Our motivation for conducting this study was that there are numerous anecdotal reports of people getting help for insomnia, pain, and a variety of other conditions from cannabis purchased from adult-use dispensaries,” said Julia Arnsten, a professor of medicine, psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and one of the authors of the study. 

Arnsten said they expected that consumers were not just purchasing cannabis to get high, but also were actually largely using cannabis for medical purposes. She said one of the possible positive findings from this study is that people were able to stop using other medications that may have harmful side effects, such as opioids. Previous research has indicated that opioid use goes down in states that legalize cannabis

“The potential negative effects are that people may choose cannabis rather than seeking medical attention, or that people may develop dependence on cannabis,” Arnsten said.

When people are self-medicating, they’re not necessarily discussing their health issues with their doctor, which might mean they’re not getting the best results they could be getting. Arnsten said it’s important that people are communicating with their doctor when they need treatment for a particular medical issue.

“Overall, it is crucial that people communicate with their primary care providers to help them make choices that enhance their health and well-being,” Arnsten said.

Research does indicate cannabis is effective for treating pain and for aiding sleep. The National Academies of Sciences said in a report from 2017 that cannabis seems to help with pain treatment. A study from 2018 found cannabis is effective for treating insomnia in most people.

David Mangone, director of governmental affairs at Americans for Safe Access, told Weedmaps News that he believes it is a national trend that people are purchasing adult-use cannabis for medical purposes, possibly because of the effort and cost required for medical marijuana registration. 

“The reason we’re seeing this happen frequently is a lot of patients are fed up with the bureaucracy and often the fees that are associated with maintaining a patient registry card,” Mangone said. “With some of these registry cards, you see them go upwards of $200 annually.”

Unlike pharmaceuticals, medical marijuana is not covered by health insurance, so the patient ends up bearing the entire cost of their treatment. Mangone said it would be beneficial if lawmakers could persuade private insurance companies to cover medical cannabis costs.

Mangone said limitations in qualifying conditions may be another incentive for potential patients to instead stay in the adult-use market. Many states’ lists of qualifying conditions may exclude particular health concerns that respond well to cannabis, effectively shutting out some patients, according to Mangone. “I think it’d be helpful if states all moved towards the model that allows physicians to decide what conditions are appropriate, rather than lawmakers,” Mangone said.

Patients who need medical cannabis but remain in the adult-use market might not get the products that are best suited to treat their ailments. Some adult-use products aren’t always aligned with medical patients’ needs.

“The recreational market trends towards products that have much higher THC content,” Mangone said. “Some medical patients need more balanced ratios of CBD and THC or CBN and THC. Some of those products aren’t as prevalent when adult-use retailers take over because the products with the higher THC content have a wider market appeal.”

If insurance won’t cover cannabis as medicine, and if acquiring a medical card remains burdensome, Mangone said it’s likely people will continue to go through the adult-use market in states that have legal marijuana. In states that have only medical marijuana, he said it’s likely many people will utilize the illicit market to cut costs. Mangone said it’s important that lawmakers start making changes in cannabis policy so people can get their medicine through the proper channels.


Feature image: Adult-use patrons of dispensaries may be seeking to self medicate with marijuana to aid sleep and pain, according to results from a study from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. (Photo via Shutterstock



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Endocannabinoid System Plays Key Role in Reducing Fear, Yale Study Finds

A new Yale University study showed that a child’s ability to respond to fear and trauma is genetic, and researchers surmised that the ability to process fear and thus reduce anxiety may be traced to differences in the endocannabinoid system (ECS)

The study, published May 15, 2019, in “Biological Psychiatry” by lead authors Shelley Paulisin and Hilary A. Marusak supports existing research that genetic differences in DNA affect the adult brain’s ability to deal with certain emotions. The study explored fear extinction among a group of 37 children ages 6 to 11.

But what is fear extinction? Dr. Bonni Goldstein, medical director of California-based Canna-Centers and whose professional experience includes pediatric work, used the fear of spiders to explain it.

“If I showed you a spider and you freak out, fear extinction is if I would keep showing you the spider … it would make it so that you wouldn’t feel that fear,” she said. “And that is an adaptive mechanism that humans have, so we don’t run around with our brains afraid of everything under the sun.”

The brain area that controls memory, learning, and fear contains cannabinoid receptors, which make sure that the messages the brain is sending are balanced responses, Goldstein said.

“When an endocannabinoid system is functioning normally, you learn over time. ‘Oh, that spider is coming at me. Oh, wait. I have nothing to be afraid of.’ And my brain is actually emitting cannabis-like compounds to make sure that my response is balanced,” she said.

A normal-functioning ECS is crucial to a teenage brain as it evolves into an adult brain, allowing teens to learn important skills such as executive function and impulse control, Goldstein said.

“A normal, healthy endocannabinoid system keeps people from having overwhelming anxiety or overwhelming fear,” she said. “It tells the brain, ‘Don’t send that message of fear or anxiety. Be balanced.’ That’s its role.”

The 37 children in the Yale study were subjected to a two-day “fear extinction learning and memory recall experiment” using virtual reality. Researchers collected responses to skin conductance and did genotyping for CNR1. A subgroup of children said they had been exposed to some form of violent or medical trauma.

The results showed that the trauma-exposed group, children with a certain genotype had “poorer extinction learning and extinction recall,” than those without the genetic mutation, and that that fear extinction deficiency leads to higher anxiety, according to the study.

While Goldstein said more research may need to be done, given that 37 is a small sample size,   but added that the conclusions make a lot of sense.

“Children with anxiety are not choosing to be anxious,” she said. “That’s what their genes are telling them to do. It’s the way their brain is, which is what their brain is telling them.”

It also explains why some combat veterans have returned with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and some don’t, she said.

“It turns out that there are people who are genetically predisposed to not be able to handle the trauma,” she said. “It’s not just their choice, or the way they were raised. It is truly the DNA not telling the neurotransmitters the correct message.” 

Phytocannabinoids, which occur naturally in the cannabis plant, could help those with the deficiency, Goldstein said.

“I’m not saying definitively that (it would help) 100 percent of people,” she said. “But the idea is that if your endocannabinoid system is dysfunctional and you’re not actually making your endocannabinoid compound, or you make it and there’s some abnormality within the endocannabinoid system, you may be able to override that by replacing what’s missing in your brain with the compounds from the plant.”

Goldstein likened it to augmenting other deficiencies, like taking insulin via injection to compensate for a pancreas that doesn’t make insulin, or taking thyroid medication if the gland doesn’t produce enough hormone.

“That’s kind of the very simplified but underlying concept of using phytocannabinoids from the plant to replace the endocannabinoids,” she said.


Feature image: The difference in the makeup of the human body’s endocannabinoid system may explain how individuals are able to handle and overcome fear and anxiety, according to a May 2019 study by Yale University researchers.  (Photo by Michael Podger on Unsplash)

Karen Robes Meeks is an award-winning business writer who has spent 20 years chasing stories all over Southern California. These days, she spends more of her time chasing her young daughter around town, which makes for surprisingly good cardio. Her stories have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Orange County Register and the Press-Telegram, where she was the trade and transportation reporter covering the nation’s two busiest seaports.



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Marijuana Makes Sex More Pleasurable for All Ages, Study Finds

Recent research has suggested that marijuana use can improve orgasms for women. Now, a new yet-to-be-published study says that men may also find their bedroom activities enhanced by cannabis.

According to an abstract shared online, the study found “participants perceived that cannabis use increased their sexual functioning and satisfaction.” Age and gender did not play a role in how marijuana consumption affected sex, and the study’s participants reported “increased desire, orgasm intensity, and masturbation pleasure.”

The findings are the result of a nationwide survey conducted by recent East Carolina University graduate Amanda Moser for her master’s thesis in human development and family science. Her goal was to build on what limited research there currently is exploring the impact of cannabis use on people’s sex lives, she told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview.

Moser created an anonymous online survey targeting people 18 and older who said they’d used marijuana. For her purposes, she adapted questions taken from other surveys used to assess human sexual response. For example, the survey asked participants to rate how cannabis affected their ability to achieve and maintain an erection (for men) and lubrication (for women). The survey also asked respondents if they believed cannabis creates a more satisfactory and pleasurable sex life, and how taste, touch, hearing, smell and sound were influenced by consumption.

A sample of 811 people with various backgrounds and marijuana preferences participated in the study. Moser said she found cannabis to be sexually beneficial for both men and women, regardless of age, as well as throughout the lifespan. “People who were 18 years old had amazing benefits as well as people up to 85 years old, and everyone in between,” she explained. “All found that cannabis was beneficial for their sexual functioning as well as their sexual satisfaction.”

People who were 18 years old had amazing benefits as well as people up to 85 years old, and everyone in between. All found that cannabis was beneficial for their sexual functioning as well as their sexual satisfaction. Click To Tweet

The full study, which Marijuana Moment hasn’t reviewed, is currently under embargo as Moser is working to get it published later this year.

Overall, Moser said, participants reported consuming cannabis led to more pleasure not just during sex, but also during masturbation as well. Both men and women said they had an increased desire for sex, and found that their orgasms were more intense. Women, she added, reported that they were able to achieve multiple orgasms.

Taste and touch were also “significantly enhanced” during sex after marijuana use, thus leading to more satisfaction. “If you think about it, you use taste and touch a lot during sex,” she added.

Although one major limitation of the research is that it’s self-reported, Moser pointed out that her findings contradict prior work that suggested cannabis use would not be beneficial for men during sex.

“Previous literature said that cannabis is a muscle relaxer, and would be more inhibiting for males — that males would have a harder time achieving and maintaining an erection,” she explained. “It makes sense, but my research actually showed contradicting to that. I found that does not affect males’ ability to achieve and maintain an erection, that males did not report having any issues with that.”

Moser speculated that the reason why men may not have trouble getting an erection after consumption — as previous researchers have suggested — is because marijuana may act as a vasodilator. In other words, cannabinoids may help widen blood vessels to improve blood flow.

Ultimately, however, Moser said that her findings reveal cannabis’s potential for not only treating and curing female sexual dysfunction, but also addressing “the orgasm inequality gap,” which describes the fact that men in heterosexual relationships are far more likely to climax than their partners.

“To me, that’s a problem,” Moser said. “More females should be having more orgasms. Maybe cannabis can help with that.”


Feature image: A yet-to-be published study confirms what stoners knew all along. (Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash)

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States That Legalized Marijuana Saw Underage Use Decline, Study Finds

Legalizing marijuana is associated with a decline in youth cannabis consumption, according to a new study in a journal published by the American Medical Association.

The research, which analyzed federal data on marijuana use trends among 1.4 million high school students from 1993 to 2017, showed that self-reported past-month youth cannabis use declined by an average of 8% in states that legalized recreational marijuana.

There was also a 9% drop in reports of using marijuana 10 or more times over the past 30 days in those states, the study found. However, there was no statistically significant change in consumption rates in states that legalized medical cannabis alone.

The results run counter to long-standing fears expressed by legalization opponents, who have consistently argued that legalizing and regulating cannabis sales would lead more young people to seek out marijuana. Earlier studies don’t find higher use — with some showing legalization has no impact on youth consumption and others revealing a decline in teen use.

“Consistent with the results of previous researchers, there was no evidence that the legalization of medical marijuana encourages marijuana use among youth,” the new study, published on Monday in JAMA Pediatrics, concluded. “Moreover, [the study] showed that marijuana use among youth may actually decline after legalization for recreational purposes.”

Marijuana use among youth may actually decline after legalization for recreational purposes. Click To Tweet

The researchers didn’t reach a conclusion about why marijuana use has dropped among high schoolers in legal cannabis states, but advocates of ending prohibition have long argued that legal cannabis shops displace the illicit market and make it more difficult for those younger than 21 to obtain the drug.

The authors noted that the findings are “consistent with…the argument that it is more difficult for teenagers to obtain marijuana as drug dealers are replaced by licensed dispensaries that require proof of age.”

Lead researcher Mark Anderson told CNN that the new study is “the most credible to date in the literature” because it is “based on more policy variation than prior work.” He also said that one limitation of the current research is that several additional states have legalized adult use cannabis fairly recently, so “it would make sense to update our estimates as more data become available” in a few years.

The new findings were released two days before a key congressional committee is scheduled to hold a first-of-its-kind hearing on ending federal marijuana prohibition.


Feature image: Marijuana use among youths declined by an average of 8% from 1993 to 2017 in states that have legalized adult-use marijuana, according to a new study published by the American Medical Association. (Weedmaps file photo)

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CBD, Anticancer Protein Show Potential to Kill Tumor Cells, Study Finds

Korean researchers have observed increased efficacy in a cancer-fighting agent when it was combined with cannabidiol (CBD), according to a new article published in the scientific journal Cancers.  

Oncology researchers at Korea University College of Medicine in Seoul, South Korea, paired CBD with a common colorectal cancer treatment.

The study, published May 9, 2019, noted that successful cancer chemotherapies interfere with the processes involved in cell division and kill off a greater proportion of cancer cells compared with healthy ones.

The university’s research team tested the synergistic impact of CBD with a known cancer-cell-killing protein known as TRAIL (TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand).

In the field of cell biology, TRAIL is a protein functioning as a ligand that induces a process of cell death called apoptosis. A ligand is a molecule that binds to a central atom to form a coordination complex. Apoptosis is the normal, programmed death of a cell.

TRAIL has attracted a great deal of interest among researchers  in the hope of developing it as an effective cancer treatment because it can induce apoptosis in tumor cells without affecting or harming adjacent normal cells.

In their experiments, the Korean scientists found that both TRAIL and CBD separately generated apoptosis in colorectal cancer cells,  in test tubes and in mice. In addition, consistent with the researchers’ hypothesis, the combination of the two agents produced significantly improved results.

“These data indicate that the natural compound cannabidiol could be an effective TRAIL sensitizer, and the combination therapy of cannabidiol with TRAIL may be an effective treatment strategy against colorectal cancer,” the researchers wrote. “We conclude that the combination of cannabidiol and TRAIL is a significant potential therapy.”

This is no small breakthrough, the researchers noted.

“To the best of our knowledge,” they wrote, “this is the first report that cannabidiol induces significant TRAIL-induced apoptosis of colorectal cancer cells,” noting that earlier reports suggested that a different protein response was responsible for cancer-cell death.

To the best of our knowledge this is the first report that cannabidiol induces significant TRAIL-induced {death} of colorectal cancer cells. Click To Tweet

CBD is itself of interest for cancer studies. Though research on CBD is in very early stages, scientists already have found that it seems to inhibit the growth of many different types of tumor cells in both test tubes and animals. Thus, adding cannabidiol to TRAIL was a natural line of inquiry.

Though far from a curative breakthrough, the findings of the Korean study open up a pathway of investigation for scientists looking for new chemotherapy options for colorectal cancer (CRC), the third most common cancer worldwide, with 1.4 million new cases annually.

The Journal of the National Cancer Institute published a report on May 29, 2019, noting that early-onset colorectal cancer — occurring before age 50 — is rising most rapidly in Western states, where healthful behaviors are prominent.

Although TRAIL is a promising therapeutic agent, it has limitations: it has a short half-life, and cells build up resistance to its effects. The Korean researchers hypothesized that combining TRAIL with another agent — in this case, cannabidiol — could enhance its utility in generating apoptosis in cancer cells.

Kent Vrana, Ph.D., Pharmacology Department Chair at Penn State University (PSU) College of Medicine in Hershey, Pennsylvania, has led similar research studies on colon cancer in which he and his team have found that certain cannabinoid compounds may have the potential to inhibit or prevent the growth of tumors.  

Regarding the Korean study, Vrana told Weedmaps News that the paper is topical in that there are several TRAIL agonists in clinical trials underway.

“Unfortunately, we found that CBD was weak and only partially efficacious, so a lot will depend on the doses they used and the length of time,” Vrana said.

In view of numerous attempts to develop a treatment that can selectively target cancer cells, cancer still remains a major public health problem.

In fact, early-onset colorectal cancer has been on the rise for several decades in the United States for unknown reasons, according to a new study that appeared in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute on May 29, 2019.

“This finding suggests that early life exposures in addition to the ‘usual suspects’ may be contributing to the rise in early onset disease. Future studies should explore novel risk factors for colorectal cancer in young adults,” wrote lead author Rebecca L. Siegel, MPH.

A Cancer Cure in Cannabis?

The search to induce apoptosis in cancer cells has led to a new, fast-growing field termed cancer immunology,, also referred to as tumor immunology.

“Over the past decade, the number of countries and states that have legalized medical cannabis has grown rapidly, and cannabinoid compounds may serve as a novel therapeutic agent to combat a number of diseases,” wrote researchers in another Penn State study, “Synthetic Cannabinoid Activity Against Colorectal Cancer Cells,” published in 2018.

“With regard to cancer, medical cannabis has largely been utilized for palliative purpose, however, a number of studies have proposed the use of cannabinoid compounds as anti-tumor agents,” the PSU authors wrote.

Feature image: Cell biology researchers have found that CBD may help kill cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed. Pictured, cells magnified under a microscope. (Photo by Matt Galisa via Flickr)



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Study Finds Hempseeds Aid Piglets’ Immunity Against Bacterial Infection

As harmful bacteria adapt to resist antibiotics, one area scientists are looking at to keep people healthy has been nutrition. Think “You are what you eat,” or, in the case of a group of select newborn piglets, “You are what your mother eats.”

In an April 2019 study published in the academic journal Animals, researchers found both sows and their piglets were better able to fight off a common infection when the sows were fed a diet that included hemp seed.

“Hemp seeds are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids as well as other bioactive compounds,” the study stated.

Hemp seeds (Erik Fenderson/Wikimedia Commons)

Hempseeds as Immunity Boosters

Piglets undergo increased stress when they transition from their mother’s milk to solid food. That stress is further complicated when they are separated from their mothers and moved to other populations. This triggers an oxidative status, or compromised immunity, leaving the piglets more susceptible to a common infection that results in diarrhea and lack of appetite. Until a ban in 2006, pig farmers commonly used antibiotics to keep infections under control.

Extensive research into breast milk has proven that immunity can be passed to offspring during breastfeeding. For instance, one April 2006 study published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association stated, “Human breast milk also contains numerous protective factors against infectious disease and may influence immune system development.”

As with human infants, piglets can also gain a tremendous boost at fighting infection from its mother’s milk, as well as the ability to fight off other common bacteria, viruses and parasites. “Hempseeds (HS) are a great source of phytochemicals, containing around 30% fats and 25% proteins as well as fiber, cannabinoids, vitamins and minerals,” the authors of the April 2019 study wrote.

Antibiotics have been around for more than a century, and they’re becoming less effective at fighting the kinds of bacteria that can make humans sick. This gradual reduction of efficacy stems from antibiotic resistance, which occurs when bacteria adapts to reduce the effectiveness of drugs that are designed to cure or prevent infections. Medications used to fight the strongest of those bacteria can quickly stop working, so scientists are on a constant search for alternatives.

(Marie Richie/Wikimedia Commons)

During the study, researchers divided sows into two groups and fed one group a diet which included 2% hempseed meal for 10 days before birth, then 5% until the piglets were weaned off of the milk. Laboratory analysis of blood drawn on days 1, 7, and 21 showed a significant improvement in the oxidative status of both the sows and their piglets, which had a direct impact on weight gain.

Even though there was no significant change in daily food intake between sows, the piglets whose mothers had received the hemp diet gained more weight. “The average daily gain (ADG) of piglets at 21 days was 0.169 kg for the control group compared to 0.189 kg for the hemp diet group,” the study stated.

The study’s authors cautioned that more research is needed before some correlations can be drawn, but concluded their study by saying, “Collectively, the results obtained in this study provide new insight into the beneficial effects of the dietary addition of hemp seeds as early life intervention.”

Dani Stewart is a career journalist and newsroom manager, who’s called CNN and several TV and radio stations home. She’s traded the daily news grind for telling compelling and informative stories for both new and experienced cannabis users. The San Francisco native now calls Oklahoma home.



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University of Washington to Study Prenatal Cannabis Effects on Infants

Medical studies about women who use cannabis during pregnancy and their babies’ health are limited, but researchers at the University of Washington (UW) School of Medicine in Seattle are seeking to change that with a new research project.  

Launched in May 2019, the Moms + Marijuana project will examine the effects of cannabis on the brains of newborn babies. To that end, researchers are recruiting 70 women in the Seattle-area who are up to 13 weeks pregnant and who use cannabis frequently or not at all.  

Upon signing up, the women must give consent that their newborns will undergo MRI brain scans at 6 months old to be compared with the brains of babies whose moms did not use cannabis, alcohol, or cigarettes.

The study is designed to solely look at the effects of cannabis on prenatal development, aiming to better understand how marijuana use affects fetal and infant growth and development, without the confounding influences of other drugs.

Historically speaking, most studies of cannabis use during pregnancy have focused on addiction, but the results are muddled because the pregnant participants also used alcohol and other substances in addition to cannabis.

“The very few investigations that have studied prenatal cannabis exposure and infant brain development have all involved women who are polysubstance drug users. No one has looked at marijuana use exclusively,” said Natalia Kleinhans, Ph.D., study co-leader and radiologist at UW’s School of Medicine, in a press release.

Research does, however, back up claims about the dregs of morning sickness, also known as hyperemesis gravidarum, that pregnant women constantly face, as well as the fact that marijuana has become the most commonly used illicit substance during pregnancy, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA).

This conclusion was based on data collected by Kaiser Permanente Northern California of nearly 300,000 pregnant women. The survey found that maternal prenatal marijuana use had nearly doubled from 4% to 7% from 2009 to 2016 and that women are using cannabis to treat adverse side effects of pregnancy, such as mild to severe nausea, vomiting, and pain.

“This study is targeting a very specific population of women who are using marijuana to manage their symptoms while they’re pregnant,” Kleinhans said. “There’s little research to back up the medical and public health advice they’re getting to stay away from pot to control nausea.”

Cannabis and Side Effects of Pregnancy

When Byrdie McCoy, a certified life and fitness coach and owner of Byrdie’s Babes in Portland, Oregon, was pregnant, she said she experienced severe sciatica, and pelvic pain as well as severe nausea and fatigue.

“My doctor prescribed several drugs I was uncomfortable taking, especially passing them to my unborn child,” she told Weedmaps News. “When I went back and told her I was medicating with CBD, she instantly turned into a different, judgmental person.”

Navigating the use of cannabis during pregnancy is difficult because most doctors refuse to discuss it, said several women interviewed for this article. Some even worry about their physicians contacting authorities over their cannabis use. In fact, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advises doctors to screen for marijuana use in pregnant women and encourage users to quit.

“While in labor, I was told that my son would be tested for drugs. It was awful and a profound reminder of the unforgiving stigma around cannabis and it’s deep-rooted racism,” continued McCoy, 31, who is of African-American and Samoan descent.

A freelance writer and mother of three in Texas, who did not want to use her name for the article, had complaints similar to McCoy’s.

“Here in Texas, we have to worry about our own physicians calling CPS [Child Protective Services],” she said. “Rather than helping us figure things out, their knee-jerk reaction is to discourage cannabis use and refuse to discuss existing research.”

Jen Bernstein, president and founder of the Women’s Cannabis Club, was among the fortunate whose obstetrician-gynecologist (OB/GYN) was knowledgeable and supportive but advised her to stay away from secondhand smoke. 

While pregnant, Bernstein said she didn’t start consuming until the second trimester out of caution but, in retrospect, wished she’d started sooner.

“I chose to wait until the second trimester,” said Bernstein, a New York resident and mother of a healthy 3-year-old daughter. “I only wish I had consumed cannabis earlier in my pregnancy when I felt so nauseous and hungry at really odd times.”

A statewide poll conducted in Colorado in 2018 indicated that 70% of dispensaries were recommending cannabis products to treat nausea in the first trimester.

“As cannabis legalization expands, policy and education efforts should involve dispensaries,” noted the poll, which was published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology in June 2018.

Keira Fae, a cannabis insurance operations manager in Irvine, California, consumed cannabis during her first trimester, but only because she didn’t realize she was pregnant until she was three months along. After that, she began using cannabidiol (CBD) creams and tinctures that helped her cope with nausea, pain, and anxiety.

“I was reassured with my decision to use CBD when the World Health Organization published Cannabidiol (CBD) Critical Review Report in June 2018, which states that CBD has no effect on embryonic development,” she told Weedmaps News.

Cannabis Use During Pregnancy Remains Controversial  

When it launched, the Moms + Marijuana research project sparked some inflammatory responses from prohibitionists. Since then, the research team has been reluctant to release details about the project.

“We are not disclosing any data about participants at this time or about the study except for what appeared on the website,” Brian Donohue, Public Information Editor at UW’s School of Medicine, told Weedmaps News via email.

Nevertheless, the Moms + Marijuana Study Facebook page is actively fielding questions, comments, and still recruiting volunteers.  

“We don’t know yet what we’re going to find, but we don’t have an agenda,” the team stated on Facebook. “No matter what the effects may be, we want to provide accurate information to the public and to medical professionals giving advice.”



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