Cannabis as a Treatment for COVID-19

Researchers at Oregon State University continue exploring whether cannabis is an effective treatment for COVID-19. This is the same group that released a study finding cannabinoids could prevent infection by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Richard van Breemen, an Oregon State’s Global Hemp Innovation Center researcher, said that natural products like cannabis aren’t major research priorities for large pharmaceutical companies or federal drug research. Van Breeman and his team are sharing their findings at Oregon State’s Science Pub event. Their presentation, titled […]

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Study: Cannabis Has ‘Uniquely Beneficial Effects’ on People With Bipolar Disorder

Although psychotherapy and pharmaceutical medications are typically recommended for treating specific disorders, like bipolar, a new study has found that cannabis could have “uniquely beneficial effects” for those affected.

Around 46 million people around the world have symptoms of bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is generally characterized by atypical shifts in mood, energy, activity, concentration and ability to move through day-to-day tasks. It’s known for causing ranging, sometimes erratically shifting, moods ranging from a manic, energized “high” or “up,” to more depressive periods, leaving people feeling “low” or “down,” often sad, indifferent, or demotivated. 

There are three types of bipolar disorder. Each involves similar changes, though bipolar I disorder is characterized by high and low periods lasting at least seven days, sometimes lasting weeks at a time. Bipolar II is characterized by less severe episodes, and cyclothymic disorder references recurring hypomanic and depressive symptoms not intense enough to qualify as bipolar I or II episodes.

Researchers referenced in the study, presented at the Neuroscience 2022 conference, that cannabis use is already highly prevalent among people with bipolar disorder. The question was, exactly how helpful is cannabis in alleviating the symptoms? 

To pin down the effects of cannabis on those with bipolar, researchers recruited people with and without the disorder, along with cannabis users and non-users in each group, analyzing each combination. Participants were tested on cognitive battery measuring risky decision-making, reward-learning, and sustained attention. 

Ultimately, researchers confirmed that cannabis indeed could hold some special benefits for those with bipolar, specifically in helping to reduce risky decision-making. Researchers also suggested that cannabis reduces the dopaminergic activity in the brain, which helps suppress symptoms, and found that cannabis had moderate effects on punishment sensitivity and sustained attention.

“Chronic cannabis use was associated with a modest improvement in some cognitive functions,” authors noted. “Cannabis use was also associated with a normalization of risky decision making and effortful motivation in people with [bipolar disorder], but not healthy participants. Thus, chronic cannabis use may have uniquely beneficial effects in people with [bipolar disorder].”

Researchers also cited previous studies, which suggest that some people with bipolar disorder have increased dopaminergic activity because of reduced dopamine transporter expression. Because chronic cannabis use is shown to reduce dopamine release, chronic cannabis use could result in a “return to dopamine homeostasis,” which in turn could help normalize their deficits in goal-directed behaviors. They concluded they are “engaged” in additional studies in order to explore this potential.

As many folks with bipolar already treat their symptoms with cannabis, and many regions with legal medicinal cannabis consider it a qualifying condition, this is far from the first study looking at cannabis and bipolar disorder. Historically, other researchers have also found positive correlations between cannabis and bipolar symptom management.

Researchers from Harvard Medical School, McLean Hospital, and Tufts University found a link between cannabis and improved symptoms in bipolar disorder in 2018 clinical trial data, also confirming cannabis does not negatively impact cognitive performance. They also found that cannabis use resulted in reduced scores for depression, anger, and tension.

More generally, a 2020 review conducted by University of New Mexico researchers found cannabis effectively treated symptoms of depression. A 2020 BMC Psychiatry report also found that whole plant cannabis and plant-based cannabinoids effectively improve moods and sleep, reduce anxiety, and promote anti-psychotic action.

Of course, we’ve got a ways to go and much more to explore before plant medicine becomes the go-to for mental health conditions like bipolar, but studies like these affirm we’ve got the right idea.

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Minnesota Adds New Qualifying Conditions to Medical Cannabis Program

The Minnesota Department of Health announced on Wednesday that the agency will add irritable bowel syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder to the list of qualifying medical conditions for participation in the state’s medical cannabis program. Under state law, the addition of the new qualifying conditions will become effective beginning on August 1, 2023, according to state officials.

“We are adding the new qualifying conditions to allow patients more therapy options for conditions that can be debilitating,” Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said in a statement from the health department.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder characterized by abdominal pain or discomfort, as well as irregular bowel movements that can result in diarrhea, constipation, both diarrhea and constipation, or bloating. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by recurring, intrusive thoughts that often cause significant emotional distress and anxiety in those living with the disorder. This can lead to repetitive actions or other behaviors that those affected by the condition feel compelled to perform to reduce that distress.

“Research has shown that people who suffer from these conditions can see benefits from using medical cannabis to treat their symptoms,” the health department wrote. 

The new qualifying conditions offer a modest expansion to the state’s medical cannabis program, with an estimated 10% of adults having IBS and 1% meeting the diagnostic criteria for OCD, according to media reports. 

Minnesota Patients Support Adding New Conditions

In public comments on the petitions to add IBS and obsessive-compulsive disorder to Minnesota’s medical marijuana program, a man identified by the initials RH described himself as a working professional with a wife and two daughters.

“My daily life consists of constant fear and stress,” said RH, who noted he has OCD. “Practically the only time I am free of the symptoms is when I am sleeping.”

Under state rules, patients certified for the newly approved qualifying medical conditions will become eligible to enroll in the state’s medical cannabis program on July 1, 2023. Patients will be able to receive medical cannabis from either of the state’s two medical cannabis manufacturers beginning on August 1, 2023. Patients who wish to use medical marijuana to treat any of the state’s qualifying conditions need advance certification from a participating Minnesota healthcare provider.

Opioid Use Disorder Not Approved

The health department declined to approve petitions to add opioid use disorder and gastroparesis, a condition that affects the normal spontaneous movement of the stomach muscles, to Minnesota’s list of conditions that qualify a patient to use medical marijuana. The petition not to add gastroparesis was not approved as a qualifying medical condition because research indicates that cannabis can make the condition worse.

Chris Tholkes, director of the Minnesota Department of Health’s Office of Medical Cannabis, said that the decision not to add opioid use disorder was a difficult one, noting that limited access to existing treatment options, such as methadone clinics, in some geographic areas was one factor that supported approval of the petition.

“We did struggle with this one,” Tholkes told the Star Tribune, adding that medical providers were concerned that “introducing another type of drug could lead to relapse. And in the case of opioid use, relapse can be fatal.”

The decision not to approve opioid use disorder comes as Minnesota and the nation remain in the grips of an opioid overdose death epidemic. Many public comments revealed success in substituting marijuana for opioids.

“After having gone (through) nine years of painkiller use under medical prescription for pain, I know that the use of cannabis would help ease the withdrawal side of it,” said a commenter, identified publicly by the initials TB. “I only use cannabis now.”

When Minnesota lawmakers passed legislation creating the state’s medical cannabis program in 2014, the law included nine conditions that qualified a patient to receive medical cannabis. With the new additions, the list of qualifying conditions will be 19. Current qualifying conditions include chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), cancer in certain circumstances, glaucoma, and other serious medical conditions.

More than 39,000 Minnesotans are enrolled in the state’s medical marijuana program, up from 29,000 in 2021. Almost all registered participants are qualified because of intractable or chronic pain, and about a third for PTSD. Muscle spasms, cancer, and sleep apnea are also common qualifying conditions.

New Conditions Considered Annually

Each year, the health department conducts a formal petition process to solicit public input on potential qualifying medical conditions and delivery methods, followed by a public comment period and a review panel.

Under state rules, the commissioner of health is required to annually consider new petitions to add qualifying medical conditions and cannabis delivery methods. No petitions for new delivery methods were submitted this year.

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E. coli, Salmonella, or Lead Found in 40% of Illegal New York Weed

New York officials deployed researchers to sample products from illegal bodegas and pop-up dispensaries selling cannabis on the street, and tested them for harmful contaminants. If it’s safe, clean flower that you want—the findings were dismal at best.

According to a report led by the New York Medical Cannabis Industry Association published on November 30, around 40% of illegal cannabis products sampled in New York City were found to contain harmful contaminants like E. coli, salmonella, and lead. The cannabis products were purchased from only about 20 illegal sites, but spanning across all five boroughs.

Salmonella, E. coli, and other contaminants in weed pose serious threats to your health, and are controlled under typical state regulations. Smoking weed with bacteria like E. coli provides a direct path for the infectant into the lungs, where it can potentially do a lot of damage.

“E. Coli, Heavy Metals, Copyright Infringement, and 100 Percent Failure Rate – A Look at New York City’s Illicit Cannabis Market,” was released by the New York Medical Cannabis Industry Association (NYMCIA) in partnership with the New Jersey Cannabis Trade Association (NJCTA) and the Connecticut Medical Cannabis Council (CMCC). 

Key Findings

The report reveals the results of third-party lab testing of cannabis products purchased from over 20 unlicensed dispensaries spanning across the five boroughs. Among key findings, researchers detected the presence of E. coli, salmonella, and pesticides in various products. About 40% of the products failed at least one of the standard tests administered to legal cannabis products only available at legal medical cannabis dispensaries. 

The report “illuminates the danger posed by pop-up illicit operators that have circumvented New York’s regulations” which creates hazards for public health. 

In some instances, THC levels as much as twice the advertised amount. Finally, over 50% of locations where the product was purchased did not ask for identification.

“The report’s findings are deeply troubling and highlight the tremendous risks posed by unscrupulous firms operating above the law,” said NYMCIA President Ngiste Abebe. “New York has a responsibility to not only protect the health and safety of its residents but also to fulfill the promise of a socially equitable adult-use market. Neither goal can be realized without stricter enforcement against bad actors.”

Bloomberg reports that over 30 licenses for legal businesses were granted on November 21, but in most cases, it’s open season for illegal cannabis businesses.

Impact on New York Communities

The implications of the impact upon disadvantaged communities was also brought forth. “I want everyone to understand that these smoke shops and delis are not legacy operators—they’re opportunists that are retraumatizing our community and stopping our ability to build wealth. They are poisoning our Black and Brown communities. You cannot build wealth without health and these smoke shop owners are destroying the reputation of New York’s cannabis with their chemicals. They need to be stopped,” said Juancarlos Huntt, CAURD license applicant and legacy operator and co-founder New York for Social and Economic Equity.

Others placed the blame on a failing medical cannabis program, which “pushed” New Yorkers into the unknowns of the illicit market.

”Faced with an eroding medical cannabis program, New York patients have been pushed into this newly rampant illicit market, exposing them to E. coli, salmonella, and other dangerous toxins from untested products,” said Don Williams, Vice President of Government Relations at Curaleaf. “They deserve better, and New York must prioritize creating a safe and thriving cannabis program for them and adult-use consumers.”

A link to the full report can be found here.

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Does CBD Modulate THC? No, Says Study

Does CBD modulate the effects of THC? No, says a new study. For years, both experience and research have indicated that CBD has a mitigating effect when consumed with THC. For example, budtenders suggest a THC-strain balanced with CBD for new consumers to avoid overwhelming them. When an experienced stoner has eaten an edible or taken some oil and feels too high – they use CBD to take the edge off. But a recent study suggests this is all placebo. […]

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Southern Illinois University Examining the Use of Cannabis for Ovarian Cancer

SIU researcher Dr. Dale “Buck” Buchanan, who is also a professor of physiology at the university, is a founding member of the Cannabis Science Center. “We started the Cannabis Science Center in … December 2018, when they took it off of the controlled substances lists and legalized use of industrial help nationwide,” said Buchanan in an interview with SIU’s college newspaper, The Daily Egyptian. “Since then there has been an amazing explosion.”

Buchanan explained that since the 2018 Farm Bill was passed, he has been interested in cannabis’s ability to treat cancer. “The vast majority of ovarian cancer research is focused toward extending what we call ‘progression-free survival,’” he added. “So it seems misguided to me that the focus of the research is on this incremental increase in life … so we’re really interested in prevention.”

Although rodents are the easiest subject to study, Buchanan notes that there is a similarity between chickens and ovarian cancer. “But the chicken is kind of counterintuitive. It gets the same ovarian cancer that women get. Women give live birth and chickens lay eggs, but the ovaries are remarkably similar and the thing that makes them so similar is the number of lifetime ovulations.”

In his observations, he’s found that Omega-three acids have natural anti-inflammatory proteins that help heal scar tissue which develops during ovulation, ultimately reducing cancerous tissue growth. “The consequence of this is that it has a 70% reduction in the severity of cancer and a 30% reduction in the incidence, and all we did was introduce flax into their diet,” he said. “But we know nothing about how it works, so that’s our work.”

This finding has led researchers such as Graduate Student Didas Roy to explore how the body’s endocannabinoid system, specifically Receptor 1, works. “So in the endocannabinoid system, there are cannabinoids produced inside our bodies … and they’re binding to specific receptors, one and two,” said Roy. “So two is not that much expressed in the ovary, but receptor one is there in high abundance, and it seems like the expression of those receptors increases in cancer.”

More specifically, Roy’s current focus is on Transforming Growth Factor ß (TGF-ß) protein, which is present in the ovaries, as well as the endocannabinoid system. “We know TGF-ß is also implicated in cancer, so we are trying to see how the both of them are related to each other, who is controlling whom and how they’re contributing to the ovarian cancer,” Roy added. “TGF-ß is a family of many, many receptors and ligands, so I’m trying to look at all of them.”

According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 19,880 women will receive an ovarian cancer diagnosis in their lifetime [in 2022], and about 12,810 women will die from the condition. More waves of research are being conducted to further explore how cannabis can reduce suffering and even potentially save lives. In August 2019, one study examined the efficacy of CBD for treating low grade ovarian carcinoma. In September 2022, one study found that cannabis’s anti-cancer properties could help patients fight against ovarian cancer and chemotherapy resistance.

There is a growing resource of studies identifying cannabis as a beneficial treatment for many types of cancer as well. One study published in August 2022 shows how cannabis users are less likely to develop common liver cancer, or hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), which affects about 25,000 men and 11,000 women in the U.S. annually (and kills about 19,000 men and 9,000 women each year). Another study shows how cannabis can be beneficial to cancer patients by treating pain and reducing their reliance on opiates, which were responsible for more than 923,000 deaths in the U.S. as of 2020.

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Fentanyl Vaccine Called ‘Game-Changer’

Could a fentanyl vaccine potentially save thousands of lives? A recent animal study published in the journal Pharmaceutics indicates that a fentanyl vaccine was able to block the drug from entering the brain of rats—thus making it a worthy candidate for human studies and eventually something available to the public that can save lives.

Researchers administered rats with three doses of the vaccine or immunization at three-week intervals, and another group of rats received a placebo. To determine if the drug was working, they tested the immunized rats’ pain responses by heating up their tails for up to 10 seconds and seeing how long they took to pull away.

The vaccination significantly reduced entry of fentanyl into the brain and anti-fentanyl antibodies targeted fentanyl with no cross-reactions to other opioids. 

“We believe these findings could have a significant impact on a very serious problem plaguing society for years—opioid misuse,” study lead author Colin Haile told University of Houston (UH) news. “Our vaccine is able to generate anti-fentanyl antibodies that bind to the consumed fentanyl and prevent it from entering the brain, allowing it to be eliminated out of the body via the kidneys. Thus, the individual will not feel the euphoric effects and can ‘get back on the wagon’ to sobriety.” 

Haile is a research associate professor of psychology at UH and the Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation and Statistics (TIMES), and a founding member of the UH Drug Discovery Institute.  

“The anti-fentanyl antibodies were specific to fentanyl and a fentanyl derivative and did not cross-react with other opioids, such as morphine. That means a vaccinated person would still be able to be treated for pain relief with other opioids,” said Haile. 

Meanwhile, over 150 people die every day of overdose from synthetic opioids including fentanyl, which is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. Just 2 milligrams of fentanyl, or the size of two grains of rice, can be fatal depending on the size of the person.  

“These preclinical results demonstrate efficacy in neutralizing [fentanyl]’s effects and warrant further development as a potential therapeutic for OUD and overdose in humans,” researchers wrote in the study. “We expect minimal side effects in clinical trials because the two components of our formulation (CRM and dmLT) are already in other vaccines on the market or have been tested in multiple human clinical trials and shown to be safe and effective. Further, the effective dose of dmLT used in human clinical trials is comparable to the dose used in the present study. Since low vaccine concentrations elicit adequate anti-[fentanyl] antibody levels, we expect there to be no adverse events when this vaccine is tested in humans.”

The vaccine did not lead to any adverse side effects in the immunized rats that were observed. 

Researchers plan to begin manufacturing a clinical-grade vaccine in the coming months with clinical trials on humans planned soon.  

Efforts are being made to abate the deadly toll fentanyl plays on America. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced the results of a widespread drug operation last September, with data spanning May to September, resulting in over 10 million fentanyl pills and what they say is 36 million lethal doses of the drug.

The DEA says that fentanyl is the deadliest drug threat facing this nation. “In 2021, a record number of Americans—107,622—died from a drug poisoning or overdose,” the DEA release reads. “Sixty-six percent of those deaths can be attributed to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.”

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Cannabis Act Review: No More Medical Program?

Take the Survey and Tell Health Canada to Keep their Hands Off Our Medicine Does the Cannabis Act review mean no more medical cannabis in Canada? Many of Canada’s cannabis consumers, producers, and retailers welcome the Cannabis Act review. And why not? It’s a year late, and there are plenty of problems with the current legalization scheme we hope the review will fix. But will ending medical cannabis in Canada be one of its consequences? Health Canada is asking for […]

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Study Finds Link Between Cannabis Use, Greater Physical Activity in HIV+ Patients

Marijuana use is associated with heightened physical activity among individuals who are HIV+ positive, according to a study published last month.

The findings, which come via a team of researchers from Brown University, Boston University and the University of Minnesota, showed that “those who reported consuming cannabis were significantly more likely to be physically active than those patients who did not,” according to NORML’s summary of the study, which was published in the journal AIDS Care.

“Chronic pain, depression, and substance use are common among people living with HIV (PLWH). Physical activity can improve pain and mental health. Some substances such as cannabis may alleviate pain, which may allow PLWH to participate in more physical activity,” the authors wrote in the abstract. “However, risks of substance use include poorer mental health and HIV clinical outcomes.”

They said that their “cross-sectional analysis examined the relationships of self-reported substance use (alcohol, cannabis, and nicotine use), gender, and age with self-reports of walking, moderate physical activity, and vigorous physical activity, converted to Metabolic Equivalent of Task Units (METs), among 187 adults living with HIV, chronic pain, and depressive symptoms in the United States.”

According to NORML, the authors reported that the “estimated mean rate of vigorous METs [Metabolic Equivalent of Task Units] was … 6.25 times higher for people who used cannabis than non-users.”

“Women reported less walking, vigorous activity, and total physical activity compared to men. Individuals who used cannabis reported more vigorous physical activity relative to those who did not use cannabis,” the researchers wrote. “These findings were partially accounted for by substance use*gender interactions: men using cannabis reported more vigorous activity than all other groups, and women with alcohol use reported less walking than men with and without alcohol use. Research is needed to increase physical activity among women who use substances and to evaluate reasons for the relationship between substance use and physical activity among men.”

The research echoes previous findings that also showed a link between cannabis use and greater physical activity. A study published last year in the journal Preventive Medicine found that “the commonly held perception that marijuana users are largely sedentary is not supported by these data on young and middle-aged adults.” 

That study, the authors said, “represents one of the first studies to rigorously analyze the relationships between marijuana use and exercise.”

“Results show that, particularly for fixed-effects models, marijuana use is not significantly related to exercise, counter to conventional wisdom that marijuana users are less likely to be active. Indeed, the only significant estimates suggest a positive relationship, even among heavier users during the past 30 days. These findings are at odds with much of the existing literature, which generally shows a negative relationship between marijuana use and exercise. As additional states legalize the medicinal and recreational use of marijuana, perhaps its impact on exercise, one of the leading social determinants of health, is not necessarily a primary concern,” the authors wrote in the abstract of that study, which was published in June 2021. 

Those authors also noted that “positive relationships between marijuana use and exercise have also been found” in other research, including one study that showed individuals “who reported using cannabis either shortly before or after exercise engaged in 43.4 more minutes of weekly aerobic exercise on average than individuals who did not use cannabis shortly before/after exercising.” 

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Cannabis Worse Than Tobacco – Study 

Is cannabis worse than tobacco? According to a new Canadian study, the answer is yes! Remember when former prime minister Stephen Harper called cannabis “infinitely worse than tobacco?” Canadians rightfully laughed at him. Some of us also laughed at him for saying the Liberals would introduce a Netflix tax. The Liberals ended up doing much worse – regulating the Internet. So, how accurate was his cannabis “infinitely worse than tobacco” statement? Details of the Study Is cannabis worse than tobacco? […]

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