Study: Self-Made Human Cannabinoids May Be Key To Treating Stress-Related Disorders

We already know that humans have our own endocannabinoid systems, made to regulate a number of bodily functions with a number of cannabinoid receptors that interact with compounds like THC and CBD in cannabis. 

Brain activity patterns and neural circuits regulated by these cannabinoids derived in the brain were not well known, but new research has revealed our bodies may actually release their own cannabinoid molecules in specific circumstances, independent of external cannabinoid use.

According to a new mice study from Northwestern Medicine published in the journal Cell Reports, the brain’s key emotional center, the amygdala, releases its own cannabinoid molecules under stress. When released, these molecules work to decrease incoming stress alarms from the hippocampus, which controls memory and emotions in the brain.

The study results add further evidence to the assertion that the brain contains innate cannabinoid molecules, key to our body’s natural coping response to stress. Further, the study may indicate that impairments to this endogenous (the body’s own) cannabinoid signaling system in the brain could result in higher susceptibility to developing psychiatric disorders related to stress, like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Still, further research is needed to determine exactly how these mechanisms work in the human brain, said corresponding study author Dr. Sachin Patel.

The Human Body’s Self-Made Cannabinoids and Understanding Stress

“Stress exposure confers risk for the development or exacerbation of psychiatric disorders: from generalized anxiety and major depression to post-traumatic stress disorder,” authors state in the introduction. “Understanding stress-induced molecular-, cellular-, and circuit-level adaptations could provide critical insight into how stress is translated into affective pathology and may reveal novel therapeutic targets for the treatment of stress-related disorders.”

Scientists at Northwestern Medicine used a new protein sensor that can detect the presence of these cannabinoid molecules in real time at specific brain synapses, which show that specific high-frequency patterns of amygdala activity can generate the molecules. Additionally, the sensor showed that mice brains released these molecules in response to several different types of stress.

Scientists also removed the target of these cannabinoids, the cannabinoid receptor type 1, which resulted in a worsened ability to cope with stress and motivational deficits in mice. After scientists removed the receptor target of the endogenous cannabinoids at hippocampal-amygdala synapses, mice adopted more passive and immobile responses to stress. They also had a lower preference to drink sweetened sucrose water after stress exposure.

“Understanding how the brain adapts to stress at the molecular, cellular and circuit level could provide critical insight into how stress is translated into mood disorders and may reveal novel therapeutic targets for the treatment of stress-related disorders,” according to Patel and Lizzie Gilman, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and a Northwestern Medicine psychiatrist. 

The endocannabinoid system is one of the leading signaling systems identified as a prominent drug-development candidate for stress-related psychiatric disorders, Patel said. This system is an active, complex cell signaling network, involving a combination of endocannabinoids, enzymes and cannabinoid receptors helping to regulate a number of biological functions — like eating, anxiety, learning, memory, reproduction, metabolism, growth and development — through an array of actions across the nervous system.

This hypothesis is crucial in determining where future research guides this continued conversation, Patel said.

“Determining whether increasing levels of endogenous cannabinoids can be used as potential therapeutics for stress-related disorders is a next logical step from this study and our previous work,” Patel said. “There are ongoing clinical trials in this area that may be able to answer this question in the near future.”

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Study Links Simultaneous Cannabis, Tobacco Use to Depression, Anxiety

A new study has found that Americans who regularly use cannabis and tobacco have roughly double the risk for developing symptoms of depression and anxiety than non-users.

“Smoking weed and tobacco does not help to deal with anxiety and depression, and may exacerbate mental health issues in the long run,” said lead researcher Nhung Nguyen to UPI. Nguyen is an assistant professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

The peer-reviewed study, published Wednesday in Plos One, analyzed data from 53,843 American adults using data from the COVID-19 Citizen Science Study. Men and women over the age of 18 filled out online surveys which included a section where people could self-disclose information about cannabis and tobacco use over the preceding 30 day period.

Of those who responded to the survey, 4.9% said they used only tobacco, 6.9% said they used only cannabis and 1.6% said they used both. Of those who used both, 26.5% reported anxiety and 28.3% depression. Among those who did not use either drug, 10.6% reported anxiety and 11.2% reported depression.

“Co-use of tobacco and cannabis and use of cannabis-only were associated with higher odds of anxiety and depression compared to non-use and tobacco-only use,” the study said. “Tobacco-only use was associated with higher odds of anxiety and depression compared to non-use.”

The study acknowledged that there are grains of salt to be taken with the data they put forward and stressed that more research is needed before any firm conclusions can be made.

“This study has several limitations. As aforementioned, the causal relationships between patterns of tobacco and cannabis use and mental health disorders cannot be elucidated given the study design,” the study said, making note of several such limitations including sample size, the method in which they collected their data and so on. 

There are two such limitations I’d like to highlight from this study. The first and most obvious is that a response bias exists when surveying people online, especially when the subject matter is regarding cannabis use or the use of any illegal substance. The second is that these surveys were taken from 2020-2022, during the COVID-19 global pandemic when mental health disorders across the board experienced a significant spike with a particular emphasis on anxiety and depression, according to researchers at Boston College:

“Confirming anecdotal evidence that the spread of the coronavirus has strained Americans’ mental health, Boston College researchers found reports of anxiety increased to 50 percent and depression to 44 percent by November 2020—rates six times higher than 2019—according to a new report in the journal Translational Behavioral Medicine,” said the report. 

One small caveat I’d also like to add here is that there were several mischaracterizations of cannabis in the study, not necessarily in the data or the information gleaned from it, but in the language used to discuss cannabis in the extraneous parts of the report, such as the following:

“Furthermore, despite insufficient evidence regarding therapeutic benefits of cannabis, nearly half of US adults view cannabis as self-medication for treating depression and anxiety symptoms,” the study said, ignoring a pretty glaring swath of studies in recent years highlighting the many potential therapeutic benefits of cannabis

The data did show an increased likelihood of anxiety in cannabis-use only participants compared to the tobacco-use only participants, but another limitation of the study acknowledged by Nguyen was that people with anxiety often seek out cannabis and/or tobacco as home remedies for such things so it makes the whole thing a bit of a chicken-and-the-egg situation.

“Current evidence supports both directions of the relationship between tobacco and cannabis use and depression and anxiety,” Nguyen said to UPI. “Evidence shows that use of either tobacco or cannabis contributes to anxiety/depression.”

Not for nothing, but it has become increasingly funny to me that there have been several studies lately reinforcing sentiments the wooks have known for years. I can still hear my old buddy Enrique who used to eat about 100 hits of acid a week telling me to take down my tobacco to weed ratio in my spliffs if I started singing the blues a bit too often and that was like eight years ago. Either way, if you like to mix tobacco with your cannabis it could potentially increase your risk for such things so don’t be afraid to consult with your doctor.

“Coordinating tobacco and cannabis cessation with mental health treatment may be beneficial for people with co-use of tobacco and cannabis,” Nguyen said. “In addition, screening for use of tobacco and cannabis should be implemented in mental health treatment settings.”

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Researchers Lead First Pilot Study on MDMA Treatment For New Mothers

A study on MDMA treatment for new mothers, which launched in the spring, is being led by Dr. Larry Leeman, the medical director of the University of New Mexico’s Milagro Program.

Leeman “treats expectant mothers experiencing opioid use disorder,” and “was dismayed to see that many of his patients eventually resumed opioid use due untreated post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),” according to a press release from the university on the study.

“Now, Leeman and his colleagues are launching a first-of-its-kind pilot study to see whether a regimen of trauma-focused therapy coupled with doses of MDMA – popularly known to rave participants as ecstasy or molly – can help new mothers permanently overcome their drug dependency,” the press release said.

In an interview this week with local news station KOB, Leeman explained that New Mexico is “one of the epicenters of the opioid epidemic.”

A study from the New Mexico Department of Health in 2019 found that nearly two-thirds of those living in the state know someone who is or has been addicted to opioids. According to the agency, New Mexico was the “first state to approve naloxone for use by laypeople and has statewide standing orders for law enforcement to carry and pharmacists to dispense naloxone without a prescription.”

“We know that our communities often have collective intergenerational trauma here and most of the research that’s happening in psychedelic assisted therapy has happened in John Hopkins, it happens in Yale, it happens in different places. This is the first study and its happening here in New Mexico,” Leeman told the station.

The study, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration, “will enroll 15 people with diagnoses of moderate to severe PTSD six to 12 months after they have given birth,” the university said. 

Participants in the study “will receive 12 weeks of intensive therapy and three medication sessions.”

“The project, funded through private donations, will assess whether MDMA-assisted therapy can help the mothers overcome their addictions and improve bonding with their infants,” the university explained earlier this year. “Leeman’s team is collaborating with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, which is supplying the MDMA used in the pilot. He noted that when the MDMA is purchased on the street it is often dangerously adulterated with other drugs, such as methamphetamine.”

In his interview this week with KOB, Leeman explained that MDMA is a “psychedelic type of drug that is different from classical psychedelics, such as psilocybin in that it really focuses on opening people up to be able to process their trauma.”

“Our hope for using MDMA assisted therapy is to treat that trauma, decrease the likelihood of using opioids again and kind of help set up the mother and the baby and the family for a life that really what everybody who’s using opioids wants, which is not to be using and to be able to be there and be fully present for their babies,” Leeman told the station.

The press release announcing the study earlier this year noted that “MDMA has complex effects, including some that are similar to classic psychedelics, such as psilocybin, which tamps down the brain’s default mode network and may interrupt trauma-driven rumination,” and that “MDMA temporarily increases production of oxytocin, a hormone that promotes a sense of connectedness.”

“Addiction has been described as the opposite of ‘connection,’” Leeman said at the time. “Another proposed mechanism of psychedelic-assisted therapies for addiction is that they increase participants’ connections with self, including emotions, values and life meaning, connection to others – family and community – and connection to the world and universe, which includes connection with nature and the feeling that everything is interconnected.”

“What the MDMA-assisted therapy does is take away their fear for a short period of time,” Leeman added. “During that time, they have the ability to process the trauma that has led to their PTSD and which have never been able to process. It’s a bit of a redo in helping people heal in ways that may improve their ability to bond with their baby.”

Academic research into psychedelic therapies continues to blossom, with local and state governments across the country also increasingly signaling an openness to what was once taboo. 

A recent study led by researchers from NYU Langone Center for Psychedelic Medicine in New York found that MDMA could be an effective treatment for various mental health conditions, and that it could also yield benefits when used in concert with other psychedelics. 

Relative to psilocybin/LSD alone, co-use of psilocybin/LSD with a self-reported low (but not medium–high) dose of MDMA was associated with significantly less intense total challenging experiences, grief, and fear, as well as increased self-compassion, love, and gratitude,” the researchers wrote.

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Medical Pot Patients Enjoy Improved Quality Of Life, Lower Pain, Anxiety And Depression, Research Shows

A recent Australian study involving over 2,300 individuals with chronic health conditions has revealed interesting improvements in their overall quality of life within the initial three months of using medical cannabis. The study, published this week in the journal PLoS ONE, also found a reduction in fatigue. The research also highlighted improvements in anxiety, depression, and chronic pain among patients during this three-month period. “Patients experiencing anxiety, depression, or chronic pain also improved in those outcomes over 3 months,” the study found.

The study looked at responses from Australian patients eligible for the QUEST Initiative, which researchers describe as a “large prospective multicenter study of patients with any chronic health condition newly prescribed medicinal cannabis between November 2020 and December 2021.” These participants are between 18 and 97 years old (with a mean of 51). 62.8% were female.

Chronic pain was the prevailing condition reported by participants, constituting 69% of cases, followed by insomnia at 23%, anxiety at 22%, and a combination of anxiety and depression at 11%. Half of the patients reported experiencing more than one of these conditions concurrently.

Before initiating their medical marijuana, participants underwent baseline assessments, encompassing evaluations of health-related quality of life (HRQL), pain, sleep, fatigue, anxiety, and depression. Subsequently, they were administered follow-up surveys after two weeks of treatment, with additional surveys conducted once a month for a duration of three months.

Individuals prescribed medical cannabis in the preceding four weeks were not eligible to participate in the study.

All study participants were prescribed Little Green Pharma medical cannabis oil, a product that contains a combination of THC and CBD dissolved in a medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil. This product was available in four different formulations, each characterized by its THC-to-CBD ratio:

  • A 1:20 THC-to-CBD ratio
  • A balanced 10:10 ratio
  • A THC-dominant 20:5 ratio
  • A CBD-only formulation

In contrast to their health-related quality of life before treatment, participants who successfully completed three months of therapy reported significant enhancements in their overall well-being. 

Only folks who solely completed the initial follow-up assessment showed less progress compared to those involved who continued their treatment.

Furthermore, pain eased up for participants as a whole. In contrast to those not undergoing pain treatment, those diagnosed with chronic pain experienced more considerable improvements. 

Regarding depression, the study’s authors emphasized that “though scores shifted from moderate severity into the mild severity range, the difference didn’t quite meet the 5-point threshold for clinically significant improvement.” However, mirroring patterns seen in other areas, the improvement was more pronounced among individuals diagnosed with specific conditions. In particular, when focusing on 288 participants grappling with “depression health conditions, such as mixed depressive and anxiety, recurrent depressive disorder, and bipolar disorder,” the study highlights that “respondents transitioned from the severe category to moderate depression, with a difference of more than 5 points, indicating clinically meaningful improvement.”

As for anxiety scores, participants exhibited similar improvement trends over time but fell short of achieving “clinically meaningful improvement,” except among the 748 participants diagnosed with anxiety conditions. According to the study, “on average,” scores shifted from “moderate/severe down to mild anxiety.”

Regarding insomnia, the study suggests that: “Analysis of 534 participants with an insomnia diagnosis…did not reveal statistically significant, or clinically meaningful change in mean Sleep T-scores over time and did not differ from patients without insomnia.” 

But energy levels seemingly improved, as fatigue did show a decrease, “indicating clinically meaningful improvement.

During the three-month observation period, 127 participants pulled out of the study. Their reasons included the treatment not working (52 people), changing treatment (31), undesirable side effects (30), and the cannabis products being too expensive (14).

However, most participants reported some relief. “Within the first three months of medicinal cannabis therapy, participants reported improvements in their health-related quality of life, fatigue, and health conditions associated with anxiety, depression, and pain,” the study’s authors said in a press release

While the results were generally welcome, the researchers noted that some of the reported improvements could be due to the placebo effect.

“Our findings should be interpreted in the context of a single arm study without a control group. A systematic review of cannabis and HRQL studies revealed small effect sizes in [randomized controlled trials] and large effect sizes without control groups,” the study says. “There is a chance that observed improvements are partly due to placebo effect, with the widespread public public discussion (press and social media) on the benefits of medicinal cannabis and its interaction with the endocannabinoid system increasing patients’ expectations.”

As for the future, the authors say that their research “continues to follow patients over 12-months to determine whether improvements in [patient-reported outcomes] are maintained long-term,” the study reads. “In addition, further subgroup analysis will be undertaken to determine whether patients with specific conditions have better outcomes compared with others when using validated condition-specific questionnaires.”

So, the researchers aren’t done yet, and ideally will report back with more specific and detailed findings. 

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Survey: Nearly One-Third of Cancer Patients Use MJ, Most Say Symptoms Improved

A new survey, conducted by researchers affiliated with the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City and published in the journal Supportive Care in Cancer, sought the perspectives of 1,258 cancer patients to find out more about their relationship with cannabis as it pertains to their cancer symptoms. 

“To characterize cannabis use among cancer patients, we aimed to describe 1) patterns of cannabis use across multiple cancer sites; 2) perceived goals, benefits, harms of cannabis; and 3) communication about cannabis,” authors note in the study abstract.

How Do Cancer Patients Use Cannabis, and Is It Effective?

The survey looked at patients with nine different cancers treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center between March and August 2021. Respondents completed an online or phone survey asking about their cannabis use, attitudes and communication surrounding cannabis. 

Researchers used multivariable logistic regression to estimate the association of cancer type and cannabis use, adjusting for sociodemographic characteristics and prior cannabis use.

All respondents resided in states where the use of medicinal cannabis for cancer is legal, and 31% said that they used cannabis products following their diagnosis, ranging from 25% for lung cancer to 59% for testicular cancer.

“Characteristics associated with cannabis use included younger age, lower education level, and cancer type. In multivariable analysis, compared to lung cancer patients, gastrointestinal cancer patients were more likely to use cannabis,” the study notes.

Researchers also said that cannabis use in the year prior to diagnosis was “strongly associated” with cannabis use after diagnosis. Most cannabis users reported that they used it to assist with sleep (48%); followed by use for stress, anxiety or depression (46%); and pain (42%). Among those who used cannabis to improve symptoms, 70-90% reported improvement, while less than 5% said that any symptom worsened.

Consistent with previous data showing a reluctance to disclose cannabis use with healthcare professionals, only 25% of respondents said they discussed their cannabis use with medical providers.

Despite Lack of Oncologist Involvement, Cancer Patients Find Relief Through Cannabis

In the study’s conclusion, authors note that the survey shows that cannabis use among cancer patients is common across sociodemographic and clinical populations, with cannabis often being obtained independent of oncologists. Authors note that “oncologists and other members of the oncology team are uniquely positioned to provide education about the harms and benefits of cannabis use specifically for cancer patients,” adding that this context is “especially important” when it comes to “inconclusive and often conflicting evidence.”

“Interventions to improve cannabis education and communication need not target oncologists who treat specific cancers, as cannabis use appears consistent across multiple patient characteristics,” the authors concluded. “… To improve decision making about cannabis use during cancer care, research is needed to determine benefits and harms of cannabis use.”

Continued Evidence for Cannabis as Treatment for Cancer Symptoms

Cancer patients using cannabis to aid in symptom relief is nothing new, though the body of research surrounding cannabis as an effective treatment for symptom relief is still growing. That said, the available findings show promising outcomes for treating cancer-related symptoms. 

A May 2023 study found that medical cannabis is a safe and effective treatment for pain caused by cancer when combined with other drugs. Researchers concluded that medicinal cannabis is “a safe and complementary treatment option in patients with cancer failing to reach adequate pain relief through conventional analgesics, such as opioids.” The study found that medicinal cannabis significantly reduced pain in particular.

Another study, published in 2022, similarly found that cancer patients who used medicinal cannabis reported less pain and that cannabis reduced their need for powerful opiate painkillers. The study also found that cannabis was well tolerated and reduced other cancer-related symptoms.

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Court-Mandated Cannabis Treatment Plummets After Legalization

Newly released data published in last month’s issue of the Journal of Addiction Medicine concluded that marijuana treatments for young people have declined following legalization.

The data, presented by researchers at Temple University, “were extracted from the Treatment Episode Dataset—Admissions and used to calculate trends in the number and proportion of criminal justice referrals” for cannabis use disorder treatment. They sought to investigate “whether the proportion of referrals to cannabis use disorder (CUD) treatment from the criminal justice system declined among adolescents (aged 12–17 years) and young adults (aged 18–24 years) following state recreational (adult use) cannabis legalization in the United States between 2008 and 2019.” And they said that difference-in-differences analysis [used to measure a cause and effect of a certain policy] “was used to estimate the effect of recreational legalization on the state-level proportion of criminal justice referrals as a share of all admissions.”

The researchers said that, nationwide, “the number and proportion of adolescent and young adult criminal justice referrals to [cannabis use disorder] treatment declined over the study period.”

“The proportion of young adult criminal justice referrals declined significantly more rapidly after recreational legalization as compared with before (β = −0.045; 95% confidence interval, −0.079 to −0.010; P = 0.01),” the researchers wrote. “Among adolescents, the trajectory of decline in the proportion of criminal justice referrals did not change significantly following recreational legalization (β = −0.033; 95% confidence interval, −0.073 to 0.008; P = 0.11).”

The researchers concluded that their results “indicate that the proportion of referrals to CUD [cannabis use disorder] treatment from the criminal justice system fell following recreational legalization in the United States among young adults, likely due to post-legalization declines in cannabis-related arrests,” as quoted by NORML’s write-up of the data.

“The decline in the proportion of young adult criminal justice referrals to [cannabis use disorder] treatment following recreational legalization is likely due to falling cannabis-related arrests. Although cannabis criminalization may result in court-mandated CUD treatment for some young adults without CUD, the decline in CUD treatment admissions during a period of increasing CUD risk factors associated with recreational legalization represents a key health concern. Promoting screening and other CUD treatment referral sources, such as through primary care, may be warranted,” they concluded.

The findings represent a welcome development for legalization advocates, who have long contended that the end of prohibition would free up resources in the criminal justice system.

NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano said that most people “arrested for violating marijuana possession laws do not require mandatory drug treatment, and historically, these referrals were provided primarily to divert people away from the criminal justice system.”

“In addition to ending tens of thousands of needless low-level marijuana arrests, cannabis legalization is also freeing up space in drug treatment centers for those people who truly need it,” Armentano said in a statement on the findings.

Marijuana legalization is still in its infancy in the United States, and researchers are continuing to learn more about the social and political outcomes of the policy reform. 

A long-term study released earlier this year found that the legalization of marijuana is not associated with drug abuse.

The study looked at various sets of twins (more than 4,000 individuals total) to examine the effect of living in states that permit recreational cannabis.

Although it was not linked to substance abuse disorder, the researchers did find that it often resulted in increased pot use.

“In the co-twin control design accounting for earlier cannabis frequency and alcohol use disorder (AUD) symptoms respectively, the twin living in a recreational state used cannabis on average more often, and had fewer AUD symptoms than their co-twin living in an non-recreational state. Cannabis legalization was associated with no other adverse outcome in the co-twin design, including cannabis use disorder. No risk factor significantly interacted with legalization status to predict any outcome,” they wrote.

“Recreational legalization was associated with increased cannabis use and decreased AUD symptoms but was not associated with other maladaptations,” wrote researchers. “These effects were maintained within twin pairs discordant for residence. Moreover, vulnerabilities to cannabis use were not exacerbated by the legal cannabis environment. Future research may investigate causal links between cannabis consumption and outcomes,” the researchers added.

Another study released last year found that marijuana legalization has led to a reduction in filled prescriptions through that state’s Medicaid program.

“These results have important implications,” said Shayam Raman, one of the researchers involved in the study. “The reductions in drug utilization that we find could lead to significant cost savings for state Medicaid programs. The results also indicate an opportunity to reduce the harm that can come with the dangerous side effects associated with some prescription drugs.”

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Canadian Study Links Cannabis Legalization to an Increase in Car Accidents

The results of a recent study published in JAMA Network Open claim to have found an association between cannabis legalization and an increase in traffic accidents.

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Ottawa and looked at emergency room visits in Ontario, Canada over a 13-year period (Jan 2010-Dec 2021 which is actually 12 years but they say 13 in the study so what do I know), at the end of which they denoted a 475.3% increase in traffic accidents that resulted in an emergency room visit in which the driver had cannabis in their system at the time of the accident.

“This cross-sectional study found large increases in cannabis involvement in ED visits for traffic injury over time, which may have accelerated following nonmedical cannabis commercialization,” the conclusion of the study said. “Although the frequency of visits was rare, they may reflect broader changes in cannabis-impaired driving. Greater prevention efforts, including targeted education and policy measures, in regions with legal cannabis are indicated.”

At first glance, 475.3% sounds like a big number and suffice it to say many of the anti-cannabis media outlets who repackaged that number for a scary-sounding headline are counting on their readership to look no further and take their word for it that cannabis legalization and car crashes must be associated. I’m a journalist, not a scientist, but I am able to point out some facts about the study that might make that big number seem a bit less scary.

For one thing the study was only conducted in Ontario, Canada. In terms of sample size, that is one city in a country with very specific cannabis laws so to lay the blanket term “legalization” over one very specific set of laws isn’t totally accurate. The study even says so in the introduction:

“Another study also found no increase in total traffic injury hospitalizations in Canada over 2.5 years following legalization. Critically, the slow rollout of the cannabis retail market in Canada and the overlap of the legalization period with the COVID-19 pandemic greatly reduces the ability of these studies to evaluate the impacts of legalization,” the study said.

It’s also important to understand that the total number of injury-causing traffic accidents involving cannabis in the 13-year period came to a grand total of 426 out of 947,604. That number as a percentage is .04%, which is even smaller when compared to the total number of traffic accidents without taking emergency room visits into account. It’s hardly insignificant, but it is, arguably, a much less daunting number at first glance than 475.3%.

One key piece of data the study highlighted was that men appear to be more at risk than women of being involved in such accidents where cannabis intoxication was considered a factor. This stands to reason as a 2016 study by the National Institute of Health found men to use cannabis far more often than women and in greater amounts per use.

“Of the 418 individuals with documented cannabis involvement, 330 (78.9%) were male, 109 (25.6%) were aged 16 to 21 years (mean [SD] age at visit, 30.6 [12.0] years), and 113 (27.0%) had an ED visit or hospitalization for substance use in the 2 years before their traffic injury ED visit,” the study said.

The last and arguably most important question one must ask when dissecting the results of a study is “who paid for this?” Studies cost money, and it goes without saying that people who have money often try to use that money to influence the results of otherwise scientifically sound methods of observation. This is America after all (Or Canada, in this case). However, this study was funded in its entirety by grants from the Canadian Institute of Health and the University of Ottawa, meaning there does not appear to be any private money attempting to sway these results.

Regardless of my nitpicking, this study did point out something important: there is a small but statistically significant chance that a link between cannabis legalization and severe traffic accidents exists, but more context and study is needed to be sure.

“The findings of this repeated cross-sectional study suggest that cannabis-involved severe traffic injuries have increased over time. Legalization of nonmedical cannabis with widespread retail access and increased cannabis product variety may have further increased these visits despite laws specifically aimed at deterring cannabis-impaired driving,” the study said. “Younger adults and males appear to be at particularly increased risk of cannabis-involved traffic injuries. There is a potential need for greater interventions, including education on cannabis-impaired driving, enforcement activities, and policies to regulate access to commercial retail markets.”

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Over-The-Counter Overdoses Largely Affect Women, the Young

The Japan Times reported this week on data published by the National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry, an agency under the national Ministry of Health, that illuminated how excessive “use of such over-the-counter drugs has grown more popular in recent years, with the number of cases of addiction involving them increasing sixfold between 2012 and 2020.”

But the outlet also touched on a “more recent study conducted by Saitama Medical University’s Clinical Toxicology Center found that among eight surveyed medical institutions, a total of 124 patients were taken to the hospital for overdosing on over-the-counter drugs between May 2021 and December 2022.”

According to the Japan Times, the “average age of patients was 22, and nearly 80% of them were female.”

“The majority of patients are young women in their 20s or younger,” said Ryoko Kyan, an instructor at the center and one of the lead researchers on the project, as quoted by the Japan Times. “As for the motive behind their overdose, around 70% of respondents said their intent was suicide or self-harm.”

“I think what we found in this research was that it’s not necessarily people that are alone and isolated,” added Kyan. “It’s a lot of people who are integrated into society, whether it be through family, school or work, but they nonetheless have worries that they cannot disclose to people around them and are finding it hard to live.”

The outlet NHK World-Japan said that roughly “34% of the people surveyed were school or university students, while 26.2% were full-time workers,” while more “than 80% were living with their families or partners at the time.”

“The survey also found that more than half of the people who overdosed required intensive care in hospital,” the outlet reported. “One 15-year-old girl in Tokyo told NHK she consumed as many as 30 cold pills after becoming upset about problems in a personal relationship.”

According to the Japan Times, “in over 60% of the cases [the drugs] were bought in a normal pharmacy or store,” while in other cases “respondents said they either found medicines at home that their family had already bought or that they purchased them over the internet.”

Health officials in Japan have recently discussed proposals to legalize medical cannabis in the country. Reuters reported last fall that a panel organized by the country’s health ministry “recommended revising the nation’s drug laws to allow for the importation and use of medicinal marijuana products.”

“The recommendation was based on meeting medical needs and to harmonise Japan with international standards, the committee said in a report. The revision would apply to marijuana products whose safety and efficacy were confirmed under laws governing pharmaceuticals and medical devices,” Reuters reported at the time, noting that the country has “has very strict laws banning the importation, production, and use of illicit substances,” and that the health ministry committee’s report said “that only 1.4% of people in Japan had ever used marijuana, compared to 20-40% in Western countries.”

Japan’s strict prohibition on cannabis was enshrined in the 1948 Cannabis Control Act, a post-World War II law that was based largely on the United States’ own ban on pot. Importing marijuana into Japan can carry a punishment of as many as seven years in prison. (High Times published a handy guide in July for any would-be tokers who are traveling abroad in Japan. Spoiler alert: you are probably safer doing opium.)

In its report this week, the Japan Times cited Yoshito Kamijo, the head of the center and lead researcher on the project, who suggested that “it may come as no surprise that many turn to over-the-counter medicines that are both legal and easily accessible” given the strict prohibition on drugs.

Kamijo also noted the isolation induced by the COVID-19 pandemic as a factor in the trend.

“Traditionally, young people could go to school and talk about their worries and problems in life with their friends,” said Kamijo, as quoted by the Japan Times. “But when that becomes difficult, many turn to social media or the internet to discuss their issues and end up being exposed to information on how they can escape from it all using drugs.”

The Japan Times noted that Kyan, meanwhile, pointed out “that recently, it has become easier for young people to stumble upon information related to overdosing on over-the-counter drugs while searching the internet, and that there are online communities that support such behavior.”

“It’s not an issue that can be solved just by medical institutions,” said Kyan, as quoted by the outlet. “By having people become more aware that there are a lot of young people feeling isolated within society and their families, hopefully there will be more people both at home and in school keeping an eye on how their children are doing.”

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Study: Psilocybin ‘Shows Promise’ As Treatment For Depression

A study by American Medical Association, published late last month, sought to measure the “efficacy and safety of psilocybin in patients with major depressive disorder” and to “evaluate the magnitude, timing, and durability of antidepressant effects and safety of a single dose of psilocybin in patients with [major depressive disorder].”

Researchers conducted a “a randomized, placebo-controlled, 6-week trial in 104 adults, a 25-mg dose of psilocybin administered with psychological support,” ultimately determining that the psilocybin treatment “was associated with a rapid and sustained antidepressant effect, measured as change in depressive symptom scores, compared with active placebo,” and that no “serious treatment-emergent adverse events occurred.”

“A 25-mg dose of psilocybin was well tolerated and may hold promise as a treatment for major depressive disorder when combined with psychological support,” the authors of the study wrote.

“Psilocybin shows promise as a treatment for major depressive disorder,” they added.

The authors said that the psilocybin treatment “was associated with significantly reduced” scores on the Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale, a measurement of the severity of depression, relative to those administered the niacin placebo. “Psilocybin treatment was also associated with significantly reduced Sheehan Disability Scale,” the authors wrote, referring to a clinical measurement of impairment. 

“More participants receiving psilocybin had sustained response (but not remission) than those receiving niacin,” the authors said.

“There were no serious treatment-emergent [adverse events]; however, psilocybin treatment was associated with a higher rate of overall [adverse events] and a higher rate of severe [adverse events].”

In their concluding analysis, the authors said that psilocybin treatment “was associated with a clinically significant sustained reduction in depressive symptoms and functional disability, without serious adverse events.”

“These findings add to increasing evidence that psilocybin—when administered with psychological support—may hold promise as a novel intervention for [major depressive disorder],” they said.

It is hardly the first piece of research to arrive at such a conclusion. Earlier this summer, a group of British researchers suggested that psilocybin is not only an effective treatment for those suffering from depression, but also an economical one

The researchers found that the cost of psilocybin-assisted therapy typically “varied from £6132 to £7652 depending on the price of psilocybin.”

“This compares to £3528 for conventional medication alone, £4250 for [cognitive behavioural therapy] alone, and £4197 for their combination. [Quality-adjusted life years] were highest for psilocybin (0.310), followed by [cognitive behavioural therapy] alone (0.283), conventional medication alone (0.278), and their combination (0.287),” the researchers said. “Psilocybin was shown to be cost-effective compared to the other therapies when the cost of therapist support was reduced by 50% and the psilocybin price was reduced from its initial value to £400 to £800 per person. From a societal perspective, psilocybin had improved cost-effectiveness compared to a healthcare perspective.”

A separate study released earlier this year found that psilocybin could also be beneficial for those with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The researchers behind that study conducted a “marble burying test” on a group of male mice.

“Twenty glass marbles were placed equidistant from each other in a 5 × 4 pattern. The experiment was done under dim light in a quiet room to reduce the influence of anxiety on behavior. The mice were left in the cage with the marbles for a 30-min period, after which the test was terminated by removing the mice,” the researchers said. “A marble was considered buried when two-thirds or more of its size was covered with burying substrate, and the number of buried marbles was counted after 30 min.”

“All mice underwent a pretest without any injection, and the number of marbles buried was counted. Only mice that buried at least 15 marbles were selected to perform the test after drug administration. Eighty percent of pretested mice fulfilled this criterion and were used in the definitive experiment, which took place at least a week following the pretest,” they added. 

The researchers determined that the mice that were ““administered psilocybin buried 32.84% fewer marbles over 30 min” than the other mice.

 In July, a group of doctors from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston announced that, starting next year, they will begin a study that examines “the effects of psilocybin for patients with controlled advanced cancer on maintenance therapy experiencing challenges with mental health.”

“Psychedelics, specifically psilocybin, have shown promise in treating various psychological symptoms including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and end-of-life distress,” the doctors wrote in the announcement. “Although a study focusing on gynecologic cancers has not yet been completed, the studies with mixed cancer diagnosis are encouraging.”

Those doctors said that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy “suggests lasting benefits from just one to two sessions, compared with the chronic use that is needed with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.”

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Researchers Identify Mechanism Behind CBD’s Anti-inflammatory Effects

In a recent study, researchers have gained critical insight into the mechanism behind cannabinoids, with a particular focus on the non-psychoactive cannabinoid CBD and how it works to reduce inflammation, New Atlas reports. Inflammation is responsible for everything from skin breakouts (hence CBD’s presence in beauty products) to medical conditions such as asthma, autoimmune disease, and even cardiovascular problems. 

As a refresher, cannabinoids are a class of chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant (phytocannabinoids) and naturally produced in the human body (endocannabinoids). These compounds interact with the endocannabinoid system, a complex network of receptors and neurotransmitters that plays a crucial role in regulating various physiological processes, and make a great argument that the human body is naturally set up to benefit from partaking in the cannabis plant. 

Cannabinoids interact with the CB1 and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors are primarily found in the brain and central nervous system, while CB2 receptors are more prevalent in immune cells and peripheral tissues. The interaction between cannabinoids and these receptors affects a wide range of bodily functions, many of which we are still learning and understanding, including mood, pain response, fighting inflammation, and more. 

While inflammation is crucial to the body’s defense mechanism, excessive inflammation can have adverse effects, such as chronic pain. CBD has an important role, especially from a harm reduction standpoint, in replacing opioids in pain management. Inflammation is the root cause of a plethora of medical conditions, and knowing that cannabinoids, especially CBD, can balance it will likely be understood as one of the most significant medical understandings of our time. 

In part thanks to such research, cannabis continues to rise from the purgatory of the War on Drugs and into the medical community’s embrace. 

The Department of Health and Human Services recently recommended in a leaked letter to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) that cannabis be reclassified from a Schedule I, a classification for substances that are considered to have a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, to a Schedule III, which demonstrate accepted medical benefits under the Controlled Substances Act. 

This latest research continues to give cannabis more scientific merit as the U.S. inches towards, if not descheduling, and federal legalization, as most activists would greatly prefer, to at least downgrading cannabis from a Schedule I drug. This current classification becomes increasingly glaringly absurd as the body of research on the plant’s medical grows. 

Cannabis plants contain over 100 different cannabinoids and counting, including cannabidiol (CBD), the all-star delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and the lesser-known cannabigerol (CBG). CBD has been legal since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized the growing of hemp plants containing less than 0.3 percent CBD. 

While researchers already knew cannabinoids had anti-inflammatory properties, particularly CBD, the precise machinations behind their actions haven’t been fully understood. Researchers from Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany, set out to change that, embarking on a mission to explore eight bioactive cannabinoids, including CBD, THC, and CBG. Their mission is to unveil how these compounds work with essential pro-inflammatory enzymes and investigate their relationship with lipid mediators (LMs), the conductors of every inflammation stage, which can wreak havoc on the body if their presence becomes chronic. And they succeeded in helping us all understand why CBD, despite its frequent detractors, does play a vital role in inflammation reduction

“We found that all eight cannabinoids we studied had anti-inflammatory effects,” said Lukas Peltner, the study’s lead author. “All the compounds we studied were found to inhibit the formation of pro-inflammatory messenger substances in cells while enhancing the formation of inflammation-resolving substances.”

And of all the cannabinoids they researched, CBD emerged as the winner regarding immune response regulation. Breaking down the science: The researchers pinpointed CBD’s activation of the 15-lipoxygenase (15-LOX) enzyme, which produces pro-resolving mediators (SPMs). These SPMs are responsible for halting the inflammatory process, aiding tissue regeneration, and restoring the body’s homeostasis. Their work also shows that CBD can suppress the production of inflammatory molecules known as leukotrienes.

The results were first demonstrated on cell cultures and then confirmed on mice. Although, plenty of humans who use CBD could tell you that it can, indeed, reduce inflammation, explaining the cannabinoid’s ability to do everything from make one’s skin glow to take the edge of pain. 

“CBD thus induces a switch in the affected cells, so to speak, which steers the inflammatory process from the promoting to the inhibiting side,” said Paul Jordan, one of the study’s corresponding authors.  

While this understanding is welcome to the cannabis community, it’s worth noting that many medical marijuana patients, especially those who use the plant for pain rather than a night cream, also enjoy and benefit from the psychoactive effects of THC. Remember, CBD has value but doesn’t come with euphoria, something many patients should enjoy guilt-free. This is why, more than ever; we need federal legalization so that folks can enjoy CBD from full-spectrum cannabis flower, which better allows for the entourage effect, the understanding that cannabinoids work better when they’re together. 

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