Study Shows Cannabis Users 55% Less Likely to Develop Common Liver Cancer

Cannabis is already being used as a medicinal treatment for symptoms of cancer and cancer treatments, like radiation and chemotherapy. However, a recent study has found that cannabis use could actually curb the chances of developing hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), one of the most common malignancies worldwide.

The association between HCC and cannabis has previously been identified in mice, though, to the knowledge of researchers, not yet in humans, which prompted the investigation.

HCC accounts for the majority of primary liver cancers. The study notes that the World Health Organization expects the incidence of HCC to increase until 2030, with overestimates in excess of 1 million deaths from liver cancer. The United States has seen a 43% increase in death rates from liver cancer between 2000 and 2016.

Researchers from Georgetown University Hospital and the Cleveland Clinic used data from the National Inpatient Sample (NIS) database between 2002 to 2014, identifying patients with HCC and cannabis use diagnosis. The researchers then identified patients without cannabis use as a control group, adjusting for multiple potential confounders and performing a multivariable logistic regression analysis to determine the potential association between cannabis use and HCC.

To the knowledge of researchers, it was the largest study evaluating the relationship between cannabis use and HCC.

The study included a staggering total of 101,231,026 patients. From that group, 996,290 patients had the diagnosis of “cannabis abuse” versus the 100,234,746 in the control group without it. Researchers also noted cannabis-using patients were younger (34 versus 48 years of age on average), had more men (61.7% versus 41.4%) and more African Americans (29.9% versus 14.2%), compared to the control group.

Authors also observed that cannabis users had a higher tendency to engage in higher-risk behaviors, including alcohol abuse (28% versus 3%) and smoking (44% versus 9%). Viral hepatitis was also more prevalent among cannabis users, which researchers presumed was related to high-risk behaviors like intravenous drug use.

Though the study noted that patients using cannabis were 55% less likely to have HCC, compared to the control group, they cited that this only confirms correlation. Essentially, researchers were unable to confirm a definite, direct causation.

In their discussion of the results, researchers explain that CBD offers one explanation to their observations, “by providing protection against HCC or at least deceleration of disease progression. Furthermore, pharmaceutical development of compounds exerting the dual effect of CB1 antagonism and CB2 agonism can play a major role in the management of liver diseases.”

The authors disclose that the NIS is an administrative database, meant for financial and administrative management rather than for research. That said, they say that the data could vary in the degree of detail and accuracy.

They also say that, among patients with a history of cannabis use, “we cannot determine whether they are actively using cannabis or merely have a remote history of use.”

They also note the limitations of the cross-sectional study design, with potential recall bias in reporting exposures. This model also didn’t allow researchers to draw direct causation effects.

“Hence, we suggest prospective clinical studies to further understand the mechanism by which various active ingredients, particularly CBD in cannabis, may possibly regulate hepatocellular carcinoma development,” they conclude.

Other recent studies have demonstrated that cannabinoid-based therapies can stop liver cancer growth. Moving beyond the liver, studies have also shown the efficacy of cannabis treatments to kill colon, pancreatic, and breast cancer cells.

Will the future offer an array of preventative cannabis and CBD treatments for those more likely to develop HCC and similar cancers? Of course, this early research is only scratching the surface of the topic and potential cannabis has to offer, but it offers a solid foundation for future research and hopefully opens the door to more breakthroughs.

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Study Finds Genetic Link to Effects of Psychedelic Drugs

Common genetic variations in a particular serotonin receptor could be responsible for the varying effects psychedelic drugs have on different individuals, according to a recently published study from researchers at the University of North Carolina. The study, which comes at a time of reinvigorated research into the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelic drugs, could shed light on why the substances seem to have dramatically positive effects for some patients with serious mental health conditions while others find little therapeutic value in the drugs.

Bryan Roth, MD, PhD, led a team of researchers at the University of North Carolina (UNC) to complete the study. The goal of the research was to explore how variations in this one serotonin receptor changes the activity of four psychedelic therapies. The laboratory research in cells showed that seven variants uniquely and differentially impact the receptor’s response to four psychedelic drugs—psilocin, LSD, 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT) and mescaline. The researchers believe that the in vitro research could be useful for determining appropriate mental health therapies for patients.

“Based on our study, we expect that patients with different genetic variations will react differently to psychedelic-assisted treatments,” said Roth, who leads the National Institutes of Health Psychotropic Drug Screening Program. “We think physicians should consider the genetics of a patient’s serotonin receptors to identify which psychedelic compound is likely to be the most effective treatment in future clinical trials.”

Psychedelics and Mental Health

Research published in 2020 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry found that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy was a quick-acting and effective treatment for a group of 24 participants with major depressive disorder. A separate study published in 2016 determined that psilocybin treatment produced substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer. And last year, researchers determined that psychedelic users had less stress during lockdowns put in place to control the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prior research has also determined that psychedelic drugs stimulate serotonin receptors in the brain. The 5-hydroxytryptamine receptor, also known as 5-HT2A, is responsible for mediating how a person reacts to psychedelic drugs. However, there are several naturally occurring, random genetic variations that can affect the function and structure of the 5-HT2A receptor. Much of the research into the effect that psychedelics have on mental health is inspired by the effect the drugs have on serotonin receptors, which bind the neurotransmitter serotonin and other similar molecules to help regulate mood, emotions and appetite.

Although they show great promise, psychedelic drugs do not seem to be effective as a treatment for everyone. Dustin Hines, PhD, an assistant professor of neuroscience in the department of psychology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who was not involved in the UNC study, said the research could shed light on why psychedelic therapies work well for some patients while others find little therapeutic benefit from the drugs.

“Genetic variation in this receptor has been shown to influence the response of patients to other drugs,” Hines told Healthline. “While psychedelic therapies can provide rapid and sustained therapeutic benefits for multiple mental health concerns, there are a proportion of patients who fail to respond.”

Hines also noted that differences in mental health conditions from person to person could also contribute to how well patients respond to both psychedelic and more traditional treatments.

“Some individuals with depression may have a genetic predisposition that increases the likelihood that they will experience depression in their lives,” Hines said. “Other individuals facing depression may have more situational or environmental contributions.”

The researchers at UNC noted that the study could help provide insight to clinicians considering psychedelics as a treatment for their patients and called for further investigation.

“This is another piece of the puzzle we must know when deciding to prescribe any therapeutic with such dramatic effect aside from the therapeutic effect,” Roth said. “Further research will help us continue to find the best ways to help individual patients.”

Results of the study were published last week in the journal ACS Chemical Neuroscience.

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Cannabis Users Less Likely to Face Complications After Spinal Fusion Surgery

While there is limited literature examining the potential connection, a team of orthopedic specialists sought further answers. They ultimately found that patients with a history of cannabis use are indeed less likely than non-users to experience adverse medical outcomes after thoracolumbar (lower back) spinal fusion (TLF) surgery. The study, “The Impact of Isolated Baseline Cannabis Use on Outcomes Following Thoracolumbar Spinal Fusion: A Propensity Score-Matched Analysis” was recently published in The Iowa Orthopedic Journal.

The orthopedic specialists, affiliated with the State University of New York (SUNY) Downstate Health Sciences University in Brooklyn, analyzed the relationship between cannabis use and surgical outcomes with a 704-patient cohort, all undergoing TLF surgery for adult spinal deformity (ASD). Researchers queried the New York Statewide Planning and Research Cooperative System database between January 2009 and September 2013 to identify all patients who underwent TLF for ASD. To be included, individuals were over the age of 18 and had either minimum 90-day or two-year follow-up surveillance.

According to the researchers, ASD is a spectrum of disorders presenting in late adolescence or adulthood and includes adult spinal scoliosis, iatrogenic spinal deformity and primary degenerative sagittal imbalance. The authors note that, as life expectancies increase, the prevalence of ASD is rising and more surgical corrections are expected to occur in the future.

“With shifting public sentiment, expanding decriminalization, and a lack of objective data on the potential consequences of cannabis use, it is imperative to identify how baseline cannabis use impacts postoperative outcomes of patients with adult spinal deformity (ASD) undergoing thoracolumbar fusion (TLF),” the study reads.

Half of the sample identified themselves as cannabis consumers and the other half did not. The study looked to compare 90-day complication, 90-day readmission, and two-year revision rates between cannabis users and non-users.

Cannabis consumers experienced significantly lower rates of medical complications during the 90-day period immediately after surgery, 2% for cannabis users and 4.1% for non-users. Overall complication rates were also higher among non-cannabis users compared to cannabis users, 4.8% versus 2.4%, respectively. Those with a history of cannabis use were no more likely than non-users to seek postoperative readmissions.

In their discussion, the authors referenced once more the changing, often favorable perception of cannabis use in the United States and the need to further research the effects of cannabis in neuropathic pain management.

The results, that cannabis is negatively associated with 90-day medical complications, are consistent with previous studies, the authors note. One study, “Marijuana use and mortality following orthopedic surgical procedures,” noted an associated decrease in mortality among cannabis users undergoing common orthopedic procedures. Another study, “Effect of marijuana use on outcomes in traumatic brain injury,” looked at traumatic brain injury patients and similarly found that cannabis users had reduced odds of death over non-users.

However, the authors note the findings are inconsistent with the 2020 study, “The Effects of Marijuana Use on Lumbar Spinal Fusion,” which showed no significant differences in complications between cannabis users and non-user undergoing lumbar spinal fusion. Though, they note that this study was only performed with 102 patients from a single surgeon.

“Compared to patients with ASD who underwent TLF without baseline cannabis use, patients with isolated baseline cannabis use were found to have no increase in odds of incurring 90-day surgical complications or readmissions or revisions two years postoperatively, though reduced odds of experiencing 90-day medical complications were observed,” authors concluded.

“Future prospective, randomized-controlled studies could help further characterize the impact of isolated cannabis use on the postoperative course of surgical patients undergoing complex procedures such as thoracolumbar fusion for adult spinal deformity.”

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Recent Johns Hopkins Medicine Study Analyzes Mislabeled CBD Products

A study published by Johns Hopkins Medicine on July 20 found that in an evaluation of numerous CBD products, many contained an inaccurate amount of THC. Entitled “Cannabinoid Content and Label Accuracy of Hemp-Derived Topical Products Available Online and at National Retail Stores,” the study analyzed 105 topical CBD products—specifically lotions, creams, and patches—collected from “online and brick-and-mortar retail locations” in Baltimore, Maryland between July and August 2020 (but analysis didn’t occur until March through June 2022). For storefronts, this included grocery stores, pharmacies, cosmetic and beauty stores, and health and wellness stores.

The study’s lead author, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Tory Spindle, Ph.D., explained the objective behind this analysis. “Misleading labels can result in people using poorly regulated and expensive CBD products instead of FDA approved products that are established as safe and effective for a given health condition,” said Spindle.

The results found that 18% of the products contained 10% less CBD than advertised on the label. Additionally, 58% contained 10% more CBD than advertised, while only 24% contained an accurate amount of CBD.

Thirty-five percent of these products contained THC, although the amount per product did not exceed 0.3% THC, which is the legal limit for hemp. Eleven percent of those products were labeled as “THC free,” while 14% said that they contained less than 0.3% THC, and 51% did not mention THC on the labels at all.

Spindle said that the presence of THC in alleged CBD-only products could potentially put some people at risk. “Recent research has shown that people who use CBD products containing even small amounts of THC could potentially test positive for cannabis using a conventional drug test,” Spindle said.

Some of the medical claims made by these products were also inaccurate, and none of them are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Twenty-eight percent made claims about pain or inflammation, 14% made claims regarding cosmetic or beauty, and 47% specifically noted that they were not approved by the FDA, while the other 53% didn’t mention the FDA at all.

The study’s Senior Author, Ryan Vandrey, Ph.D., who is also professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, explained that this stark difference in results requires more research. “The variability in the chemical content and labeling found in our study highlights the need for better regulatory oversight of CBD products to ensure consumer safety,” Vandrey said.

This study is the latest to discuss the inaccuracy of cannabis products. The University of Kentucky also recently analyzed CBD oil products earlier this month, finding that out of 80 CBD oil products, only 43 contained percentages of CBD that were within 10% of the claimed content. The University of Colorado, Boulder, in partnership with Leafly, also found that cannabis labels were inaccurate.

Johns Hopkins University has continually been involved in support cannabis study efforts over the past few years. In September 2019, Johns Hopkins University launched the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research with the goal of expanding research on psychedelic substances in order to create new treatments for specific psychiatric and behavioral disorders. In October 2020, it partnered with Realm of Caring and Bloom Medicinals to work on cannabis therapy research. In October 2021, the university published a study that showed evidence of cannabis successfully treating anxiety and depression. Earlier this year in February, it asked for volunteers to participate in a paid cannabis and alcohol research initiative (which could net up to $2,660 for study completion for an individual).

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Fruit Fly Study Shows Psilocybin Produces Long-Lasting Antidepressant-Like Effect

A recently published study has found that psilocybin can have a long-lasting effect similar to antidepressants in fruit flies, bolstering evidence that the psychoactive compound found in magic mushrooms may one day be used to treat serious mental health conditions in humans.

Charles D. Nichols, a professor of pharmacology at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans and one of the study’s authors, said that research with fruit flies can support investigations into other animal organisms including mammals.

“I have been studying fruit flies since my Ph.D. dissertation work, and have looked at the effects of psychedelics and serotonin receptor drugs in them as part of my overall research program ever since,” Nichols told PsyPost.

“Serotonins and their receptors in flies are involved in several key behaviors shared with mammals and humans, including many aspects of social interaction, and learning and memory,” Nichols added. “Fruit flies represent a powerful genetic model to elucidate mechanisms of drug effects and behaviors at the cellular level, and allow for more rapid discovery than in mammalian systems.”

Previous research has shown that psilocybin seems to have an antidepressant effect. A study published in 2020 showed that psilocybin can be an effective and quick-acting treatment for major depressive disorder. Most participants showed a substantial decrease in depression after treatment, and more than half were considered to be in remission from depression four weeks after treatment. Among the 24 patients, 67% showed a more than 50% reduction in depression symptoms after one week, and 71% showed similar progress at four weeks.

“The magnitude of the effect we saw was about four times larger than what clinical trials have shown for traditional antidepressants on the market,” said study co-author Alan Davis of Johns Hopkins University.

No, Fruit Flies Don’t Get Depressed

To conduct the new study, the researchers employed the forced swim test, a commonly used animal model to assess antidepressant effects by recording the behavior of rodents facing inescapable adversity. The scientists adapted the test for use with Drosophila melanogaster, the common fruit fly, which have neurotransmitter systems similar to mammals and have been widely used for genetic research. Although fruit flies and humans are very different, the research could be relevant to humans.

“Fruit flies likely don’t get ‘depressed’ (for that matter mice or rats don’t either — depression is a human disorder),” Nichols explained. “We are limited to studying how a drug alters neural physiology relevant to a specific behavior, not a psychiatric condition. For example, the forced swim test in and of itself does not measure a specific behavior seen in humans, but the forced swim test in rodents is highly predictive of antidepressant efficacy in humans. Nevertheless, fundamental processes are conserved, and the study of fruit flies has led to insights into human biology in several areas.”

Nichols’ team found that repeated doses of the antidepressant drug citalopram reduced immobility in fruit flies during the forced swim test.

“This is similar to SSRI effects in humans, where chronic dosing is necessary to produce an antidepressant effect,” the researchers noted.

Psilocybin Had Antidepressant Effect

Psilocybin was found to have an antidepressant effect on fruit flies during the forced swim test. Just a single dose of psilocybin administered several days before the swim test reduced immobility in fruit flies.

“The ability of a single exposure to psilocybin to alter neural biology and behavior long-term in a similar manner to SSRI antidepressants indicates that the effects of psilocybin (and likely other psychedelics) are highly evolutionarily conserved,” said Nichols. “This means that we can perhaps use fruit flies in rapid and powerful genetic experiments to identify key mechanisms underlying how psilocybin alters behaviors similar to antidepressants. Knowing how psilocybin alters neurobiology at the molecular and genetic level will hopefully lead to development and refinement of the use of psychedelics to treat psychiatric disorders.”

Nichols noted that using fruit flies can help speed research because they have short life spans and reproduce rapidly. In contrast, studies that use mammals for research can take considerably longer.

“We previously developed rat models where just one dose of psilocybin has very long-lasting antidepressant-like effects,” Nichols said. “These models are laborious and take several months from start to finish.”

“The first author on the study, Dr. Meghan Hibicke, designed and ran the experiments and leveraged her expertise in rodent behavioral pharmacology and models of depression to make this study a success,” Nichols added.

The researchers called for continued research with fruit flies to help determine how psilocybin might one day be used to treat depression in humans.

“Open areas for further research include determining which neurotransmitter receptor(s) are mediating the effects of psilocybin, and if other receptors that activate this target have similar effects, identifying other behaviors in the fly relevant to antidepressant effects in humans that may respond to psychedelics, and finally determining the molecular and genetic mechanisms underlying the effects of psilocybin to alter behaviors relevant to the study of depression in humans,” said Nichols.

The study, “Validation of the forced swim test in Drosophila, and its use to demonstrate psilocybin has long-lasting antidepressant-like effects in flies“, was published last month by the journal Scientific Reports.

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Study Finds Australians Support Cannabis Use Over Smoking Tobacco

We’re all well aware that attitudes around cannabis are shifting around the world. Now, a new Australian Institute of Health and Welfare study analyzing 2019 data from Australia’s 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) sheds new light on just how much progress the Land Down Under has made surrounding cannabis perception, as well as beliefs around other substances.

The NDSHS focuses on the attitudes and perceptions of people across Australia on a variety of drug-related issues. In addition to gauging public perception on a variety of substances, it asks people about the measures the country takes to reduce drug use and drug-related harm, including government laws, taxes, and government funding of rehabilitation and withdrawal management treatment programs.

The 2019 data asked around 20,000 people aged 14 and up about their attitudes toward drugs, finding that for the first time, 20% of respondents supported regular cannabis use, more than the 15% who support tobacco use.

Piggy-backing off this belief, as cannabis use becomes more widely acceptable, according to the study, more Australians were in favor of greater penalties against tobacco use. Another finding notes that 72% of people in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) supported restricting the use of electronic cigarettes in public places, compared with 61% in the Northern Territory (NT).

As a whole, 85% of respondents supported stricter enforcement of laws against supplying minors with tobacco and stricter penalties for the sale or supply of tobacco to minors. Though, respondents were largely opposed to increasing tobacco taxes to discourage smoking or increase tobacco taxes to pay for health education, with 18% and 17% showing support for these policies, respectively.

Conversely, community support for the legalization of cannabis has increased from 25% in 2010 to 41% in 2019. This was also the first time that more people supported legalization of cannabis in Australia than opposed it (41% compared to 37%).

In comparison to the 2010 numbers, Australians have also eased their stances on punishing folks who possess cannabis. In 2010, 34% of those surveyed said that possession of cannabis should be a criminal offense, compared to 22% in 2019. When asked if penalties should be increased for supply of cannabis, 60% of respondents in 2010 said yes, while 44% answered the same in 2019. When asked if they approve of regular cannabis use by an adult, the number jumped from 8% approval in 2010 to 20% in 2019.

Though, nearly four in five (78%) of respondents said they still wouldn’t use cannabis, even if it was legal. The proportion of people who said they would try it if it were legal has increased, from 5.3% in 2010 to 9.5% in 2019. Additionally, 11% of respondents in the ACT would try cannabis if it were legal, compared to 7.5% in Tasmania.

The study also explores issues around alcohol use and other illicit drugs.

Australians most supported more severe legal penalties for drunk driving and stricter enforcement of the law against supplying minors with alcohol, boasting 84% and 79% of approving respondents, respectively. Respondents most opposed increasing the price of alcohol, with 47% saying the price should go up, and reducing trading hours for pubs and clubs, with 40% showing support.

Though, 45% of people approved of regular alcohol use by adults in 2019, an approval level higher than any other drug. It was also the only drug for which the level of approval was higher than disapproval.

The support of legalization of other drugs increased slightly since 2010, with support for cocaine legalization increasing from 6.3% in 2010 to 8% in 2019 and support for legalization of ecstasy increasing from 6.8% to 9.5% over the nine-year period. Support for the legalization of heroin (5.6%) and meth/amphetatmines (4.6%) has remained roughly the same.

Nearly three in five Australians (57%) supported allowing people to test pills and drugs at designated sites, though support varied widely based on region. People most commonly supported referral to treatment or education programs as the best action for people in possession of small quantities of selected drugs.

Cannabis was the only exception, as more than half (54%) of exponents supported “a caution/warning or no action,” with 24% supporting referral to treatment or education programs.

In addition to these myriad findings, the NDSHS also shared an interactive data map to break down responses on alcohol, tobacco, cannabis and other drugs based on region.

Looking ahead, the study notes, “The 2022 survey is currently in the field and will be completed in early December 2022. Households are randomly selected to complete the survey and have their say.”

A lot has changed in nine years, and with the global cannabis industry showing few signs of slowing down, attitudes around cannabis will continue to shift, both in Australia and around the world. Bring it on.

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Bill Clinton Hails ‘Very Encouraging’ CBD Clinical Trial

The clinical trial, conducted by researchers at the NYU Langone Health and Baptist Health/Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute, found that an orally absorbed tablet containing cannabidiol (CBD) “safely managed pain after minimally invasive rotator cuff surgery, and did not produce side effects sometimes associated with CBD use, such as nausea, anxiety, and liver toxicity.”

Researchers randomly sorted 99 participants across the two study sites, NYU Langone and Baptist Health in Jacksonville, “between the ages of 18 and 75 into a placebo group and a group receiving oral-absorbed CBD,” who were “prescribed a low dose of Percocet, instructed to wean off the narcotic as soon as possible, and to take the placebo/CBD 3 times a day for 14 days after the surgery.”

“On the first day after surgery, patients receiving CBD experienced on average 23 percent less pain as measured by the visual analog scale (VAS) pain score compared to patients receiving the placebo, highlighting that in patients with moderate pain, CBD may render a significant benefit,” the researchers wrote in their analysis. “On both the first and second days after surgery, patients receiving CBD reported 22 to 25 percent greater satisfaction with pain control compared to those receiving placebo. Further analysis also showed that patients receiving 50 mg of CBD reported lower pain and higher satisfaction with pain control compared to patients receiving placebo. No major side effects were reported.”

The results of the study were presented in March at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) 2022 Annual Meeting in Chicago.

On Monday, TR Processing LLC revealed that it served as the CBD supplier for the clinical trial––an announcement that was accompanied by a presidential endorsement.

In a press release, TR Processing said that Clinton has been “following the study through the Clinton Foundation.”

The former president said that the study was an important part of the effort to reduce opioid dependency and addiction in the United States. TR Processing, citing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, noted in the announcement that “more than 100,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2021 and one million lives were lost to overdoses in the past two decades,” an “epidemic [that] costs the U.S. more than $1 trillion a year.”

“The Clinton Foundation has worked for years to reduce opioid addiction and deaths. To succeed, we need non-addictive alternatives to pain management,” Clinton said in a statement. “The results of the trial conducted by NYU Langone, with TRP’s CBD ingredient, are very encouraging and I’m eager to see the results of the next round.”

Michael J. Alaia, associate professor in the NYU Department of Orthopedic Surgery and a lead researcher on the study, said there “is an urgent need for viable alternatives for pain management, and our study presents this form of CBD as a promising tool after arthroscopic rotator cuff repair.”

“It could be a new, inexpensive approach for delivering pain relief, and without the side effects of anti-inflammatory drugs like NSAIDs and addiction risks linked to opiates. Additionally, CBD has the benefit of pain relief without the psychotropic effects associated with THC or marijuana,” Alaia said.

Chris Kanaley, chief strategy officer at TR Processing, said that the company is “committed to supporting the study and responsible commercialization of isolated cannabinoids, including CBD.”

“Tackling opioid abuse and addiction through the development of safer pain management alternatives is the first of many potential uses of our unique processing platform, and we are enthusiastic about the future. Our work has tremendous potential to become precision medicine at its best,” Kanaley said.

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Study Shows Decrease in Heavy Truck Crash Rates Since Cannabis Legalization

As cannabis legalization continues to sweep states across the country, we’re collectively able to examine trends regarding the potential positive and negative effects of a more widespread, adult-use cannabis market. One notion around cannabis legalization continuously points to the potential for more traffic accidents and increased danger on the road, but one new study, specifically looking at cannabis legalization and truck driving, suggests the opposite could be true.

The study, humorously titled “Marijuana Legalization and Truck Safety: Does the Pineapple Express Damage More Pineapples?” has researchers from the University of Tennessee, University of Arkansas, and Iowa State University honing in on America’s $800 billion truck driving industry. 

Using a state-level panel of heavy truck crash statistics from 2005 to 2019, and a difference-indifference estimation strategy, the researchers tested whether legalization of cannabis has affected the crash rate of heavy trucks. The results show that legalization, in fact, does not increase average crash rates in the states examined.

On the contrary, the research found that recreational cannabis legalization actually reduced the amount of heavy truck accidents by 11%. Specifically, six of the eight states examined, saw a decrease in truck accidents and two saw increases. Vermont and Washington saw the most profound decreases, at -21.5% and -20.1%, respectively, followed by Colorado and Massachusetts, at -18.3% and -18% respectively, and finally Oregon and California, at -3.7% and -3.2%, respectively. The two states reporting increases were Maine at 4.18% and Nevada at 25.6%.

It’s important to note that this is a preprint, meaning that the study has yet to undergo peer review.

Researchers didn’t offer a solid explanation around the reduction in crashes following cannabis legalization, though they offered a couple of theories:

People who might typically drink alcohol could have switched to cannabis. Though it’s still against the law to drive under the influence of cannabis, research suggests that driving high is far less likely to cause a fatal accident than driving under the influence of alcohol. Of course, the safest route is to get behind the wheel fully sober.

They also cite that cannabis is generally consumed at home, rather than at a bar or a restaurant, so even if a trucker partakes, they probably aren’t able to easily access or consume cannabis on the job.

The researchers also wanted to more closely examine the increase in crashes in Nevada by comparing the state to Vermont, which saw the largest decrease by state. They found that Vermont has far less tourism than Nevada, meaning that there are more people traveling who are unfamiliar with the state’s roadways in Nevada. Travelers in Nevada are also more likely to use cannabis outside of the home—like those visiting Las Vegas, for example—indicating a higher likelihood of those folks getting behind the wheel after using cannabis.

Because Vermont is also more densely populated than Nevada, longer stretches of road in the latter state offer more opportunity for crashes.

Some of the findings also contract other recent studies on legal cannabis and driving. One 2021 study from Boston University found that fatal car crashes involving alcohol haven’t decreased over the past two decades, though cannabis-involved fatal accidents doubled, according to the study. Others have suggested that cannabis may increase the overall rates of accidents without necessarily increasing the likelihood of fatal car accidents.

The trucking industry has also faced a number of changes in the wake of cannabis legalization. In January 2020, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration launched its drug and alcohol clearinghouse. It lists all commercial drivers who have failed a drug or alcohol test, though drivers are able to clear their names by following a return-to-duty process.

The clearinghouse is aimed to ensure truck drivers violating drug and alcohol rules aren’t able to quickly secure another trucking job without amending their past behavior and ultimately aims to increase truck safety on the road.

While it’s not fully clear yet how much these aims have increased safety for truckers on the road and other drivers, it has removed a number of drivers. Between January 2020 and April 2022, around 124,000 drivers were removed from their roles as commercial truck drivers because of failed drug tests, and around 31,000 have completed the return-to-duty procedure to return to the road.

Though, the majority of the violations don’t involve drugs like opioids, amphetamines, methamphetamine or cocaine but, you guessed it, cannabis. More than 74,000 truckers who tested positive for cannabis have been removed from commercial truck driving since January 2020.

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New Study Shows Mood, Mental Health Improved by Microdosing Psilocybin

A study published in Scientific Reports on June 30 has presented evidence that psilocybin mushrooms have a noticeable effect on the mood and mental health of participants.

The study, called “Psilocybin microdosers demonstrate greater observed improvements in mood and mental health at one month relative to non-microdosing controls,” analyzed 1,133 subjects between November 2019 to May 2021. Baseline assessment was conducted at the beginning of the study, and then again between 22-35 days later.

Researchers analyzed the results of psilocybin microdosing combined with either lion’s mane mushrooms (Hericium erinaceus, or abbreviated as HE) or niacin (vitamin-B3) to identify “small- to medium-sized improvements in mood and mental health that were generally consistent across gender, age and presence of mental health concerns … improvements in psychomotor performance that were specific to older adults.” The study refers to these combinations as “stacking.”

The study abstract notes that combining psilocybin with HE or B3 “did not impact changes in mood and mental health,” however, older participants did experience psychomotor improvements through either just psilocybin, or psilocybin and HE.

The research was written by numerous authors including Paul Stamets, as well as Joseph M. Rootman of University of British Columbia’s Department of Psychology. According to an interview with Forbes, Rootman is certain that the work being conducted now will help lead to more revelations in the future. “This study is an extension of our earlier manuscript published in the same journal, and we have further publications in preparation that are based on this same study,” said Rootman. “Our team has also been working hard to develop the next version of the study which will be used to generate findings related to psychedelic microdosing for years to come.”

Rootman also clarified that the study did not require just one type of mushroom variety. Rather, researchers simply observed the patient’s recorded experiences, which ranged between low, medium, or high microdosed amounts of mushrooms (0.1 grams, 0.1-0.3 grams, or more than 0.3 grams, respectively). “We found that about 10% of our microdosing sample in this study reported high dosages, 72.6% reported medium dosages, and 16.8% reported low dosages,” Rootman added.

The study description shares the authors’ collective belief that this is one of the first studies of its kind, but requires more research in order to build up a foundation to showcase how psilocybin can benefit human participants. “Further research with control groups and large samples that allow for the examination of potential moderators such as mental health status, age, and gender are required to better appreciate the health consequences of this emerging phenomenon,” the authors concluded. “In the present study, we aim to extend this literature by examining prospective changes associated with microdosing psilocybin as compared to a non-microdosing control group on domains of mental health, mood, and cognitive and psychomotor functioning. To our knowledge, this is the largest prospective study to date of microdosing psilocybin, the first to distinguish between microdosing admixtures (i.e., stacking), and among the few prospective studies to systematically disaggregate analyses according to age and mental health concerns.”

Gradually, more evidence is being collected in studies such as this one. However it is not yet enough to convince those who oppose the use of medical psilocybin. At the end of June, Linn County, Oregon announced the approval of a voter’s initiative to ban psilocybin therapy and treatment centers (even though the rest of the state will embrace the voter-approved psilocybin therapy program that is slated to begin in 2023).

Earlier last month, a South Africa-based study found that psilocybin can help treat women with HIV and depression. Another study from April also discovered that psilocybin has potential as a treatment for depression. In May, activists from Right to Try organization recently protested outside of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s headquarters in Virginia to bring attention to patients who could use psilocybin to improve their quality of life.

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Study Shows Flower Still Reigns Supreme in U.S., Canada as Consumer Favorite

Flower is indeed still king, and new research proves it. The paper, which researchers say is “one of the most comprehensive assessments of cannabis consumption at the population level in Canada and the U.S. to date,” examines trends in cannabis consumption patterns in Canada and the United States between 2018 and 2020, with authors recognizing the “rapidly diversified” market in both countries since the legalization of medical and recreational cannabis.

Of course, consumption methods may solely come down to what a user prefers, however, as authors note in the abstract, “… mode of administration has important implications for cannabis potency, pharmacokinetic effects, and consumer patterns of use.”

This study looked at the use of different cannabis products in population-based surveys in Canada and the U.S., examining changes over time in the prevalence of use of different cannabis products, along with frequency of use and consumption amongst each product type.

Respondents aged 16 to 65 years were recruited from commercial panels in Canada and the U.S. in states with and without a legal, adult-use cannabis market. Researchers collected data on frequency and consumption amounts for nine types of cannabis products, including dried flower, oils and concentrates, edibles and more. Consumers were also asked about habits around mixing cannabis and tobacco, and researchers collected sociodemographic information to examine any correlates of consumption.

Findings were consistent with previous surveys, ultimately noting that flower still reigns supreme among consumers, regardless of whether those consumers took part in a legal or illegal cannabis marketplace. However, researchers noted the popularity of other formations of cannabis, especially in markets with the option to legally purchase from licensed retailers.

While dried flower was the most commonly used product, examining the past 12-month use among consumers between 2018 and 2020 showed a decline in Canada (81% to 73%), as well as the U.S. legal (78% to 72%) and illegal states (81% to 73%). When looking at prevalence of past 12-month use, researchers observed an increase for virtually all other product forms, though the prevalence of daily use remained stable throughout the observed years.

Following flower, edibles and vape oils were the most commonly used cannabis products in 2020. The use of non-flower products was also highest in U.S. legal states, though similar trends were observed in all jurisdictions covered by the study.

Men were most likely to report the use of processed products. Vape oils were the most commonly processed product among surveyed 16 to 20-year-olds, consistent with other recent research that cannabis vaping is the most popular method of cannabis consumption among U.S. adolescents.

Researchers also noted that the daily use of cannabis flower has increased in all U.S. states, whether adult-use cannabis is illegal or not, and the average joint size has also increased across all jurisdictions over time.

While it may not seem shocking that flower once again comes out on top, these findings offer some insight surrounding the road ahead. Namely, flower may not be “king” forever.

In the conclusion of their report, authors note, “The findings highlight the rapidly evolving nature of the cannabis product market, including notable shifts in the types of cannabis products used by consumers. … Although dried flower continues to dominate the market, it has begun declining with a notable shift towards increasing popularity of processed cannabis products.”

Recent data from Headset, looking at cannabis markets in California, Colorado, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state seem to echo the same trends, according to an MJBizDaily report. According to retail sales data from the six states, cannabis sales grew from $4.92 billion in 2020 to $5.49 billion in 2021, but the flower’s overall share of the market fell.

According to Headset Senior Data Analyst Cooper Ashley, last year saw a 11.5% increase in flower sales, less than the 18% jump in overall cannabis sales. Sales of edibles, in comparison, increased from $1.14 billion to $1.37 billion over the same time period, up 20.4%. Flower was also the third-slowest-growing product category, ahead of topicals and tinctures/sublinguals.

Even though it has some other contenders to play with in the modern age, it’s unlikely flower will fall from its throne any time soon. Though, as the industry continues to rapidly grow and shift, who are we to predict the trends to come?

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