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Two new studies and a media content analysis spell problems ahead for recreational and medical marijuana users. FDA issues warning about rat-poison-laced synthetic cannabinoids. Researchers find nabilone may reduce agitation in Alzheimer’s patients . . .
How Cannabis and Cannabis-Based Drugs
Harm Your Brain
Researchers at Lancaster University in the UK and Lisbon University in Portugal find that long-term use of both marijuana and marijuana cannabinoids impairs memory. They say their findings have implications for long-term recreational users and those using cannabinoid medicines to treat epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and chronic pain.
They administered a cannabinoid drug called WIN 55,212-2, a synthetic cannabinoid similar to THC, to mice and found that:
  • “Long-term exposure impairs learning and memory in the animals.
  • “Brain imaging studies showed that the drug impairs function in key brain regions involved in learning and memory.
  • “Long-term exposure to the drug impairs the ability of brain regions involved in learning and memory to communicate with each other, suggesting that this underlies the negative effects of the drug on memory.” 
Their findings confirm that long-term marijuana use has negative effects on brain function and memory, as do cannabinoid-based medicines used to treat chronic diseases. Researchers need to understand the side-effects of these drugs so that new interventions can be developed to minimize them in patients who must use them to treat chronic conditions.
Read Lancaster University press release here.
Read article abstract in the Journal of Neurochemistry here.

Executive editor’s note: WIN 55,212-2 is a single cannabinoid, not the leaves of a whole marijuana plant illustrated in the Lancaster University press release shown above. Marijuana plants contain more than 100 cannabinoids plus 400 other chemicals.
Most in US Think Cannabis Has Health Benefits, Despite Lack of Data – Study
Americans believe marijuana is helpful in treating many health problems despite little to no evidence supporting those beliefs, say researchers from the University of California San Francisco medical school. They conducted an online survey to which 16,000 people responded. 
Dr. Salomeh Keyhani, lead author of the study, attributes the gap between public perception and proven science to the commercialization of the drug since legalization for medical use began in California in 1996.
The survey also found that 18 percent of US adults believe smoking pot is somewhat or completely safe for adults, while 7 percent believe it is somewhat or completely safe for children to be exposed to second-hand marijuana smoke and that marijuana use during pregnancy is also safe.
Read The Guardian’s account of this study here.
Read abstract published in Annals of Internal Medicine here.

Executive editor’s note: Thanks to Bertha Madras, PhD, professor of psychobiology at Harvard Medical School, for sending this article to The Marijuana Report.
Has the US Reached a “Tipping Point”
in Marijuana Legalization?
This article’s authors note that legalizing marijuana for medical use resulted from “direct democracy,” a legislative process allowed in slightly more than half the states. Advocates can write a law, collect a certain percent of registered voters’ signatures, place their law on the state’s next ballot, and frame the issue to persuade voters to adopt their measure. They note that states without direct democracy may be harder to persuade to liberalize the drug.
The authors also note that journalists and advocates have been drawing attention to recent research that suggests marijuana may have the potential to treat various conditions that lift the stigma of marijuana use.
A content analysis of articles published by the Washington Post between 1995 and 2017 about marijuana used for medical purposes was conducted by one of the authors.

From 1995 to 1999, the Post associated marijuana use:
  • with cancer in 56 articles,
  • with HIV/AIDS in 73 articles, and
  • with opioid addiction in 7 articles.
From 2012 to 2017, the Post associated marijuana:
  • with cancer in 71 articles,
  • with HIV/AIDS in 31 articles,
  • with opioid addiction in 71 articles,
  • with epilepsy in 83 articles, and
  • with PTSD in 41 articles. 
A content analysis of the New York Times found similar results.
The authors conclude, “Some observers argue that evidence so far suggests other policy approaches are more successful than medical marijuana in treating opioid addiction. But if interest groups can successfully persuade citizens that medical cannabis could help diminish the opioid crisis, conservative voters and state legislatures may be persuaded to make it available.”
Read the Washington Post article here.

FDA Issues Warning: Synthetic Cannabinoids Tainted with Rat Poison Sickens Hundreds
Synthetic cannabinoids, including synthetic marijuana, called such names as Spice, K2, and AK 47, have hospitalized people in 10 states this year. Health officials discovered that people coming to Illinois emergency departments with uncontrolled bleeding had used synthetic pot laced with brodifacoum (BDF), a lethal chemical found in rat poison. The products have sickened hundreds of people and killed several.
A particularly bad batch of these products appears to have hit Washington DC last week where some 210 people had severe nose bleeds, vomiting, or collapsed in the street. Some 150 were hospitalized.
Synthetic cannabinoids are sold at convenience stores, gas stations, and smoke shops. Producers change the composition of the products faster than policy-makers can outlaw them.
The FDA partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue the warning. The CDC has been working with local public health departments on the problem. FDA is also concerned about the potential contamination of donated blood products to the nation’s blood supply. It has received reports of donors who used synthetic cannabinoids contaminated with BDF, which is long-lasting.
Read USA Today story here. Read FDA Warning here.

Executive editor’s note: Thanks to Paula Gordon, PhD, of Washington DC, for sending this article to The Marijuana Report.
Cannabis-Like Drug May
Ease Agitation in Alzheimer’s Patients
NBC News reports that nabilone, a synthetic cannabinoid* similar to THC that is used to treat chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, may also help reduce agitation in Alzheimer’s patients.
Krista Lanctôt, of the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center and the University of Toronto, who led the research, says current medications do not work for all patients, and there is an urgent need for safer options. The researchers gave nabilone to 39 patients with dementia for six weeks, then gave them a placebo for six more weeks. Agitation improved significantly in those taking nabilone, the researchers report. But there were side effects as well. Nabilone made patients drowsy and there also are safety concerns.
The Alzheimer’s Association emphasized it does not recommend giving marijuana to Alzheimer’s patients.  
“Nabilone is not the same. It is a synthetic cannabinoid made using one specific component. There are controls on the quality. There are controls on the dose,” said Heather Snyder, senior director of medical operations for the Alzheimer’s Association.
Read NBC News story here. Read Alzheimer’s Association statement here.

* Synthetic cannabinoids like Spice, K2, and AK 47 in the previous story are nothing like the synthetic cannabinoids nabilone and dronabinol even though they have the same name. The latter are synthesized versions of marijuana components that have been thoroughly tested in clinical trials and approved as safe and effective by FDA. You won’t find a drop of rat poison—or any other contaminants—in them. They are also not anything like marijuana, as the photo in the NBC News story incorrectly suggests.
The Marijuana Report is a weekly e-newsletter published by National Families in Action in partnership with SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana).

Visit National Families in Action's website, The Marijuana Report.Org, to learn more about the marijuana story unfolding across the nation.

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Our mission is to protect children from addictive drugs
by shining light on the science that underlies their effects.

Addictive drugs harm children, families, and communities.
Legalizing them creates commercial industries that make drugs more available,
increase use, and expand harms.

Science shows that addiction begins in childhood.
It is a pediatric disease that is preventable.
We work to prevent the emergence of commercial
addictive drug industries that will target children.

We support FDA approved medicines.

We support the assessment, treatment, and/or social and educational services
for users and low-level dealers as alternatives to incarceration.

About SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana)
SAM is a nonpartisan alliance of lawmakers, scientists and other concerned citizens who want to move beyond simplistic discussions of "incarceration versus legalization" when discussing marijuana use and instead focus on practical changes in marijuana policy that neither demonizes users nor legalizes the drug. SAM supports a treatment, health-first marijuana policy.  SAM has four main goals:
  • To inform public policy with the science of today's marijuana.
  • To reduce the unintended consequences of current marijuana policies, such as lifelong stigma due to arrest.
  • To prevent the establishment of "Big Marijuana" - and a 21st-Century tobacco industry that would market marijuana to children.
  • To promote research of marijuana's medical properties and produce, non-smoked, non-psychoactive pharmacy-attainable medications.

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