Archive for the ‘SOCIETY’ category

NORML Responds To Latest Media Frenzy Over Pot and ‘Brain Damage’ Fears

April 18th, 2014

The mainstream media launched into a reefer mad frenzy this week after researchers from Harvard University in Boston and Northwestern University in Chicago published the results of a neuroimaging study assessing the brains of a small cohort of regular marijuana smokers and non-users. The brain scans identified various differences between the two groups in three aspects of brain morphometry: gray matter density, volume, and shape. These differences triggered dozens of high-profile media outlets to lose their collective minds. Here’s a sampling:

CNN: Casual marijuana use may damage your brain

Financial Post: Study proves occasional marijuana use is mind altering

Time: Recreational pot use harmful to young people’s brains

International Business Times: Casual Marijuana Smoking at Young Age May Cause Irreparable Brain Damage – Even at One Joint Per Week

UK Telegraph: Smoking cannabis will change you. That’s not a ‘risk’, it’s a certainty

Yet despite the sensationalist headlines, the study itself was hardly newsworthy. Decades of research pertaining to the potential residual adverse effects of cannabis on brain cognition have failed to support the notion that marijuana poses any sort of permanent brain deficits. And as I write today on Alternet.org, this study similarly failed to report any sort of real-world adverse consequences associated with cannabis use:

Why the Media’s Fear-Mongering on Marijuana Effects on the Brain Is Faulty
via Alternet.org

[excerpt] Using high–resolution MRI imaging, scientists identified specific changes in particular regions of the brain that they inferred were likely due to marijuana exposure. (Since researchers only performed a single MRI session, they could not say definitively whether these changes were, in fact, caused by cannabis or whether they existed prior to subjects’ use of the plant.) Notably, however, these changes did not appear to be associated with any overt adverse effects in subjects’ actual cognition or behavior. (Separate studies assessing youth use of legal intoxicants, such as nicotine and alcohol, have also been associated with documented changes in brain structure. Ditto for caffeine intake in preclinical models. These findings have received far less media attention.)

Both the cases (20 marijuana users) and controls (20 nonusers) in the study were recruited from local universities, undermining the notion that the alleged ‘brain damaged potheads’ were any more academically challenged than their non-using peers. Further, as summarized by HealthDay: “Psychiatric interviews revealed that the pot smokers did not meet criteria for drug dependence. For example, marijuana use did not interfere with their studies, work or other activities, and they had not needed to increase the amount they used to get the same high.”

In other words, case subjects and controls appeared to function similarly in their professional and academic endeavors.

You can read the full text of my response here.

Fortunately, my critique of this latest paper — and in particular the mainstream media’s sensationalist and erroneous coverage of its findings — is far from the only one. Below are links to several other excellent analyses:

MedPage Today: Striking a Nerve: Bungling the Cannabis Story

Daily Beast: No, Weed Won’t Rot Your Brain

Bits of DNA (blog): Does researching casual marijuana use cause brain abnormalities?

DPA Blog: Does Smoking Dope Really Make You a Dope?

Study: Frequent Cannabis Consumers Less Likely To Engage In Problematic Alcohol Use

April 15th, 2014

Those who report consuming cannabis two or three times per week are less likely to engage in at risk drinking behavior, according to data published online in The American Journal of Addictions.

Investigators from Sweden’s Lund University, Department of Clinical Sciences, analyzed data from a nationwide survey on alcohol and drug use conducted by the National Institute of Public Health. Over 22,000 respondents between the ages of 15 and 64 participated in the survey.

Researchers reported that frequent cannabis consumers (defined as having used cannabis two or three times per week) were less likely to engage in hazardous drinking practices compared to infrequent users (those who reported having consumed cannabis fewer than four times per month).

They concluded: “In the present study, it has been shown that, in the Swedish general population, cannabis use is associated with a higher prevalence of other illicit drug use and hazardous alcohol use. Among cannabis users, frequent cannabis use is associated with a higher prevalence of other illicit drug use and a lower prevalence of hazardous alcohol use when compared to occasional cannabis use. … … The inverse relationship between the frequency of cannabis use and hazardous drinking has not been reported before to our knowledge. … This may indicate that cannabis users and alcohol users are different groups, albeit with a high degree of overlap between groups, with different characteristics and clinical needs.”

A review paper published in February in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism similarly acknowledged that some cannabis consumers likely substitute the plant for alcohol. It concluded: “While more research and improved study designs are needed to better identify the extent and impact of cannabis substitution on those affected by AUD (alcohol use disorders), cannabis does appear to be a potential substitute for alcohol. Perhaps more importantly, cannabis is both safer and potentially less addictive than benzodiazepines and other pharmaceuticals that have been evaluated as substitutes for alcohol.”

An abstract of the study, “Alcohol and drug use in groups of cannabis users: Results from a survey on drug use in the Swedish general population,” appears here.

Study: Enactment Of Medical Cannabis Laws Not Associated With Higher Crime Rates

April 8th, 2014

The enactment of medicinal cannabis laws is not associated with any rise in statewide criminal activity and may even be related to reductions in incidences of violent crime, according to data published online in the journal PLoS ONE.

Researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas tracked crime rates across all 50 states between the years between 1990 and 2006, a time period during which 11 states legalized marijuana for medical use. Authors reviewed FBI data to determine whether there existed any association between the passage of medicinal cannabis laws and varying rates of statewide criminal activity, specifically reported crimes of homicide, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny, and auto theft.

Investigators reported that the passage of medical marijuana laws was not associated with an increase in any of the seven crime types assessed, but that liberalized laws were associated with decreases in certain types of violent crime.

“The central finding gleaned from the present study was that MML (medical marijuana legalization) is not predictive of higher crime rates and may be related to reductions in rates of homicide and assault,” authors reported. “Interestingly, robbery and burglary rates were unaffected by medicinal marijuana legislation, which runs counter to the claim that dispensaries and grow houses lead to an increase in victimization due to the opportunity structures linked to the amount of drugs and cash that are present. Although, this is in line with prior research suggesting that medical marijuana dispensaries may actually reduce crime in the immediate vicinity.”

Researchers concluded: “Medical marijuana laws were not found to have a crime exacerbating effect on any of the seven crime types. On the contrary, our findings indicated that MML precedes a reduction in homicide and assault. … In sum, these findings run counter to arguments suggesting the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes poses a danger to public health in terms of exposure to violent crime and property crimes.”

Full text of the study, “The Effect of Medical Marijuana Laws on Crime: Evidence from State Panel Data, 1990-2006,” appears online here.

Majority of Law Enforcement Officers Want to Reform Marijuana Laws

April 5th, 2014

A survey released this week by the publication Law Officer revealed that a majority of law enforcement officers want to see our country’s marijuana laws reformed.

The poll, which questioned over 11,000 law enforcement officers regarding their opinions on drug policy, revealed that just over 64% believed our marijuana laws needed to be relaxed in some form. When asked “Do you believe possession of marijuana for personal use should…” and presented with several options, 35.68% of respondents stated that marijuana be legalized, regulated and taxed, 10.84% chose that it should be be legalized for medical reasons and with a doctor’s prescription only, 14.24% said it should continue to be illegal but only punished via fines (no incarceration), and 3.68% said marijuana should simply be decriminalized. Only 34.7% believed marijuana should continue to be illegal with the criminal penalties that are currently in place.

“This poll reveals that support for marijuana prohibition is eroding even amongst those who are serving on the front lines enforcing it,” stated NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri, “When a majority of the American people and most of those tasked with implementing a law disagree with it in principle, it is time to change that law.”

You can view the full results of this survey here.

“Prohibition cannot be enforced for the simple reason that the majority of the American people do not want it enforced and are resisting its enforcement. That being so, the orderly thing to do under our form of government is to abolish a law that cannot be enforced, a law which the people of the country do not want enforced.” – New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia on alcohol prohibition.

WebMD Poll: Medical Community Backs Legalizing Cannabis

April 4th, 2014

An estimated 70 percent of physicians acknowledge the therapeutic qualities of cannabis and over half believe that the plant should also be legal for medical purposes, according to survey data released this week by WebMD/Medscape.

Sixty-nine percent of respondents say that cannabis can help in the treatment of specific diseases and 67 percent say that the plant should be available as a legal therapeutic option for patients.

Oncologists and hematologists were most likely to express support for the use of cannabis for medical purposes, with 82 percent of those surveyed endorsing the plant’s therapeutic use. Rheumatologists (54 percent) were least likely to say the cannabis provides therapeutic benefits.

Over 1,500 physicians representing more than 12 specialty areas participated in the survey which possesses a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percent.

Pew Poll: Three-Quarters Of US Adults Say That Marijuana Legalization Is Inevitable

April 3rd, 2014

Seventy-five percent of Americans believe that the sale and use of cannabis will eventually be legal for adults, according to national polling data released this week by the Pew Research Center. Pew pollsters have been surveying public opinion on the marijuana legalization issue since 1973, when only 12 percent of Americans supported regulating the substance.

Fifty-four percent of respondents say that marijuana ought to be legal now, according to the poll. The total is the highest percentage of support ever reported by Pew and marks an increase of 2 percent since 2013. Forty-two percent of respondents said that they opposed legalizing marijuana for non-therapeutic purposes. Only 16 percent of Americans said that the plant should not be legalized for any reason.

Demographically, support for cannabis legalization was highest among those age 18 to 29 (70 percent), African Americans (60 percent), and Democrats (63 percent). Support was weakest among those age 65 and older (32 percent) and Republicans (39 percent).

Seventy-six percent of those surveyed oppose incarceration as a punishment for those found to have possessed personal use quantities of marijuana. Only 22 percent of respondents supported sentencing marijuana possession offenders to jail.

Fifty-four percent of those polled expressed concern that legalizing marijuana might lead to greater levels of underage pot use. (Forty-four percent said that it would not.) Overall, however, respondents did not appear to believe that such an outcome would pose the type of significant detrimental health risks presently associated with alcohol. As in other recent polls, respondents overwhelmingly say that using cannabis is far less harmful to health than is drinking alcohol. Sixty-nine percent of those polled said that alcohol “is more harmful to a person’s health” than is marijuana. Only 15 percent said that cannabis posed greater health risks. Sixty-three percent of respondents separately said that alcohol is “more harmful to society” than cannabis. Only 23 percent said that marijuana was more harmful.

The Pew poll possesses a margin on error of +/- 2.6 percent.

Recent national polls by Gallup and CNN similarly report majority support among Americans for legalizing and regulating the adult use of the plant.

Commenting on the poll, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “Advocating for the regulation of cannabis for adults is not a fringe political opinion. It is the majority opinion among the public. Elected officials who continue to push for the status quo — the notion that cannabis ought to be criminalized and that the consumers of cannabis ought to be stigmatized and punished — are holding on to a fringe position that is increasingly out-of-step with the their constituents’ beliefs.”

Poll: Marijuana Ballot Measures Likely To Increase Overall Voter Turnout

March 25th, 2014

Marijuana-related initiatives are likely to increase voter turnout, according to polling data released by George Washington University.

Nearly four out of ten participants in the nationwide survey said that they would be “much more likely” to go to the polls if an initiative seeking to legalize marijuana appeared on the ballot. An additional 30 percent of respondents said that they would be “somewhat” more likely to participate in an election that also included a marijuana-specific ballot measure.

Presently, two statewide cannabis reform measures have qualified to appear on the 2014 ballot. Alaska voters will decide whether to allow for the commercial production, retail sale, and use of cannabis by those over age 21. The measure will appear on the August 19 primary ballot. According to the results of a February Public Policy Polling survey, 55 percent of registered Alaska voters “think (that) marijuana should be legally allowed for recreational use, that stores should be allowed to sell it, and that its sales should be taxed and regulated similarly to alcohol.”

Florida voters in November will decide on a measure to allow for the use and dispensing of marijuana by those who are authorized by their physician to engage in cannabis therapy. Survey data released in November by Quinnipiac University reported that 82 percent of Florida voters support reforming state law to allow for the medicinal use of marijuana.

Several proposed ballot measures to regulate the production and sale of marijuana for adults also are pending in Oregon. All of these measures are still in the signature-gathering phase.

Supposed ‘Medical Marijuana’ Measures In Alabama, Utah Are Anything But

March 25th, 2014

At a public signing ceremony today, Utah’s Republican Gov. Gary Herbert will approve House Bill 105 — aka “Charlee’s Law.” The law, and others like it, ostensibly allows children with treatment-resistant pediatric epilepsy access to extracts of the marijuana plant high in the cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD).

While some media outlets are reporting that the passage of these measures are akin to ‘approving medical marijuana,’ such claims are far from accurate.

Specifically, Utah’s HB 105 — which takes effect on July 1 — is largely unworkable. As written, the law only exempts from state prosecution those with “intractable epilepsy” who possess a cannabis extract that contains more than 15 percent CBD and no more than 0.3 percent THC. Patients must receive a written recommendation from a Utah board certified neurologist and be registered with the state Department of Health before seeking such extracts, which for the time being may only be procured from outside of the state. The extracts must be produced in a lab that possess a state-license to manufacture such products.

While this language may appear to allow Utah patients to procure CBD products in neighboring medical cannabis states like Colorado, the likelihood of this scenario is highly doubtful. Colorado’s medical marijuana law only allows those who are state residents and who possess a state-issued patient identification card to legally purchase such products. In other words, Utah parents would have to violate Colorado law to obtain high-CBD extracts (which are likely to only be available from a medical dispensary, not a retail cannabis market). Colorado medical marijuana dispensaries would also be in violation of not just the letter of the law, but also the spirit of the law by providing a product they know is intended to be transported across state lines — a clear violation of the guidelines put forward in the August 2013 Department of Justice memo which call for “preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal in some form to other states.”

Utah’s forthcoming law also calls on the state Department of Agriculture “to grow or cultivate industrial hemp for the purpose of
agricultural or academic research,” ostensibly for the purpose of one-day producing high-CBD cannabis medicines. However, it remains to be seen whether such industrial crops can yield therapeutically effective CBD extracts or whether federal lawmakers would even allow such a state-sponsored research project to move forward.

In Alabama, members of the House and Senate unanimously approved CBD-specific legislation, Senate Bill 174 aka “Carley’s Laws,” late last week. Republican Gov. Robert Bently has announced his intent to sign the measure into law.

However, like the Utah law, Alabama’s forthcoming law will also be largely unworkable for those who seek to benefit from it. The measure appropriates $1 million dollars for University of Alabama-sponsored research in CBD extracts. Whether such research will actually take place is another story. Because CBD is, like the cannabis plant itself, classified under federal law as a schedule I controlled substance, multiple federal agencies — including the FDA, DEA, NIDA (US National Institute of Drug Abuse), and PHS (Public Health Service) must all sign off on any clinical investigation of the drug — a process that typically takes several years and often ends with federal regulators rejecting the protocol outright. Yet, under “Carley’s Law,” patients may only legally access CBD under if it is “prescribed” during the course of such a federally approved clinical trial.

Nevertheless, despite these obvious limitations in implementation, lawmakers in various other states — including Florida, Kentucky, Minnesota, South Carolina, and Wisconsin — are considering passing similar measures. (A similar Georgia measure died when lawmakers adjourned late last week.) While the passage of these measures may pose symbolic victories for legislators, they fail to provide tangible benefits to the constituents that they are intended to serve.

RAND Study: Marijuana Use Rises While Consumption Of Cocaine, Methamphetamine Falls

March 18th, 2014

A rise in the self-reported consumption of cannabis during the years 2006 to 2010 corresponds with a significant decline in Americans’ use of cocaine and methamphetamine during this same time period, according to a new RAND study commissioned by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).

Researchers estimate that Americans increased their consumption of cannabis by approximately 30 percent during the years 2006 to 2010. During this same time, authors estimated that the public’s use of cocaine and methamphetamine declined, with Americans’ use of cocaine falling by half.

Americans’ consumption of heroin remained largely stable throughout the decade, the study reported. According to statistics compiled by the US Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration, an estimated 4.5 million Americans have tried heroin in their lifetimes. By comparison, an estimated 12 million Americans have tried methamphetamine, 37.5 million have tried cocaine, and 111 million have consumed cannabis.

Authors estimated that Americans spent approximately one trillion dollars on the purchase of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine between 2000 and 2010.

Commenting on the report, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said, “These figures belie that notion that marijuana exposure is an alleged ‘gateway’ to the use of other illicit substances and instead suggest that for some people, cannabis may be a substitute for other so-called ‘hard drugs’ or even an exit drug.”

Survey data published in 2013 in the journal Addiction Research & Theory reported that among a cohort of medical marijuana consumers, 75 percent of subjects acknowledged that they used cannabis it as a substitute for prescription drugs, alcohol, or some other illicit substance.

A 2010 study published in the Harm Reduction Journal reported that cannabis-using adults enrolled in substance abuse treatment programs fared equally or better than nonusers in various outcome categories, including treatment completion.

Full text of the study, “”What America’s Users Spend on Illegal Drugs, 2000-2010,” is available online from the Office of National Drug Control Policy here.

Poll: Americans View Pot As Less Harmful To Health Than Tobacco, Alcohol, Or Sugar

March 12th, 2014

Americans believe that consuming cannabis poses less harm to health than does the consumption of tobacco, alcohol, or sugar, according to the findings of a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released today.

Respondents were asked which of the four substances they believed to be “most harmful to a person’s overall health.” Most respondents said tobacco (49 percent), followed by alcohol (24 percent) and sugar (15 percent).

Only eight percent of those surveyed said that they believed that marijuana was most harmful to health.

The poll possesses a margin of error of +/- 3.10 percent.

Commenting on the poll results, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “These results once again reaffirm that an overwhelming majority of the American public understands that any potential risks associated with the use or abuse of cannabis are relatively minor to those associated with many other legal and regulated substances. Criminalizing cannabis and those who consume it responsibly is a disproportionate public policy response to what is, at worst, a public health issue but not a criminal justice concern.”

Under federal law, marijuana is classified as a schedule I controlled substance, meaning that its alleged harms are equal to those of heroin.