5 Major Developments That Change How We Should Think About Marijuana

Personal Health

Scientific discoveries are published almost daily rebuking  the federal government’s contention that cannabis is a highly dangerous substance lacking therapeutic efficacy. But most of these findings are relegated to obscure, peer-reviewed journals and, therefore, often go unnoticed by the major media and the general public. Here are five new cannabis-centric studies that warrant mainstream attention.

Consumers Seldom Combine Marijuana With Alcohol

Marijuana consumers don’t typically mix pot and booze together, regardless of whether they are consuming cannabis for medicinal or social purposes, according to data published online in December in the journal Addiction.

Investigators at the RAND Drug Policy Research Center and the University of California, Irvine surveyed the habits of marijuana consumers residing Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. Authors reported, "Individuals who use cannabis do not commonly use it with alcohol, irrespective of whether they are consuming cannabis recreationally or medically."

They concluded, "Fewer than one in five recreational users report simultaneous use of alcohol and cannabis most or all of the time and less than three percent of medicinal users report frequent simultaneous use of alcohol and cannabis."

Separate data provided last month by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention further reports that young people avoid mixing the two substances if they intend to drive. The agency reports that between the years 2002 through 2014, the prevalence of marijuana and alcohol use prior to driving fell from 2.3 percent to 1.4 percent among those age 16 to 20 and from 3.1 percent to 1.9 percent among those age 21 to 25.

Consuming Cannabis Helps Kick Opioid Dependence

Smoking pot is associated with improved outcomes in opioid-dependent subjects undergoing outpatient treatment, according to data  published online this past September in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Researchers at Columbia University studied marijuana’s effects on opioid-dependent subjects undergoing in-patient detoxification and outpatient treatment with naltrexone, an opiate receptor antagonist. "One of the interesting study findings was the observed beneficial effect of marijuana smoking on treatment retention," authors concluded. "Participants who smoked marijuana had less difficulty with sleep and anxiety and were more likely to remain in treatment as compared to those who were not using marijuana."

The findings replicate those of two prior studies, one from 2001 and one from 2009, reporting greater treatment adherence among subjects who consumed cannabis intermittently during outpatient therapy.

Population data from states where medicinal cannabis is permitted report lower rates of opioid-related abuse and mortality as compared to those states where weed remains prohibited. 

Marijuana Mitigates Migraine Frequency

Can marijuana provide migraine relief? Newly published data indicates that the answer could be ‘yes.’

Investigators at the University of Colorado, Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences retrospectively assessed cannabis' effects on monthly migraine headache frequency in a group of 121 adults. Study participants had a primary diagnosis of migraine headache, had been recommended cannabis by a physician for migraine treatment, and had participated in at least one follow up medical visit.

Authors reported that 85 percent of subjects reported a decrease in migraine frequency and 12 percent indicated that the use of cannabis prior to migraine onset would abort headaches.

"Migraine headache frequency decreased from 10.4 to 4.6 headaches per month with the use of medical marijuana," researchers concluded. "Further research should be performed to determine if there is a preferred delivery method, dose, and strain of medical marijuana for migraine headache therapy as well as potential long-term effects of medical marijuana."

Cumulative Cannabis Use Isn’t Associated With Lower IQ

The cumulative use of cannabis by adolescents has no direct, short-term effect on intelligence decline, according to longitudinal data published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Investigators at the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of Minnesota evaluated whether pot use was associated with changes in intellectual performance in two longitudinal cohorts of adolescent twins. Participants were assessed for intelligence at ages 9 to 12, before marijuana involvement, and again at ages 17 to 20.

Researchers reported no dose-response relationship between cannabis use and IQ decline. They also found no significant differences in performance among marijuana using subjects when compared to their non-using twins.

Investigators concluded: “In the largest longitudinal examination of marijuana use and IQ change, … we find little evidence to suggest that adolescent marijuana use has a direct effect on intellectual decline. … [T]he lack of a dose–response relationship, and an absence of meaningful differences between discordant siblings lead us to conclude that the deficits observed in marijuana users are attributable to confounding factors that influence both substance initiation and IQ rather than a neurotoxic effect of marijuana.”

The findings come just days after the publication of a separate longitudinal study in the Journal of Pharmacology which concluded that cumulative adolescent marijuana use is not associated with lower IQ or poorer educational performance once adjustments are made for potential confounders, specifically cigarette smoking. The studies contrast with the findings of a widely publicized 2012 study  that alleged that youthful pot use was associated with declines in IQ later in life.

THC Inhibits Weight Gain

THC administration prevents weight gain in mice fed a high fat diet. So reported a team of Canadian researchers this past December in the journal PLOS ONE.

Investigators at the University of Calgary assessed the impact of small, daily doses of THC in diet-induced obese mice. They reported that THC intake was associated with the inhibition of increased fat. They concluded, “Chronic THC treatment … prevented high fat diet-induced increases in body weight.”

While the findings may run counter to certain stoner stereotypes, they are consistent with the conclusions of several recent population-based observational studies. Specifically, a 2011 review of over 50,000 US citizens age 18 or older concluded, “[T]he prevalence of obesity is lower in cannabis users than in nonusers.” Similarly, Canadian researchers assessing the health of over 750 Inuit adults reported that subjects who possessed a history of cannabis use had a lower body mass index than those who abstained from pot.

Most recently, investigators at the University of Miami analyzed the association between cannabis use and metabolic syndrome in a cohort of nearly 8,500 subjects. They found that those who consume cannabis are 50 percent less likely to be overweight and to suffer from high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels as compared to those subjects with no history of marijuana use.

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