5 New Discoveries That Will Shake Up Our Understanding of Marijuana

By Paul Armentano


Contentions that scientists have failed to conduct sufficient research on the health effects of cannabis are unfounded. A keyword search on the National Library of Medicine database reveals nearly 23,000 peer-reviewed papers specific to the marijuana plant, and new scientific discoveries are published almost daily rebuking the federal government’s assertion that the herb is a highly dangerous substance lacking therapeutic efficacy.

Here are five new cannabis-centric studies that warrant mainstream attention.

1. Pot Use Linked To Better Outcomes In Brain Injury Patients

The use of cannabis is associated with improved outcomes in patients hospitalized with intracerebral hemorrhaging (ICH aka bleeding in the brain). An international team of investigators from Argentina, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United States evaluated demographic trends and patient outcomes in a cohort of 725 subjects with spontaneous ICH. Researchers reported that cannabis-positive subjects possessed “milder ICH presentation” upon hospitalization and presented “less disability” post-hospitalization as compared to similarly matched patients who tested negative for pot, even after authors adjusted for age and other potentially confounding variables.

The findings are not the first to imply that cannabinoids may possess neuroprotective effects in humans. A 2014 UCLA study previously reported that traumatic brain injury patients who tested positive for the herb upon hospital admission.possessed significantly increased survival rates compared to patients who tested negative for pot. Other studies have indicated cannabis may potentially moderate the progression of certain brain degenerative illness, such as Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

 2. Rumors of Marijuana’s Effect on Sanity Are the Stuff of Myth, Not Reality

Battling the inanity of pot prohibition is enough to drive almost anyone crazy. Smoking pot? Not so much. So concludes a new review published in the February issue of the journal Current Psychiatry Reports questioning the longstanding allegation that cannabis use causes psychosis.

Authored by a pair of researchers at the University of Wyoming and NYC’s Columbia University, the paper reviews several recent studies to better determine whether pot contributes to psychotic behavior or is simply correlated with psychiatric disorders. They conclude: “Evidence reviewed here suggests that cannabis does not in itself cause a psychosis disorder. Rather, the evidence leads us to conclude that both early use and heavy use of cannabis are more likely in individuals with a vulnerability to psychosis.”

Previous studies have separately questioned claims that a direct link exists between pot use and increased incidences of schizophrenia  orpsychosis while others have suggested that certain compounds in cannabis, such as cannabidiol, may be efficacious as an anti-psychotic agent.

3. CBD Oil More Effective Than Conventional Anti-Epileptic Treatments

The administration of cannabis oil extracts high in CBD content significantly reduces seizure frequency in children with intractable epilepsy, according to clinical data published this month in the journal Seizure.

Israeli researchers retrospectively evaluated the effects of CBD oil in a multicenter cohort of 74 patients with intractable epilepsy. Participants in the trial were resistant to conventional epilepsy treatments and were treated with CBD extracts for a period of at least three months. Extracts in the study were provided by a pair of Israeli-licensed growers and were standardized to possess a CBD to THC ratio of 20 to 1.

Investigators reported: “CBD treatment yielded a significant positive effect on seizure load. Most of the children (89 percent) reported reduction in seizure frequency. … In addition, we observed improvement in behavior and alertness, language, communication, motor skills and sleep.” Their findings mimic those of prior studies  and surveys documenting reduced seizure frequency following CBD administration.

In 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted orphan drug status to imported, pharmaceutically standardized CBD extracts for use in state-sponsored clinical trials of subjects with childhood-onset, treatment resistant epilepsy. A review of these trials, published online in December in the journal Lancet Neurology reported that participants’ experienced a median reduction in seizures that approached 40 percent.

4. Older Americans Gravitating Toward Medical Marijuana Treatment

More and more older Americans are turning to medical pot. Research published this month in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence assessed age demographics for medical marijuana participants in eight states with mandatory patient registries. “Among adults, medical marijuana participants tend to be in their 40s and 50s,” the study found. “In several states, individuals in their 50s represented the largest age group of participants.”

More than half of all registered cannabis patients in Alaska are 50 years or older, the study reports. In Nevada, 58 percent of patients are over 45. In Vermont, just under half of all registrants are over 55 years of age. In Oregon, 44 percent of patents are over the age of 50.

By contrast, less than one percent of medical marijuana registrants are minors.

The findings rebut the claims of critics who often allege that most medical cannabis patients are individuals in their late 20s or early 30s.

5. Synthetic THC Kills Leukemia Cells

The administration of FDA-approved synthetic THC (aka dronabinol) induces death in leukemia cell lines and offers a “low-toxic therapy option” for patients with the disease. So says newly published research in the peer-reviewed online journal BMC Cancer.

German researchers evaluated the impact of dronabinol on leukemia cells. Investigators reported that synthetic THC displayed “remarkable anti-proliferative as well as pro-apoptopic efficacy … in a broad spectrum of acute leukemia cell lines.” These findings “provide a promising rationale for the clinical use of cannabinoids … in distinct entities of acute leukemia,” they concluded.

Preclinical data dating back over four decades has consistently documented the ability of various cannabinoids to halt the spread of cancer. However, to date, there exist no controlled human trials replicating these results.

A 2013 case report published in the journal Case Reports in Oncology documents the successful treatment with cannabis extracts in a 14-year-old patient diagnosed with an aggressive form of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, while population studies report an inverse relationship between cannabis use and the prevalence of various types of cancer, including lung cancerhead and neck cancer, and bladder cancer.

In 2011, the website for the U.S. National Cancer Institute, cancer.gov, publically acknowledged the anti-cancer properties of cannabinoids, posting, “Cannabinoids appear to kill tumor cells but do not affect their non-transformed counterparts and may even protect them from cells death. … In the practice of integrative oncology, the health care provider may recommend medicinal cannabis not only for symptom management but also for its possible direct antitumor effect.” The language was removed from the website a little over a week later.

Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML  (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and serves as a senior policy advisor for Freedom Leaf, Inc. He is the co-author of the book, Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?(Chelsea Green, 2013) and the author of the book, The Citizen’s Guide to State-By-State Marijuana Laws  (Whitman Books, 2015).


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