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Mar 22, 2013 | Alternet | Paul Armentano
Federal lawmakers and the White House continue to willfully ignore science in regards to the cannabis plant.
Despite issuing a highly publicized memorandum in 2009 stating, "Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration," it remains clear that federal lawmakers and the White House continue to willfully ignore science in regards to the cannabis plant and the federal policies which condemn it to the same prohibitive legal status as heroin. In fact, in 2011 the Obama administration went so far as to reject an administrative petition that called for hearings to reevaluate pot’s safety and efficacy, pronouncing in the Federal Register, “Marijuana does not have a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States or a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions. At this time, the known risks of marijuana use have not been shown to be outweighed by specific benefits in well-controlled clinical trials that scientifically evaluate safety and efficacy.” (The Administration’s flat-Earth position was upheld in January by a three-judge panel for the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.)
Nevertheless, scientific evaluations of cannabis and the health of its consumers have never been more prevalent. Studies are now published almost daily rebuking the federal government’s allegations that the marijuana plant is a highly dangerous substance lacking any therapeutic utility. Yet, virtually all of these studies – and, more importantly, their implications for public policy – continue to be ignored by lawmakers. Here are just a few examples of the latest cannabis science that your federal government doesn’t want you to know about.
Frequent cannabis smokers possess no greater lung cancer risk than do either occasional pot smokers or non-smokers
Subjects who regularly inhale cannabis smoke do not possess an increased risk of lung cancer compared to those who either consume it occasionally or not at all, according to data presented in April at the annual meeting of the American Academy for Cancer Research.
Investigators from the University of California, Los Angeles analyzed data from six case-control studies, conducted between 1999 and 2012, involving over 5,000 subjects (2,159 cases and 2,985 controls) from around the world.
They reported, “Our pooled results showed no significant association between the intensity, duration, or cumulative consumption of cannabis smoke and the risk of lung cancer overall or in never smokers.”
Previous case-control studies have also failed to find an association between cannabis smoking and head and neck cancers or cancers of the upper aerodigestive tract.
Nevertheless, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration continues to maintain, “Marijuana smokers increase their risk of cancer of the head, neck, lungs and respiratory track.”
Consistent use of cannabis associated is associated with reduced risk factors for Type 2 diabetes
Will the pot plant one day play a role in staving the ongoing epidemic of Type 2 diabetes? Emerging science indicates that it just might.
According to trial data published this month in the American Journal of Medicine, subjects who regularly consume cannabis possess favorable indices related to diabetic control compared to occasional consumers or non-consumers.
Investigators at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston, assessed self-report data from some 5,000 adult onset diabetics patients regarding whether they smoked or had ever smoked marijuana. Researchers reported that those who were current, regular marijuana smokers possessed 16 percent lower fasting insulin levels and reduced insulin resistance compared to those who had never used pot. By contrast, non-users possessed larger waistlines and lower levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL or ‘good’) cholesterol – both of which are risk factors for type 2 diabetes.
Similar benefits were reported in occasional cannabis consumers, though these changes were less pronounced, “suggesting that the impact of marijuana use on insulin and insulin resistance exists during periods of recent use,” researchers reported.
The recent findings are supportive of the findings of 2012 study by a team of UCLA researchers, published in the British Medical Journal, which reported that adults with a history of marijuana use had a lower prevalence of type 2 diabetes and possess a lower risk of contracting the disease than did those with no history of cannabis consumption, even after researchers adjusted for social variables (ethnicity, level of physical activity, etc.) Concluded the study, “[This] analysis of adults aged 20-59 years … showed that participants who used marijuana had a lower prevalence of DM (Diabetes Mellitus) and lower odds of DM relative to non-marijuana users.”
Diabetes is the third leading cause of death in the United States after heart disease and cancer.
Inhaling cannabis dramatically mitigates symptoms of Crohn’s disease
Smoking cannabis twice daily significantly reduces symptoms of Crohn’s disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disorder that is estimated to impact about half a million Americans. So say the results of the first-ever placebo-controlled trial assessing the use of cannabis for Crohn’s – published online this month in the scientific journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
Researchers at the Meir Medical Center, Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology in Israel assessed the safety and efficacy of inhaled cannabis versus placebo in 21 subjects with Crohn’s disease who were nonresponsive to conventional treatment regimens. Eleven participants smoked standardized cannabis cigarettes containing 23 percent THC and 0.5 percent cannabidiol – a nonpsychotropic cannabinoid known to possess anti-inflammatory properties -- twice daily over a period of eight weeks. The other ten subjects smoked placebo cigarettes containing no active cannabinoids.
Investigators reported, “Our data show that 8-weeks treatment with THC-rich cannabis, but not placebo, was associated with a significant decrease of 100 points in CDAI (Crohn’s Disease and activity index) scores.” Five of the eleven patients in the study group reported achieving disease remission (defined as a reduction in patient’s CDAI score by more than 150 points). Participants who smoked marijuana reported decreased pain, improved appetite, and better sleep compared to control subjects. Researchers reported that “no significant side effects” were associated with cannabis inhalation.
The clinical results substantiate decades of anecdotal reports from Crohn’s patients, some one-half of which acknowledge having used cannabis to mitigate symptoms of the disease.
Marijuana-like substances halt HIV infection in white blood cells
The administration of THC has been associated with decreased mortality and ameliorated disease progression in monkeys with simian immunodeficiency virus, a primate model of HIV disease. So could cannabinoids produce similar outcomes in humans? The findings of a newly published preclinical trial indicate that the answer may be ‘yes’ and they reveal the substance’s likely mechanism of action in combating the disease.
Writing in the May edition of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, investigators at the Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia reported that the administration of cannabinoid agonists limits HIV infection in macrophages (white blood cells that aid in the body's immune response). Researchers assessed the impact of three commercially available synthetic cannabis agonists (non-organic compounds that act on the same endogenous receptor sites as do plant cannabinoids) on HIV-infected macrophage cells. Following administration, researchers sampled the cells periodically to measure the activity of an enzyme called reverse transcriptase, which is essential for HIV replication. By day 7, investigators reported that the administration of all three compounds was associated with a significant decrease in HIV replication.
“The results suggest that selective CB2 (cannabinoid 2 receptor) agonists could potentially be used in tandem with existing antiretroviral drugs, opening the door to the generation of new drug therapies for HIV/AIDS,” researchers summarized in a Temple University news release. “The data also support the idea that the human immune system could be leveraged to fight HIV infection."
Cannabinoids offer a likely treatment therapy for PTSD
Post-traumatic stress syndrome is estimated to impact some eight millions American annually and effective treatments for the condition are few and far between. Yet just published research in the May issue of the journal Molecular Psychiatry indicates that cannabinoids hold the potential to successfully treat the condition.
Researchers at the New York School of Medicine reported that subjects diagnosed with PTSD possess elevated quantities of endogenous cannabinoid receptors in regions of the brain associated with fear and anxiety. In addition, authors also reported that these subjects suffer from the decreased production of anandamide, an endogenous cannabinoid neurotransmitter, resulting in an imbalanced endocannibinoid system. (The endogenous cannabinoid receptor system is a regulatory system that is present in living organisms for the purpose of promoting homeostasis).
Authors speculated that increasing the body’s production of cannabinoids would likely restore the body’s natural brain chemistry and psychological balance. They affirmed, “[Our] findings substantiate, at least in part, emerging evidence that … plant-derived cannabinoids such as marijuana may possess some benefits in individuals with PTSD by helping relieve haunting nightmares and other symptoms of PTSD.”
The researchers concluded: “The data reported herein are the first of which we are aware of to demonstrate the critical role of CB1 (cannabinoid) receptors and endocannabinoids in the etiology of PTSD in humans. As such, they provide a foundation upon which to develop and validate informative biomarkers of PTSD vulnerability, as well as to guide the rational development of the next generation of evidence-based treatments for PTSD.”
But don’t expect federal officials to help move this process forward. In 2011 federal administrators blocked investigators at the University of Arizona at Phoenix from conducting an FDA-approved, placebo-controlled clinical trial to evaluate the use of cannabis in 50 patients with PTSD.
Scientific integrity? Not when it comes to marijuana. Not by a long shot.
Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), and is the co-author of Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink (2009, Chelsea Green).