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Best cannabis studies of 2019 

Cannabis research is more important now than at anytime in history. As various forms of the plant become more widely used by society, it’s essential that scientists understand the medicinal effects of cannabinoids and marijuana in general. Experts also need more clarification on the short and long-term effects of recreational cannabis strains. 

Medical cannabis is legal in more than half of US states, and several countries around the world. However, in many regions, marijuana is only available on prescription for certain, rare conditions, such as childhood, medication-resistant epilepsy. However, this has only been possible thanks to several cannabis epilepsy studies. Cannabis appears to have widespread therapeutic potential, but this cannot be fully drawn upon until we get more clinical evidence. 

Barriers to research have made marijuana harder to study over recent decades than many drugs, albeit not as difficult as psychedelics. A trickle of cannabis studies has gradually turned into a steady, if not rushing flow. As of August 2019, several helpful papers have been published in peer-reviewed journals. Here’s a flavor of the cannabis-based studies we’ll be looking at in this post: 

  • Can an app help people to reduce their cannabis intake?
  • Are flavonoids the next big thing in cannabis research?
  • Do liberal cannabis policies lead to lower cannabis substance use disorders?
  • Does CBD block the negative effects of THC?
  • Does adolescent cannabis use cause brain abnormalities?
  • How a cannabis-based treatment can tackle cannabis dependency 

Your smartphone may help you cut back on cannabis 

Cannabis is now legal in more parts of the world than at any point since the early 20th century. This is a fantastic victory for freedom and personal liberty. But marijuana legalization has brought with it new challenges, and some people are worried about their cannabis consumption. It’s incredibly easy to use the herb in large quantities, given people now have such easy access to cannabis via dispensaries. And there are so many discrete products to choose from and enjoy. 

A 2019 study in the Journal of Cannabis Research looked at whether smartphone apps could help marijuana users reduce their intake. The scientists suggested that apps are a beneficial alternative to face-to-face treatment, as they are more accessible and convenient. But until now, no cannabis addiction studies have looked directly at if such applications could help people to cut back on or quit pot.

The study involved 111 participants – around a 2:1 male to female ratio – who had consumed cannabis in the past 30 days, and wanted to either quit or reduce their intake. Participants installed the app “Assess, Plan, Track and Tips” on their smartphones. This enabled them to keep a check on their usage habits and other issues. Overall, those using the app managed to decrease their dependence on cannabis. The researchers concluded that the application had potential, and that apps for quitting drugs like cannabis were a good concept and should be explored in more depth. 

CBD for addiction 

A future study may want to add CBD into the mix. Research has shown that this non-intoxicating cannabis constituent can have an anti-addictive effect, and reduces a cannabis ‘high’. Scientists have investigated how CBD can be used to break addictions to both cigarettes and heroin. A study on cigarette addiction used inhalers to administer CBD, and over a seven-day period, participants reduced their cigarette intake on average. CBD oil is federally legal and made from hemp plants. Products are available online and offline, and can be purchased without prescription. 

Exploring the power of flavonoids 

Recent cannabis studies have zoned in largely on cannabinoids, and in some cases terpenes, and their effects on the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Experts have analyzed how CBD-isolate extracts work in comparison to full-spectrum products, and whether medical marijuana is better with or without THC. But a 2019 discovery promises to change our understanding of the cannabis plant and the future of research: we now know the plant’s flavonoids are critical, too. 

Firstly, this suggests that the effects of marijuana are more therapeutic in whole-plant or full-spectrum form. Isolates shed the benefits and synergy offered by the more obscure hemp and cannabis compounds, including flavonoids. 

Revelatory study in Phytochemistry

A ground-breaking study featured in Phytochemistry has been enlightening for the cannabis world. The study found that the flavonoids cannflavin A and B, which are produced uniquely by cannabis sativa have anti-inflammatory effects 30 times stronger than aspirin. Mild pain, headaches, fevers and more have been remedied by aspirin, an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory for several decades. 

The effects of these flavonoids were demonstrated in animal cell models. Researchers noted that cannflavin A and B are non-intoxicating. The science is complex, but the revelation that these compounds have therapeutic value generates potential for increasingly potent and safe cannabis-based treatments going for. Right now, the medical community is debating the effectiveness of cannabis over opioids for pain. Flavonoids may be key to giving cannabis the edge, in terms of benefits and side effects, or lack of them. 

Are cannabis use disorders less likely in cannabis-progressive states?

Cannabis legalization is a positive, but it’s also an experiment. Even the most ardent and insightful marijuana advocates cannot foresee everything. Legalization is sure to bring challenges that were never even considered beforehand. Hence why it is important not just to study the effects of cannabis on the individual, but also its overall impact on society and the public health. Cannabis critics argue that legalization will increase the likelihood of problematic use. But a study in the International Journal of Drug Policy published this year has thrown cold water on that. 

The researchers took data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. They compared cannabis use (CU) and cannabis use disorder (CUD) among three age groups – 12-17, 18-25 and 26+ – at state level. Each state was ranked as conservative, moderate, or liberal, depending on their medicinal cannabis laws. After crunching the numbers, they concluded that while CU was higher in legalized states, CUD was more prevalent in conservative states. This indicates that the medical cannabis laws are not more likely to increase CUD.

Does CBD block the negative effects of THC? 

THC and CBD may be cannabinoid cousins, but they work much differently. CBD seems to reduce anxiety, THC appears to make it worse. THC may increase the risk of psychosis; researchers are exploring CBD’s value as an antipsychotic. THC is psychoactive, CBD is not. Several studies demonstrated that THC acts oppositely to CBD in the ECS – the former is a CB1 and CB2 receptor agonist, while the latter is an antagonist. Many say that CBD makes a strain less potent, too. But is that true? 

A cannabis case study from Spanish and Japanese scientists analyzed the effects of CBD and THC in relation to learning and memory. The study was published in Molecular Neurobiology, a peer-reviewed journal. The researchers focussed on the hippocampus region of the brain. Cognition, and modulates memory, learning and emotion are all modulated by the hippocampus. Earlier studies have shown THC has a neurotoxic effect in large amounts, while CBD protects and heals the hippocampus through neurogenesis.

Yes, it does!

The study revealed that CBD does inhibit cognitive impairment induced by delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). CBD manages this by reducing CB1 receptor activation in the hippocampus by THC, through activation of adenosine type 2A receptors. When adenosine receptors are activated, THC is unable to switch on CB1 receptors. This reduces total CB1-THC connections, and the effect of the psychoactive cannabinoid has on the hippocampus. 

This further underlines the interplay between CBD and THC in the brain. CBD plays a vital protective role, that helps to preserve memory and learning functions, to prevent cognitive impairment. Strong marijuana with high THC and low CBD may exacerbate and accelerate cognitive impairment. A 2018 study highlighted that CBD helps to restore the hippocampus. We need more research on this particular part of the brain and the interactions between THC and CBD. This will help us to understand the relative safety and risk of cannabis with 20%+ THC.

Does teen cannabis use cause brain abnormalities?

We know that cannabis has a powerful effect on the brain. Therefore, a big worry is that consuming cannabis before the brain has fully developed could cause neurological changes and brain abnormalities. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence for this, but does the science really back it up? And if so, what can be done to keep marijuana out of teenagers’ hands?

Neuropsychopharmacology published a study this year from the Department of Psychiatry at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania. They pointed out that previous studies using small samples had produced inconsistent results on teenage cannabis use changing brain structure. This comprehensive study analyzed 781 youths between 14-22 – 147 of these were cannabis users, with just under 30% of them frequent users. 

The investigation used magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) to analyze gray and white matter, gray matter density and cortical thickness. They found that brain structures were similar across all groups. Any “small magnitude” changes were statistically insignificant. The scientists noted that this backed up findings of studies that had previously found little correlation between adolescent cannabis use and brain structural alterations. 

What’s next?

That said, the experts want more detailed research. Not to mention, some people are simply predisposed to psychosis and schizophrenia. Taking cannabis at an early age may trigger these conditions or make them worse. As cannabis goes legal in more and more locations, policymakers and cannabis companies will need to ensure products stay out of youngsters’ hands.

How a cannabis medicine may combat cannabis dependency

Cannabis is not addictive in the sense that heroin and cocaine are, or even nicotine. But the drug does have a pernicious effect on some users, who may become mentally dependent over time. Cannabis advocates shouldn’t shrug these risks off. Instead, it’s worth paying attention to CBD and its anti-addictive qualities. We can then harness CBD to make the cannabis experience safer, more sustainable and, ultimately, more enjoyable. 

The University of Sydney recently published a study laying out how a natural cannabis treatment can tackle such dependency. The paper is featured in the July 2019 edition of JAMA Internal Medicine. Researchers used a cannabis concentrate with a near-equal mix of THC and CBD, in an oral solution designed to be taken sublingually. More than 120 participants took part, and the group given cannabis treatment reduced their illicit cannabis intake by more than the placebo group. The patients also received cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). 

The logic of treating dependency by reducing a drug’s risks by lowering and, in this case, changing the type of dose is similar to how nicotine addiction has been treated for years. The researchers noted that novel treatments for cannabis dependence are necessary since 80 percent of users trying to quit relapse within six months. The study also suggests that cannabis users may be better off taking strains with a more balanced THC to CBD mix in the first place.

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