Saturday, April 16, 2016

Guardian cannabis comments frenzy

Cannabis: scientists call for action amid mental health concerns | Society | The Guardian

Perhaps I was wrong the other day when I noted that The Guardian readership would be torn up in a "perfect storm" of confused allegiances when it comes to Germaine Greer and her (now) politically incorrect comments on transexualism.  Because if any article is going to drive its readers nuts, it's one like this one at the link - a  long article where experts talk about potential adverse effects of increased use of cannabis.

The comments fury does raise one interesting point, though - quite a few cannabis using readers of some age do come out in strong agreement that increased use of  "skunk" is a bad idea; lamenting that it "does their head in" with its high THC content, compared to the relatively weak levels of the cannabis they smoked in their youth.  And this is an important point that is made in the article:

The reasons for the upward trend [for teenagers getting clinical help for cannabis use] are unclear. As hard drugs fall in popularity, clinical services may simply pull in more cannabis users. But the rise in young people in treatment may be linked to skunk, a potent form of cannabis that has taken over the market and edged out the traditional, weaker resins.

Skunk and other strong forms of cannabis now dominate the illicit drugs markets in many countries. From 1999-2008, the cannabis market in England transformed from 15%-81% skunk. In 2008, skunk confiscated from the street contained on average 15% of the high-inducing substance THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol), three times the level found in resin seized that year. The Home Office has not recorded cannabis potency since.

“There is no doubt that high-potency cannabis, such as skunk, causes more problems than traditional cannabis, or hash,” Murray told the Guardian. “This is the case for dependence, but especially for psychosis.”

Ian Hamilton, a mental health lecturer at the University of York, said more detailed monitoring of cannabis use is crucial to ensure that information given out is credible and useful. Most research on cannabis, particularly the major studies that have informed policy, are based on
older low-potency cannabis resin, he points out. “In effect, we have a mass population experiment going on where people are exposed to higher potency forms of cannabis, but we don’t fully understand what the short- or long-term risks are,” he said.
In Australia, it would seem we might be a bit behind the increase in THC trend, but we're close:

In Australia, a 2013 study found nearly half of the cannabis confiscated on the streets contained more than 15% THC. Prof Wayne Hall, director of the Centre for Youth Substance Abuse
Research at the University of Queensland, said that while most people can use cannabis without putting themselves at risk of psychosis, there is still a need for public education. 
 Of course, some people argue that the answer would be a legalised product, but with lower THC content.

Which raises the question: what did Colorado do about THC strength?  Not much, really.  A recent report from a pro-cannabis website notes:

A proposed ballot initiative and an amendment to a bill in the state House would cap the THC potency of recreational cannabis and marijuana products at a percentage below most of those
products’ current averages.

The initiative would limit the potency of “marijuana and marijuana products” to 15 percent or 16 percent THC.

The average potency of Colorado pot products is already higher — 17.1 percent for cannabis flower and 62.1 percent for marijuana extracts, according to a state study.
But part of the problem is that a lot of the legal cannabis market is not in leaf, but in infused products, and candy and such like.  Perhaps it was a mistake to ever allow that as part of the legal range allowed?  At least Oregon is taking that issue seriously:

Oregon public health officials are moving ahead with rules that would cap THC in marijuana edibles at half of Washington and Colorado limits, saying such a restriction is key to protecting novice consumers and children.A rules advisory committee of the Oregon Health Authority met for the last time Thursday to discuss the proposed rules, which call for limits of 5 milligrams of THC in a single serving of an edible, such as a cookie or chocolate. A package of marijuana-infused edibles may contain no more than 50 milligrams.

Anyway, it's certainly surprising to read that the legalisation process seems to have paid scant regard to this:

“All the studies that have been done on THC levels have  been done on THC levels between 2 and 8 percent,” said Conti, whose  district encompasses parts of Greenwood Village and Littleton. “Most of  the marijuana coming in now, the flowers are being rated at a THC count
of about 17 percent on average, so this is dramatically over, and we  really don’t know that we’ve gotten the true feel on the health risks  associated with that marijuana.”
All good information for other countries contemplating a legalisation path, I reckon.

Even though my preference is simply not to do it. 


John said...

There is an issue with the modern THC content and perhaps more particularly the low CBD content because CBD counters psychosis while THC promotes it. The other issue is that CBD has a range of interesting properties health wise which is why I advise people to try hemp based foods because the studies on CBD are very promising.

I'm not confident the increase is clinical presentation is about the increased THC because that is long established. However something strange happened a few weeks ago. A friend of mine occasionally buys some puff and we have a smoke together. I took some home. I was awake for 2 days and didn't eat. I rang him up: same thing happened. I suspect the cannabis had been laced with ICE. Teenagers may be presenting more often because modern pot really does knock you on your arise. The old stuff, I could study quite well on that but this new stuff is just game time for me. I find that very frustrating because I used to enjoy reading and thinking while stoned.

There is clear evidence that smoking during adolescence carries risks but the schizophrenia risk is massively overblown, the view now, and the literature typically reflected this, is that marijuana itself is not a sufficient cause. Some months ago I read an imaging study on the corpus callosum and cannabis use which raised some issues but the differences in fractional anistropy(a measure of white matter integrity) were extremely small so I'm inclined to think the authors were being less than honest in their conclusions. There was also a study released some months ago that pointed to changes in the anterior CC but again very difficult to interpret these studies. Ironcially both THC and CBD demonstrate remarkable neuroprotective properties and antioxidant capacity in excess of Vits C and E. However persistent high THC loading may offset those benefits through the induction of frontal hypometabolism and dysfunctional dopaminergic function. Cannabinoids are lipid soluble so I have always told pot heads that occasional wash out periods are mandatory but they don't listen ... .

Legalisation has certain benefits. Some US studies point to reduced alcohol consumption, big drop in precription opioid use and related deaths, other prescription drugs decline as well.

Steve said...

Yes, someone in comments recommended people search out for varieties with high CBD. I don't understand: if the protective effect of CBD is well understood, why not have a legalised scene that is restricted to sale of varieties with a high proportion of it?

John said...

Because THC is an active agent in some cancers, inducing cell death by autophagy. THC is also important in pain management and reducing excessive neural activity, mostly via restricting calcium influx and inhibiting NMDA receptor function(NMDA is a glutamate relevant receptor involved in excitatory transmission). Many people use medicinal cannabis for pain management. It is far preferable to opioids but is not effective against all forms of pain.

Charlotte's web, and cannabis variant with very high CBD content, does help with some forms of childhood epilepsy. No clear causative reason for this, perhaps it relates to the strong anti-inflammatory function of CBD(direct impact on immune cells via CB2 receptor)is helping to regulate astrocyte glutamate storage.

You raise an interesting point, there should be a mandated THC-CBD balance. Generally, the higher the THC content the lower the CBD content.

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