Medical Marijuana and Older Adults

Medical cannabis was well-tolerated among elderly patients and provided significant symptomatic benefits, a retrospective chart review showed.

Adults who were an average age of 81 experienced relief in chronic pain, sleep, neuropathy, and anxiety with medical cannabis, reported Laszlo Mechtler, MD, of Dent Neurologic Institute in Buffalo, New York, and colleagues, in an early-release abstract from the American Academy of Neurology meeting to be held here in May.

Moreover, 32% reduced their opioid pain medication, they added.

At first, about a third of patients experienced adverse effects — mostly sleepiness, balance problems, and gastrointestinal disturbances — but in 13% of patients, those problems resolved when dosages were adjusted.

Similar findings were seen last year in a study published in the European Journal of Internal Medicine, in which elderly patients reported significantly less pain with medical cannabis and more than 18% stopped or reduced opioid analgesics.

In the U.S., people age 65 and older are among the fastest-growing group of cannabis users. To date, 33 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. Ten states also have legalized recreational use, and that’s caused some experts to be concerned about older adults who may self-treat medical problems without guidance.

“Evidence is growing in support of some indications for medical cannabis — pain, for example — and that needs to be weighed against side effects to which older adults may be more vulnerable, like dizziness, somnolence, confusion, and dry mouth,” Joshua Briscoe, MD, of Duke University Medical Center, told MedPage Today. “Older adults should use caution when experimenting with medical cannabis on their own and share the details of such use with their physicians.”

In this study, Mechtler and colleagues analyzed charts of 204 patients from ages 75 to 102 years who used the New York state’s Medical Marijuana Program. They had an average age of 81 and were followed in a neurologic outpatient setting in Buffalo. Of the total sample, 129 were women and 75 were men.

Participants took various ratios of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to cannabidiol (CBD) by mouth as a liquid extract tincture, capsule, or in an electronic vaporizer, for an average of 16.8 weeks.

Initially, 34% of participants experienced adverse effects; after adjusting dosages, that figure dropped to 21%. The most common side effects were sleepiness (13%), balance problems (7%), and gastrointestinal disturbances (7%). Due to side effects, seven patients (3.4%) stopped using medical marijuana. The most common ratio of THC to CBD among people who reported no side effects was 1:1.

Overall, 69% of participants experienced symptom relief, largely improvements in pain (49%), sleep (18%), neuropathy (15%), and anxiety (10%).

“With legalization in many states, medical marijuana has become a popular treatment option among people with chronic diseases and disorders, yet there is limited research, especially in older people,” Mechtler said in a statement.

“Our findings are promising and can help fuel further research into medical marijuana as an additional option for this group of people who often have chronic conditions,” he added. “Future research should focus on symptoms like sleepiness and balance problems, as well as efficacy and optimal dosing.”

Medical Marijuana a Hit With Seniors

Seniors are giving rave reviews for medical marijuana.

In a new survey, those who turned to it for treating chronic pain reported it reduced pain and decreased the need for opioid painkillers.

Nine out of 10 liked it so much they said they’d recommend medical pot to others.

“I was on Percocet and replaced it with medical marijuana. Thank you, thank you, thank you,” said one senior.

Another patient put it this way: “It [medical marijuana] is extremely effective and has allowed me to function in my work and life again. It has not completely taken away the pain, but allows me to manage it.”

Study co-author Dr. Diana Martins-Welch said, “The impact of medical marijuana was overwhelmingly positive. Medical marijuana led them to taking less medications overall — opioids and non-opioids — and they had better function and better quality of life.” Martins-Welch is a physician in the division of geriatric and palliative medicine at Northwell Health, in Great Neck, N.Y.

The biggest complaint the researchers heard about medical marijuana was the cost. “It’s an out-of-pocket expense. Insurance doesn’t cover it because it’s federally illegal,” Martins-Welch explained.

As for unwelcome side effects, Martins-Welch said sedation was what she heard about the most. “A lot of people don’t like feeling sleepy,” she said.

It’s also important to work with your doctor to find the right dose, since pain experts say that too little or too much doesn’t ease pain.

Thirty-one states have some type of medical marijuana law on the books, according to the National Conference of State Legislators.

“Every state has its own laws, like what a qualifying condition is. There are a lot of differences. And you can’t take a product from one state and cross another state line,” Martins-Welch said.

According to federal law, medical marijuana is still illegal in the United States. “There are legal fears. Some practitioners worry that the DEA [U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration] might come after them,” she added.

Medical marijuana is different than just picking up some pot and smoking it.

“The goal with medical marijuana is to find the dose that gives a therapeutic benefit without a high, or slowing reaction time or causing sedation,” Martins-Welch said. “To find that right dose, we start low and go slow.”

In fact, it’s important to work with a doctor because there’s a “therapeutic window” with THC, the active component in marijuana that causes the high, according to Dr. Mark Wallace, a board member of the American Pain Society.

If you get a dose that’s within that window, the pain is relieved. If you get too little, you won’t get pain relief, and if you go over the therapeutic window, pain is actually worsened, Wallace explained.

The study included a 20-question survey of nearly 150 seniors who had used medical marijuana for chronic pain. The seniors had received their medical marijuana from dispensaries in New York or Minnesota.

The average age of the seniors was 61 to 70, and 54 percent were female. Many (45 percent) used a vaporized oil in an e-cigarette device. Twenty-eight percent used a medical marijuana pill.

Twenty-one percent said they used medical marijuana daily, while 23 percent said they used it twice a day. Another 39 percent said they used it more than twice a day, the researchers noted.

About half the time, medical marijuana had been recommended by a doctor. One-quarter of the seniors decided to try medical marijuana at the urging of a friend or family member. Almost all — 91 percent — would recommend medical marijuana to someone else.

When asked how medical marijuana affected their pain levels, the seniors reported going from a 9 (on a pain scale of zero to 10) down to 5.6 a month after starting the medical marijuana.

Wallace said he’s seen many positive results from the use of medical marijuana in his patients.

“The geriatric population is my fastest-growing patient population. With medical marijuana, I’m taking more patients off opioids,” he said.

“There’s never been a reported death from medical marijuana, yet there are 19,000 deaths a year from prescription opioids. Medical cannabis is probably safer than a lot of drugs we give,” Wallace said.

Medical marijuana can also stimulate appetite, Martins-Welch said, which is a “godsend for cancer patients,” though extra eating may not be a welcome side effect for everyone.

Martins-Welch said it’s best to discuss potential drug interactions with your doctor, but it’s usually OK to mix marijuana and opioids. She said she’d caution against mixing medical marijuana with alcohol.

The study findings were presented recently at the American Geriatrics Society meeting in Orlando, Fla. Studies presented at meetings are typically viewed as preliminary until they’ve been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Study reveals that many oncologists recommend medical marijuana clinically despite not feeling sufficiently knowledgeable to do so

  • Researchers identified a discrepancy between oncologists’ self-reported knowledge base and their clinical practices and beliefs regarding medical marijuana.
  • They conclude that critical gaps exist in research, education, and policy regarding medical marijuana.

While a wide majority of oncologists do not feel informed enough about medical marijuana’s utility to make clinical recommendations, most do in fact conduct discussions on medical marijuana in the clinic and nearly half recommend it to their patients, say researchers who surveyed a population-based sample of medical oncologists.

The study, published today in the Journal of ClinicalOncology, is the first nationally-representative survey of medical oncologists to examine attitudes, knowledge and practices regarding the agent since medical marijuana became legal on the state level in the U.S. Medical marijuana refers to the non-pharmaceutical cannabis products that healthcare providers recommend for therapeutic purposes. A significant proportion of medical marijuana products are whole-plant marijuana, which contains hundreds of active ingredients with complicated synergistic and inhibitory interactions. By contrast, cannabinoid pharmaceuticals, which are available with a prescription through a pharmacy, contain no more than a couple of active ingredients. While considerable research has gone into the development of cannabinoid pharmaceuticals, much less has been completed on medical marijuana’s utility in cancer and other diseases. The researchers speculate that the immature scientific evidence base poses challenges for oncologists.

“In this study, we identified a concerning discrepancy: although 80% of the oncologists we surveyed discussed medical marijuana with patients and nearly half recommended use of the agent clinically, less than 30% of the total sample actually consider themselves knowledgeable enough to make such recommendations,” said Ilana Braun, MD, chief of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Division of Adult Psychosocial Oncology. “We can think of few other instances in which physicians would offer clinical advice about a topic on which they do not feel knowledgeable. We suspect that this is at least partly due to the uncomfortable spot in which oncologists find themselves.  Medical marijuana is legal in over half the states, with cancer as a qualifying condition in the vast majority of laws, yet the scientific evidence base supporting use of medical marijuana in oncology remains thin.”

The mailed survey queried medical oncologists’ attitudes toward medical marijuana’s efficacy and safety in comparison with standard treatments; their practices regarding medical marijuana, including holding discussions with patients and recommending medical marijuana clinically; and whether they considered themselves sufficiently informed regarding medical marijuana’s utility in oncology. Responses indicated significant differences in attitudes and practices based on non-clinical factors, for instance regional location in the U.S.

“Ensuring that physicians have a sufficient knowledge on which to base their medical recommendations is essential to providing high quality care, according to Eric G. Campbell, PhD, formerly a professor of medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital, now a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “Our study suggests that there is clearly room for improvement when it comes to medical marijuana.”

To date, no randomized clinical trials have examined whole-plant medical marijuana’s effects in cancer patients, so oncologists are limited to relying on lower quality evidence, research on pharmaceutical cannabinoids or research on medical marijuana’s use in treating diseases other than cancer.

Of note, additional findings of the current study suggest that nearly two-thirds of oncologists believe medical marijuana to be an effective adjunct to standard pain treatment, and equally or more effective than the standard therapies for symptoms like nausea or lack of appetite, common side effects of cancer treatments such as chemotherapy.



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Medical Marijuana via the Rectum is Safer, More Powerful than Smoking It

 Our advocacy for marijuana is based purely on medical grounds. We don’t support people abusing the plant. Before you take marijuana, it should be on a concrete reason. The plant should serve a specific and important purpose for you – health wise.

For those in the United States who are fortunate to have access to marijuana, we recommend you consult a health expert who knows about the efficacy of the plant before taking it. We are starting this educative campaign, and will report on views of various health experts who are familiar with marijuana.  We are doing this because we certainly know marijuana will soon be accepted nationwide in the United States, and most likely, around western nations across the world.

Currently, Canada is said to be moving closer to allowing the use of marijuana. New regulations on the plant are expected to take effect this summer. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has confirmed that a new marijuana law is ready to take effect in the country.

But before this is done, health experts are providing significant education to the Canadian public regarding how best they can make use of medical marijuana. The medical director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at George Washington University, Mikhail Kogan recently told Canadian Press in an interview that taking marijuana up the butt is actually much more effective than smoking it. Dr Kogan revealed rectal administration of the plant allows it to function effectively in the body, but because people nowadays are not comfortable with such administration of drugs, it mostly becomes difficult convincing people to attempt this method.

“Rectally is actually a lot more preferred because of the volume of absorption. You can put a lot more and it gets absorbed a lot better, but not everybody is open to this way of administration,” he said.

Dr Kogan is not the only health expert recommending Canadians take marijuana via the rectum. A dispensary based in the province of British Columbia, Kootenays Medicine Tree, has also said suppositories are a good option for people who are seriously ill; they can take large doses that activate quickly and don’t give patients a high.

Health experts supporting marijuana are recommending the rectal administration of marijuana due to some reports suggesting smoking marijuana can have adverse health effects. The Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse (CCSA) recently reported “Smoking cannabis may be even more harmful to a person’s airways and lungs than smoking tobacco, since cannabis smoking often involves unfiltered smoke, larger puffs, deeper inhalation, and longer breath holding.”


Although the CCSA report needs further studies, it is necessary we find another option to be able to use the plant without any adverse side effects. Therefore, health experts are recommending this method.

According to observers, Canadians would probably find it difficult to follow this recommendation. However, this isn’t new to the United States.

Vaginal marijuana suppositories that are meant to reduce menstrual pain are said to be on sale in some states where medical marijuana laws have passed in the United States.

As marijuana increasingly becomes popular in the United States, so too does its popularity in Canada. A study conducted recently revealed almost half of Canadians have used marijuana at least once in their lifetime.


In the United States, the number of Americans using marijuana is rising at an unprecedented rate. In 2016, a poll published by the American research company Gallup Incorporated revealed the percentage of American adults who smoke marijuana has nearly doubled in three years.

In 2013, Gallup poll revealed that 7 percent of American adults smoke marijuana, but the same poll in 2016 found the figure had increased to 13 percent. Marijuana advocates say the sharp rise in marijuana use in the country is due to successes in educating the American public about medicinal and other beneficial values of the plant. People are responding to the education and are ridding their former negative perceptions about the plant.


Can marijuana use lead to heart failure?

Medical marijuana may be a great source of treatment for patients suffering from various conditions and illnesses living, but the plant may also be a cause of a very serious and life-threatening medical condition: heart failure.

Researchers at Philadelphia’s Einstein Medical Center said there is a connection between marijuana use and increased cardiac risks, such as strokes, according to findings from a new study released Thursday. After reviewing patients’ health records from 1,000 hospitals, researchers discovered people who use marijuana had a 26 percent greater chance of suffering a stroke, compared to those who did not use marijuana. People who used cannabis also had 10 percent higher risk of heart failure.

Health records reviewed included patients ages 18 to 55 that visited hospitals between 2009 and 2010.

The study was scheduled to be released in full by March 18.

Einstein cardiologist, Dr. Aditi Kalla, who worked on the study, told CBS News marijuana appeared to have a direct impact on the heart.

“When cannabis affects human heart cells those cells are less able to squeeze and therefore the heart as a whole is not able to pump as well,” she explained.

The study did not consider the quantity or frequency of cannabis consumed by patients, and because the research was heavily based on hospital discharge records, Kalla suggested that the findings may not actually be conducive to the general population.

However, Kalla said more research needed to be conducted to learn more about marijuana’s side effects just as doctors have learned about the side effects of other drugs and medications that are prescribed as a form of treatment.

“As cannabis becomes legalized across the country I think both the medical and general community will need to become more aware of potential cardiovascular complications that can arise from cannabis use,” she said.

Marijuana has also been linked to various other ailments, including memory loss. A 2016 study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal said people who smoked marijuana on a daily basis for five years or more were more likely to suffer from cognitive disabilities in their middle ages, including lack of memory focus and the ability to make quick decisions.


Can Medical Marijuana Fight the Opioid Epidemic?

In 2014, more people died from drug overdoses than in any other year on record. More than 6 out of 10 of these deaths involved opioids.1 These powerful medications are often prescribed to people for chronic pain relief, although they often fail at this purpose.

medical cannabis

Story at-a-glance

  • A first-of-its-kind study is under way to directly compare marijuana with opioids for chronic pain relief
  • Increasing research suggests medical marijuana is an effective agent for pain relief with fewer side effects and risks compared to prescription opioids
  • An increasing number of states are moving to decriminalize the use of marijuana for medical, and in some cases recreational, uses

Where they do excel is in triggering addiction and subsequent overdose deaths — the rate of such deaths, including prescription opioid pain relievers and heroin, have nearly quadrupled since 1999.

According to a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, on an average day in the U.S. more than 650,000 opioid prescriptions are dispensed and 78 people die from a related overdose.2

Further, each year $55 billion is spent in health and social costs related to prescription opioid abuse, and another $20 billion is spent in emergency department and in-patient care for opioid poisonings.3

Could Medical Marijuana Replace Opioids as a Pain Reliever?

It’s clear that urgent action needs to be taken to fight the opioid epidemic, including finding safer, more effective options for pain relief.

Medical marijuana, which has far fewer side effects and is effective for pain relief, fits the bill, and a new study will finally pit the two against each other to test marijuana’s potential as a replacement.

This is newsworthy in itself, as hurdles to studying marijuana are immense. On a federal level, the herb is still considered a Schedule 1 controlled substance alongside other Schedule 1 drugs like heroin, LSD, Ecstasy, methaqualone and peyote.

Marijuana received this label in 1970 when the Controlled Substance Act was enacted. This act labeled marijuana as a drug with a “high potential for abuse” and “no accepted medical use” — the latter of which, in particular, is being increasingly disproven.

It’s a catch-22, however, because the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has made it so difficult to conduct the marijuana research necessary to prove that it does have medicinal uses.

In the case of the upcoming study, which is being led by neuroscientist Emily Lindley at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus, it took two years to meet federal requirements imposed on researchers looking to study marijuana.

For instance, the university had to spend about $15,000 to create a secure storage facility to contain the marijuana being used in the study, lest it fall into the wrong hands.

Ironically, marijuana is legal in the state of Colorado, for both recreational and medicinal use, so anyone over the age of 21 can drive to a dispensary and purchase up to an ounce of the green herb, “no questions asked.” As The Atlantic reported:4

“The current status of medical marijuana research is rife with irony. As states have liberalized marijuana laws, they’ve created new opportunities: Lindley’s grant is part of $9 million Colorado awarded for medical research in 2014, using tax money from marijuana sales.

But since pot remains illegal at the federal level, researchers have to jump through regulatory hoops — lots of them — to do legitimate research.”

Opioid Overdose Deaths Decreased in States Where Marijuana Is Legal

Lindley’s study will involve 50 patients with chronic back and neck pain, who will receive marijuana, the opioid oxycodone or a placebo for their pain. They will be assessed for pain levels and treatment side effects in what will be the first study to directly compare marijuana with opioids for chronic pain relief.

The idea for the study came from a survey of University of Colorado Hospital Spine Center patients. One-fifth of those who responded said they used marijuana for pain relief, and three-quarters of them said it worked as well as or better than opioid pain relievers.5

There are other signs that marijuana makes sense for chronic pain sufferers as well. In states where medical marijuana is legal, overdose deaths from opioids like morphine, oxycodone and heroin decreased by an average of 20 percent after one year, 25 percent after two years and up to 33 percent by years five and six.6

Among seniors, legalizing marijuana resulted in a reduction in the use of prescription drugs “for which marijuana could serve,” according to a study published in Health Affairs, and even led to reductions in spending in Medicare Part D, which pays for prescription drugs.7

If every state legalized medical marijuana, the researchers estimated Medicare Part D savings of $400 million each year.

7 of 9 States Voted On, and Approved, Marijuana Reforms

Marijuana is still illegal to posses in the U.S. at the federal level, and people are still being illegally arrested for its use, even in states where marijuana has been legalized. The Daily Beast reported on the “still selectively draconian law enforcement approach to marijuana.”8

“In September of this year a helicopter landed in the garden of 81-year-old Amherst woman Margaret Holcomb, as part of a series of such raids around the area.

Massachusetts National Guardsmen and state police promptly seized her single marijuana plant she had been cultivating to help her arthritis and glaucoma.

Earlier this summer, a similar raid was conducted on the home of an 81-year-old Martha’s Vineyard cancer survivor, Paul Jackson, who cultivated a number of plants for use in medicinal tea. Jackson had used the tea to help his wife, now deceased, deal with the pain of pancreatic cancer.”

The strong-arm tactics are puzzling, especially considering that more states are decriminalizing the plant.

In the November election, for instance, nine states voted on marijuana measures, and all but two were approved (among those not approved, one was rejected and one was too close to call). The successful measures included the following:9

Arkansas: Approved a measure to legalize marijuana for certain medical conditions and establish medicinal dispensaries and a state regulatory agency.
California: Approved a measure to legalize up to six plants per residence and 1 ounce of marijuana for private consumption for anyone 21 and over. In addition, a state regulatory agency, 15 percent tax on top of existing sales tax and a cultivation tax were established.
Florida: Legalized marijuana for cancer, epilepsy, HIV, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other conditions and established medicinal dispensaries and regulation by the Florida Department of Health.
Massachusetts: Approved up to 1 ounce for private consumption for anyone 21 and over along with up to 12 plants per residence. A retail sales tax of 3.75 percent on top of existing sales tax was established.
Montana: Residents voted to give patients easier access to medical marijuana, which is already legal in the state, including by repealing a measure that limited licensed providers to serving only three patients or less.
Nevada: Up to 1 ounce for private consumption for anyone 21 and over, and up to six plants per residence for anyone not living within 25 miles of a dispensary, were approved.

Regulation will be overseen by the Nevada Department of Taxation, and an additional 15 percent tax was established for marijuana growers, with revenue planned to go toward education.

North Dakota: Approved a measure to legalize marijuana to treat cancer, epilepsy, HIV, PTSD, chronic back pain and other conditions.

Up to eight plants per residence for anyone not living within 40 miles of a dispensary was also approved. Regulation by the North Dakota Department of Health and medicinal dispensaries were established.

Pain-Relieving Effects of Marijuana

Despite the popularity of opioids for treating chronic pain, they often fail to provide long-lasting relief while posing considerable risks of side effects and addiction. As noted in BMJ:10

“Opioids do not seem to expedite return to work in injured workers or improve functional outcomes of acute back pain in primary care. For chronic back pain, systematic reviews find scant evidence of efficacy … the long-term effectiveness and safety of opioids are unknown.

… Complications of opioid use include addiction and overdose related mortality, which have risen in parallel with prescription rates. Common short-term side effects are constipation, nausea, sedation and increased risk of falls and fractures. Longer term side effects may include depression and sexual dysfunction.”

Marijuana, on the other hand, contains cannabinoids that interact with your body by way of naturally occurring cannabinoid receptors embedded in cell membranes throughout your body. There are cannabinoid receptors in your brain, lungs, liver, kidneys, immune system and more. Both the therapeutic and psychoactive properties of marijuana occur when a cannabinoid activates a cannabinoid receptor.

Research is still ongoing on just how extensive their impact is on our health, but to date it’s known that cannabinoid receptors play an important role in many body processes, including metabolic regulation, cravings, pain, anxiety, bone growth and immune function.11

Some of the strongest research to date is focused on marijuana for pain relief. In one study, just three puffs of marijuana a day for five days helped those with chronic nerve pain to relieve pain and sleep better.12 Further, according to a study in the Journal of Pain Research:13

“ … [S]ignificant preclinical data have demonstrated the potential therapeutic benefits of cannabis for treating pain in osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and cancer.”

As for the potential for abuse, a study published in Pain Medicine, which assessed rates of problematic use among people using opioids or medicinal cannabis (MC) for chronic pain, found:14

Problematic use of opioids is common among chronic pain patients treated with prescription opioids and is more prevalent than problematic use of cannabis among those receiving MC.”

Even Children Are Being Poisoned by Opioids

It’s not only adults that are affected by the opioid epidemic. A recent JAMA Pediatrics study analyzed more than 13,000 U.S. hospital discharge records and found that hospitalizations among children for opioid poisonings increased by nearly two-fold from 1997 to 2012.15

While hospitalization rates were highest among older adolescents, the largest percent increase occurred among toddlers and preschoolers. Meanwhile, a synthetic opioid called U-47700 (also known as “pink” or “pinky”), has been linked to dozens of deaths across the U.S.

U-47700 is nearly eight times more potent than morphine and is legal to purchase in most states. It can also be legally purchased online in the form of powder, pills or nasal spray. U-47700 was originally created as an alternative to morphine, but it’s untested in humans and is toxic even in small doses.

The drug may cause sedation, slowed breathing and death, and it’s often mixed with other substances. Even one pill can be deadly but, to date, the DEA has yet to enact a ban.16

DEA Denies Petitions to Reschedule Marijuana — Again

For decades, various groups have petitioned the DEA urging them to reschedule marijuana. In 1988, DEA administrative law judge Francis Young recommended unscheduling cannabis altogether in response to an activist-group petition. He ruled, “marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within a supervised routine of medical care.”17

The DEA denied the petition, along with a handful of others thereafter. Even when the Institute of Medicine acknowledged marijuana as a substance with medical uses and relatively low potential for abuse, the DEA again denied the resulting petitions, citing a lack of research — research that is being stymied by the nonsensical schedule I classification. In August 2016, the DEA again denied two more petitions.18

On a brighter note, the DEA did state that it will end the current requirement that only the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) can grow marijuana for research purposes, which may make it easier for marijuana research to take place.19

For the record, even the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated their policy statement on marijuana, acknowledging that cannabinoids from marijuana “may currently be an option for … children with life-limiting or severely debilitating conditions and for whom current therapies are inadequate.”20

While frowning on recreational use, the AAP gave their “strong” support for research and development as well as a “review of policies promoting research on the medical use of these compounds.” They recommended downgrading marijuana from a schedule I drug to a schedule II drug in order to facilitate increased research.



Sometimes researchers come across a discovery purely by accident. They develop a hypothesis, perform a number of experiments and expect to see a series of results. However, at times, surprises happen within the petri plate or culture dish. This in turns opens up an entirely new avenue of curiosity and future experimental design.

This type of discovery occurred recently to a group of American researchers. They had been working on the mechanism of Alzheimer’s disease progression in the hopes of finding possible routes for treatment. As expected, the work ended up revealing significant information on the molecular mechanisms occurring within the brain. Yet as their published article reveals there was a significant surprise in store.


The formation of amyloid plaques in the brain

The going hypothesis was that one of the major factors in the development of disease, the amyloid-beta protein, Aβ, plays a role long before onset of clinical symptoms. The team believed this molecule accumulated inside neurons and prompted an inflammatory response. This in turn worsened the state of the brain eventually leading to a decline in brain function.

To prove the theory, the team worked with cell cultures in the lab known to produce Aβ under certain experimental conditions. They grew up the cells and at the right moment, started the production of the amyloid protein. After the process was initiated, the team looked for any signs of trouble.

The first expected result was a rise in inflammation. Twelve markers of a cell’s struggle with its environment were increased. Most of these chemicals were either recruiters or activators of immune cells, particularly those known to kill pathogens. These signals would then allow for the immune system to recognize a problem is ongoing and intervention is needed.

The team also noticed another disturbing trend in the reaction to Aβ accumulation. One of the factors involved in cell death, known as caspase-3, was also activated. This suggested the cell understood it was in trouble and set a path to suicide. From a purely neurological perspective, this would inevitably harm the brain and possibly lead over time to the decline in mental function seen in Alzheimer’s patients.

There was one final observation that initiated the path to discovery. The team also noticed a rise in arachidonic acid. This molecule is a known marker of inflammation in the brain and is also another trigger for cell death. While this might have been regarded as yet another mechanism in Alzheimer’s pathogenesis, the group saw it as a possible opportunity.

The chemical structure of arachidonic acid is similar to a group of chemicals known as endocannabinoids. These molecules are distributed throughout the body and have several different functions. Depending on the type of cannabinoid, cells may either head towards inflammation, such as with arachidonic acid, or help to reduce stress, as seen in the case one particular molecule, tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as THC, the same molecule known to be the active ingredient in marijuana.

The team decided to test out whether THC would have any effect on the cells during Aβ accumulation. They added the chemical and looked for any changes in the cell’s function. If they were right, the cell would reverse its path to inflammation and possibly stave off cell death.

When the results came back, their theory was not only correct but also hadn’t gone far enough. The addition of THC to the cells had indeed reduced the levels of inflammation and helped the cells stay alive. But what the group didn’t expect was a reduction in the levels of Aβ inside the cells. In essence, THC had protected the cell and gave it the opportunity to heal itself.

The observations were astonishing. Of all the potential endocannabinoids tested, only THC seemed to be able to accomplish this reversal of cellular fortune. As to how this might have happened, the team wasn’t entirely sure. However, based on results from a study in 2008, THC may have interfered with the production of Aβ allowing for the cell to break down the protein naturally. This relief from stress would then reduce the production of arachidonic acid giving the cell a greater chance at survival.

The effect of THC on the cells during Aβ accumulation is indeed remarkable. However, this study, are momentous as it is, provides little more than a first step. The results are reflective of a cell culture and as such cannot be extrapolated to any living animal or human. For that to happen, many questions need to be answered including the optimal concentration for effect and also, the route of delivery. While many might hope for a respiratory option – i.e. smoking – the most likely path forward is intravenous in a means similar to chemotherapy.

What this study does show, however, is a new possible path for Alzehimer’s treatment in the future. In light of the fact this disease affects nearly 44 million people worldwide and over 5 million Americans, the hunt for a treatment and possible cure is a true priority. Although this discovery may take years to become useful, they can at least provide individuals with hope that an answer may very well be in sight.

Why do Rastafarians use marijuana in their religion?

Image: Why do Rastafarians use marijuana in their religion?

Rastafarians are associated with reggae music, dreadlocks, Bob Marley and of course marijuana. Rastas often refer to weed as “The Holy Herb” and consider it to be sacred. Do Rastas smoke marijuana just to get high, or does it have some other meaning in their culture and religion?

The Rastafari religion is stereotyped as having members who are constantly stoned and that the whole movement is, in fact, just an excuse to smoke a lot of pot. In fact, it is seen by many as a cover for nothing more than a bunch of drug users and drug smugglers.

Rastafarians – what their religion teaches them about marijuana

Marijuana’s use as part of religious ceremonies is not new. The practice goes back for thousands of years in a variety of cultures. For example, in India and Nepal, traveling monks have used marijuana for centuries, and other religious groups have also used marijuana or viewed the substance as sacred, including the ancient Chinese, ancient Germanic pagans and Hindus. Many Rastafarians believe that cannabis originated in Africa and that it is part of their African culture that they are reclaiming.

Rastafarians feel that marijuana is important for their understanding of self, the universe and God. The use of cannabis is part of what the Rastafari refer to as “reasoning sessions” where members join up and are encouraged to interact and discuss life according to the Rasta perspective. Rastafarians reject materialism, oppression and sensual pleasures, called “Babylon.” In fact, they see the marijuana plant as the “Tree of Life” mentioned in the Bible and often quote scriptures that support their beliefs. For example, at Revelation 22:2, the phrase “the leaves of the tree [of life] were for the healing of the nations” refers to the marijuana plant, according to them. While marijuana use forms part of their beliefs, it is not compulsory for a Rastafarian to smoke it.

Rastas fight for the right to use marijuana as part of their religion

In South Africa, Rastafarian lawyer Gareth Prince has been challenging legislation that outlaws dagga (South African word for “marijuana”), notes, citing a report in The Mercury. Prince has that requested certain sections of the Drugs and Drugs Trafficking Act and the Criminal Procedure Act be declared invalid, among other things.

Prince himself faces criminal charges in the Khayelitsha Regional Court for dagga possession, dealing and cultivation. He questioned to what extent the government could dictate what people ate, drank and smoked. The case has been postponed.

In the US, government and corporate propaganda has caused marijuana to be seen as a dangerous drug that should be illegal, although many states have now legalized the plant for medicinal use and some states for recreational use. A massive number of people in the US have been sentenced to prison for possession ofhealth-promoting marijuana, even in cases where they have claimed that they use the substance for religious or spiritual reasons.

Would medical marijuana have been a better pain relief option for singer Prince?

Prince was a famed American singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer and actor, who enjoyed huge success and popularity. He died on April 21, 2016.

Prince is well-known to have suffered from debilitating pain in his hips, which has been attributed to years of dancing on stage in high-heels. The recipient of double hip replacement surgery in 2010, he is said to have relied heavily on opiate pain medications to provide him with relief from his chronic pain. Although was no sign of suicide or foul play regarding his death, the icon had struggled with opioid dependence, and in fact, was scheduled to meet with an opioid addiction specialist the day after he was found dead.

Chronic pain management requires, in many cases, the taking of strong, often-opiate based medications. Patients who take these pain killers on a daily basis can become seriously dependent on pain killers over an extended amount of time. Withdrawals from pain killers are not pleasant to go through or see anyone go through, with severe body aches for hours as a result of withdrawal.

There is a long list of side effects of Percocet, the pain-killer Prince was apparently taking, which include: chills, dizziness, fever, itching, tiredness, headaches, muscle tremors, numbness in the hands, pains in the abdomen, vomiting and more. One can easily overdose on Percocet, and complications include liver damage, liver failure and death.

How can marijuana manage pain and is it possible to overdose on marijuana?

There is scientific evidence that cannabinoids possess pain-relieving properties and some clinical evidence to support their medical use for patients suffering from painful conditions. More and more influential medical associations support cannabis and its derivatives for pain management and other medical conditions because research has shown it to be effective.

Is it possible to overdose on weed? The answer is no, according to the National Cancer Institute who state: “Because cannabinoid receptors, unlike opioid receptors, are not located in the brainstem areas controlling respiration, lethal overdoses from Cannabis and cannabinoids do not occur.”

Perhaps, had Prince taken medical marijuana to treat his chronic pain, he may have enjoyed a better quality of life and found an effective way to manage his condition.


Alzheimer’s disease and medical marijuana – What the studies show

Image: Alzheimer’s disease and medical marijuana – What the studies show


Alzheimers is a progressive disease that results in memory loss, thinking ability and behavior. Dementia symptoms worsen over time. Usually sufferers live for an average of 8 years after their symptoms become noticeable to others. Does marijuana really inhibit progression of the disease?

An increasing population of elderly people means that Alzheimer’s disease is expected to triple over the next 50 years. Current treatments cannot cure Alzheimers, all they can do is improve the quality of life for patients and slow down progression of the disease. Typically drugs such as Donepezil are prescribed for Alzheimer’s patients, however this comes with side effects such as seizures and is said to be in the same class of chemicals as certain pesticides and agents such as nerve gas.

Medical marijuana for Alzheimer’s sufferers

Although no placebo-controlled, randomized, double-blinded trials have been conducted on the cannabis plant to provide evidence that cannabis use definitely improves symptoms for patients suffering with Alzheimer’s disease, there is increasing evidence to show that cannabinoids have the potential to protect the destruction of neurons through processes that neutralize free radicals, reduce inflammation and improve function of mitochondria.

THC is the psychoactive component of marijuana which appears to be beneficial for Alzheimer’s patients. The results of a recent study, published in PubMed, shows that marijuana contains a compound with properties that address memory problems and the brain plaque associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

According to Chuanhai Cao, PhD and a neuroscientist at the Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute, “THC is known to be a potent antioxidant with neuroprotective properties, but this is the first report to show that the compound directly affects Alzheimer’s pathology by decreasing amyloid beta levels, inhibiting its aggregation, and enhancing mitochondrial function.”

A team from Neuroscience Research Australia have been researching whether or not one of the 85 active ingredients in cannabis, called cannabidiol, could reverse some of the symptoms of memory loss in animals.

Tim Karl, a senior research scientist from NRA said that cannabidiol does not have the same psychoactive effects as THC, but it has been found to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and other effects that could be beneficial for the brain.

In conclusion,  research thus far shows promise that cannabis can halt the progression of Alzheimers more effectively and lead to a better of quality of life for patients, although more research needs to be undertaken in the future.