Debunking Reefer Madness “Science”

Most of the Cornerstone blog articles we post are about the future and pending medical advances. However, today, we will instead take a quick look at the present, specifically at the national conversation around medical cannabis. As more states continue to legalize medical and recreational cannabis, the bulk of conversation centers on how to navigate this collective policy change to produce the greatest good and smallest harm for society as a whole. However, while 2016 has certainly been an outstanding year for medical cannabis and cannabinoid research, reefer madness is still alive and well, and opposition remains strong. For exhibit A, the report that is setting the internet abuzz, the University of Western Australia published a press release linking cannabis use to gene mutation. To quote the article: “‘Through our research we found that cancers and illnesses were likely caused by cell mutations resulting from cannabis properties having a chemical interaction with a person’s DNA,’ Associate Professor Stuart Reece said.” As if this isn’t scary enough, the article then suggests that these mutations are passed to offspring. Yikes. Following this line of thought, by consuming cannabis, individuals may inadvertently be giving their children cancer! Fortunately, cannabis science luminary Ethan Russo stepped in to clarify and debunk the report. In an interview for the East Bay Express, Ethan noted, “This report is based on a foundation of falsehoods. Cannabis is not mutagenic (productive of mutations in DNA)…Countless animal studies and human epidemiological studies support its relative safety in this regard.” Despite…

Sourcing CBD

Have you ever wondered where concentrated CBD comes from? In the United States, industrial hemp is now permitted under special circumstances, thanks to a 2014 U.S. Farm Bill which approves special grow programs. States like California and Colorado offer a legal pathway to growing smaller batches of medical cannabis for CBD production. CBD can also be legally produced synthetically without the plant at all with appropriate DEA approval. All three of these pathways represent avenues for legal CBD production in the United States. Assuming that the goal is to produce 100% pure CBD, these methods are all equivalent; the source has no impact. However, when CBD is initially extracted from a whole plant, terpenes and cannabinoids are extracted alongside and remain in the product. The greater the quality of the source plant, the greater and richer these terpenes and cannabinoids are, whereas synthetic CBD contains no additional molecules. Due to current cannabinoid research indicating the likelihood of synergistic effects of cannabinoids, we at Cornerstone feel that whole plant, high quality cannabis preparations of CBD are likely more effective medical solutions than pure or synthetic CBD. If it were purely medicinal cannabis advocates arguing for the effectiveness of whole-plant derived CBD preparations, we might simply dismiss this notion as financial bias. Of course medical cannabis dispensaries have incentive to advocate for medical cannabis-based products! Of course we’d rather see the CBD market in the hands of local providers vs. industrial giants. That is our bias. However, ultimately the conversation about the…

Can Cannabinoids Prevent Brain-Wasting Caused by HIV?

HIV has had perhaps the greatest impact of any single disease on the U.S. in recent times, both culturally and medically. Unlike most other viruses, HIV is a retrovirus, meaning rather than producing RNA in cells to then produce the protein needed to build more copies, it sneaks itself directly into cell’s original DNA. This type of virus is hard to detect until the person is already infected, at which point, the infection will continue indefinitely. HIV targets the immune system by duplicating inside of cells that attack disease. Left untreated, the immune system then begins to fail, with enough time becoming unable to defend the body from even minor disease. This condition is known as AIDS and caught medicine by surprise in the 80s, proving to be one of the most dangerous and difficult to treat diseases. Fortunately, we now have medications that prevent the HIV infection from spreading, which greatly decreases the likelihood of developing AIDS and means that people with HIV in countries with developed medicine continue to lead long, full lives with mostly minor symptoms. Despite retroviral therapy, one serious symptom, HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder (HAND), occurs in 30-50% of patients. In this disorder, patients begin to display a decrease in brain functionality, with decreases in operational memory, emotional response, and executive function. In most cases, the effect is mild, although in some cases, this can progress to HIV-induced dementia, rendering the patient unable to take care of his/herself and requiring daily living assistance. The cause of…

Schizophrenia, Cannabis, and the AKT1 Gene

We’ve written several articles on the Cornerstone blog about cannabis and schizophrenia. The association between the two is one of the most fascinating puzzles of cannabis science. What we know is that people suffering from schizophrenia are more likely to use cannabis than non-users, and daily cannabis users have a small but doubled risk of developing a psychiatric disorder. Like all psychoactive substances, medical or recreational, cannabis is not for everyone. What makes someone more susceptible to an adverse reaction to cannabis? Or any substance for that matter? What increases someone’s likelihood of being a daily user? At the turn of the century, the idea that anyone could be predisposed to a particular psychoactive reaction was largely disregarded. In fact, many physicians did not accept alcoholism as a valid illness when it was originally added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. However, genetic research has changed so much of our understanding of psychiatric health. Rather than imagining everyone to have the same psychological operating system, we know that genes dictate large differences from person to person. Even within an individual, genes can be activated and deactivated throughout a person’s lifetime due to environmental factors and stress. Readers may be able to identify with having a friend who cannot or does not smoke cannabis due to repeatedly unpleasant experiences. “It just doesn’t sit well with me.” Such people are unknowingly referring to their genetic make up and general neurological condition. Of course, knowing that there is a genetic…

Cannabis and Motor Coordination

As cannabis rounds the bend in many states toward legalization, one of the biggest questions on society’s mind is how to ensure that it is safe and does not impair potential life threatening activities. Since the founding of MADD in 1980, we’ve grown more aware of the danger of drunk driving, which kills close to 28 people a day in America and is a heart-breaking drain on society. Since cannabis can also have mind-altering effects, as a society, we’re equally wary about the danger of driving under the influence of cannabis or any psychoactive substance for that matter. In fact, this fear is constantly cited as reason for not passing medical cannabis legislation. This concern has led states that have already approved medical cannabis to pass regulations specifying levels acceptable for operating vehicles. At first glance, this all seems acceptable. In the same way that patients with allergies should not take Benadryl before operating machinery, medical cannabis patients must be careful about actions that can jeopardize their safety or the safety of others. However, some of these legal driving limits are unbelievably low. In Washington State, for example, the legal limit is 5 nanograms THC-COOH per milliliter of blood in a blood test. To put that in perspective, this amount could actually exist in a medical cannabis patient 24 hours after consuming cannabis. But is a patient realistically an inhibited driver 24 hours after medication? Of course not. Anyone with a proper medical cannabis experience knows that. However, that’s just…

1:1, Conversations with Leading Cannabinoid Researchers

Today we’re introducing a new feature of the Cornerstone blog – "1:1" featuring interviews from top scientists and engineers on the leading edge of cannabinoid and endocannabinoid research. This feature is intended to allow readers to hear directly from the sources of information that we pull our blog posts from. We believe that doing so will not only help you have a better sense of how research is conducted, but even more importantly, will remove as much bias as possible from our end and leave you with the cold, hard facts. After visiting the 2015 International Cannabinoid Research Society Conference, we were impressed with the number of hard-working individuals exploring innovative uses of the endocannabinoid system. One of these individuals was Harriet de Wit, from the University of Chicago, who, along with research teammates Joseph Lutz and Emma Childs, prepared a review for the conference entitled “Does Delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) Dampen Responses to Social Stress?”. Harriet holds a doctoral degree in Experimental Psychology and has an extensive background in behavioral science. As a powerhouse of research, she has directed and contributed to studies ranging from the effects of illicit drugs to the connection between exercise and sweet consumption on human behavior and perception. De Wit’s THC research represents one interest out of many others surrounding the complexity of human drug use. Cornerstone (CRC): As a researcher coming from the psych end of the spectrum, you have an advantage in understanding the human condition better than researchers with purely biomolecular backgrounds.…

Seeing is Believing: ICRS

Greetings readers, we’ve just returned from the 2015 International Cannabinoid Research Society (ICRS) conference. ICRS describes itself as “a non-political, non-religious organization dedicated to scientific research in all fields of the cannabinoids, ranging from biochemical, chemical, and physiological studies of the endogenous cannabinoid system to studies of the abuse potential of recreational Cannabis.” Many one-off or repeating conferences regarding cannabis and cannabinoid science have been held since the 70’s, after Raphael Mechoulam’s structural identification and synthesis of THC. However, ICRS represents one of the first and longest-running to focus on research stemming from Mechoulam’s later discovery of the endocannabinoid system, the system of receptors, enzymes, and neuromodulatory lipids that plays a role in a host of physiological and neurological activities. After attending almost every talk, we have a fresh stockpile of new information to report to you, straight from the frontlines of research. We will begin to unfold this information in the next few articles, but some of the most exciting new pieces involve new types of cannabinoid receptors and ways that cannabinoids can signal biological changes without receptors at all. Other new innovations in the field were highlighted by a terrific closing speech by Mechoulam, who spoke of endocannabinoid signaling that might occur through sources as unexpected as bacterial films, as well as the need for more testing to determine the actual harm cannabis might have on children. One perhaps unavoidable theme of the conference was the harmony and clash between research focusing on phytocannabinoids and synthetic cannabinoids. Although…

Medical Marijuana Laws and Adolescent Marijuana Use

One of the biggest hurdles with medical cannabis legislation is convincing the public that new laws will do more good than harm. In California, the rate of adults who have used medical cannabis is reportedly one in 20, which leaves 19 in 20 uninterested (or dishonest on surveys). Assuming the proportion of adults is roughly equal in other states, this means a large majority of voters are not voting with the mindset, “this enables me to use medical cannabis,” but instead voting with the mindset, “this enables others to use medical cannabis.” While those voters may realize the societal benefits of medical cannabis (such as decriminalization and reducing healthcare costs), their primary concerns will still be, “will this negatively affect me or my loved ones?”.  At the forefront of this discussion is the impact of medical cannabis laws on the opinions of teenagers toward cannabis. As reported in a recent study by Columbia University, almost 20% of high school seniors reported they’d be more likely to use cannabis if it were legalized for medical use, with 55% of adolescents believing cannabis would be easier to acquire. As a lawmaker, this is cause for alarm. To determine the best course for society, we must weigh the advantages of medical cannabis against possible disadvantages. However, just because teens believe themselves more likely to use cannabis because of medical cannabis laws does not necessarily make that true. Thus, researchers at Columbia set out to conduct a survey to establish the rate of adolescent…

Does Long Term Cannabis Use Make You Dumb?

I vape cannabis several times a day and have no intentions of stopping anytime soon. It’s never slowed my work ethic or turned me into a zombie. Instead, I feel more creative and at peace. I don’t have any life threatening health conditions or chronic pain, and I’ve never been one to take a lot of pharmaceuticals. However, since I’m not a “hippy” by any means, I tend to have a lot of non-cannabis-using friends who occasionally ask me about my frequent cannabis use. Invariably, the question that always comes up is, “…do you think that stuff rots your brain over time? I heard it makes people dumb if they use it too much…” If you’re open about cannabis use, you’ll probably encounter this conversation at least once. Culturally, we’re used to the image of a stoner-burnout, a guy stuck in the 70’s that handles life like Jeff Bridges’ character in The Big Lebowski. We look at these people and we secretly wonder to ourselves, “did smoking cannabis all day every day make them this way? Will I be like that if I continue to use cannabis?” When we talk about the safety of cannabis, we’re really talking about quite a few things. First, there are the things that we know as facts. Fact: It’s damn near impossible to overdose on cannabis. The amount of THC that would be needed to cause an overdose is such a large quantity that the volume alone makes it difficult to do. For instance,…

Do Women and Men Experience Cannabis Differently?

One of the reasons we encourage cannabis patients to experiment with various strains for their ailment is because we have seen different strains work for different people. Perhaps you have a potent strain you like to medicate with that your friend feels no effect from at all. What makes one person paranoid could relax another simply because each person has different brain chemistry and body fat distribution. Taking this further, we might ask the question: “In general, is the experience of medicating with cannabis different for men than for women?” After all, men and women have different hormone profiles and different fat distribution patterns as well, right? This is exactly the question we hope to tackle today, although we’d like to remind readers that when we say “male” and “female, we are talking about at-birth medical identification of sex as opposed to “gender”, which obviously cannot be reduced down to stereotypes. After digging through the relevant research we’ve seen a slight disagreement in animal vs. human studies. Animal studies show less of a sexual differentiation or one in which females have higher THC concentrations in the brain. Human studies mostly appear to be the opposite, with males and females exhibiting different sensitivities in various areas. A good deal of this could be social, but a large part has to do with gonadal hormones. As we discussed in the last article, estrogen is capable of regulating cannabinoid receptor density and signal transduction. How much estrogen you have in your body at…