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…

Soothing Migraine Headaches with Cannabis

Nearly everyone who’s used medical cannabis can relate to its ability to soothe headaches. From easing stress and tight forehead muscles to reducing body pain, cannabis naturally lends itself to being a headache cure. Yet, surprisingly, no clinical tests are being performed at this time to treat migraine patients with medical cannabis. In other words, while some doctors are already prescribing cannabis for recurring headaches, no large clinical studies on actual humans are being conducted. As readers may guess, this may have something to do with the difficulty of getting approval for human studies involving cannabis. In any case, the situation is now remarkably unusual; medical cannabis dispensaries sometimes have more access to medical information than physicians. Specifically, as a general physician, you may have the opportunity to prescribe cannabis to a number of patients, with only a handful of those seeking treatment for headaches. On top of that, after the prescription for medical cannabis, you can’t track what cannabis was used, how potent it was, where it came from, etc. A large part of the treatment data is inherently unknown by the physician, and getting patients to carefully record and report that data is difficult, further reducing the number of people who could realistically be involved in a study. In fact, busy, time-strapped patients may not even return after successfully treating their problems. Contrast this situation with that of a dispensary. At a medical cannabis dispensary, providers can keep a file on each patient, using purchases to record average…

Cannabinoid Receptors Affect How Your Eyes “See”

Culturally, cannabis is known as a substance that heightens the senses; musicians and concert-goers often use cannabis to increase sensitivity to music, and anyone who has experienced “the munchies” can attest to a heightened sense of taste. For a long time we’ve known that our body’s own endocannabinoid system plays a significant role in eyesight. This phenomenon is less discussed, but none-the-less very real, with cannabinoid receptor agonists (like cannabis) and antagonists (like Rimonabant) both causing changes in eyesight. In fact, injections of antagonists into the eye have been observed to lead to unstable and incorrect retinofugal projection, which is essentially the connection between the optic nerve and the brain. Clearly cannabinoid receptors play an essential role in vision. Of course, this is not very surprising to researchers who understand the layout of the endocannabinoid system. Type 1 cannabinoid receptors (CB1 receptors) are “highly expressed in many structures involved in the processing of visual information”, such as the retina, superior colliculus, lateral geniculate nucleus, and most importantly, the primary visual cortex. To date, most studies involving the endocannabinoid system and eyesight occur during development phases rather than adult organisms. As a result, researchers from the University of Montreal created a new study to establish the differences in vision between adult mice with cannabinoid receptors and those without (specifically CB1 receptors). To create adult mice without CB1 receptors, researchers deleted the CB1 gene from the mouse DNA before birth. This procedure is known as creating “knockout” mice. In this particular study,…

New Study Finds No Evidence of Long-term Damage from Daily Cannabis Use

A new joint-study between the University of Colorado and the University of Louisville has been making waves in the medical cannabis community. That study boldly titled, “Daily Marijuana Use Is Not Associated with Brain Morphometric Measures in Adolescents or Adults”, makes a compelling case based on three different physical analyses of the brain in daily cannabis users vs. non-users. Taken alone, there’s nothing particularly advanced about the study from a technological standpoint; the real significance of the study is that it flies in the face of a larger body of evidence that seems to indicate that cannabis *can* cause structural changes. …So who’s right? Does cannabis cause structural damage or not? Furthermore, if this study is correct, how could so many independent studies from around the world be wrong? According to the researchers, the issue revolves around dependent variables and how to account for those variables. To give an analogy here, I may claim that living near the beach causes people to take up surfing, and I may back up my claim with data that shows that beachside communities have a higher percentage of surfers. At first glance, that seems logical. However, this relationship, between the neighborhood and the percentage of surfers, is not proof of anything. In fact, it’s common sense that many of the surfers living in those neighborhoods moved to those neighborhoods specifically to be able to surf frequently. Without acquiring more data or removing this effect somehow, we can’t possibly know if living near the beach…

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.…

Alzheimer’s Revisited: How Cannabis is Changing the State of Alzheimer’s Medication

Late Onset Alzheimer’s Disease (LOAD) is what most people think of when they think of Alzheimer’s. Accounting for roughly 70% of dementia cases, it’s characterized by a progressive decline in cognitive ability in individuals over the age of 65. This decline affects memory, language, motor skills, and general ability to live and take care of oneself. However, while these symptoms are troubling enough, LOAD also frequently includes behavior and personality changes. Coordinating healthcare is already difficult enough for a relative with a myriad of age-related health issues, but when that relative is unable to remember basic instructions or able to have a coherent conversation, the situation is exponentially more difficult. Taken together, all of these changes put significant stress on the individuals suffering from the disease as well as the family members and healthcare workers taking care of those individuals. Unfortunately, not much is understood about the cause of Alzheimer’s. Instead, we have a fragmented understanding of processes that seem to be related. For instance, research currently indicates that neuroinflammation and oxidative stress play a vital role in the development of the disease. Specifically, the build up of cell waste related to aging can turn toxic, forcing the brain to initiate a sequence of processes, known as a “cascade”, in an attempt to surround and isolate the toxicity. Unfortunately, this process alone can release even more cytokines, chemokines, and proteins, which eventually leads to more inflammation, resulting in neuron death. As with many diseases, treating LOAD means preventing the body…

Cannabinoids in Pain Management, A Review

Pain management is one of our most revisited topics here on the Cornerstone blog. Our commitment to reporting studies related to pain management should come as no surprise to readers; pain relief accounts for a substantial portion of all medical cannabis use. Usually we update you on new findings within the field; however, today we are going to take a step back for a more general review, courtesy of Ethan Russo and Andrea Hohmann. Medicine, as Russo points out, really began with plants. Our early ancestors would have noticed the effects of consuming plants within their environments and then learned to use those effects. Though we like to think of mankind as superior creators when compared to plants, humans are comparatively inefficient at producing pharmaceuticals. Plants have the surprising ability to produce complex chemicals like THC from sun, water, and dirt, whereas we have to build labs with precision machinery, electrical power, and contamination control! As a result, the first functional medicines were not human synthesized and instead came from plants. From coca leaves to morphine, these chemicals wove themselves into the history of human civilization. However, in modern times, plant-based chemicals are not generally accepted as medicine. This isn’t necessarily due to a bias against plants, but more importantly because plant-produced compounds are naturally inconsistent. In the case of cannabis, the way the plant is grown can greatly affect the profile of chemicals produced, not to mention the potency. Different buds on the same plant might even have significantly…

Inhibiting Re-Uptake To Enable Treatment: The Endocannabinoid System and New Medicines

In popular culture, we like to think of an inventor as someone who notices a problem, thinks really hard about a solution, and solves that problem with a novel device or approach. Oftentimes however, discovery proceeds in reverse: first a solution is found and then a clever inventor looks for a problem that the solution might apply to. For instance, the invention of the Post-it Note® occurred when a scientist attempting to develop a better superglue accidentally developed a glue with low adhesion but high re-usability. Although that scientist attempted to promote the glue, the company that had financed the research tossed it to the side, chalking it up as a failure. After all it was not the superglue they wanted. Six years later a colleague managed to develop a use outside of the company; he noticed he could apply it to the back of a bookmark to keep it from falling out without developing a permanent bond that would tear the page. Thus the Post-it Note® was born and subsequently became one of 3M’s most successful products. Drug development, as Christopher Fowler argues, might also proceed more effectively this way. Fowler, a clinical neuroscience researcher at Umea Unversity of Sweden, recently reviewed studies involving inhibitors of cannabinoid metabolism. Metabolism, whether specific to nutrients or in this case chemicals in general, simply means how something is broken back down to be disposed of or recycled by the body. The idea is that rather than supplying the brain with more cannabinoids,…

Can Cannabis Lower Blood Pressure?

Cannabis has historically been thought of as a relaxant and a depressant of the physical body. As a result it’s no surprise that the idea of using cannabis to help manage blood pressure has gained some traction recently. While generally confirming the idea that cannabis can lower blood pressure, recent experiments have also shown some disagreement depending on the manner in which experiments are conducted. A review from the University of Nottingham encapsulates some of the discussion around the effect of cannabinoids on blood pressure, but for readers wanting a digested answer, the clearest part of the conversation is that cannabis use almost certainly does not contribute to high blood pressure, especially when vaporized. High blood pressure or hypertension is a condition in which the force of a person’s blood against their artery walls is higher than normal and therefore likely to lead to a host of other problems. Although high blood pressure that occurs without symptoms often goes unnoticed, the body can only compensate for unhealthy blood pressure for a limited amount of time. Left uncontrolled, high blood pressure can lead to heart attack, stroke, heart failure, vision loss, and poor kidney functioning, all without much warning. The general research pipeline for investigating a new area of medicine tends to flow from test tube, to rodents, and lastly to humans. Genetically modified rodents are expensive to create and time-consuming to maintain, so preliminary assays are usually first performed on the cells in question outside normal living conditions (such as…

Treating ADHD with Cannabinoids

Chances are that you or someone you know has been diagnosed with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). ADHD is one of the most commonly diagnosed neurological conditions as well as one of the most controversial due to the difficulty of treatment and diagnosis. New research has begun to suggest that the body’s cannabinoid system, specifically cannabinoid agonists like those found in cannabis, may play a role in treatment. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is widely used as a diagnosis guide for doctors, ADHD is identified by a patient with measured trouble with mental functions that leads to inattention and hyperactivity. Unfortunately, what constitutes ADHD is therefore automatically open to a wide interpretation; at this point in time, our model of “attention” itself is incomplete. That’s not to say we don’t have some idea of the main chemicals that regulate consciousness. Norepinephrine is most responsible for vigilant concentration in the brain, and dopamine is most responsible for cognitive alertness. Moreover, many individuals with ADHD have thinner brain tissue in certain areas that regulate impulsivity. However, as research continues, the medical community is split over whether ADHD is even one illness. Many have proposed that the attention-deficit and hyperactivity symptoms stem from two different sources and as a result require different solutions. However, what makes ADHD treatment most controversial is the use of stimulants for treatment. Ritalin was the first major drug to be prescribed for ADHD, but second and third-generation stimulants with longer effects and less tolerance,…

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