Last week’s landmark announcement of a report published in the New England Journal of Medicine had cannabis activists around world shouting, “I told you so!”
The study showed once and for all, indisputably, definitively, that cannabis oil does help control and in some cases, even eliminate, seizures in children. Reporting on the Phase III FDA clinical trials of GW Pharmaceuticals epilepsy medication, Epidiolex, the NEJM called the results, “the beginning of solid evidence for the use of cannabinoids in epilepsy,” despite the fact that cannabis has been documented as a treatment for epilepsy for almost four thousand years. The company has been working on earning approval for the medicine for more than a decade. Epidiolex will be the first, whole cannabis-derived product to potentially be accepted by the mainstream American medical establishment.
As groundbreaking as the study was in itself, its reception marked what could be the beginning of a hard-won new era in cannabis acceptance among the medical community. According to NORML’s Keith Stroup, this study differs in respectability because of its structure: government supervised, double-blind, peer-reviewed, published in one of the most prestigious and respected medical journals on the planet. “Even the most dogged prohibitionist will hard-pressed to claim cannabis has no medicinal value now.” Besides the tens of thousands of patients, the medication could potentially help, the long-range impact of the NEJM report on acceptance of cannabis’ medicinal properties could be game-changing. Here are some highlights of the latest research into some of the other amazing healing powers of cannabis.
The Big C, the emperor of all maladies, the plague of the modern age: cancer. No other disease so captures the imagination, has as many variations, or kills more people in undeveloped countries (in the developed world, it’s the #2 leading cause of death.) Lung cancer alone is expected to kill over one billion people this century. In 2015, worldwide cancer caused almost nine million deaths. These days 65% of those struck, survive to tell about it. Science is finally gaining ground, though cancer was first described as incurable by the ancient Egyptians 4600 years ago. (Of note, the claim that cannabis can cure cancer has been made since ancient Chinese times, like the claim of curing epilepsy). This century there have already been over 1,300 studies on cannabis’ antitumoral effects, but this week, two major studies looking into cannabis’ ability to fight certain types of cancer are likely to gain newfound respect.
CURE Pharmaceutical, a newly launched pharmaceutical cannabinoid molecule development company, revealed plans to launch the first ever clinical trials of cannabis effectiveness on leukemia and prostate cancer. Partnering with Israel’s Technion Research and Development Foundation and Cannakids, Rob Davidson, Chief Executive Officer of CURE predicts the study will have the earlier results within six months.
According to the Cannakids press release, CURE and Cannakids will identify which cannabinoid molecules to study. “Both companies will contribute intellectual property, including drug formulations, delivery platform and manufacturing processes, as well as participating in the research of new technologies and formulations for cannabinoid-therapeutic based products for a variety of indications,” the press release stated.
Once the extraction formulas are designed, due to the massive government support for cannabis study in Israel, Technion, which has 3 Nobel Prize winners on staff, will conduct the actual research. CURE will then patent the products they design and file for FDA approval. Cannakids founder and CEO, first became aware of Technion when she traveled to Israel seeking a cure for her own daughter’s cancer. One of the key issues is matching the exact cannabinoid extraction formulas with the hundreds of specific cancer sub-types.
Meanwhile, a new study on cannabis and skin cancer was also announced this week. By far the most common form of cancer in the country, the American Cancer Association estimates there are over five million cases of skin cancer each year in the US alone. A dozen or more studies of CBD oils have already been shown a dramatic effect on skin health, battling problems like psoriasis, eczema, atopic and contact dermatitis, and most importantly some skin melanomas. PharmaCyte Biotech and Cannabis Science are spearheading the research.
It’s all in your head
In the wake of last month’s other blockbuster cannabis study on its ability to help restore memory and cognitive function in elderly mice, and thus, possibly, in older humans, there have been a variety of other studies on cannabis and the brain. One new study that caught the attention of NORML’s chief researcher, Paul Armentano focused on cannabis’s ability to calm the tics, anxiety and OCD behaviors of Tourette’s Syndrome. This calming effect goes hand in hand with the new study out of Chicago showing that as little as one puff of cannabis can cure, or at least temporarily relieve, anxiety. These reports come the same month as renewed discussions on ways cannabis aids in treating autism are also making the rounds.
Elsewhere, according to a massive review of cannabis and psychiatry by Christopher Fichtner and Howard Moss for the Psychiatric Times, no matter what other symptoms they qualify for, large numbers of medical card patients self-medicate for a variety of psychiatric conditions including: “PTSD, anxiety disorders, depression, ADHD, bipolar disorder, chronic pain, insomnia, opiate dependence, and even schizophrenia.”
Noting that psychiatrists rarely recommend cannabis, Fichtner and Moss refer extensively to the January report from The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which showed limited existing evidence for most of claims that cannabis use has psychological benefits. Though they did go on to acknowledge “that cannabinoids may suppress neuronal excitotoxicity and neuroinflammation,” which means cannabis can aid with the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. The authors documented that that PTSD studies showed “decreases of 75% overall and separately in each of the 3 respective (DSM-IV) symptom clusters: re-experiencing, hyperarousal, and avoidance,” and pointed out those studies were not included in the National Academy figures.
“The beneficial effects of cannabinoid medicines for PTSD are consistent with what is known about the psychobiology of PTSD and the emerging research on the endocannabinoid system.” They also noted that “evidence for effectiveness include Tourette syndrome and social anxiety disorders,” and “that marijuana use was associated with a 55% reduced risk of past year opioid abuse.”
(The mention of cannabis aiding in the treatment of schizophrenia is also particularly significant, since prohibitionists and the medical establishment have long preached the exact opposite: that cannabis triggers teen schizophrenia. This month also saw a new study from Australia, by the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute (IHMRI) that not only turns prohibitionist propaganda on its head, but asserts CBD may actually be the go-to prescription for battling schizophrenia’s worst symptoms.)
Cannabis’ historically renown ability to bring on the ZZZs gained new respect this month. Leafly posted three recent articles reporting on cannabis and sleep, including pieces by Katy Matlack about PTSD-driven insomnia, and Ed Murrieta on senior insomnia. Jeremy Kossen also noted a National Center for Biotechnology Information report showing half of all US seniors suffer from poor sleep. And that’s why they are turning to cannabis. NIDA-approved research going back as far as 1973, supports the finding that cannabis is a hypnotic, or sleep aid. Cannabis not only enhances deep sleep, it also improves breathing while sleeping, a common cause of sleep disorders.
While only 6% of American suffer from clinical insomnia, according to the CDC, over one quarter of Americans complain about lack of sleep, a 2005 National Sleep Foundation (NSF) Poll, claims half of all Americans display symptoms of sleep deprivation, and possibly as many as a billion people globally. Poor sleep damages a person’s health in literally dozens of ways, including weakened immune systems, weight gain, depression, susceptibility to Type 2 Diabetes, poor memory, high blood pressure and increased risk of accident. (Coincidentally lack of sleep also increases a person’s chances of developing colorectal cancer.)
On the down side…
This month two other stories in the news show cannabis use, in specific, “smoking cannabis regularly,” was linked to gum disease and that Europe’s preferred method of smoking ruins many of cannabis’ healthful effects and dramatically increases the potential for addiction.
In a widely reported news story, this week Columbia University periodontal researchers re-announced their finding that regular cannabis users tend to have more dental health issues than non-smokers. Combing through years of CDC data, lead researcher, Jaffer Shariff and his team “found 27 percent of the 1,938 adult participants used cannabis one or more times for at least 12 months.” “Frequent recreational cannabis smokers are twice as likely as non-frequent users to have signs of periodontal disease.” Shariff cited concerns that the rising popularity and legality of cannabis could lead to a dental crisis. The prohibitionist mouthpiece, UK’s The Daily Mail, published their version of the study under the cheeky title: “More evidence cannabis can make your teeth fall out.” The study was originally published in October. Some experts believe the link is due to some cannabis users having poor oral hygiene, but more research is needed to know for sure.
Tobacco and cannabis
Lastly, though it may seem like a no-brainer, one of the most widely reported pieces of cannabis research last week focused on the difference between the health impact of joints versus spliffs. Joints, as American readers are well aware, are marijuana cigarettes. Spliffs are basically joints with tobacco added. A University College of London study published this week on the effects of the mix focused its attention on the way the combination A) appeared to enhance cognition compared to smoking pure cannabis and B) has a reputation for making the “cannabis high” feel even higher.
While researchers debunked the latter, they held that adding tobacco did reduce the amount of cognitive impairment they found when subjects smoked pure joints. Chandni Hidoncha, a clinical psychologist at University of London stated, “There’s a persistent myth that adding tobacco to cannabis will make you more stoned, but we found that actually, it does nothing to improve the subjective experience.”
Most American smokers, 92% that is, do not add tobacco to their bud; however, 90% of European smokers do (in Italy, it’s 94%). This mixing has led to a phenomenon called, “the reverse gateway” effect where cannabis experimentation leads to tobacco addiction. How the cannabis is smoked makes a difference. According to the Global Drug Survey, as much as 85% of the world’s cannabis smokers who roll cigarettes add tobacco, while only 6% of pipe smokers do. Associating the European preference to the days when hashish was added to cigarettes, Leafly’s Michael Knodt noted that “the cannabis–tobacco blend affects your health more than pure flower. It also complicates efforts to gauge the health effects of cannabis itself.” The UK Independent flat out stated the obvious: the easiest way to decrease the negative health impact of European-style cannabis consumption is to stop adding the tobacco. Duh.
Though there is still much about cannabis we do not know, it is universally accepted that tobacco smoke is associated with heart and lung disease, and causing cancer. While cannabis, as we noted at the top of this story, may finally be on its way to proving, once and for all, that it is the cure.