May media wrap up

May saw a lot of media coverage about cannabis research. Although there was still plenty of coverage about medicinal cannabis, the media also covered stories on research into the effects of cannabis on lung health and driving skills. And it was great to see that some Australian media outlets found the floated idea that cannabis could increase creativity in school kids as crazy as NCPIC does. 

cannabis mediaLast month was a busy one in the media for marijuana, with news from Norfolk Island of the first regional cannabis farm bringing the ongoing debate back into the spotlight. And while the legalisation debate will be ever-ongoing, one very positive result of the continued focus is the attention being given to medical research, and indeed, the calls for more research from various groups around the world.

Marijuana, money and medicine

In May, Palliative Care Australia released their latest survey, with not-so-surprising results. According to the poll of just over 1000 Australians, almost 70 percent of people are happy for the drug to be used to help patients with chronic pain and illness. Interestingly, the survey found most support in older demographics, with the younger participants aged 18 to 24 slightly less supportive. Of note, 25% of Australians still identified as being unsure when it came to what they think about cannabis being legalised for medicinal use. With a Senate Inquiry due to report back next month on the Federal Greens’ Bill which proposes federal responsibility for oversight of production and distribution of medicinal cannabis, those supporting legalisation will be interested to learn the outcomes.

Also raising eyebrows last month, Australian company AusCann, signed a landmark agreement with the Norfolk Island Government which permits the company to securely grow cannabis for commercial medical purposes. The company reports it aims to plant the first crops in November 2015, for harvest in 2016, with plants then being sent to Canada for medicinal use. Worthy of mention, the island did have approval for growth of cannabis overturned in mid-2014 by the island’s administrator, and the same administrator again has the power to veto this latest agreement.

Cannabis: the latest research

Continuing along the medicinal cannabis lines, further research into potential medical uses of the drug, its effectiveness and possible side effects has continued – and only seems to be growing in media coverage since the medicinal legalisation debate really gained traction a few years ago. Like any drug, thorough examination of its properties, uses and possible harms can only lead to safer treatment options for patients.

In May, epilepsy was one of the major focuses of cannabis research, with an early, non-clinical study by the New York University Langone Comprehensive Epilepsy Center designed to test the safety of CBD-based Epidiolex, revealing promising results – though bias must be considered. With just over 200 participants suffering from various forms of epilepsy, most experienced a decrease in seizures, though some experienced side effects including diarrhoea, decreased appetite and tiredness – these effects causing some people to leave the trial. Dr Devinsky who led the trial believes further testing is required with larger participant groups and placebos.

Last month a University of Florida team led by Dr Paul Carney was given the green light to study the effects of cannabis oil on children with epilepsy. The trial will include 50 participants from the state who have exhausted other treatment options. Dr Carney also aims to use the drug Epidiolex.

Finally, on the medical front, a trial of 50 dementia patients, conducted by the Radboud University Medical Center (The Netherlands) has unfortunately revealed that cannabis pills tested for potential positive effects on agitation, aggression and wandering in dementia patients have proven no more effective than a placebo. While initial news is not encouraging, the University may go on to repeat the tests with higher doses.

Stepping away from medicinal, research and investigations into non-medicinal cannabis use have also continued, with initial findings released in May. Of note, a University of Adelaide report has found that while Australians are less likely to have a drinking problem than Britons or Americans, when it comes to illicit drugs like cannabis, opioids and ecstasy, more Australians like to indulge – with almost double the number of Australians smoking cannabis in the last 12 months compared to the figures for Great Britain. Likewise, results for ecstasy and amphetamine-type drug use in the last 12 months in Australia was around double that of the UK.

Along the same vein, a investigation undertaken in May, revealed more than 9000 individual listings for drugs were made available to Australians on dark web marketplace, Agora. Stimulants were most available, followed by cannabis, with the top tier vendors selling up to $800,000 worth of drugs each month.

A study appearing in Clinical Chemistry in May has examined the interaction between alcohol and cannabis – the most frequently detected drug combination in car accidents – to reveal the use of both drugs at the same time produces significantly higher blood concentrations of THC than cannabis use alone. Experts have agreed that combined use of both substances increases the risk of crashing more than use of either drug by itself.

The University of Otago’s Dr Bob Hancox released a study in May which investigated the effect of cannabis use on the lungs. The research has shown smoking cannabis even once a week makes a person more likely to suffer respiratory problems such as bronchitis, coughing up phlegm and wheezing. While he suggested those who cut down or quit often saw a decrease in symptoms, he noted those who had used heavily had ongoing symptoms, suggesting longer-term side effects from smoking cannabis. 

Kids, cannabis and creativity

To finish off the May media wrap up, a big thumbs up the Sunrise Program on Sydney’s Channel 7, which did a great job approaching the blog-turned-media story within which artist Leon Ewing suggested use of marijuana by children will help with creativity. While program host, Sam Armitage’s response was both priceless and on the mark, “What? Honestly, have you ever heard anything so silly? He’s an artist, not a doctor – here’s a doctor…”. Sunrise’s resident doctor, Ginni Mansberg offered further intelligence to the coverage pointing out that studies have been done to investigate the 'creative effect' of cannabis on adults, with results indicating no positive outcomes. Rightfully, the doctor also went on to point out that young people risk getting addicted to cannabis, use reduces the ability to learn and may cause memory problems in addition to the risk of psychosis’. She went on to label the suggestion an 'absolute fail'. She could also have pointed out, as our Director did on social media, that using cannabis in early teen years increases the risk of dropping out of high school by 60%!