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New study on cannabis and brain development

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A Canadian study is investigating the impact of smoking cannabis on brain development.

University of Saskatchewan (USask) pharmacologist Robert Laprairie will use a Brain Canada research grant to determine how a mother’s use of cannabis during pregnancy affects the brain of the developing fetus she’s carrying.

Laprairie is one of 20 Canadian neuroscientists each awarded $100,000 today as part of Brain Canada’s Future Leaders in Canadian Brain Research Program.

“Following on Canada’s legalisation of cannabis in 2018, there is merited concern that people might seek out cannabis either for medicinal or recreational use during pregnancy,” said Laprairie.

While some people believe cannabis can help reduce nausea during pregnancy, Laprairie said, “There’s a general misconception among the public that because it’s natural, it’s safe. But it’s a drug just like any other drug.”

Laprairie, along with USask neuroscientist John Howland, and PhD students Ayat Zagzoog and Tallan Black, is testing in a rat model the hypothesis that chronic exposure to cannabis with high tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content will result in a significant increase in the rat pups’ anxiety and significant reduction in both cognition and sociability.

“We think we’re going to see a profound impact on how anxious the animals are, and how well they learn and adapt,” Laprairie said.

Limited data available from human studies show that babies exposed ‘in utero’ to cannabis smoke weigh less and have shorter feet. Studies involving rats have found injected cannabinoids lead to increased anxiety, learning deficits, and metabolic changes in pups. However, injected cannabis differs significantly from smoked whole-plant cannabis, which contains other psychoactive ingredients beyond just the THC.

“There’s some work done on it, but we need to delve deeper into it,” said Laprairie.

The USask team will use a special inhalation chamber to deliver high THC and high cannabidiol smoke to pregnant rats for 21 days. Following the birth of the pups, the researchers will track their growth, weight, and metabolic outcomes such as how much fat they have. Once the pups are old enough, the researchers will start monitoring them for anxiety-like behaviours, learning and memory tasks, and eventually such things as predisposition to substance use disorders.

Laprairie said rats are an appropriate model organism because of the close similarities to humans.

“Their brains go through many of the same developmental processes, and their metabolism of the drug and how their bodies physically respond to the drug are on the order of 95 per cent homologous with our human endocannabinoid system,” he said.

The 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health in the United States found that 4.9 per cent of pregnant women aged 15 to 44 years reported past-month cannabis use. While no directly comparable figures are available for Canada, 2016 Statistics Canada figures showed that nearly 17 per cent of women of child-bearing age reported using cannabis in the previous year.

The USask research team hopes to have manuscripts ready in summer 2021 for submission to high impact journals.

“What we as a team are hoping for is that individuals, policymakers, Health Canada, and health regions will take note of the data we’ve published and integrate it into their policy to recognise and caution people about avoiding cannabis during pregnancy,” said Laprairie.

“We’re developing many different cannabis-based medicines. And one of the most important things about a medicine is that you know which populations it shouldn’t be used in.”

Laprairie is a member of the USask-led Cannabinoid Research Initiative of Saskatchewan, an interdisciplinary research team exploring the application of cannabinoids and cannabis derivatives to humans and animals, for health, disease and disorders.

Anchored by a $5-million gift from the Azrieli Foundation, the program aims to build the next generation of brain science leaders in Canada. Funding for the Future Leaders in Canadian Brain Research program has been provided by Health Canada, through the Canada Brain Research Fund.

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Why are women more likely to use medical cannabis than men?

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Women are more likely to swap their prescription medication for medical cannabis, a study has found.

Researchers in the US have found that women are more likely to use medical cannabis than men – and to reduce using prescription drugs as a result.

The study, which was carried out by a team at DePaul University in Chicago, examined the behaviours of medical cannabis patients with a range of chronic health conditions in Illinois.

In the state, patients do not need a prescription, but must have one of a number of conditions to qualify for a medical cannabis card.

Researchers concluded that women ‘appear to be more likely than men’ to use medical cannabis for a range of symptoms, including pain, anxiety, inflammation and nausea.

Although previous population studies have shown that men are more likely to use cannabis recreationally, women were found to increase their consumption since qualifying for medical cannabis and as a result have ’reduced or completely discontinued’ any prescribed medications they were taking.

The study came about following interviews with medical cannabis patients about how they use cannabis, either as a complementary or alternative treatment or to reduce prescription medication altogether.

“This was a correlational, cross-sectional study, in which we were looking at potential correlates of the discontinuation of prescription medication and female gender appeared to be one of them,” lead author and associate professor in health sciences at DePaul University Dr Douglas Bruce told Cannabis Health.

“We didn’t go into the study thinking that men and women were using cannabis differently, but women seem to be adopting medical cannabis in a way that parallels with how women are more likely to access alternative and complementary treatments, such as yoga, guided meditation or acupuncture.

The women in the study also reported ‘marginally lower levels’ of support from their primary care provider, and ‘significantly less support’ from specialist physicians than the men, which researchers believe could point to why women are more likely to look for other options.

“The study suggests interesting patterns and maps onto findings of other studies which weren’t looking at medical cannabis specifically, but alternative complementary therapy trends,” continued Dr Bruce.

“I’ve worked in public health for many years and there are feminist theories which would argue that men are less likely to seek out healthcare than women, and that women may be more likely to seek out alternatives due to less satisfaction with the medical care they receive.”

He added: “There are gendered patterns in terms of medical care utilisation and diagnoses that feed into women seeking out alternatives and being less bound by conventions regarding going to the doctor.”

The majority of women in the study reported fibromyalgia [a condition which is said to affect around seven times as many women as men] as their chief qualifying condition for medical cannabis, while in men the most common conditions were PTSD, spinal cord injury and cancer.

“We controlled for fibromyalgia, given that around 80 percent of those with fibromyalgia sufferers in the study were women, but the parameters of the final model remained the same, with the key differences being gender, the amount of support from a provider and whether the patient was treating multiple symptoms,” explained Dr Bruce.

A paper Dr Bruce and his team published earlier this year found that those with multiple symptoms were more likely to report experiencing some benefit from medical cannabis.

“Medical cannabis seems to infer the successful mitigation of a range of symptoms that may reinforce one another,” he said of the findings.

“Those who were treating multiple symptoms were more likely to rate cannabis as efficacious, which suggests some benefit in people using cannabis products instead of different classes of prescription medications to treat their individual symptoms, which is typically how they are prescribed.”

The report concludes that more ‘patient-centered studies’ on medical cannabis are needed to ‘understand differences in dosing, outcomes, beliefs, attitudes, formulations, pharmacology, and metabolism between men and women’.

“There’s a whole pharmacological universe that may be gendered, particularly in terms of how men and women metabolise these products,” added Dr Bruce.

“Medical cannabis is a real patient-driven phenomenon and one of my aims in conducting this kind of patient-centred research is that physicians will start to learn from their patients.

“More open communication within the medical practice will benefit both the patients and the provider.”

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Community extends support to cannabis icon Rick Simpson

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Medical cannabis legend Rick Simpson has appealed to his supporters for financial help after suffering a stroke in 2018.

Cannabis campaigners, advocates and patients, whose lives have been changed by Rick Simpson oil (RSO) are being urged to return the favour, as the man behind it has revealed he is facing huge medical bills.

Over the last 15 years Rick Simpson has become a household name for many of those who have experienced the benefits of medical cannabis.

A former engineer from Canada, Rick ‘rediscovered’ the benefits of the cannabis plant in 2004 and published his findings and recipe online.

He has since become one of the best-known and loudest cannabis activists in the world, hailed for growing the plant in his own garden and giving it away for free to those who could benefit from it.

It is thought that his work helped paved the way for regulation and legalisation of medical and recreational cannabis in several countries, including his home of Canada.

Now Rick has revealed that he suffered a stroke in May 2018 which left him paralysed, with doctors doubting that he would ever walk again.

He has spent the last two and a half years out of the limelight, focusing on his recovery with his wife Danijela, but now his family has admitted that the couple are facing ‘immense financial challenges’.

A Go Fund Me page has been launched with a target of $160,000 to help cover Rick’s medical expenses.

In a statement on the fundraising page, a family spokesperson said: “After years of advocating for people’s rights to heal themselves using natural remedies, more specifically cannabis oil today widely known as RSO – Rick Simpson Oil, which a great number of people around the world are using to either cure or help regulate many different health conditions, and after writing two books on the subject, giving countless interviews and lectures, Rick is now in need of some kindness from all of you who are willing and able to help.”

His supporters from across the world have urged people to help the man who has helped so many.

Prominent Irish campaigner Vera Twomey, whose daughter Ava uses cannabis oil to treat severe epilepsy, commented: “Our dear friend rick simpson has been a mainstay in the world of cannabis for decades the measure of his knowledge and willingness to help people all over the world about cannabis has resulted in saving lives on every continent.

“We are deeply indebted to this wonderful man and now we hope that we can support him in a small way in his recovery from illness. He deserves nothing but the best for his concern and actions for people worldwide.”

Meanwhile Canadian, Sheriann Baker, who claims RSO saved her life when she was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in 2017, issued a moving message for him.

“Rick, I pray you return to full health soon,” she said.

“You have helped and inspired so many of us around the world and you gave us hope when some of us had none. You gave us the strength and the education to fight and I know I will forever be grateful to you for that.

“Please know the cannabis community around the world is praying for you.”

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CBD has no adverse effects on health – study

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A landmark study has shown that long-term exposure to CBD does not appear to have any adverse effects on health.

The study, which is the first of its kind to examine the toxicity and long-term effects of CBD, has found that it did not demonstrate ‘any degree of acute or life-long toxicity’.

Instead, CBD actually extended the average lifespan and increased activity in later life.

The research was conducted by Spectrum Therapeutics, the medical division of Ontario cannabis company, Canopy Growth Corporation, as part of a commitment to provide the data which is needed to support and influence public policy.

These findings could be instrumental in changing public attitudes and improving access to CBD for patients who use it to help manage a range of symptoms including anxiety and pain.

The study evaluated the solubility, stability, acute toxicity, thermotolerance, and effects on lifespan of CBD in what is thought to be the first long-term toxicity and lifespan research regarding the effects of chronic exposure to cannabidiol.

Acute and long-term exposure studies of CBD at physiologically relevant concentrations were studied in the worm model Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans), which is recognised as a valid model for this kind of research on the basis that 60-80 percent of their genes are shared with humans and their short lifespan of two-three weeks makes such studies feasible.

Researchers found that CBD did not demonstrate any degree of acute or life-long toxicity or related liabilities at physiological concentrations.

Instead, it extended the average lifespan up to 18 percent and increased late-stage life activity by up to 206 percent when compared to the untreated controls within the study.

While further research into the life-long use of CBD should be carried out in mammalian models, this study indicates a lack of long-term toxicity at physiologically relevant concentrations.

“Despite widespread use of CBD, no life-long toxicity studies had been conducted to date to determine the impact – or potential impact – of long-term exposure to CBD,” said Hunter Land, senior director of translational and discovery science at Canopy Growth, said:

“These results serve as the only CBD life-long exposure data in an in vivo model to date, and the absence of long-term toxicity gives us the evidence we need as an industry to continue researching the potential health benefits for the broader application of CBD.”

The study is published in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research journal and available online.

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