From research into insomnia, to the impact of early cannabis usage on mental health, here are some recently published studies that should be on your radar.
Historically, cannabis has been an under-researched field, for the most part, thanks to its status as an illegal substance.
However, as legalisation becomes more commonplace across the world, scientists are finally being given the freedom to study the effects of the plant and its potential usage for treating a wide range of conditions.
Here’s five signifiant cannabis studies from the past two months.
Cannabis consumers report “significant improvements” to insomnia symptoms
Cannabis is a popular choice for self-treating insomnia with anecdotal evidence showing that CBD and THC may improve sleep. The research backing these claims is still lacking but a retrospective cohort study published in April this year, has confirmed that cannabis-derived products could help those suffering from the condition.
The Canadian study concluded that individuals with depression, anxiety or both who use cannabis for insomnia noticed “significant” improvements after consuming the drug.
The study, published in the journal BMC Psychiatry, analysed data from a cohort of 677 individuals with a total of 8,476 recorded sessions. The results found that cannabis was perceived to be effective in managing anxiety/depression-related insomnia across all groups, irrespective of age and gender.
The study also looked at which types of cannabis were more efficacious, finding that indica-dominant, indica hybrid and sativa-dominant strains were more effective for depression than CBD-dominant strains. For anxiety and co-morbid conditions, the research team found little difference between strains.
“The current study highlights the need for placebo-controlled trials investigating symptom improvement and the safety of cannabinoids for sleep in individuals with mood and anxiety disorders,” the researchers concluded.
First study of its kind finds that cannabis may help tackle fatigue
A study led by scientists at the University of New Mexico found that over 90 per cent of subjects experienced less fatigue after consuming cannabis. The study, published in the journal Medical Cannabis and Cannabinoids, is the first to look at the effect of commercially available cannabis flower on feelings of fatigue.
Over a period of three years, approximately 1,200 people recorded just under 4,000 sessions in which they self-administered cannabis flower. The results found that 91.94 per cent of subjects reported improvements in their fatigue with an average intensity reduction of 3.48 points on a 0–10 scale.
A minority of users reported negative side effects that impacted their fatigue, such as lack of motivation and ‘couch-lock’, but more users experienced positive effects that helped increase their energy levels.
The researchers concluded in the paper’s abstract that “the magnitude of the effect and extent of side effects experienced likely vary with individuals’ metabolic states and the synergistic chemotypic properties of the plant.
Cannabis use linked with increased risk of heart disease – but soy beans might help
A study on mice led by researchers at Stanford University has shown that THC – the psychoactive compound found in cannabis – causes inflammation in cells that line the blood vessels and thickening of the arteries (atherosclerosis).
Although the researchers found that THC has a “significantly adverse effect on the cardiovascular system”, the study also showed that the inflammation and atherosclerosis could be “blocked” by a small molecule found naturally in soy and fava beans.
“As more states legalise the recreational use of marijuana, users need to be aware that it could have cardiovascular side effects,” said Joseph Wu, MD, PhD, professor of cardiovascular medicine and of radiology, and the director of the Stanford Cardiovascular Institute.
“But genistein works quite well to mitigate marijuana-induced damage of the endothelial vessels without blocking the effects marijuana has on the central nervous system, and it could be a way for medical marijuana users to protect themselves from a cardiovascular standpoint.”
Two-thirds of Canadian MS patients have used cannabis
A Canadian survey of 344 individuals suffering from multiple sclerosis found that 64.5 per cent reported having used medical cannabis at least once, while just over half reported still using it to treat their condition. Cannabis was mostly used for sleep disorders, pain and spasticity.
While there is increasing interest in cannabis use for multiple sclerosis, the research to back anecdotal evidence lags behind. The authors of the study noted that more research is needed to determine its potential as an official therapy for MS.
The authors said in the study’s conclusion: “Users reported that cannabis is moderately to highly effective in treating several symptoms and that adverse effects are not generally severe, nor are they the main factor driving medical cannabis cessation. Our results support the need for more research examining medical cannabis use in MS and for evidence-based resources to be publicly available for those exploring it as a potential therapy.”
Study finds association between frequency of cannabis and delusional experiences
A study published last week (3 May) linked frequent use of cannabis with delusional experiences. These include persecutory delusions – which occurs when someone believes others are out to harm them – and thought broadcasting, a condition in which people believe that people around them can hear or know their thoughts.
The same study – published in Scientific Reports – found that age of cannabis use initiation was negatively related to visual hallucinatory experiences and irritability, implying that these experiences become more likely the earlier use is initiated.
Earlier initiation, but not lifetime frequency of cannabis use, was related to early risk factors.
The authors said: “We provide a valuable starting point for further investigation of the complex relationships between cannabis use patterns and specific symptoms.”
How THC and CBD work together in the brain – new study
New findings on how CBD and THC – the psychoactive compound in cannabis – affect the brain when administered together, could help to develop new cannabinoid therapeutics, scientists say.
A study has investigated the impact on the brain of CBD and THC, both as separate entities and when co-administered.
Researchers at University College London (UCL) analysed data from previous studies, including one which used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) technology to measure brain activity in participants taking CBD and THC.
For the first time, they explored the response of the striatum region of the brain – a major part of the motor and reward systems. This is a critical component of numerous aspects of cognition, including motor and action planning, decision-making and motivation.
One study compared inhaled cannabis containing 8 mg THC, 8 mg THC + 10 mg CBD and a placebo. It showed strong disruptive effects of both THC and THC + CBD on connectivity in the associative and sensorimotor networks.
However it also identified a “specific effect of THC” in the limbic striatum network which was not present in the THC + CBD condition.
In a second study, testing oral 600 mg CBD versus placebo, CBD increased connectivity in the associative network, but produced only relatively minor disruptions in the limbic and sensorimotor networks.
The study concludes that THC “strongly disrupts striato-cortical networks” but that this effect is mitigated by the co-administration of CBD.
It states: “Oral CBD administered has a more complex effect profile of relative increases and decreases in connectivity.
“The insula [part of the brain implemented in diverse functions including emotions and self-awareness] emerges as a key region affected by cannabinoid-induced changes in functional connectivity, with potential implications for understanding cannabis-related disorders, and the development of cannabinoid therapeutics.”
This is the first report in human subjects of data from THC, THC + CBD and CBD use achieved “using a unified set of analysis methods, and with all comparisons performed in a placebo-controlled, double-blind design”.
Read the full report here.
Five new cannabis studies to have on your radar
The latest scientific papers exploring cannabis and its impact on health and society.
Get up to date with the latest cannabis-related research from across the globe.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen papers published around inaccurate labelling, the effects of cannabis on Covid-19, the impact of legalisation in Uruguay and how cannabis users might require more sedation during medical procedures.
Read on for five significant studies to dive into.
Lower Covid-19 severity among cannabis users
The researchers aimed to assess whether current cannabis users hospitalised for Covid-19 had different outcomes compared to non-users through a retrospective analysis of 1,831 patients admitted to UCLA Medical Centre in California.
Analysis of the data found that cannabis users had significantly better outcomes compared to non-users, shorter hospitalisation, lower ICU admission rates and less need for mechanical ventilation.
Interestingly, the researchers also found that active users had lower levels of inflammatory markers upon admission than non-users.
The authors of the study concluded: “This retrospective cohort study suggests that active marijuana users hospitalised with COVID-19 had better clinical outcomes compared with non-users. However, our results need to be interpreted with caution given the limitations of a retrospective analysis.
“Prospective and observational studies will better help elucidate the effects of marijuana use in COVID-19 patients.”
Cannabis users require more sedation for endoscopy
According to new research, patients who use cannabis required higher levels of sedation during gastric endoscopies than non-users.
As cannabis is legalised in more places and usage continues to rise, researchers in Canada said clinicians should be aware of patients’ cannabis consumption and prepare themselves for increased sedation and the risks that come with it.
The authors of the study conducted a prospective cohort study of 419 adult outpatients undergoing endoscopic procedures at three Canadian centres. Procedures were conducted under conscious sedation, which leaves the patient relaxed and comfortable but partially conscious during the procedure.
Cannabis use was associated with increased odds of requiring higher total sedation during gastroscopy, an endoscopic procedure that begins with the insertion of a tube and camera through the throat.
Legalisation not associated with increased cannabis use among young people
A recent study from researchers in Uruguay found that the use of cannabis following legalisation decreased among teenagers.
Uruguay was the first country in the world to legalise and regulate recreational cannabis. Since legalising the drug in 2016, the country is now regarded as a pioneer, paving the way for other countries like Canada, Mexico and Malta.
Using data from cross-sectional surveys of secondary students in Uruguay and Chile, the study evaluated changes in the prevalence of past-year, past-month and any risky and frequent cannabis use following the enactment and implementation of cannabis legalisation
“The legalisation of recreational cannabis in Uruguay was not associated with overall increases in either past-year/past-month cannabis use or with multi-year changes in any risky and frequent cannabis use among young people,” the authors stated in the paper’s abstract.
Current cannabis labelling system “doesn’t tell you much”
Labels like indica, sativa and hybrid—commonly used to distinguish one category of cannabis from another—tell consumers little about what’s in their product and could be confusing or misleading, suggests a new study of nearly 90,000 samples across six states in America.
Published on 19 May in the journal PLOS One, the research constitutes the largest analysis to date of the chemical composition of cannabis products.
It finds that commercial labels “do not consistently align with the observed chemical diversity” of the product. The authors are now calling for a “weed labelling system” akin to the Food and Drug Administration’s “nutrition facts panel” for food.
“Our findings suggest that the prevailing labelling system is not an effective or safe way to provide information about these products,” said co-author Brian Keegan, an assistant professor of Information Science at CU Boulder.
“This is a real challenge for an industry that is trying to professionalise itself.”
Cannabis dependence treatment is effective in tackling common co-morbidities
Earlier this month, Australian researchers released a paper looking into the effectiveness of cannabis dependency treatment on common co-morbidities, including mood, sleep and pain problems.
The researchers found that the treatment helped decrease anxiety, stress and sleep disturbance among the cohort of 128 cannabis-dependent participants.
The analysis used data from a 12-week double-blind placebo-controlled trial testing the effectiveness of the cannabis-based medicine nabiximols against placebo in reducing illicit cannabis use.
The researchers found that there was “no evidence” that nabiximols treatment is a barrier to reducing co-morbid symptoms. In fact, they found that the treatment reduced illicit cannabis use and improved comorbidity symptoms, even when participants were not able to achieve abstinence.
Research finds cannabis consumers may require more sedation
Consumers required higher levels of sedation during endoscopic procedures than non-users
Experts have highlighted the need for doctors to be more aware of their patients cannabis use, as research suggests consumers may require higher levels of sedation.
As cannabis is legalised in more places and usage continues to rise, researchers in Canada said clinicians should be aware of patients’ cannabis consumption, and prepare themselves for increased sedation and the risks that come with it.
It comes as a new study has associated cannabinoid use with increased odds of requiring higher total sedation during gastric endoscopies – a procedure that begins with the insertion of a tube and camera through the throat – than non-users.
The authors of the study conducted a prospective cohort study of 419 adult outpatients undergoing endoscopic procedures at three Canadian centres.
Procedures were conducted under conscious sedation, which leaves the patient relaxed and comfortable but partially conscious during the procedure.
“Patients didn’t have increased awareness or discomfort during procedures, but they did require more drugs,” said Yasmin Nasser, MD, PhD, lead researcher on the study and assistant professor at Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases at the University of Calgary.
Each patient completed two questionnaires, one before the procedure about their cannabis use and another afterwards, indicating their awareness and comfort level during the procedure. The questionnaires were analysed along with details about the use of the sedatives midazolam, fentanyl and diphenhydramine during the procedure.
Cannabis use was associated with increased odds of requiring higher total sedation—defined as more than 5 mg of midazolam, or more than 100 mcg of fentanyl, or the need for diphenhydramine.
Interestingly, cannabis use was not associated with higher use of sedation during colonoscopy. Researchers said this could be because gastroscopy generally requires more sedation than colonoscopy due to the irritation caused in the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract.
Cannabinoid use was not independently associated with fentanyl use or adverse events, nor was it associated with intra-procedural awareness or discomfort, the authors found.
This study looked at whether patients were users or non-users of cannabis, but did not examine the timing, quantity or route of cannabis intake prior to the procedure. Researchers say these variables could be the basis for future studies.
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