Medical cannabis ban ‘bizarre and cruel’

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Media captionCharlotte Caldwell said the medication ordeal had been ‘horrific and cruel’

A senior MP leading an all-party group looking at medical cannabis has called the existing laws “bizarre and cruel”.

Sir Mike Penning MP has called for “fundamental reform” of the system.

“Medical cannabis is a health issue, not a misuse of drugs issue,” Sir Mike said in a statement. “It’s about patients and relieving suffering.”

It follows the home secretary’s decision to grant 12-year-old Billy Caldwell temporary access to cannabis oil medication to treat his epilepsy.

Mr Penning, who is the proposed chairman of the new All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Medical Cannabis Under Prescription, said: “It’s bizarre and cruel that we have a system that allows the medical use of strong opiates, but bars the medical use of cannabis.

“The current structures within government on this issue are not fit for purpose. We need to move this from criminal justice to health.”

He said he supported reclassifying cannabis under the law so it would be regarded as having a medicinal use.

Last Monday officials at Heathrow airport confiscated Billy’s cannabis oil, which his mother Charlotte uses to treat his severe epileptic seizures.

She had been attempting to bring a supply into the UK from Canada.

Ms Caldwell says her son’s seizures dramatically reduce when he takes the oil, which contains a substance called Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that is illegal in the UK.

Following the confiscation, Billy was admitted to hospital in London after his seizures “intensified”.

His condition led to Home Secretary Sajid Javid later approving the return of some of the cannabis oil, after doctors made clear it was a medical emergency.

Image caption Billy was admitted to Chelsea and Westminster hospital in London on Friday

The Home Office has granted a limited licence for the drug to be administered to the child in hospital for 20 days.

Billy’s case has prompted a renewed debate on the legislation surrounding medical cannabis.

Sir Mike said many more families needed “urgent” access to medical cannabis, adding that the medical use of cannabis was “totally separate from recreational use”.

Does cannabis have medicinal benefits?

CBD and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are two types of cannabinoids found naturally in the resin of the marijuana plant.

A cannabis-based drug called Sativex has been licensed in the UK to treat MS. It contains THC and CBD.

Doctors could, in theory, prescribe it for other things outside of this licence, but at their own risk.

MS patients prescribed Sativex, who resupply it to other people, also face prosecution.

Another licensed treatment is Nabilone. It contains an artificial version of THC and can be given to cancer patients to help relieve nausea during chemotherapy.

Source: NHS Choices

Sir Mike is one of a growing number of MPs from all parties who support the reform of the laws regarding the medicinal use of cannabis and cannabis products.

Fellow Conservative Crispin Blunt MP, co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on drug policy reform, said the existing law was “frankly absurd”.

Ex-Tory health minister Dan Poulter said the current situation was “ridiculous” and pledged to push for a change in the law.

Former drugs minister Norman Baker, a Liberal Democrat, has described the confiscation as “cruel and inhumane”, and renewed calls for a law change citing cannabis’s “useful medical properties”.

But UCL’s Dr Michael Bloomfield said the use of medical marijuana is “far from straightforward”. He said in some jurisdictions the drug’s use for medical conditions is “a potential way of decriminalising cannabis through the back door”.

Many other countries, including much of the US, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, have legalised the substance’s use medicinally.

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How Cannabis Cuisine Is Shedding Its Stigma And Going Mainstream

At one point in cannabis culture history, mastering the art of baking the perfect weed brownie was considered a rite of passage, but those days are long gone.

Thanks to the development of medical marijuana programs and the decriminalization and legalization of recreational cannabis in multiple states, the THC-infused world of eats has evolved far beyond brownies, cookies and admittedly impressive dispensary snacks and moved into the culinary space.

Cannabis cuisine had been gaining popularity among casual consumers and connoisseurs alike, but now it’s being welcomed into the mainstream as never before.

When Martha Stewart gets in on the action, you know it’s gone mainstream.

Media and entertainment have been pushing the narrative of marijuana normalcy into the homes of more conventional audiences with shows like Vice’s “Bong Appetit” and VH1’s “Snoop and Martha’s Potluck Dinner Party.” Chefs around the country are embracing cannabis and elevating the lowly edible to the same sensory realm as high-end cuisine by curating pop-up dinners, supper clubs and private events where cannabis can shine.

Cat Cora, the first female “Iron Chef” and an advocate for cannabis who recently graced the cover of Cannabis Now Magazine, is speaking out about infusing foods with marijuana. 

“I’m learning a lot about usage, dosage, things like that,” she told the magazine in April. “I’m a big proponent for olive oil. I’m Greek, obviously, but the Mediterranean diet as we know it is the healthiest diet on the planet. So [I’m adding cannabis olive oil to] anything that I can infuse.”

For example, she said she’s put cannabis olive oil in vinaigrette for salads. “I have so many amazing ideas and a lot of things that I really want to apply it to,” she added. “I want to create products around cannabis with the right partner and the right situation.”

It’s gaining respect at the top culinary levels.

This shift from stoner snacks to foodies and fine dining puts the focus not only on the buzz the plant creates when consumed but on its flavor profile and pairing capabilities, just like any other herb or even wine. 

Andrea Drummer is the co-owner of a Los Angeles culinary cannabis events company, Elevation VIP Cooperative. As a classically trained chef, the Cordon Bleu graduate gives cannabis the gourmet treatment in dishes that reveal her ingenuity and creativity. Take, for example, her cannabis-infused bread pudding soufflé, which she brulées, or her Southern take on stuffed grape leaves made instead with collard greens filled with cannabis-infused spicy dirty rice, which she served at a private Spotify dinner event.

Drummer’s skills have earned her a spot on “Cooking on High,” the first cannabis cooking competition show that features chefs from around the country. The show debuted on Netflix this month.

While that’s exciting, Drummer said she sees even bigger things on the horizon.

“Bringing cannabis into the culinary conversation is important because it allows people to open their minds to something they may have been against because they haven’t understood its potential,” she said. “With more people becoming educated about it, I think cannabis cooking will evolve to the place where we will see things like restaurants and cafes at some point.”

But the law is keeping cannabis out of restaurants.

For now, you won’t find restaurants that offer full-service cannabis dining even in states like California or Colorado.

The reason is legality.

Because cannabis is still a Schedule I substance under federal law, states that have legalized recreational marijuana are only offering licenses and permits that allow chefs to serve cannabis-infused food in private settings. (Just a reminder to know your local laws.)

To allow people who don’t live in states where private events are hosted to get a taste of what’s going on, some chefs are passing on their kitchen secrets to home cooks. 

One of them is Coreen Carroll, chef and co-founder of a cannabis-infused pop-up event in San Francisco called the Cannaisseur Series. Her upcoming cookbook, Edibles, is designed to accompany both newbies and virtuosos in what she calls the modern cannabis kitchen.

Others like Drummer, Laurie Wolf, Jessica Catalano and even Bob Marley’s daughter Cedella Marley are helping people at home learn to incorporate cannabis into their cooking. Their instructional guides not only share recipes but explain the basics of cannabis strains and dosing to help cooks control the type of experience they create with their food.

Gadgets can make it easier to cook with cannabis at home.

Home cooks are also being brought into the fold with herbal infusion appliances that take the confusion, legwork and need for constant supervision out of making the perfectly infused product.

Companies have been introducing countertop devices that make the infusion process as easy as brewing coffee or tea and allow home cooks to flavor a dish with cannabis the same as oregano, rosemary or thyme. With appliances like the LEVOand the MagicalButter, cooks can infuse butter or oil with cannabis by just adding their ingredients and pressing a button.

Shanel Lindsay, the founder and president of Ardent, has created a smart device that helps activate the THC in cannabis. The process ― called decarboxylation ― involves heating cannabis up to a certain temperature to release the THC and make it more available for the body to absorb upon consumption.

A stove or toaster oven will also do this, but Lindsay contends her device provides greater precision and temperature control in order to preserve the flavor profile and potency of the cannabis. With the device, cooks can decarboxylate their choice of flower, concentrate or kief in just a little over an hour.

“It’s really a one-button solution to being able to make just about any cannabis-infused product you want,” Lindsay said. “The sky is the limit.”

What’s next for cannabis cuisine in the U.S.

So what can we look forward to? Amsterdam-style coffee shops with infused goodies on the menu? Cannabis restaurants open to the public? An instructional cooking show on a major network? A culinary cannabis school on par with Le Cordon Bleu? Perhaps.

Until then, the future of cannabis cuisine rests on the shoulders of the chefs and home cooks whose skill and dedication should continue to strip away the stigma that masks the herb’s versatility.

“I think it’s really important to offer people a new way of thinking about and approaching cannabis,” Lindsay said. “The industry is very fast-moving and it’s important that mainstream culture reflects this shift in how people are viewing cannabis and all of its possibilities.”

Cannabis cuisine awaits the final cutting of the regulatory red tape before it can move into full bloom. But the seeds have definitely been planted.

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Tesla workers speak out: ‘Anything pro-union is shut down really fast’

Elon Musk has said he is neutral about a union but former employees blame their firing on their efforts to organize while current workers say a culture of fear persists

For two years Dezzimond Vaughn was a well-regarded worker at the Tesla factory in Lathrop, California. Then he became involved in trying to organize a union and suddenly his job was on the line.

They started changing rules without any remorse, Vaughn, a 31-year-old former Tesla computer-numeric-controlled (CNC) heavy machinery operator, told the Guardian. He cited a strict attendance policy Tesla implemented and backdated that deducted points from employees every time they clocked in late or were absent. We started talking about forming a union, because they wouldnt be able to do the things theyre doing, and they somehow found out I was having meetings at my house.

Vaughn claims management began to try to push him out of employment once they found out he was helping to lead unionization efforts. Throughout my last year, we kept bumping heads. I never stopped working, they never had a problem with me as far as the work, but I had a lot of complaints about me. My supervisor said they were trying to fire me.

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In October 2017, Vaughn received a phone call at home that he was being fired by Tesla due to two poor employee performance reviews in a row. He provided his separation agreement with Tesla, which cited failure to meet performance expectations as the sole reason for termination. Vaughn said his review scores were changed afterward to warrant his job termination, while the positive comments from his supervisor in the review remained.

Vaughn provided a copy of his employee file and his last two employee reviews. In the reviews, his supervisor calls Vaughn an employee who does whats right for the company as a whole and can always be counted on by team members to both show up (attendance) and get the job done, yet his review scores are low rated. In previous employee reviews (January to June 2016, June 2015 to December 2015, and January 2015 to June 2015) before management discovered his role in unionization efforts, Vaughn received high scores, which resulted in promotions.

The supervisor who conducted Vaughns last two performance reviews (July to December 2016 and January to June 2017), Tarus Starks, confirmed the review scores were lowered by upper management. When Dezz came to work under me, his performance was super positive, Starks said. I was about to train him for back-up lead.

At Tesla, we strive to be a fair and just company, the only kind worth being. Performance reviews result in promotions and occasionally in employee departures, said a Tesla spokesperson in an email. No one at Tesla has ever or will ever have any action taken against them based on their feelings on unionization.

The spokesperson said: Its worth remembering that each year, roughly 20,000 ULPs [unfair labor practice complaints] are filed with the NLRB [National Labor Relations Board] by unions like the UAW [United Auto Workers union] as an organizing tactic.

This handout photo made available by Tesla Motors on 3 July 2017 shows workers at the Fremont factory in California, in 2012. Photograph: Handout Handout/EPA

Tesla and its billionaire owner, Elon Musk, have earned a reputation for union-busting efforts over the past few years. In February 2017, Musk accused a factory worker who outlined several issues within Tesla in a Medium blogpost of being a union plant. In an email, Musk also promised workers free frozen yogurt in a letter to employees that framed unionization efforts as an effort against Tesla by big car companies. The same month, Tesla employee Michael Sanchez alleged he was asked to leave the Tesla factory by security for handing out pro-union flyers outside to fellow employees.

The NLRB filed a complaint currently on trial over Musks alleged promise to workers in a June 2017 meeting to fix safety standard concerns if they refrained from efforts to form a union. Several similar charges against Tesla are currently under consideration by the NLRB, including one alleging surveillance and intimidation against workers attempting to form a union.

Complaints from workers over being fired for engaging in efforts to unionize at Tesla have become common. I was a union supporter. I wore a union shirt almost every day to work and my supervisor at the time asked me why I wore it, said Jim Owen, who left the Tesla factory in Fremont, California, in March 2018 due to concerns for his safety after a robot almost severely injured him while working on car hoods. He told me upper management wouldnt appreciate me wearing it.

Mark Vasquez, worked at Tesla from 2014 until he was placed on a medical leave of absence in July 2016 after spending several months on light duty after he permanently injured his back on the job. Talking to other workers about unionizing was really frowned upon, he told me. When some of my supervisors heard me talking to other employees about it, they would come over and shut down the conversation.

One current Tesla employee, who asked to remain anonymous, was placed on medical leave after sustaining a work injury in July 2016. They are refusing to allow me to return to work, the worker said. For a brief period of time, when the movement was gaining traction, pro-union employees were given promotions to lessen their demands. It did not work, so they moved to removing pro-union employees. I am one of them that they do not want back, but I absolutely will be fighting for a union even harder if I am allowed to return to work.

A Tesla spokesperson noted the company could not share personal medical information or any details of medical leave on employees who still have pending cases with workers compensation.

In August 2017 Crystal Guardado was fired from Tesla as she began participating in union organizing and speaking up about the unsafe working conditions. Some of my most vivid memories are asking questions about the union to colleagues and being told to shut up or Id get fired, Guardado said. She started working at Tesla in April 2017 and began speaking up after she hurt her eyes from chemicals used on door handles and was told by a doctor it was due to allergies. They retaliated against me, I believe, because I was speaking up about my safety and the conditions in the factory.

A Tesla spokesperson said Guardado was fired for failing the companys substance abuse and testing policy, but Guardado argued she has possessed a medical marijuana card in California for the past five years due to panic anxiety issues and her efforts to provide human resources with the documentation leading up to the test were ignored.

Elon Musk allegedly promised to address safety concerns if workers refrained from forming a union. Photograph: Kiichiro Sato/AP

Interviews with current Tesla employees suggest these alleged union busting and intimidation tactics are still being implemented by middle and upper management at Tesla factories.

Elon Musk says hes neutral toward the union, another employee added. However, Theyve been anything but neutral. Anything union or pro-union is shut down really fast.

Another current employee in a Tesla factory who asked to remain anonymous expressed similar sentiments. Pro-union people are generally fired for made-up reasons. Theres a culture of fear because if you dont comply, you will be fired, the employee told me. We are told Tesla would go bankrupt if we unionize because we are not a profitable company yet. He added that management quickly finds reasons to fire employees who tout their efforts to form a union and those who are fired are pushed to sign non-disclosure agreements before receiving their last paycheck.

Despite the complaints expressed by current Tesla workers, they remain committed to pushing the company to allow workers to unionize and improve working conditions.

Why should I go somewhere else when we can make this place a good place to work and the product is an awesome product? added one of the current Tesla employees I spoke with. Im proud of that fact its changing the world but it shouldnt start on the broken backs of workers.

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Oklahoma voters approve medical marijuana despite opposition

Oklahoma voters on Tuesday backed the medicinal use of marijuana, overcoming a late opposition campaign from law enforcement and business, faith and political leaders.

State Question 788 , the result of an activist-led signature drive launched more than two years ago, makes it legal to grow, sell and use marijuana for medicinal purposes. The proposed law outlines no qualifying conditions, which would allow physicians to authorize its use for a broad range of ailments — a fact that sparked bitter opposition, particularly from law enforcement.

Under the proposed law, a two-year medical marijuana license would allow someone to possess up to 8 ounces of marijuana, six mature plants and six seedlings, along with edibles and concentrated forms of the drug.

Gov. Mary Fallin said she feared the proposal would essentially legalize recreational pot and said if it passed she would likely call on lawmakers to return for a special session to set up a regulatory framework for medicinal pot.

Oklahoma’s is the first marijuana question on a state ballot in 2018, with elections scheduled for later this year in Michigan and Utah. Voters in neighboring Arkansas legalized the drug for medical use in 2016, but Oklahoma is among the most conservative states to approve its use.

In Oklahoma City, Robert Pemberton, 58, said he supported the measure because he believed it’s been beneficial in other states that have legalized medical marijuana.

“They’ve got excess money, and we need that, especially for our teachers,” Pemberton said. “I think we need the revenue from it. I think we need the money. Our state’s in trouble financially and I think it would really help.”

A group called SQ 788 is Not Medical launched a late $500,000 media blitz that painted the proposal as a plan to legalize recreational use of the drug under the guise of medical care.

“This is a bad public health policy that does not resemble a legitimate medical treatment program,” said Dr. Kevin Taubman, former president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association and chairman of the opposition group.

Connie Givens, 67, said she voted against the measure because she believes it’s written too broadly and could permit recreational use of the drug.

“I think it’s not written right. I think it’s just so people can get marijuana,” said Givens, a Republican in Oklahoma City.

Although Oklahoma has a reputation for being a conservative state, attitudes have shifted sharply on marijuana in recent decades, especially among young people, said Bill Shapard, a pollster who has surveyed Oklahomans on the issue for more than five years.

“I’ve found almost half of all Republicans support it, so that’s going to take an awful lot of money and an awful lot of organized opposition for this to lose on Election Day,” Shapard said.

Oklahoma’s tough-on-crime ideology also has come at a cost, with the state’s skyrocketing prison population consuming a larger share of the state’s limited funding. In 2016, voters approved a state question to make any drug possession crime a misdemeanor, despite opposition to that proposal from law enforcement and prosecutors.


Associated Press writer Tim Talley contributed to this report from Oklahoma City.


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We spoke with a medical professional to clear up some misconceptions about cannabis

Image: mashable/vicky leta

Forget Shark Week, it’s Bark Week on Mashable. Join us as we celebrate all the good dogs, which we humans do not deserve.

BarkShopBarkBox’s sister company — known for its offering of eclectic and whimsical toys and treats for dogs, has been quietly breaking into a new market: wellness. 

BarkShop became the first online retail retailer to sell CBD products to dogs in March. Since then, its CBD products have been flying off of its virtual shelves. Pet trends closely mirror human trends, according to Nielsen, which could explain the popularity of BarkShop’s CBD line. 

CBD (or cannabidiol) oils and tinctures have become increasingly popular with people to aid in the reduction of pain and anxiety, and now similar CBD products are being crafted for our canine companions. 

BarkShop’s CBD treats range in price from $20 (for smaller breeds) to $140 (for bigger breeds).

Image: Barkshop

For those unfamiliar: CBD for these types of products is derived from hemp plants. It’s holistic healing powers boast the ability to remedy aches, pains, nausea, and eradicate anxiety in dogs, according to VETCBD. CBD does not contain THC — the chemical compound in cannabis that gets you stoned. Exposure to cannabis can have some negative effects on dogs depending on how much they ingest, so you definitely shouldn’t give your pups weed, people. They live the best lives, they don’t need to get stoned. 

BarkShop started selling dog supplements last year — carrying everything from multivitamins to dental hygiene treats — according to BarkShop GM Melissa Seligmann. In January they made the decision to develop CBD offerings for their customers. 

BarkShop’s CBD extracts range in price from $23 (for 100 mg of CBD) to $80 (for 500mg of CBD).

Image: barkshop

Bark, BarkShop’s parent company, was excited about pushing its wellness market further with the inclusion of CBD products but questioned how the new products would be received. BarkShop’s line of CBD products completely sold out in a day.

“We sold out of all our initial inventory that we bought for a two-month run on day one, and we’ve had a hard time keeping it [CBD supplies] in stock,” Seligmann said. 

BarkShop’s CBD extracts have already sold out five times since the launch and as a result, Bark has enlisted new distribution partners to keep up with customer demands. 

The reviews for the BarkShop’s treats and oils are varied, but on average these wellness items seem to be having a positive impact on the pooches taking them — or at least their owners are convinced. 

A number of reviews on BarkShop have praised the products for calming dogs during thunderstorms and making dogs near the end of their life a little more comfortable. A small pool of reviewers however said that they didn’t see much of an improvement or effect of CBD on their pets.

“I bought this hoping that it will calm my dog down,” wrote reviewer Tina D. about her Small Breed Chicken CBD Biscuits purchase. “He gets really aggressive with our two other dogs everyday. It’s been a week since I started to give him this but nothing seem to change! This stuff is pretty expensive so I was hoping to see at least a little change but nothing yet!!”

Another reviewer wrote that she had purchased the CBD Extract, 100 mg CBD after reading amazing things about CBD, but was “bummed” when it didn’t do anything for her dog’s anxiety.

All of the products have an average rating of four to five stars (on a five star rating system). BarkShop’s CBD Extract, 500 mg, Small Breed Peanut Butter & Banana CBD Biscuits, and Large Breed Blueberry & Cranberry CBD Biscuits are currently top-rated CBD products on the site.

BARK’s decision to product CBD products was inspired by its founders interest in providing their pets with CBD products, according to Seligmann.

Image: BARKSHop

“We’re really seeing our wellness category grow,” Seligmann said. “It’s already grown 100 percent within the four months that we’ve had it live.”

Bark is currently focused on continuing their exploration of the dog wellness space, looking out for “the new frontier and finding new opportunities,” according to Seligmann. 

As wellness and pet markets continue to flourish and intertwine, it’s easy to see why companies would want to capitalize on owners increased interest in their pup’s wellness. But, how can we know for sure if CBD is the best way to treat our dog’s ailments?

If you’re looking for a study or to find out whether or not CBD for pets is nothing more than snake oil, you’re out of luck. Research on CBD’s effect on dogs — or pets of any kind — is sorely lacking. Marijuana’s classification as a schedule 1 drug, and CBD’s gray legal standing make it difficult to conduct clinical studies, according to The Cannabist.

Veterinarians have been lobbying since last year to be granted access to marijuana and hemp in order to conduct research that would better elucidate its effect on pets, and have only recently received some funding to do so. 

In states like Colorado where cannabis has been legalized for recreational use, clinical studies and research are just underway. Colorado State University’s Dr. Stephanie McGrath has begun studying CBD’s effect on dogs, thanks to $356,022 from the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation. She recently embarked on a study to research CBD’s effect on dog’s with seizures — early data from the study has been “promising” thus far, according to McGrath. 

McGrath told the Cannabist that the absence of qualified or peer-reviewed studies on the effect of CBD products on pets makes her uncomfortable.

“Looking at it from a scientific standpoint and as a doctor, I felt really uncomfortable with the products being offered,” McGrath said.

McGrath’s concerns are definitely valid. Despite the abundance of people singing the praises of CBD, its effects and benefits are still widely unknown. CBD is thought to be harmless for your pets, but its probably best to seek out the advice of vet before passing any CBD products along to your pooch.

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Marijuana legalization could help offset opioid epidemic, studies find

(CNN)Experts have proposed using medical marijuana to help Americans struggling with opioid addiction. Now, two studies suggest that there is merit to that strategy.

Watch Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s CNN Special Report “Weed 4: Pot vs. Pills” on Sunday, April 29, at 8 p.m. ET.
The studies, published Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, compared opioid prescription patterns in states that have enacted medical cannabis laws with those that have not. One of the studies looked at opioid prescriptions covered by Medicare Part D between 2010 and 2015, while the other looked at opioid prescriptions covered by Medicaid between 2011 and 2016.
The researchers found that states that allow the use of cannabis for medical purposes had 2.21 million fewer daily doses of opioids prescribed per year under Medicare Part D, compared with those states without medical cannabis laws. Opioid prescriptions under Medicaid also dropped by 5.88% in states with medical cannabis laws compared with states without such laws, according to the studies.
    “This study adds one more brick in the wall in the argument that cannabis clearly has medical applications,” said David Bradford, professor of public administration and policy at the University of Georgia and a lead author of the Medicare study.
    “And for pain patients in particular, our work adds to the argument that cannabis can be effective.”
    Medicare Part D, the optional prescription drug benefit plan for those enrolled in Medicare, covers more than 42 million Americans, including those 65 or older. Medicaid provides health coverage to more than 73 million low-income individuals in the US, according to the program’s website.
    “Medicare and Medicaid publishes this data, and we’re free to use it, and anyone who’s interested can download the data,” Bradford said. “But that means that we don’t know what’s going on with the privately insured and the uninsured population, and for that, I’m afraid the data sets are proprietary and expensive.”

    ‘This crisis is very real’

    The new research comes as the United States remains entangled in the worst opioid epidemic the world has ever seen. Opioid overdose has risen dramatically over the past 15 years and has been implicated in over 500,000 deaths since 2000 — more than the number of Americans killed in World War II.
    “As somebody who treats patients with opioid use disorders, this crisis is very real. These patients die every day, and it’s quite shocking in many ways,” said Dr. Kevin Hill, an addiction psychiatrist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who was not involved in the new studies.
    “We have had overuse of certain prescription opioids over the years, and it’s certainly contributed to the opioid crisis that we’re feeling,” he added. “I don’t think that’s the only reason, but certainly, it was too easy at many points to get prescriptions for opioids.”
    Today, more than 90 Americans a day die from opioid overdose, resulting in more than 42,000 deaths per year, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Opioid overdose recently overtook vehicular accidents and shooting deaths as the most common cause of accidental death in the United States, the CDC says.
    Like opioids, marijuana has been shown to be effective in treating chronic pain as well as other conditions such as seizures, multiple sclerosis and certain mental disorders, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Research suggests that the cannabinoid and opioid receptor systems rely on common signaling pathways in the brain, including the dopamine reward system that is central to drug tolerance, dependence and addiction.
    “All drugs of abuse operate using some shared pathways. For example, cannabinoid receptors and opioid receptors coincidentally happen to be located very close by in many places in the brain,” Hill said. “So it stands to reason that a medication that affects one system might affect the other.”
    But unlike opioids, marijuana has little addiction potential, and virtually no deaths from marijuana overdose have been reported in the United States, according to Bradford.
    “No one has ever died of cannabis, so it has many safety advantages over opiates,” Bradford said. “And to the extent that we’re trying to manage the opiate crisis, cannabis is a potential tool.”

    Comparing states with and without medical marijuana laws

    In order to evaluate whether medical marijuana could function as an effective and safe alternative to opioids, the two teams of researchers looked at whether opioid prescriptions were lower in states that had active medical cannabis laws and whether those states that enacted these laws during the study period saw reductions in opioid prescriptions.
    Both teams, in fact, did find that opioid prescriptions were significantly lower in states that had enacted medical cannabis laws. The team that looked at Medicaid patients also found that the four states that switched from medical use only to recreational use — Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington — saw further reductions in opioid prescriptions, according to Hefei Wen, assistant professor of health management and policy at the University of Kentucky and a lead author on the Medicaid study.
    “We saw a 9% or 10% reduction (in opioid prescriptions) in Colorado and Oregon,” Wen said. “And in Alaska and Washington, the magnitude was a little bit smaller but still significant.”
    The first state in the United States to legalize marijuana for medicinal use was California, in 1996. Since then, 29 states and the District of Columbia have approved some form of legalized cannabis. All of these states include chronic pain — either directly or indirectly — in the list of approved medical conditions for marijuana use, according to Bradford.
    The details of the medical cannabis laws were found to have a significant impact on opioid prescription patterns, the researchers found. States that permitted recreational use, for example, saw an additional 6.38% reduction in opioid prescriptions under Medicaid compared with those states that permitted marijuana only for medical use, according to Wen.
    The method of procurement also had a significant impact on opioid prescription patterns. States that permitted medical dispensaries — regulated shops that people can visit to purchase cannabis products — had 3.742 million fewer opioid prescriptions filled per year under Medicare Part D, while those that allowed only home cultivation had 1.792 million fewer opioid prescriptions per year.
    “We found that there was about a 14.5% reduction in any opiate use when dispensaries were turned on — and that was statistically significant — and about a 7% reduction in any opiate use when home cultivation only was turned on,” Bradford said. “So dispensaries are much more powerful in terms of shifting people away from the use of opiates.”
    The impact of these laws also differed based on the class of opioid prescribed. Specifically, states with medical cannabis laws saw 20.7% fewer morphine prescriptions and 17.4% fewer hydrocodone prescriptions compared with states that did not have these laws, according to Bradford.
    Fentanyl prescriptions under Medicare Part D also dropped by 8.5% in states that had enacted medical cannabis laws, though the difference was not statistically significant, Bradford said. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, like heroin, that can be prescribed legally by physicians. It is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, and even a small amount can be fatal, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
    “I know that many people, including the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, are skeptical of cannabis,” Bradford said. “But, you know, the attorney general needs to be terrified of fentanyl.”

    ‘A call to action’

    This is not the first time researchers have found a link between marijuana legalization and decreased opioid use. A 2014 study showed that states with medical cannabis laws had 24.8% fewer opioid overdose deaths between 1999 and 2010. A study in 2017 also found that the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado in 2012 reversed the state’s upward trend in opioid-related deaths.
    “There is a growing body of scientific literature suggesting that legal access to marijuana can reduce the use of opioids as well as opioid-related overdose deaths,” said Melissa Moore, New York deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “In states with medical marijuana laws, we have already seen decreased admissions for opioid-related treatment and dramatically reduced rates of opioid overdoses.”
    Some skeptics, though, argue that marijuana legalization could actually worsen the opioid epidemic. Another 2017 study, for example, showed a positive association between illicit cannabis use and opioid use disorders in the United States. But there may be an important difference between illicit cannabis use and legalized cannabis use, according to Hill.
    “As we have all of these states implementing these policies, it’s imperative that we do more research,” Hill said. “We need to study the effects of these policies, and we really haven’t done it to the degree that we should.”
    The two recent studies looked only at patients enrolled in Medicaid and Medicare Part D, meaning the results may not be generalizable to the entire US population.

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    But both Hill and Moore agree that as more states debate the merits of legalizing marijuana in the coming months and years, more research will be needed to create consistency between cannabis science and cannabis policy.
    “There is a great deal of movement in the Northeast, with New Hampshire and New Jersey being well-positioned to legalize adult use,” Moore said. “I believe there are also ballot measures to legalize marijuana in Arizona, Florida, Missouri, Nebraska and South Dakota as well that voters will decide on in Fall 2018.”
    Hill called the new research “a call to action” and added, “we should be studying these policies. But unfortunately, the policies have far outpaced the science at this point.”

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    NFL player makes medical marijuana history: ‘I have a life to live’

    (CNN)NFL running back Mike James calls it his medicine for pain management, but league officials call it a banned substance. Now, James’ athletic career is hanging in limbo because he chose pot over pills.

    In 2013, James was prescribed opioid painkillers after injuring his left ankle in a Monday night football game. Within weeks, he developed a dangerous dependency on the drugs.
    To get off of the opioids, he turned to medical marijuana for his pain.
      Suddenly, “my pain subsided,” James told CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta in an exclusive interview in the documentary “Weed 4: Pot vs. Pills,” which aired Sunday night.
      “I never had something where I could be coherent and still have pain relief,” he said.
      He turned to the sport that both he and his mother loved to help overcome his grief. “For him to be all right and mentally deal with this, he was going to lean on football,” said his wife, Aubrey James.
      Three years later, James was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. As a Bleacher Report headline put it, James proved that he had the talent to enjoy a “promising future” with the Buccaneers, but then he injured his ankle, and his life changed.
      Doctors prescribed a cocktail of opiates to deal with the pain, a common prescription among professional athletes for sports-related injuries.
      A study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence in 2011 found that more than half — 52% — of former NFL players reported using opioids during their career, and 71% of those players reported misusing opioids.
      The prevalence of current opioid use among those players was 7%, according to that study: about three times the rate of use among the general population. The study included 644 retired players who answered questions in a telephone survey about their opioid use.
      James never worried about developing an opioid addiction, “because I was getting them from a doctor,” he said, but Aubrey worried.
      Within weeks of his injury, James joined the about 2.5 million Americans who struggle with opioid use disorder.
      In an effort to help him stop using pills, his wife suggested that James use pot to treat his pain.
      James, a 27-year-old father of two, knew that he needed to stop using opioids whenever he thought about “the notion that I would do what my father did to me, to my boys,” he said. His sons are 4 and 1.
      He remained skeptical, however, about using marijuana to make that change.
      “I thought, ‘Weed? No, that’s a street drug.’ I didn’t even want to hear what it had to offer,” he said, but after more convincing, he finally tried marijuana in February 2014, and it helped him get off the opioids.
      “I felt like I was beginning a new life,” he said.
      Yet since cannabis is banned in the NFL and James was unsure how he could get more, he said, he didn’t use it again until last year.

        Goodell addresses NFL ban on marijuana use

      Then, in August, James took a drug test as part of the NFL’s routine testing program. In October, he learned that the test was positive for marijuana, leading to his filing of the therapeutic use exemption for cannabis.
      “This is the first active player who’s been willing to put their professional career on the line, to openly admit that they not only have been using this cannabis but need it to function at the highest level,” said Dr. Sue Sisley, an Arizona-based physician who is a board member of the nonprofit Doctors for Cannabis Regulation and has been helping James with his exemption application.
      “Mike’s case is such a perfect example of why cannabis needs to be made available, because he’s really not a candidate for opioids,” she said. “So this is a safe alternative for him.”

      ‘I’m not ashamed of it. … I have a life to live’

      Twenty-nine states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico have approved some form of legalized cannabis. The first state in the US to legalize marijuana for medicinal use was California, in 1996.
      As it turns out, 69% of Americans say they approve of a professional athlete using marijuana for pain, and 67% saythat using a doctor’s prescription for an opioid is a greater health risk than using a doctor’s prescription for marijuana, according to a Yahoo News/Marist Poll released last year.
      The stance of the NFL remains somewhat unclear, and the league did not respond to a request for comment.
      In 2016, the NFL Players Association formed a committee to investigate all pain management options for players, including cannabis.
      “Our job is to find the best medical science to support your therapeutic use exemption,” DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, told Gupta.
      As for James’ case, “what I would say to him and every NFL player: Our job is to figure out, how do we build the best medical support for the best treatment for you?” Smith said.

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      James never would have guessed that he would make history due to a therapeutic use exemption, but if, 30 years from now, his biography states “medicinal marijuana advocate,” he would be fine with that.
      “I’m not ashamed of it,” James said. “I’m not embarrassed about it. It is something that I will continue to use, because I have a life to live.”

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      Canada to legalize marijuana after landmark senate vote

      Canada has decided to legalize marijuana for recreational use after a bill was passed by its senate on Tuesday.

      America’s northern neighbor will become the first G-7 industrialized nation and only the second in the world to have a legal nationwide cannabis market after the 52 to 29 vote.

      Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hopes that legalizing the drug will have a positive effect overall.

      “It’s been too easy for our kids to get marijuana—and for criminals to reap the profits,” Trudeau said on Twitter.

      The only other country to legalize the cultivation, distribution and consumption of cannabis is Uruguay, where the government has aimed to take that business model away from criminals. In Canada, medical marijuana was already legal.

      “We have seen in the Senate tonight a historic vote that ends 90 years of prohibition of cannabis in this country, 90 years of needless criminalization, 90 years of a just-say-no approach to drugs that hasn’t worked,” independent Sen. Tony Dean, who sponsored the bill in the upper house, told the Associated Press. 

      A final date will be decided by mid-September, so that retail sales could begin before the end of this year.

      In the U.S., recreational marijuana is legal in 9 states and for medicinal purposes in 29 states.

      International drug treaties, which explicitly ban legalizing marijuana, technically prohibit Canada—and the U.S.—from taking these steps, reports Vox.


      CBC reports that several amendments were stripped from the final bill, including one that would have banned the sale of branded “swag” by pot companies and another that would have created a public registry of investors in cannabis companies to dissuade criminal gangs from trying to gain a foothold in the market with offshore tax havens. 

      Canada’s vote came on the same day that former Conservative leader Lord Hague suggested the United Kingdom should also legalize cannabis.

      A man makes a cannabis cigarette in the image above.  (Reuters)

      Writing in the Daily Telegraph, he said the U.K.’s drug policy is “inappropriate, ineffective and utterly out of date” and that the “battle is effectively over.”

      Downing Street doesn’t seem receptive to the idea.

      “In terms of decriminalizing cannabis there are no plans in that respect,” Theresa May’s spokesman told the Guardian in response to Hague’s article. “The evidence is very clear that cannabis can cause serious harm when it is misused.” 

      The Associated Press contributed to this report.

      Christopher Carbone is a reporter for He can be reached at or on Twitter @christocarbone.

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      A marijuana-based medicine has been approved by the FDA. It’s a sign of hope.

      The FDA has just approved the first marijuana-based medicine in America.

      The medication, called Epidiolex, is a form of cannabidiol (CBD) and has been approved for patients ages 2 and older to treat two types of rare epilepsy: Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome.  The medication is not only the first of its kind, it’s also the first FDA-approved treatment for Dravet syndrome.

      For many years, marijuana has been seen only as an illicit drug. But that’s changing.

      Not all substances derived from marijuana are created equal. Most people are familiar (some intimately so) with tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — the psychoactive chemical that provides the “high” that the plant is best known for. CBD, however, doesn’t create those same effects, allowing people to reap the benefits without having to slow down their day-to-day lives.

      Research has shown that CBD oil has been particularly helpful for those who experience epileptic seizures — reducing symptoms by 40% in clinical trials.

      Outside of these trials, there’s also evidence that CBD can be effective in treating pain, anxiety, and, according to recent reports, even some of the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder. A study, funded by the National Institutes of Health is underway to determine whether CBD can help those living with post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition, marijuana has been shown to be effective in treating the pain and nausea associated with chemotherapy. And new evidence suggests that it can be a powerful tool when combating the opioid crisis.

      In order to develop the best treatments, society’s views of marijuana need to evolve.

      All of this research is still very new and more must be done. Scientific breakthroughs, however, are hampered by the fact that marijuana remains classified as a Schedule I substance by the government — meaning that it’s considered to have no medical use and a high potential for abuse. Those factors make getting treatment near-impossible for those who aren’t living in states where it’s been legalized. Some families have even had to consider moving in order to get their children treatment that’s been called life-saving.

      It’s already understood that marijuana has medical benefits, but its legal status and the stigma that this status engenders have gotten in the way of both research and safety.

      The FDA’s approval of Epidiolex is the first step to changing that, starting with removing CBD from the list of Schedule I substances. And the FDA is prepared to support “rigorous scientific research” that shows evidence of marijuana’s benefits. For those living with illnesses that marijuana can mitigate, that’s an important sign of hope.

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      Marijuana shops recommend products to pregnant women, against doctors’ warnings

      (CNN)A majority of cannabis dispensaries in Colorado recommended their products to women posing as pregnant customers with morning sickness, clashing with doctors’ warnings about the potential harms, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.

      Of 400 randomly selected dispensaries in Colorado, about seven in 10 recommended cannabis products as a treatment for morning sickness. Nearly two-thirds of the employees who answered these calls based these recommendations on “personal opinion,” and more than a third said cannabis was safe during pregnancy. Roughly 32% of employees recommended the caller talk to a health care provider without the caller having to bring it up herself.
      “I was really surprised,” said study author Dr. Torri Metz, a high-risk obstetrician at Denver Health in Colorado, where marijuana was legalized in 2012. “I did not expect dispensaries to be recommending cannabis products to pregnant women.”
        Metz said women seek information on cannabis use during pregnancy from a variety of sources beyond their doctors — including the internet, friends and family.
        “Women are hesitant to disclose any kind of drug use in pregnancy to their health care providers for fear of potential legal ramifications or involvement by social services,” she said.
        Experts worry that some of these women may seek advice from cannabis retailers, expecting that they have specialized knowledge on the drug’s safety during pregnancy.
        In the study, medical dispensaries were more likely to recommend cannabis products than retail dispensaries: About 83% and 60% did so, respectively. The authors note that the employees they spoke to may not reflect the official policy of a given dispensary.
        Dr. Katrina Mark, an OB-GYN who was not involved in the research, wrote in an email that the term “medical dispensary” is a “misnomer.”
        “They are only licensed to dispense to people who have medical marijuana cards,” said Mark, an assistant professor in the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences. “This does not mean that they are staffed by people that have any sort of medical education.”

        Doctors’ orders

        Doctors caution that the health effects of cannabis on a fetus remain unclear but could include low birth weight and developmental problems, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
        In animal studies, the active ingredient THC has been shown to cross the placenta, and researchers have suggested that it could cause “irreversible, subtle dysfunctions in the offspring.”
        Still, experts say the science is still in progress, and human studies are primarily observational: “It is unethical to purposely expose women and their unborn babies to marijuana during pregnancy to study outcomes,” Mark said.
        “Marijuana in pregnancy is … not as black and white as something like alcohol,” she added.
        Though some dispensary employees did not make a recommendation in Metz’s study, some claimed that eating versus smoking cannabis products could make their products safer. Others recommended that the women not broach the subject with their doctors.
        “Google it first. Then if you feel apprehensive about it, you could ask,” one employee told a researcher who posed as a pregnant customer.
        “Maybe you have a progressive doctor that will not lie to you. All the studies done back in the day were just propaganda,” another employee said.
        “It was hard to hear that, being a health care provider,” Metz said of employees’ unproven safety claims and recommendations that women not ask their doctors about it.
        Metz and her colleagues wrote that there are no regulations in Colorado surrounding what recommendations and advice dispensaries can give to customers. Cannabis products in the state are, however, required to be labeled as follows: “There may be additional health risks associated with the consumption of this product for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning on becoming pregnant.”
        The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that “women who are pregnant or contemplating pregnancy should be encouraged to discontinue marijuana use” and “to discontinue use of marijuana for medicinal purposes in favor of an alternative therapy.”
        Additionally, “there are insufficient data to evaluate the effects of marijuana use on infants during lactation and breastfeeding, and in the absence of such data, marijuana use is discouraged,” according to the recommendations.
        The journal in which the new study appeared is the official publication of the organization.
        Metz said she hopes this study will “engage the cannabis industry … in really coming together in terms of what the reasonable message should be providing to pregnant women.”
        “I think that the majority of women are really trying to do the right thing for their pregnancy and for their baby,” she added. “I just think we need to get that information to their hands.”

        Overstepping boundaries

        Prior research has suggested a rise in pregnant women using pot — sometimes to ease the nausea of morning sickness or heightened anxiety. The highest increase may be among women 24 and younger, according to a study of pregnant women in California in December.
        There are conventional medications for morning sickness that are considered safe for pregnancy, such as vitamin B6 and doxylamine, an antihistamine sold under brands like Unisom. For some women, eating small, frequent meals and staying hydrated can help, Mark said.

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        “My impression is that some women have a certain level of skepticism when it comes to the health care system,” she said, and that some might be “leery of taking ‘pharmaceuticals’ during pregnancy but view marijuana as a more ‘natural’ option.”
        “Legalization does not equate to safety, particularly in pregnancy,” she said. “I actually think that the fact that dispensaries are providing any recommendations for treatment of medical conditions is very much overstepping appropriate boundaries.”

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