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Top Cannabis Science Headlines: May Roundup

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I don’t know about you, but whenever I’m about to embark on something new and exciting, a lot of my brain capacity is spent on managing my own expectations. I may be divulging too much of my own psyche here, but I’m a pretty risk-averse person and this means I am constantly analyzing the many outcomes of any situation. Besides making me a fantastic holiday planner (head to “And Finally…” for some tips if you’re starting to plan your own summer vacay), this approach has also given me a natural skepticism of the many claims made by cannabis products and advocates alike. And I think (hope) this lends a healthy balance to our coverage.  

In her opinion piece for Rolling Stone, Sara Payan discussed the importance of managing expectations in cannabis. Her main point: “We need to make sure we’re not saying that cannabis is a panacea, a cure-all that everybody can use or a product that promises a special effect that will feel the same to everybody.” And I couldn’t agree more. Far from wanting to dampen the rally cries of cannabis advocates and pro-legalization campaigns, Payan argues that this approach will strengthen the pro-cannabis argument by ensuring the industry never has a “Tylenol moment.” In other words, by managing expectations through education, we ensure that the industry doesn’t lose its credibility. 

As Payan states, “It’s all about balance.” And balance is a key theme in our latest piece on cannabis and PTSD in veterans. Despite the many claims that cannabis can help alleviate PTSD symptoms, the evidence is far from clear-cut. To look at the issue a little closer, researchers at the University of California studied cannabis use among 608 US military veterans with subthreshold or threshold PTSD and found some evidence of psychiatric and functioning difficulties. Read the full story to find out more

I hope you have a great week – but remember, nothing in this life is guaranteed. 

Kicking Chronic Kidney Conditions to the Curb

Wanting to explore the effect of cannabis on kidney disease, researchers from the University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa, examined its impact on oxidative stress in kidney (Vero) cell lines. Vero cells were treated with different extracts from cannabis leaves, before being incubated with iron(II) sulfate to induce oxidative stress. They found that cells previously treated with cannabis extract were able to reverse the effects of iron-mediated oxidative renal injury. The results suggest the protective effect of cannabis could be attributed to its ability to mitigate oxidative stress, improve cholinergic and purinergic activities, while modulating glucose metabolism. However, the authors also hint at the need for further in vivo and clinical studies to better understand the molecular mechanisms behind this effect. 

Police Prejudice and Marijuana Misuse

In a first-of-its kind study, researchers examined the association between cannabis use and both direct (as a victim or witnessing in person) and indirect (seen in media) exposure to racism-based police use-of-force among Black emerging adults. Though the authors did not appear to draw any conclusions about the link between cannabis use and direct exposure in men, they did conclude that male participants having experienced indirect exposure to racism-based police violence reported more cannabis use. For female participants, no link was found. The authors noted that it is difficult to make directional inferences from these results, as participants who report more cannabis use may also come into contact with police more frequently.

The Invisible Threat

After an unexpected outbreak of e-cigarette or vape-associated lung injury (EVALI) in 2019 linked to vitamin E acetate (VEA), a group of researchers decided to explore the chemical composition of VEA and THC oil under different scenarios of use. Observing THC oil, pure VEA and an equal mixture of both at various temperatures, they found that degradation of THC, VEA and terpenes occurred through radical oxidation and direct thermal decomposition pathways. THC oil also had a stronger tendency to aerosolize, with the addition of VEA having complex effects on aerosolization efficiency, and increasing the formation of toxic carbonyls, including formaldehyde, glyoxal, 4- methylpentanal, methacrolein, and diacetyl. The authors highlighted the need for future research to examine individual chemical components for a better understanding of aerosol composition of vaping cannabis extracts and their mixtures with diluents.

The Key to Acne?

Given that current acne therapies, such as antibiotics and retinoids, can have unwanted side-effects, there’s a great deal of merit in looking at new treatment options – could CBD be the answer? Well, in a recent review, researchers summarized the evidence for the effectiveness of CBD as an acne treatment. Multiple studies demonstrated that CBD has anti-inflammatory effects and subsequently reduced cytokine production through modulation of the immune system. Hemp seed extracts were also found to protect cells from overproduction of inflammatory radicals and nitric oxides, supporting the use of hemp-derived treatments as potential anti-inflammatory therapies. The authors supported the use of CBD to reduce inflammation but called for large-scale human studies to fully understand the impact of CBD on acne at a clinical level, and explore different delivery methods.

Breath and Blood

The use of blood ∆9-THC levels as a marker of impairment (for example, in drivers) has been met with controversy. Previous studies have found mixed results, with many failing to reliably establish the link between THC blood concentration and impairment. To delve into the issue further, researchers from the Cancer Immunotherapy Research Institute, Roseville, US, investigated THC blood concentration, THC concentration in exhaled breath, and impairment. The results showed that even after a 12 hour abstinence period and in the absence of any impairment, the majority of the test subject group had THC blood concentrations exceeding the legal limits currently in place in five US states. They also found that post-smoking duration of impairment appeared to be inversely correlated to baseline THC blood concentrations. Although this seems counterintuitive, this inverse relationship is consistent with what would be expected from chronic cannabis users who have developed a high degree of tolerance to the impairing effects of THC. The authors highlighted that a single measurement of THC blood concentration and a single measurement of exhaled breath are not enough to establish cannabis impairment. 

Importantly, they suggest that cannabigerol, cannabichromene, and tetrahydrocannabivarin – which were all detected in breath only during the impairment window – may be the key to reliably measuring impairment. 

What else is going on?

Research + Medicine

THC appears to improve metabolic activity of cardiomyocytes and decreases cell damage, showing cardioprotective function at pre-treatment level. Link

Unintentional cannabis exposure in children aged 6 months to 5 years increased significantly after the initial US COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. Link

Smoking cannabis joints may be effective treatment for fatigue. Link 

Cannabis use found to be most prevalent in women with both ADHD and substance use disorders, suggesting the need for women-specific treatment programs. Link

CBD appears to enhance social interaction preference in mice – hinting at CBD use in autism. Link

Cannabis consumption does not decrease opioid use in patients undergoing primary unilateral joint replacement. Link

Plant Science + Genetics

Analysis of 16 fiber and non-fiber hemp genotypes reveals that fiber yield, tensile strength, color, and moisture retention vary significantly. Link

Testing + Processing

Chemometric-based classification model enables accurate classification of medicinal cannabis cultivars based on both cannabinoid and terpene profiles; 11 potential bio-indicators also identified. Link 

Deep eutectic solvents show promise in phytocannabinoid extraction, offering a better alternative to hazardous organic solvents. Link

Fast and reliable liquid chromatography–tandem mass spectrometry method simultaneously measures phytocannabinoids, endocannabinoids, and N-acylethanolamines in serum. Link 

Business + Regulation 

Consumer Brands Association, together with major companies, such as Kellogs and Pepsi, urge congress to protect consumers and crack down on cannabis copycats by updating legislation. Link 

American Banking Association, 50 state banking associations, and house of representatives push senate for SAFE banking act. Link 1, 2.  

Biden pardons and commutes 78 people with non-violent drug charges as part of “Second Chance Month.” Link 

After releasing list of approved CBD products, the UK’s Food Standards Agency has extended deadline for companies to submit food safety applications amidst complaints. Link 

Franchise Global Health establishes Europe’s first cannabis seedbank in Copenhagen, Denmark. Link 

“Very concerned” US FDA issues warning letters to five companies selling delta-8 THC products. Link 

With confusion over different US state cannabis regulations, cannabis testing causes trucker shortage. Link 

London Drugs Commission to look into current cannabis laws and legalization in the UK. Link

CBD stalemate? According to Congress, lack of CBD regulation is causing confusion, but US FDA head says broader regulatory powers from Congress are needed to regulate CBD. Link 

First-ever export of Israeli medical cannabis seeds has left for US. Link

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About the Authors
Lauren Robertson

By the time I finished my degree in Microbiology I had come to one conclusion – I did not want to work in a lab. Instead, I decided to move to the south of Spain to teach English. After two brilliant years, I realized that I missed science, and what I really enjoyed was communicating scientific ideas – whether that be to four-year-olds or mature professionals. On returning to England I landed a role in science writing and found it combined my passions perfectly. Now at Texere, I get to hone these skills every day by writing about the latest research in an exciting, creative way.

Margot Lespade

Margot Lespade, Associate Editor, The Cannabis Scientist

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