Despite limited evidence, Americans have an increasingly positive view
of the health benefits of marijuana. Nearly two-thirds believe pot can
reduce pain, while close to half say it improves symptoms of anxiety,
depression, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis, according to a new
online survey of 9,003 adults.
Pennsylvania and New Jersey are among the 30 states, along with the
District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico, that have legalized
medical marijuana. But scientists say hard data on the health effects
of pot -- both positive and negative -- are largely missing. Because
marijuana is considered an illicit drug by the federal government,
research has been scant, though there are efforts underway in
Pennsylvania and nationally to remedy that.
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In 2012, Washington State voted to legalize marijuana. By 2014, the
world's first system for legally growing, processing and retailing
cannabis was operating.
As Canada prepares to go live with pot sales in a few months, what can
we learn from four years of practical, hands-on experience in the
western United States?
The first take-away is that all the fretting about the impact on
children and teens is largely unwarranted.
Before legalization, 17 per cent of Grade 10 students in Washington
State said they had smoked pot in the previous month. Four years of
legal doobies later, 17 per cent of Grade 10 students say they have
smoked pot in the previous month.
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After the death of her father, a prominent hotel owner in Seattle,
Ella Henderson started taking morphine to ease her grief. She was 33
years old, educated and intelligent, and she frequented the upper
reaches of Seattle society. But her "thirst for morphine" soon
"dragged her down to the verge of debauchery," according to a
newspaper article in 1877 titled "A Beautiful Opium Eater." After
years of addiction, she died of an overdose.
In researching opium addiction in late-19th-century America, I've come
across countless stories like Henderson's. What is striking is how,
aside from some Victorian-era moralizing, they feel so familiar to a
21st-century reader: Henderson developed an addiction at a vulnerable
point in her life, found doctors who enabled it and then
self-destructed. She was just one of thousands of Americans who lost
their lives to addiction between the 1870s and the 1920s.
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Running back Mike James hurts all over. He experiences chronic pain
every day, a natural byproduct of his chosen profession. Still, he's
not yet ready to walk away from his NFL career, and says he knows the
key to continuing: marijuana.
James, an NFL free agent, applied for a marijuana therapeutic-use
exemption (TUE) from the league this offseason, which he hoped would
allow him to treat his pain without fear of violating the league's
substance-abuse policy. The league denied his request last week, which
James said jeopardizes his ability to sign with a team and continue
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Amid budding efforts to research the medical benefits of marijuana, a
simple problem has emerged -- how do you research marijuana if no one
can produce it under federal law?
Despite a solution proposed in mid-2016, which allowed the Drug
Enforcement Administration to approve marijuana manufacturers, only
the University of Mississippi has been approved, despite dozens of
applications to do so. And there's no sign the DEA intends to approve
others anytime soon.
Advocates seem to blame one person for the delays: Attorney General
Jeff Sessions. Ian Prior, spokesman for the Department of Justice,
declined to comment on the issue.
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Pennsylvania is gearing up to become a global center for cannabis
research. Yet for more than a decade, Philadelphia has been on the
forefront of investigations into the medicinal uses of marijuana.
Sara Jane Ward has built a reputation exploring marijuana's effects on
pain and addiction using animals at Temple University's Lewis Katz
School of Medicine.
Ward and her colleague Ronald Tuma, a professor of physiology and
neurosurgery, lead a team of 10 researchers at Temple's Center for
Substance Abuse in North Philadelphia.
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Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse,
was in Boston on Thursday to speak at a symposium sponsored by Boston
University's Clinical and Translational Science Institute and Boston
Medical Center's Grayken Center for Addiction. Before her talk, she
sat down with the Globe to talk about marijuana legalization and the
opioid crisis. Here are edited excerpts:
* Dispensaries that sell legal marijuana will soon open in
Massachusetts. What are your thoughts on pot legalization?
The greatest mortality from drugs comes from legal drugs. The moment
you make a drug legal, you're going to increase the number of people
who get exposed to it, and therefore you increase the negative
consequences from its use. When you legalize, you create an industry
whose purpose is to make money selling those drugs. And how do you
sell it? Mostly by enticing people to take them and entice them to
take high quantities.
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A cloud of smoke hung over Cal Expo Friday afternoon as thousands
gathered for the High Times Cannabis Cup, the first permitted event in
California to allow recreational use of marijuana.
Organizers expected upwards of 15,000 people over the course of the
two-day festival, which boasts musical performances from acclaimed
artists, including Lauryn Hill, Lil Wayne, Gucci Mane, Rich The Kid,
Cypress Hill, Rick Ross and Ludacris.
The event was at risk of becoming a music-only festival until the
Sacramento City Council approved a license for on-site consumption and
sales in a 6-2 vote Tuesday. Weeks earlier, a similar High Times event
had its permit denied by the San Bernardino City Council just before
it was scheduled to take place.
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A group of Louisiana parents of children with severe autism had cause
for celebration Wednesday (May 2) as a bill (HB 627) that expands
medical marijuana as a treatment option for the condition cleared
another hurdle through the legislature.
It was one of two medical marijuana medicals aimed at expanding the
patient base in Louisiana that passed through the Senate Health and
Welfare committee. The other bill (HB 579) authored by Rep. Ted James,
D-Baton Rouge, adds glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic
pain and Parkinson's Disease to the roster of conditions already
approved for treatment with medical marijuana. Both bills will head to
the Senate for a full vote.
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Louisiana's nine future medical marijuana dispensaries have been
selected. The two grow sites, managed by LSU and Southern University,
are preparing to start growing and processing the drug by next
February at the latest.
Legislators have been focused on the issue, too. Two bills are making
their way through the Legislature that would potentially expand the
number of medical marijuana patients.
But after all these preparations are made, will there be doctors for
medical marijuana patients to go to?
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By the time Ann Marie Owen turned to marijuana to treat her pain, she
was struggling to walk and talk. She also hallucinated.
For four years, her doctor prescribed the 61-year-old a wide range of
opioids for her transverse myelitis, a debilitating disease that
caused pain, muscle weakness and paralysis.
The drugs not only failed to ease her symptoms, they hooked her.
When her home state of New York legalized marijuana for the treatment
of select medical ailments, Owens decided it was time to swap pills
for pot. But her doctors refused to help.
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Florida regulators have done far too little to make voter-approved
medical marijuana widely available for patients suffering from chronic
illnesses. A circuit court judge in Tallahassee ruled last week there
is a price for that obstruction, finding that in the absence of state
regulations, Tampa's Joe Redner is legally entitled to grow his own
pot for medical use. The ruling applies only to Redner, who has lung
cancer. But it's a victory for medical marijuana patients and their
advocates who should not have to wait for a stubborn bureaucracy to
get access to medical care that the Florida Constitution allows.
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SAN DIEGO - Support for drugs like Suboxone, Vivitrol and methadone
was one of the rallying cries at the annual American Society for
Addiction Medicine conference this week in California.
Broadly known as medication-assisted treatments, the drugs are
sometimes-controversial tools for battling the growing opioid
epidemic. Though they work in different ways, all three can be taken
long-term to reduce the chance of relapse into drug use.
"It's not a matter of ideology," said ASAM president Dr. Kelly Clark.
"It's a matter of the facts show a person's risk of dying is higher
when they don't take medication."
[continues 546 words]
The Medical Board of Ohio this week approved certificates for
physicians to recommend medical marijuana, another step toward the
legal sale of medicinal pot in the state.
Of the three dozen doctors approved to issue recommendations for
medical marijuana, only two are in the Toledo-area, although more can
be certified later. Dr. Ryan Lakin, medical director for Omni Medical
Services, is based out of Toledo. Dr. Mark Neumann is based out of
Patients can't be prescribed medical marijuana because it's illegal
under federal law, so doctors must recommend its use.
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SALT LAKE CITY -- The push for legalized marijuana has moved into Utah
and Oklahoma, two of the most conservative states in the country,
further underscoring how quickly feelings about marijuana are changing
in the United States.
If the two measures pass, Utah and Oklahoma will join 30 other states
that have legalized some form of medical marijuana, according to the
pro-pot National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana laws. Nine
of those states and Washington, D.C. also have broad legalization
where adults 21 and older can use pot for any reason. Michigan could
become the 10th state with its ballot initiative this year.
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By the time Thomas Hodorowski made the connection between his
marijuana habit and the bouts of pain and vomiting that left him
incapacitated every few weeks, he had been to the emergency room
dozens of times, tried anti-nausea drugs, anti-anxiety medications and
antidepressants, endured an upper endoscopy procedure and two
colonoscopies, seen a psychiatrist and had his appendix and
The only way to get relief for the nausea and pain was to take a hot
He often stayed in the shower for hours at a time. When the hot water
ran out, "the pain was unbearable, like somebody was wringing my
stomach out like a washcloth," said Hodorowski, 28, a production and
shipping assistant who lives outside Chicago.
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A Louisiana House committee voted Thursday (April 5) in favor of a
proposal to expand the use of medical marijuana to treat people with
chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder and glaucoma. The bill
cleared committee with an 8-4 vote.
HB 579, sponsored by Rep. Edward James, D-Baton Rouge, met some debate
before the vote. Opponents questioned whether there was enough medical
research establishing medical marijuana as an effective treatment for
people with chronic medical conditions.
A 2016 law allowed the use of medical marijuana to treat certain
conditions, including HIV/AIDS, Crohn's disease, muscular dystrophy
and epilepsy. James' bill would add glaucoma, severe muscle spasms,
intractable pain and PTSD to the list.
[continues 502 words]
After battling Lyme disease and other ailments for nearly 20 years,
Bridgitte Pascale tried "almost everything" to alleviate her pain
without relying on opioids.
Though doctors prescribed Percocet and muscle relaxers, she turned to
acupuncture and later medical marijuana, which she says are the "only
things that help" with the chronic aches and pains she manages daily.
Such alternative treatments are emerging as safe havens for some
patients concerned about the dangers of painkillers. But while many
swear by the benefit, health insurance generally doesn't cover them.
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Can legalizing marijuana fight the problem of opioid addiction and
fatal overdoses? Two new studies in the debate suggest it may.
Pot can relieve chronic pain in adults, so advocates for liberalizing
marijuana laws have proposed it as a lower-risk alternative to
opioids. But some research suggests marijuana may encourage opioid
use, and so might make the epidemic worse.
The new studies don't directly assess the effect of legalizing
marijuana on opioid addiction and overdose deaths. Instead, they find
evidence that legalization may reduce the prescribing of opioids.
Over-prescribing is considered a key factor in the opioid epidemic.
[continues 474 words]
Gov. Murphy greatly expanded New Jersey's medical marijuana program
Tuesday, opening the door to tens of thousands of new patients and
allowing the five dispensaries spread across the state to add
satellite retail centers and cultivation facilities.
The governor added to the list of ailments that qualify for a cannabis
prescription. He also cleared the way for any doctor in the state to
prescribe cannabis, ending a system in which only those physicians who
registered -- and thus, joined a publicly available list of providers
- -- could do so. He said some doctors had been reluctant to participate
in the program because they viewed joining the list as a stigma.
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