While many people don't think its all that bad, a new study suggests you should lay off while expecting.
- A new study suggests that smoking weed during pregnancy reduces birth weight and gestational age.
- The study follows on the heels of several others suggesting that marijuana has a variety of negative side effects.
- Despite this, many people still consider marijuana to be harmless.
What happens when you smoke for two
The study worked with 5628 pregnant women in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and the United Kingdom who were also part of a separate study investigating the relationship between marijuana use and pregnancy complications. These women had their demographic information, lifestyle characteristics, and medical history collected by a midwife.
All participants were asked if they ever smoked marijuana and, if so, if had they smoked it at any point during their pregnancy. Those who did smoke were further asked how many times a week they partook. Similar questions were asked for alcohol and tobacco usage. The midwives also recorded socio-economic data, noted if the test subject had used other illicit drugs during their pregnancy, and administered tests checking for depression and anxiety. After the test subjects gave birth, the midwives recorded infants' size and weight.
The babies born to women who smoked past the 15-week point in their pregnancies had lower birth weights, head size, body length, and lower gestational age. The reductions were comparable to the known effects of an expecting mother smoking nine cigarettes a day. These effects were more dramatic for children born to mothers who smoked more frequently. The risk of infant death and the rate of severe infant morbidity increased with the frequency of smoking as well.
Women who stopped smoking before the 15th week gave birth to babies with similar measurements to those born to women who did not smoke.
The evidence behind these findings remained even after factoring for tobacco and alcohol usage. While those lower on the socio-economic scale were more likely to continue smoking during pregnancy than others, their lower social standing was found to have no direct relation to birth outcomes.
The study was not without limitations. The number of women who reported continuing to smoke throughout their pregnancy was comparatively low, though not so small as to reduce the validity of the findings.
The researchers only looked at the number of times a person smoked and not at the potency of the marijuana or how it was consumed. They also looked at the effects of taking other illicit substances, but the number of women taking them was low enough to make serious investigation impossible during this study.
Perhaps most importantly, the study did not investigate what mechanism is at work. It could be simple carbon monoxide production by the act of smoking cutting down on oxygen that is getting to the fetus, as with tobacco smoking. Or it could be that the chemicals in marijuana were affecting the fetus. This is an area where further research is needed.
So, what does this mean for me?
The first take away here is that you shouldn't smoke weed while pregnant. The second is that it might not be too late to stop.
Previous studies have suggested that a lower gestational age at birth is associated with lower literacy later in life and that children in families with lower social standing start behind their wealthier peers in literacy tests. The finding here that lower-income women are more likely to smoke during pregnancy suggests that their children may be subject to particular difficulties.
The study is yet another one suggesting that marijuana isn't as harmless as many people suppose. The drug is known to cause memory trouble, anxiety, and increase the risk of psychotic symptoms. Previous studies similar to this one already hinted at the effects of smoking on the newly born. This one didn't break new ground so much as remove hidden variables in previous experiments on the same subject.
Despite this, up to a third of women think marijuana can't harm a gestating fetus, and the popular conception of the drug has yet to incorporate notions of its various adverse side effects.
Perhaps the take away for those who are not or cannot become pregnant is that marijuana isn't completely harmless and should be interacted with as such.
That's not frankincense you smell at the "holy of the holies."
- Cannabis and frankincense were discovered at the "holy of holies" shrine in Tel Arad, Israel.
- Both substances were mixed with animal dung to promote heating.
- This marks the first time cannabis has been found in the Kingdom of Judah.
In an extensive review of the history and pharmacology of psychedelics, American chemist David E. Nichols writes that this class of serotonergic hallucinogens "may be the oldest class of psychopharmacological agents known to man." Three thousand year old hymns to soma—a tea likely brewed with psilocybin mushrooms—are recorded in Vedic literature; the Eleusinian mysteries almost certainly involved a hallucinogenic brew.
Humans have been tripping for a long time.
This isn't surprising. Our ancestors undoubtedly tasted every plant and fungus available. If you're seeking food and stumble into a plant that breaks open the head (as the Bwiti describe the African rainforest shrub, iboga), you'll likely cultivate it. You might even create a ritual or two based on its consciousness-expanding qualities. Maybe a religion springs up devoted to plant life.
Indian scriptures point to cannabis as often as psilocybin. The god Indra loved drinking bhang, a milky beverage containing enough marijuana to make him trip. Shiva imbibed as well. The Vedas praise cannabis as a "divine nectar" that bestows long life and divine visions. Further north, Chinese Taoists combined cannabis with ginseng in a ceremony that helped monks portend the future. Herodotus praised cannabis steam baths built by the warrior clan, the Scythians.
As it turns out, Jews loved cannabis as well. An excavation at an Israeli shrine in Tel Arad has uncovered an altar filled with cannabis and frankincense. According to new research published in the journal, Tel Aviv, the "holy of holies" shrine dates back to 750-715 BCE. As the researchers—Eran Arie, Baruch Rosen, and Dvory Namdar—write, the ritual usage appears to be hallucinogenic.
A black, resinous substance was discovered on two small altars. On one of them, a laboratory analysis found residues of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), and cannabinol (CBN). According to Arie, this marks the first time cannabis has been identified in the Ancient Near East. The article notes that another material was discovered in the resin.
"Organic residues attributed to animal dung were also found, suggesting that the cannabis resin had been mixed with dung to enable mild heating."
The frankincense altar also contained animal fat, which promotes evaporation. Both frankincense and cannabis were likely mixed with animal products to promote burning. The fragrant incense was inhaled—frankincense for its aroma, cannabis for its psychoactive properties.
Frankincense dates back to the 15th century BCE and has long been used ceremonially. In the Bible, this tree resin is as valuable as gold and precious stones. Frankincense is one of the earliest known commodities, dating back 6,000 years on the Arabian peninsula; it fetched a high price as it was traded around the ancient world. While the smell is pleasing it doesn't have the same effect on consciousness. Enter cannabis.
"As the terpenoids detected are not unique to cannabis and may be found abundantly in many other local plants, it is likely that the cannabis burnt on the altar was not imported for its smell or therapeutic virtues but for its mind-altering abilities, expressed only by heating."
The authors are aware of hallucinogenic rituals in neighboring lands. This is the first time cannabis has been discovered in the Kingdom of Judah, however. The evidence proves what fans of psychoactive pharmacology have long known: Breaking open the head is an ancient tradition, regardless of ethnicity or religious belief.
A new study on rats suggests that using marijuana as an adolescent "reprograms the initial behavioral, molecular, and epigenetic response to cocaine."
- In the study, adolescent and adult rats were first given a synthetic cannabinoid and then cocaine.
- The results showed that the young rats' brains were more sensitive to the effects of cocaine, but these effects weren't observed in the adult rats.
- The researchers suggest that research like this can help to develop better treatments for substance abuse disorders.
A new study suggests that using marijuana in your teenage years may prime your brain to respond positively to your first experience with cocaine. The findings offer molecular insight into the question of whether marijuana is a gateway drug. After all, studies have repeatedly shown that having a good first experience with a drug makes you more likely to use it again, and therefore potentially become addicted.
The study is published in the journal PNAS.
"We know from human epidemiological studies that individuals who abuse cocaine have a history of early cannabis use, and that a person's initial response to a drug can have a large impact on whether they continue to use it. But many questions remain on how early cannabis exposure affects the brain," epidemiologist Denise Kandel, PhD, a professor of Sociomedical Sciences in Psychiatry at Columbia's Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and co-senior author of the new study, told Science Daily.
In the study, researchers gave a synthetic psychoactive cannabinoid called WIN 55,212-2 (WIN) to adolescent and adult rats. Then, both groups of rats were given cocaine, and the researchers monitored how the animals responded.
Fig 1. Cross-sensitization between WIN and cocaine in adolescent rats is associated with histone hyperacetylation in the PFC.
Scherma et al.
The results showed that young rats who had been exposed to WIN were more sensitive to the effects of cocaine. This early exposure "reprograms the initial behavioral, molecular, and epigenetic response to cocaine" in young rats. These changes were not observed in adult rats.
Past research has shown that young rats that have been exposed to cannabinoids become "cross-sensitized" to cocaine, and that cross-sensitization can alter the extent to which rats crave cocaine and experience withdrawal symptoms.
The new study took a close look at how cannabinoids prime bodily systems for cocaine.
Changes in the prefrontal cortex
One such system is the endocannabinoid system, which is impaired by the use of cannabis or cannabinoids. Studies have linked impaired endocannabinoid signaling with increased stress responsivity, negative emotional states, and drug craving.
"The endocannabinoid system has a modulatory role in brain reward and cognitive processes," the researchers wrote. "It has been hypothesized that repeated interference with endocannabinoid signaling (e.g., through abuse of cannabis or synthetic cannabinoids) can remodel the adolescent brain and make it respond differently to more addictive substances, such as cocaine. In the present study, we demonstrate that a history of synthetic cannabinoid exposure in adolescent animals results in distinct molecular and epigenetic changes following initial exposure to cocaine."
In addition to affecting the endocannabinoid system and (potentially) the glutamatergic system, the study found that early cannabinoid use seems to cause epigenetic changes in the prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain controls executive functions like long-term planning and self-control.
"Our findings suggest that exposure to psychoactive cannabinoids during adolescence primes the animals' prefrontal cortex, so that it responds differently to cocaine compared to animals who had been given cocaine without having previously experienced cannabis," study co-senior author Philippe Melas told Science Daily.
One consequence of priming the prefrontal cortex in this way seems to be that cocaine becomes more enjoyable.
"This study suggests that teenagers who use cannabis may have a favorable initial reaction to cocaine, which will increase their likelihood of engaging in its repeated use so that they eventually become addicted, especially if they carry additional environmental or genetic vulnerabilities," Kandel told Science Daily.
The researchers noted several limitations in their study, including:
- The use of experimenter-administered drug regimens instead of self-administration procedures
- The use of synthetic cannabinoids instead of Δ9-THC
- The assessment of neurobiological changes in bulk tissue instead of cell type-specific analyses
- The lack of in vivo causality experiments rendering the molecular data correlational in nature
They also noted that someone won't necessarily develop an addiction if they happen to have a good first experience with a drug. Still, they suggested that research like this can help to develop better treatments for substance abuse disorders.
"These and other experiments are key to understanding the molecular changes to the brain that occur during drug use," said Dr. Eric Kandel, who is also University Professor and Kavli Professor of Brain Science at Columbia. "This knowledge will be crucial for developing effective treatments that curb addiction by targeting the disease's underlying mechanisms."
Thousands of people are experiencing severe pulmonary issues from vaping, and some are dying.
- Scientists now believe that the primary culprit in this health crisis is vitamin E acetate, though research continues for other toxic factors.
- Vitamin E is a gooey thickener often used in black-market cannabis-based vaping products.
- Vapers who feel like they may have pneumonia should consult a physician immediately.
Surgeons are not squeamish people, so when one of them says, "This is an evil that I haven't faced before" it gets your attention. The doctor is Hassan Nemeh, surgical director of thoracic organ transplant at Detroit's Henry Ford Hospital. The evil is the stunning wreck that vaping made of a 17-year-old double-lung transplant patient's lungs.
"What I saw in his lungs was nothing that I've ever seen before, and I've been doing lung transplants for 20 years," says Nemeh. That vaping, particularly of cannabis products using THC oils, has become a major public health crisis is indisputable: Since March, vaping-related illness has landed over 2,000 individuals in hospitals nationwide, and at least 39 of those people have died.
The patient in Detroit
mage source: James R. Martin/Shutterstock
Not much information regarding the individual described by Nemeh has been released, since he's a minor. What we do know is that his family has described him as an otherwise-healthy young athlete.
The teen was admitted to the first of three hospitals, St. John Hospital, September 5 with what seemed to be pneumonia. His breathing, however, became increasingly difficult until he was put on a ventilator September 12. He was soon transferred to Children's Hospital of Michigan to be connected to an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation device (ECMO) in order to maintain heart and lung functioning. Still failing, he was transferred to Henry Ford for a six-hour, double-lung transplant on October 15, without which, doctors say, he would certainly have died.
"There was an enormous amount of inflammation and scarring in addition to multiple spots of dead tissue. And the lung itself was so firm and scarred, literally we had to deliver it out of the chest," recalls Nemeh.
THC and vitamin E acetate
Vitamin E acetete
Image source: ibreakstock/Shutterstock
When the medical community first became aware of the pulmonary problems, it was unclear what aspect of vaping was causing them. Likewise, it was unclear whether it was tobacco or THC vaping that was causing the problems, or both.
Scientists from the CDC tested for the presence of potential culprits in victims' lung fluid, looking for plant oils, petroleum distillates including mineral oils, or any other suspicious contaminants common to the individuals' cases.
What they found — though there could still be additional substances involved — was vitamin E acetate, or tocopheryl acetate. Collecting 29 lung-fluid samples from 29 people who had been sickened or who had died of lung issues, all 29 contained vitamin E acetate. The CDC's Dr. Jim Pirkle says that's "pretty much unheard of," and constitutes a "very strong signal" that vitamin E acetate is at the very least part of the reason for vapers' pulmonary damage.
CDC officials have concluded that most of the patients had vaped cannabis-based products. This is supported by state testing — New York's reports finding "very high levels of vitamin E acetate in nearly all" of the samples from cannabis vapers they tested. While the federal FDA remains cautious about putting all the blame on vitamin E acetate, they, too, have found it to be prevalent in afflicted vapers' lungs. Medical authorities are continuing to test for other possible factors in the frequency of pulmonary illnesses among vapers.
Legitimately manufactured and sold cannabis-based vaping products don't necessarily contain vitamin E acetate. However, the sticky, honey-like substance is commonly used as a thickener in black-market THC products. Unlike THC itself, vitamin E acetate lingers in users' lungs. These unregulated, illicit cannabis-based vaping products, say experts, have indeed been linked to most of the cases medical professionals are seeing.
"This is a preventable tragedy," says Nemeh. While vaping is presumed by many to be safer than smoking, this current public health crisis makes clear that caution is advised, especially when buying vaping products off the street.
Tens of millions of Americans consume cannabis regularly. They're likely ingesting high levels of toxins. Only the federal government has the power and the resources to protect them.
- Both legal and illegal cannabis in the U.S. are privy to a number of hazardous substances.
- State regulation and quality control are insufficient.
- Illustrating the public health impact may convince Senate Republicans to take up the matter.
Consumption is Rising
Adult cannabis use is climbing, according to a 2018 Columbia University study. This trend is likely to continue. Today, one in seven U.S. adults consume cannabis. Said differently, nearly 55 million use it once or twice a year. Thirty-five million are regular users. Regular use was defined as once or twice a month or more. Indeed, state-legal cannabis micro-markets, taken together, comprise the fastest growing industry in America.
Twenty-five percent of adults ages 18–29 rarely or occasionally use cannabis. That's according to a 2018 Gallup poll. Nine percent, the recent research indicates, occasionally or regularly vape cannabis oil. Considering the vaping epidemic, this is worrisome. Do the majority of consumers get their cannabis from a state-legal market? Not quite.
In 2016, 87 percent of all pot sales were from the black market. That's according to ArcView Market Research, an industry analysis firm. Today, it's around 80 percent, according to an estimate by New Frontier Data, a firm that follows trends and sales in the cannabis industry. From a public health standpoint, this is still deeply troubling. Black market cannabis is saturated with pesticides.
The Emerald Triangle
Law enforcement officers in the "Emerald Triangle" of Northern California periodically bust outdoor grow operations on public lands. Such "grows" leach dangerous pesticides into the environment, endangering wildlife and possibly even water supplies. Hundreds of grows are shut down each year. Despite this, officials say a multitude go undetected. The reason: just a handful of Forest Service agents are responsible for millions of acres of forest. As a result, most of the land never gets patrolled, and illegal grows are rampant.
Most of these operations are owned by the Mexican drug cartels. State legalization hasn't slowed their efforts much. Some 889 outdoor cultivation sites were shut down in 2018. Researchers from the Integral Ecology Research Center studied them.
Nearly all (90 percent) of those busted contained banned or restricted-use pesticides. These are highly toxic, but are seen as a necessary evil for growers. Cannabis is prone to pests, such as spider mites, mold, mildew, bacteria, and more. Growers are apt to protect their investment in the fastest and most productive way possible. As a result, pesticide use at such sites has increased over time and is still on the rise.
Seventy-five percent of illegal grows were found to be using dangerous pesticides in 2017. That's six times higher than in 2012. At a press conference last year, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California, McGregor Scott, admitted that hazardous pesticide use at grow sites is increasing. These findings are significant, since the overwhelming majority of the pot sold in the U.S. comes from the black market, much of it supplied from illegal grows in the Emerald Triangle.
Mass spraying occurs at illegal grows. That's worrisome since the pesticide carbofuran has been discovered at many of the busted sites. It was banned by the EPA in 2010. One researcher, Mourad Gabriel, said it's so deadly, a quarter of a teaspoon can kill a 300-pound bear. Even small amounts consumed over time are potentially harmful. The EPA advises ingesting no more than 40 parts-per-billion (PPB).
Consuming more than 40 PPB could potentially damage the testes, the uterus, cause neurological issues, or even stomach cancer. Most of the indications we have are from tests using animal models. It is unknown what effect chronic, low-level exposure has on humans, because it's never been tested.
Even if consumers get all of their cannabis through legal channels, they're not in the clear. Cultivators in legalized states use dangerous pesticides and fungicides too, such as myclobutanil, imidacloprid, avermectin, and bifenazate. Possible health risks from consuming these include liver damage, weakened muscles, and even cancer. And these aren't the only insecticides being used; there are thousands of known types. Despite wide-ranging availability, it's impossible to test for them all in the current regulatory climate.
Other hazardous substances found on legal weed include residual solvents, molds and mildew, microbes such as salmonella, and heavy metals. So, the question is, do we want to protect 35 million Americans from frequent exposure to hazardous substances? What about a quarter of 18-29-year-olds who occasionally use cannabis?
Why the Federal Government?
One of the most difficult tasks for legalized states is to regulate pesticides. Usually an agrochemical company develops an insecticide and then foots the bill for the research. Once completed, they turn the results over to the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA reviews it and sets a standard. Federal regulations state that farmers can only use the approved pesticide for each individual crop at the appropriate amount.
Even if federal legalization were to occur tomorrow, it would take years for a manufacturer to prove its pesticide was safe and effective for use on cannabis. In fact, it's illegal to use a pesticide "off label," or in any way other than how it's intended. This problem was laid bare in a recent study published in March in the journal Crop Protection. In it, Purdue University researchers said that due to a lack of universal standards, extensive research is required to develop proper pesticide regulations in cannabis cultivation.
Since the federal government has taken a laissez-faire attitude, there is no approval process in place. So, states must grope around in the dark, trying to decide how to approach pesticide use. The results are grim: in Washington State, California, Oregon, and Colorado, tests reveal levels of pesticides 100 to 1,000 times over acceptable levels for comparable crops.
Cultivators are motivated to turn out a crop quickly and get it to market. An infestation can easily make a grower consider widespread spraying to safeguard their investment. And with the absence of oversight, underhanded growers may be prone to supply a higher-quality product to the lab for testing, while preserving most of their crop, which may be unlikely to pass.
Labs in legalized states are hampered by a lack of standards and proper regulation. In an interview with Lab Manager magazine, Holly Johnson, PhD, chief scientist at the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), told of an edibles producer who sent five infused chocolate samples from the same batch to five different labs. She received five widely different results.
Another problem is high startup costs. Privately owned labs require expensive equipment, accreditation, and thoroughly trained staff who require high salaries. Since the lab needs to make a profit, they test as many samples as possible, and this hurried, high level of throughput could lead to mistakes. Labs may also be tempted to skew results in favor of growers, who are paying customers. After all, if you fail a customer, they may have their product tested elsewhere in the future.
This issue of poorly regulated labs cascades down the supply chain. If no one can keep labs in check, no one is going to keep the growers, processors, distributors, or dispensary owners in check. FDA oversight would eliminate this issue. Small, private labs do not have the same resources as federal ones. Federal labs draw highly talented personnel, have greater access to capital, and are backed by the U.S. government. Of course, not all cannabis cultivators are inscrutable. Many just don't have the necessary information needed to combat pests in a safe and appropriate manner. If we're going to keep the public safe, cannabis growers need access to the same educational opportunities as other farmers.
In an interview in The Cannabis Business Times, Purdue researchers Janna Beckerman and Fred Whitford said they're contacted frequently by cannabis cultivators seeking advice on pest control. Due to this, they pressed for availability of education at land grant colleges for cannabis farmers.
A Public Health Issue
Sixty-six percent of Americans support nationwide legalization, according to the latest Gallup poll. And 45 percent of Republicans do. Support has seen a steady uptick in recent decades and the trend is likely to continue. American Banker magazine notes the key obstacle to legalization is getting Senate leadership to prioritize the matter.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) is from one of the only states that hasn't decriminalized in some fashion. Crapo is advancing the SAFE Act through his committee. This bill, if passed, would allow state-legal cannabis businesses access to banking services. Even so, Crapo's said he doesn't support federal legalization.
Now, say a legalization bill were to pass through the House. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said earlier this year he doesn't support legalization either. So the issue is unlikely to be brought to the Senate floor.
Framing the argument as a public health issue could garner more attention. The enormous baby boomer generation is flush with voters. They may be motivated to press legislators, if they're aware their children (and grandchildren) are in danger. If boomers don't know how to minimize their risks, then we can't expect more rigid oversight in cannabis production, at least not any time soon. What's more, legalization would help prevent another dangerous vaping epidemic. It would also help protect the occasional and not-so-occasional cannabis user, groups which contain millions of young people.
Federal legalization would see above-board cannabis become price competitive with black market varieties. It would allow the EPA and USDA to prescribe and regulate pesticides and other chemicals used in cultivation. SOPs and protocols would be mandated, and well-staffed, well-funded, independent labs would test and clear products.
The popularity of cannabis isn't wavering anytime soon. Statistics show quite the contrary, in fact. The only way to protect the health of 35 million Americans is through federal legalization.