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Want to protect the health of 35 million Americans? Legalize cannabis.
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.
- Carl Sagan on why he liked smoking marijuana - Big Think ›
- Teen marijuana use in all 50 states: Report compares data - Big Think ›
- Report: Legal marijuana hurts drug cartels, secures U.S. border - Big ... ›
A new study finds that dogs fed fresh human-grade food don't need to eat—or do their business—as much.
- Most dogs eat a diet that's primarily kibble.
- When fed a fresh-food diet, however, they don't need to consume as much.
- Dogs on fresh-food diets have healthier gut biomes.
Four diets were tested<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTU5ODI1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NjY0NjIxMn0._w0k-qFOC86AqmtPHJBK_i-9F5oVyVYsYtUrdvfUxWQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="1b1e4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="87937436a81c700a8ab3b1d763354843" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="960" />
Credit: AntonioDiaz/Adobe Stock<p>The researchers tested refrigerated and fresh human-grade foods against kibble, the food most dogs live on. The <a href="https://frontierpets.com.au/blogs/news/how-kibble-or-dry-dog-food-is-made" target="_blank">ingredients</a> of kibble are mashed into a dough and then extruded, forced through a die of some kind into the desired shape — think a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_extrusion" target="_blank">pasta maker</a>. The resulting pellets are sprayed with additional flavor and color.</p><p>For four weeks, researchers fed 12 beagles one of four diets:</p><ol><li>a extruded diet — Blue Buffalo Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe</li><li>a fresh refrigerated diet — Freshpet Roasted Meals Tender Chicken Recipe</li><li>a fresh diet — JustFoodforDogs Beef & Russet Potato Recipe</li><li>another fresh diet — JustFoodforDogs Chicken & White Rice Recipe.</li></ol><p>The two fresh diets contained minimally processed beef, chicken, broccoli, rice, carrots, and various food chunks in a canine casserole of sorts. </p><p>(One can't help but think how hard it would be to get finicky cats to test new diets. As if.)</p><p>Senior author <a href="https://ansc.illinois.edu/directory/ksswanso" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Kelly S. Swanson</a> of U of I's Department of Animal Sciences and the Division of Nutritional Sciences, was a bit surprised at how much better dogs did on people food than even refrigerated dog chow. "Based on past research we've conducted I'm not surprised with the results when feeding human-grade compared to an extruded dry diet," he <a href="https://aces.illinois.edu/news/feed-fido-fresh-human-grade-dog-food-scoop-less-poop" target="_blank">says</a>, adding, "However, I did not expect to see how well the human-grade fresh food performed, even compared to a fresh commercial processed brand."</p>
Tracking the effect of each diet<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTU5ODI1OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3NjY1NTgyOX0.AdyMb8OEcjCD6iWYnXjToDmcnjfTSn-0-dfG96SIpUA/img.jpg?width=980" id="da892" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="880d952420679aeccd1eaf32b5339810" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="960" />
Credit: Patryk Kosmider/Adobe Stock<p>The researchers tracked the dogs' weights and analyzed the microbiota in their fecal matter.</p><p>It turned out that the dogs on kibble had to eat more to maintain their body weight. This resulted in their producing 1.5 to 2.9 times the amount of poop produced by dogs on the fresh diets.</p><p>Says Swanson, "This is consistent with a 2019 National Institute of Health study in humans that found people eating a fresh whole food diet consumed on average 500 less calories per day, and reported being more satisfied, than people eating a more processed diet."</p><p>Maybe even more interesting was the effect of fresh food on the gut biome. Though there remains much we don't yet know about microbiota, it was nonetheless the case that the microbial communities found in fresh-food poo was different.</p><p>"Because a healthy gut means a healthy mutt," says Swanson, "fecal microbial and metabolite profiles are important readouts of diet assessment. As we have shown in <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jas/article/92/9/3781/4702209#110855647" target="_blank">previous studies</a>, the fecal microbial communities of healthy dogs fed fresh diets were different than those fed kibble. These unique microbial profiles were likely due to differences in diet processing, ingredient source, and the concentration and type of dietary fibers, proteins, and fats that are known to influence what is digested by the dog and what reaches the colon for fermentation."</p>
How did kibble take over canine diets?<p>Historically, dogs ate scraps left over by humans. It has only been <a href="https://www.thefarmersdog.com/digest/the-history-of-commercial-pet-food-a-great-american-marketing-story/" target="_blank">since 1870</a>, with the arrival of the luxe Spratt's Meat Fibrine Dog Cakes—made from "the dried unsalted gelatinous parts of Prairie Beef", mmm—that commercial dog food began to take hold. Dog bone-shaped biscuits first appeared in 1907. Ken-L Ration dates from 1922. Kibble was first extruded in 1956. Pet food had become a great way to turn <a href="https://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/choosing-dog-food/animal-by-products/" target="_blank">human-food waste</a> into profit.</p><p>Commercial dog food became the norm for most household canines only after a massive marketing campaign led by a group of dog-food industry lobbyists called the Pet Food Institute in 1964. Over time, for most households, dog food was what dogs ate — what else? Human food? These days more than half of U.S. dogs are <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/03/magazine/who-made-that-dog-biscuit.html" target="_blank">overweight or obese</a>, and certainly their diet is a factor.<span></span></p><p>We're not so special among animals after all. If something's healthy for us to eat—we're <em>not</em> looking at you, chocolate—maybe we should remember to share with our canine compatriots. Not from the table, though.</p>
New study suggests the placebo effect can be as powerful as microdosing LSD.
- New research from Imperial College London investigated the psychological effects of microdosing LSD in 191 volunteers.
- While microdosers experienced beneficial mental health effects, the placebo group performed statistically similar to those who took LSD.
- Researchers believe the expectation of a trip could produce some of the same sensations as actually ingesting psychedelics.
Psychedelics: The scientific renaissance of mind-altering drugs<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="92360c805fe66c11de38a75b0967f417"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/5T0LmbWROKY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>For the study published in eLife, the team recruited 191 citizen cosmonauts to microdose either LSD or a placebo over the course of several weeks and note the psychological effects. Volunteers were already microdosing LSD, so there was no true control. Each volunteer was given instructions on creating their own low-dose gel capsules, some containing LSD, others not. Then they mixed the capsules in envelopes so they didn't know if they were taking the real thing or not.</p><p>The trial design was ingenious: each capsule featured a QR code that was scanned after the addition of ingredients but before they were placed in the envelope so that researchers knew what they were ingesting.</p><p>The problem: volunteers sourced their own LSD. Lack of quality control could have had a profound effect on the results. </p><p>The results: LSD microdosers reported feeling more mindful, satisfied with life, and better overall; they also noticed a reduction in feelings of paranoia. </p><p>The catch: the control group felt the same thing, with no statistical difference between the groups. </p><p>Lead author Balázs Szigeti comments on the findings: "This suggests that the improvements may not be due to the pharmacological action of the drug but can instead be explained by the placebo effect." </p>
Credit: Alexander / Adobe Stock<p>Psychedelics are notoriously difficult to control for given the intensity of the experience. Yet there is precedent for the above findings. A <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00213-020-05464-5" target="_blank">2019 study</a> found that 61 percent of volunteers that took a placebo instead of psilocybin felt some psychedelic effects, with a few volunteers experiencing full-on trips.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Several stated that they saw the paintings on the walls 'move' or 'reshape' themselves, others felt 'heavy. . . as if gravity [had] a stronger hold', and one had a 'come down' before another 'wave' hit her."</p><p>The Imperial team believes the expectation of a trip might have been enough to produce similar results. Senior author David Erritzoe is excited for future studies on the topic, believing they tapped into a new wave of citizen science that could push forward our knowledge of psychedelic substances.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Accounting for the placebo effect is important when assessing trends such as the use of cannabidiol oils, fad diets or supplements where social pressure or users' expectations can lead to a strong placebo response. Self-blinding citizen science initiatives could be used as an inexpensive, initial screening tool before launching expensive clinical studies."</p><p>As investments into the psychedelics market explode, with one company <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-03-03/thiel-backed-magic-mushroom-firm-atai-hits-2-billion-valuation" target="_blank">reaching a $2 billion valuation</a>, a recurring irony appears in the long arc of psychedelics and research: the power of our minds might be enough to feel greater life satisfaction and a deeper sense of mindfulness. If that's possible with a placebo, we have to question why the rush to create more pharmacology is necessary. </p><p>This is, mind you, a separate conversation over the role of psychedelics and rituals for group bonding. The function of group cohesion around consciousness-altering substances will continue to play an important role in many communities. </p><p>Of course, we should continue to explore the efficacy of psychedelics on anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, PTSD, and addiction. <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/antidepressant-effects" target="_self">Pharmacological dependence</a> is a stain on the psychiatry industry. Whether or not psychedelics can be prescribed for daily use remains to be seen, but we know a moneyed interest is expecting a return on investment—the above company, ATAI Life Sciences, raised $157 million in its Series D round. </p><p>When it comes to wellbeing, some things money just can't buy. How we navigate the tricky terrain of mainstreaming psychedelics remains to be seen. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>. His most recent book is</em> "<em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08KRVMP2M?pf_rd_r=MDJW43337675SZ0X00FH&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy</a>."</em></p>
What makes some people more likely to shiver than others?
Some people just aren't bothered by the cold, no matter how low the temperature dips. And the reason for this may be in a person's genes.