I am well aware that this “vegan” “fitness” “cannabis” blog has been really in the weeds lately. (Humor! Oh, you didn’t know this was a comedy blog, too?)
It hasn’t been my intention to exclusively post news updates the past few weeks. There are several posts on the docket I had slated to post in between them which were missed for one reason or another – lack of research, time, courage. It is really that last one that has exacerbated my writer’s block, since some of the things I have meant to divulge are rather personal. Not so personal that it would be some absolute scandal to release into the ether, but vulnerability has consistently been one of my weaker attributes.
If you’ve wondered why I haven’t included much coverage of the latest health epidemic involving vapes, both for nicotine and cannabis, my desire and simultaneous trepidation to include this discussion in the context of my own personal history with these substances is one reason. Another is that it is so widely covered recently, without any satisfying answers, that it seemed redundant. There have been some interesting developments in the past couple weeks, however, that I will be addressing below.
I am working on some really fun content to fit into the upcoming holiday season – which for me, begins with Halloween – that I can’t wait to upload. As much as I love keeping the news round-ups as up to date as possible, I am really looking forward to getting back on track.
In the spirit of flexibility, these news round-ups will be formatted a bit (barely) differently moving forward. It has become clear to me that the amount of cannabis-related news is not only so voluminous that it is not realistic to spend as much time as I do in that field as the general topics of health and fitness. It is also obvious how much this booming industry overlaps with health, wellness, beauty, food, and pretty much any genre of market research.
While I will inevitably include developments in fitness trends, vegan products, and animal rights in the other content I hope to cover, it seems to make the most sense to divvy up the cannabis updates I write up into their respective categories. As always, editorial comments appear in bold. So enjoy this latest round-up – this week, we dive into the mysterious lung illnesses spreading across America, get horny for cannabis again, and prove science still matters!
HEALTH & WELLNESS
Last week, Israeli cannabis researcher Dr. Raphael Mechoulam – who is known to be the first to discover the synthesis of THC and the endocannabinoid system – announced that his work has found ways “to synthesize stable cannabinoid acids for medicinal research and drug production.” He and his team, in collaboration with cannabis startup EPM, a topical cream manufacturer, a testing lab, and six universities in Israel, Canada, and the U.S. unveiled the discovery at the annual CannMed conference in Pasadena, California. “This is exciting and unprecedented research. We have taken the unstable molecules of the cannabis plant and synthesized them to provide a stable, consistent basis for researching new therapies across a wide range of medical needs – from CNS disorders to inflammation and many more. In addition, we have provided several delivery mechanisms including tablets, topical applications and others to facilitate several approaches. Our work is a catalyst for the development of potential new therapies from a source long thought to have huge potential,” Dr. Mechoulam stated in a press release.
While no health agency has determined the culprit linking cases from the current outbreak of serious vaping-related lung illnesses, health officials from Illinois, Wisconsin, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have released the names of illicit THC products commonly used among patients. In the report released by officials, researchers identified that 57 of 86 patients interviewed used products under the brand name Dank Vapes. For months prior to the report, users of THC vapes had warned each other online that Dank Vapes may contain toxins, but many users admitted to continuing to use them anyway. Other brands such as Moon Rocks, Off White and TKO were implicated in the research. It is unknown who produces these THC products. FDA Commissioner Dr. Ned Sharpless reported last week that of about 300 samples from these cases, 70% were THC products and estimated that half of those containing THC had been contaminated with Vitamin E acetate, a skin oil known to be dangerous if inhaled. On Friday the CDC reported that similar vaping illnesses have no been found in 46 states involving 805 cases and 13 deaths. Of 771 patients, 91% have been hospitalized. [The number of cases has risen to more than 1,000 and deaths have increased to 18 since this reporting.]
Further testing has found additional harmful substances in illicit THC vaping cartridges linked to patients suffering from the mysterious lung illnesses cases rising in nearly all 50 states. NBC News commissioned CannaSafe, a certified cannabis testing lab, which tested 18 different samples for contaminants. Of 3 vaping cartridges purchased from legal cannabis dispensaries in California, no contaminants were found. Of the remaining 15 samples purchased from the black market, 13 were found to contain Vitamin E. CannaSafe also tested 10 unregulated samples for pesticides. All 10 tested positive. All unregulated products contained “myclobutanil, a fungicide that can transform into hydrogen cyanide when burned.”
A report recently published in Sexual Medicines Review suggests that while consuming cannabis appears to increase sexual function, the benefits appear to come from lower does while higher doses appear to inhibit sexual function. Researchers looked at 12 human studies and 8 animal studies between 1970 and 2019. They also note that while previous studies certainly indicate a trend that cannabis can improve sexual pleasure in participants, quality studies are limited by legal restrictions. The implications of the report highlight the benefits, and the diminishing returns, cannabis may have for women especially. Women were more likely than men to report an increased sexual desire from consuming cannabis in a number of studies. In 1974 study, 57.8% of women and 39.1% of men reported an increase in libido. In the same study, 71% of women reported an increase after approximately one join, while only 49.5% of women reported an increase after approximately 4 joints. A study in India and Nepal reported similar findings, suggesting that the sedative effects of cannabis decreased sexual desire in higher doses. One study found that cannabis may inhibit orgasm, but that study in particular focused on sexual dysfunction. In conclusion, the researchers publishing the recent study stressed that, “Although there appears to be a dose dependency that separates putative excitatory effects from inhibitory effects on female sexual desire, orgasm, and reproductive function, and frequency of use also plays a role, it is not clear to what extent the psychoactive properties of the various cannabinoids play a role.”
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is currently conducting a study of how cannabis terpenes are affecting the states’ atmosphere. Terpenes are defined by the Oxford Dictionary as the “volatile unsaturated hydrocarbons found in the essential oils of plants” and are what make cannabis plants smell so strongly. While harmless on their own, these “volatile organic compounds” (VOCs) create ozone when combined with combustion gases, like butanal from a barbecue does as well. Although the Environmental Protection Agency would typically study emissions from new industries, as a federal agency, it can’t because of cannabis’ Schedule I status. The final report isn’t expected to be published until 2020, but researchers are building on a previous study by one of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s associate professors William Vizuete, who found that VOCs from cannabis vary widely by strain and phase of the cultivation process, especially processing which is “[where] you get a lot higher VOC emission rates.” “They’re cutting [cannabis] all up, sending them through roto machines that are flinging plant material everywhere,” said lead CDPHE researcher Kaitlin Urso. Currently Colorado has no emissions regulations for cannabis, and without federal guidelines, it is difficult to implement. Some cannabis growers, while apprehensive about opening up cannabis cultivation to further scrutiny, are cooperative in investigating the environmental impact of industrial grow operations. Said Scott Brady, operations manager of Smokey’s 420 cannabis retailers in Colorado, “We have an obligation to make sure that we are in addition to our communities, and not a drag on our communities.”
BUSINESS & CULTURE
Weedmaps is launching two new business ventures exclusively in the Oklahoma medical cannabis market. Oklahoma – where voters passed medical cannabis legislation last year – has become notorious in the canna-business industry for having no license limits for operators, resulting in thousands of prospective medical cannabis entrepreneurs across the state. Weedmaps is a directory of legal, and until recently, illegal, cannabis business in states where some form of sales have been legalized. WM Retail will combine point-of-sale (POS) software with compliance tools, such as state-mandated METRC (“seed to sale”) tracking. It will also allow businesses to synchronize their online menu with their in-store inventory. WM Exchange will be a “digital wholesale marketplace where licensed cannabis retailers and sellers can safely and efficiently facilitate bulk wholesale orders for quality, lab-tested cannabis products.” Brands and sellers will be able to upload licensing information so that retailers and distributors alike can ensure transparent and secure supply-chain transactions.
LAW & POLICY
The organization Make It Legal Florida will send petitions directly to registered state voters for their proposed amendment to legalize adult-use cannabis in the state. Make It Legal Florida has already raised more than $1 million from major state operators MedMen and Surterra Holdings. The organization’s Chairman Nick Hansen told the Orlando Sentinel, “Pre-qualified Florida voters will receive a personalized mail piece with their name and address already printed on the form so all they have to do is sign, date and return.” The petition is also available online at MakeItLegalFlorida.com. The amendment, which would legalize cannabis use for adults 21 and over, competes with another measure by Regulate Florida. Regulate Florida’s measure would both legalize adult-use and home grows, whereas Make It Legal Florida’s amendment only allows cultivation and sales by authorized treatment centers. The evident exclusion of home grows in the Make It Legal Florida proposal has been controversial, since it is a clear business interest for the corporate sponsors to make cannabis flower only available at registered retailers. Any amendment that makes it to the state ballot requires a 60% majority to pass into law.
In a move to distinguish hemp from cannabis, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has attached language to a bill funding the Department of Justice for Fiscal Year 2020 that would direct the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to develop technology that can distinguish between hemp and, as McConnell refers to it, its “illicit cousin” cannabis. While McConnell’s support of the Farm Bill of 2018 helped secure its passage, he has not wavered on his stance against cannabis. He continues to push regulations to encourage the industrial hemp industry. In September, he authored a letter to the head of the FDA to “clear a path for the lawful marketing of CBD products.”
The Senate Appropriations Committee has passed a spending bill which keeps protections that prevents the Department of Justice from interfering in state-legal medical cannabis programs. However, legal adult-use cannabis markets remain unprotected. Lawmakers, even those that support cannabis or at least the states’ rights of existing adult-use cannabis laws, reportedly have a “gentleman’s agreement” not to introduce any controversial policy-riders that would jeopardize the passage of the overall bills. Even some cannabis advocacy groups have agreed to focus their efforts on other policy changes, such as adoption of the SAFE Banking Act passed by the House last week, and encourage Senators to refrain from pushing for amendments to the spending bill. Other groups seem to be less willing to compromise, like NORML’s political director Justin Strekal, who said that “the Senate Appropriations Committee refuses to acknowledge their role in the perpetuation of marijuana prohibition.” A provision for adult-use cannabis state protections could be added in conference for the final vote, but that prospect seems equally unlikely.
On Wednesday, Michigan’s Marijuana Regulatory Agency announced an expansion of the state’s social equity program. The expansion was considered and adopted in line with Section 8 of the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act (2018), which “requires the MRA to develop a plan to promote and encourage participation in the marijuana industry by people from communities that have been disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition and enforcement and to positively impact those communities [internal quotation marks ommitted].” The announcement brings the total communities eligible for the social equity program to 41, including 22 new additions.
Despite the increasing state legalization of some form of cannabis, data released by the FBI on Monday shows that nationwide arrest rates for cannabis have risen steadily since 2016. In 2018, there were a total of 663,367 cannabis arrests, up from 659,700 in 2017 and 653,249 in 2016. This is a reversal from data prior to 2016, which demonstrated that arrest rates for cannabis were decreasing. The numbers from 2018 represent a cannabis arrest made “every 48 seconds,” and 92% were for possession alone. The report only includes arrest rates from local police agencies that participate in the FBI’s data-gathering. Compared to other crime statistics, “there were more busts for marijuana last year than arrests for aggravated assault, burglary, arson, fraud, disorderly conduct or sex offenses, among other crime categories.”