Does Cannabis Offer a New Hope for Spasticity?

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by Trey Reckling (originally published in The Fresh Toast)

Could cannabis be the new, improved answer for patients suffering from spasticity?

The roughly 12 million people worldwide who are thought to suffer from the condition would love to hear that news. Spasticity, like it sounds, refers to a variety of involuntary muscle spasms and stiffness. It is a very common symptom of MS but can also be the result of other conditions like cerebral palsy, stroke and brain or spinal cord trauma. 

Using cannabis for calming muscles is not a new approach. In the mid 1840’s, before prohibition, physicians prescribed cannabis tinctures and extracts for inflammation, muscle spasms, delirium tremens (DT’s) and a host of other conditions. 

The traditional modern treatments for spasticity includes use of muscle relaxants like baclofen, injecting people with botulism and physical therapy. Sometimes the situation is so dire that the patient even resorts to surgery to implant muscle relaxant pumps and to permanently sever the roots of nerves.

Times and approaches change. Since 2010, Canadian patients have had access to Sativex, a prescription combination of THC and CBD in a peppermint flavored oral spray. A large study looked at the use of Sativex by over 900 patients in the UK, Germany and Switzerland with treatment-resistant multiple sclerosis (MS) spasticity. The patients were given the drug for daily dosings and evaluated to see how well they maintained their therapy regimen. 68% of patients voluntarily stayed on their cannabis medicine at least one year. An additional 207 Spanish patients in specialized MS centers had equally successful “continuation rates” rates of staying on the cannabis based medicine. 

Additionally, German researchers studied 16 young patients ranging in age from 1 to 26 with “complex neurological conditions with spasticity”. The subjects were given daily drops of a synthetic cannabinoid, dronabinol (Marinol). Researchers concluded that, “in the majority of pediatric palliative patients, the treatment with dronabinol showed promising effects in treatment resistant spasticity.” 

It’s not magic but may feel that way to people whose conditions have been hard to manage and have not had success with other therapeutic approaches. THC is believed to engage the endocannabinoid system to block inflammation and improve the natural communication between muscles and nerves. Some researchers believe that this reduction in inflammation can even slow the progression of the disease and the increasing disability it creates.

The good news is that the word is spreading about the potential impact of cannabis on spasticity, particularly among the MS patient community. In Canada alone, one in five MS patients currently use medical marijuana in some form. For these patients and others who experience the debilitating condition of spasticity, this is hope, and hope is profoundly important.

Marijuana Vs. Methamphetamine: How To Best Treat ADHD

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by Trey Reckling (originally Published in The Fresh Toast)

Could cannabis one day be the go to medicine for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, ADHD? Approximately 10 million adults in the U.S. have been diagnosed with the condition.

Common symptoms include difficulty sustaining attention, inability to focus, being easily distracted or unable to perform quiet tasks. It can affect job performance, personal relationships and lead to a sense of frustration, guilt and even depression. 

What is the typical medical treatment for children and adults troubled by this this condition? Speed. Not just speed, but professionally manufactured amphetamines and methamphetamines (meth), known by commercial names like Ritalin, Adderall and Desoxyn.

Why speed? Stimulants are known to improve dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain, helping the individual to focus attention. But long term stimulant use can lead to high blood pressure, heart attack risk, hallucinations, mood changes, addiction and a host of other complications.

There has not been a great deal of research on cannabis as a remedy for symptoms of ADHD.

Thirty adults in Berlin with ADHD who were unresponsive to typical meds were given cannabis in a scientific trial. Most reported feeling a better sense of control and focus. The researchers concluded that, “For adult patients with ADHD, who experience side effects or do not profit from standard medication, cannabis may be an effective and well-tolerated alternative.” 

The thought of cannabis being able to help someone “turn down the volume” of a condition is not unheard of. A leading theory of endocannabinoid deficiency explains that an imbalance of our body’s natural or endocannabinoids may be enough to cause migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, sleep disorders and a number of physiologic conditions. Cannabis as a medicine is known for being remarkably safe, a lower risk factor than common prescriptions for people with ADHD.

Duke researchers were drawn to a growing online library of anecdotal info from people self-medicating with cannabis. These scientists led a unique qualitative research study that scoured the responses of adult patients and caregivers in online forums discussing the impact of cannabis on their ADHD symptoms.

The test sample showed that three times as many respondents believed cannabis improved or reduced ADHD symptoms than believed it had an adverse effect. Comments such as “Cannabis helps me focus” and “I find I’m able to concentrate so much better after a bit of cannabis” were typical of participant feedback.  

Could cannabis be an effective and much safer alternative for adults with ADHD? Once again it seems that the patient feedback is ahead of the research as it has been in so much of the resurgence of medical marijuana.

If recent history is any indication, it means we must listen to patients as we advocate for more research. After all, patients aren’t usually trying to sell us a product, they are just sharing their experience in hopes that we learn from it.

Why Some Are Saying Marijuana May Increase Stroke And Heart Failure

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by Trey Reckling (originally published in the Fresh Toast)

A study from a private healthcare network in Pennsylvania sent shockwaves and questions through the cannabis community. Led by Dr. Aditi Kalla, it used the National Inpatient Sample (NIS) database to scrutinize the medical records of patients from more than 1,000 hospitals in the U.S. 

The study focused on patients ages 18-55 years who were released from hospitals in 2009 and 2010. Marijuana use was “diagnosed” in roughly 1.5 percent of the study sample. Researchers concluded that the marijuana users had a 26 percent increase in the risk of stroke and a 10 percent increase the likelihood of later heart failure. 

It’s what the study does not emphasize which may be of greatest importance to question further. Ironically, the medical records used were from a time when no states had regulated recreational marijuana and most states were not allowing medical marijuana. So, at best, most respondents probably were using illegal market marijuana. Additionally, researchers did not know how patients ingested it, when they last used it or even how much they used.   

Only 1.5 percent of the sample identified as cannabis users, while National Institute on Drug Abuse found that at least 5.8 percent of Americans used marijuana in 2007, a number that continued to grow even before the study’s data set was created. 

Just because two data points line up, it doesn’t infer causality. To do so incorrectly is officially known as questionable cause logical fallacy. A well known case involving women and hormone replacement therapy, HRT, inferred from correlation of facts that women on HRT had lower incidence of heart disease. However, upon closer inspection and further research showed that the women who could afford the HRT were also from a higher socioeconomic standing, allowing for better diet and exercise.

We had the opportunity to speak to Dr. Kalla about these findings:

“This is not an ‘anti-cannabis’ study and none of the researchers involved in this study, including myself, have a political agenda.  All drugs typically undergo studies to determine if there are any side effects. If any are found, then researchers try to first narrow down which organs are affected and subsequently look for a dose-dependent curve. “

Although some may assume otherwise, Dr. Kalla pointed out that she is not against medical marijuana:

“Cannabis use has benefits. I would like patients consuming cannabis for medicinal and/or recreational purposes to be aware that cannabis use may have cardiovascular side effects. Informing your physician about any cannabis use will allow your physician to appropriately monitor you for potential cardiovascular complications.‘

Like all research, these early findings and assumed correlations must be tested further and in a way that is specifically targeted at examining relationships between stroke, cardiovascular disease, heart attacks and cannabis use. Until then, as Dr. Kalla noted, informing your physician about cannabis use affords you a professional opinion on the matter.

Can Medical Marijuana Help Alcoholics Stop Drinking For Good?

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by Trey Reckling   (originally published in The Fresh Toast)

Could cannabis be a helping hand to alcoholics? If possible, it could be a watershed moment for the many as 33 million Americans who struggle with alcohol use disorder. Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive drug in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that approximately 88,000 Americans die as a result of excessive alcohol use each year.

Researchers are paying attention to an economics principle and how it may be relevant regarding people and drug choice. When prices rise or people have less income they naturally substitute more expensive items for less expensive ones. Economists call that the substitution effect. Could people exhibit the same behavior when choosing an intoxicant? Would they choose one that is less dangerous just as they choose a product that is less expensive?

It’s not a pipe dream. Afterall, Medicare records have shown that in states with medical marijuana, prescription medicine use is down significantly. Additionally, death from opiate overdose is down by 25% in states with medical marijuana.

Studies have shown the same substitution happens in the relationship between alcohol and marijuana. One Canadian study surveyed over 400 medical marijuana patients and found that over 41% substituted cannabis for alcohol. The three reasons they gave were less withdrawal, fewer side-effects, and better symptom management.

In another study, of 350 medical marijuana patients in California, 40% said they had substituted cannabis for alcohol. Ironically, nearly half of those “reported using cannabis to relieve pain that they suffered as a result of an alcohol related injury.“

Alcoholics Anonymous and thousands of private treatment centers nationwide that believe true sobriety is the answer may argue that encouraging cannabis to someone with alcohol use disorder is just offering a new vice and potentially a new danger to their lives. Afterall, nearly 9% of cannabis users may develop substance use disorder.

However, not all people will connect with the religiosity of AA or be able to afford the cost of 28 days off of work and ‘drying out’ in a treatment facility. Maybe this will be an invaluable option for those who don’t connect well with other approaches.

While not perfect, marijuana isn’t known to cause or contribute to liver disease, heart disease, stroke, sleep disorders, depression and a whole host of other problems associated with heavy drinking. Some people who have had the opportunity to compare the two different user experiences understand, cannabis is 100 times safer than alcohol. It may be simple economics that help make the decision.

How Marijuana’s CBN Is An Insomniac’s Best Friend

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by Trey Reckling    (originally published by The Fresh Toast)

In 1964 Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, an Israeli scientist, and his colleagues identified and named D9-tetrahydrocannabinol. Known by its abbreviation, THC is revered for its intoxicating effects and became the first rock star of cannabinoids, or active compound of cannabis. Most people simply talk of THC and the increasingly famous cousin, cannabidiol (CBD), marijuana contains over 100 cannabinoids. There is another active compound worthy of attention: cannabinoid cannabinol, or CBN.

While CBN creates only a mild euphoria, it is most effective as a sedative. According to Steep Hill Labs:

The consumption of 2.5mg to 5mg of CBN has the same level of sedation as a mild pharmaceutical sedative, with a relaxed body sensation similar to 5mg to 10mg of diazepam (Valium).”

An important note: CBN can deliver all of this sedative ability without the known side effects of a popular and addictive drug like Ambien, which can include double vision, nausea, diarrhea, loss of sexual desire, painful intercourse, hallucinations and sleep walking to name a few. Cannabis enthusiasts will not be surprised to find that CBN is more prevalent in indica dominant strains.

But, like other cannabinoids, CBN’s strength lies in its multifaceted medicinal influence. It is a champion at fighting bacteria, even the robust and hard to kill drug-resistant staph infections like //the notorious MRSA virus known to plague hospitals, nursing homes as well as competitive wrestlers and gymnasts. CBN has even been identified as a non-narcotic painkiller as potent as aspirin, an agent to help with bone healing, and a powerful tool in fighting some lung cancers in lab mice.

CBN can also reduce or prevent vomiting and seizures as well as increasing appetite. Again, it does all of this with little to no intoxicating effects, which is crucial to some patients who don’t want to feel “high.”

Although currently public access to CBN-focused products is limited, some vendors, like Mary’s Medicinals in the US and Herbal Dispatch in Canada, have staked a claim in this growing market, and with a growing body of evidence that this cannabinoid is a multi-talented healer, it should only be a matter of time before the public becomes more familiar with CBN and begins to share the love once reserved for only THC.

How This Former Radio Personality Found Relief From Advanced Arthritis Using Marijuana

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by Trey Reckling   (originally published by The Fresh Toast)

Mary White had been in radio broadcasting for many years as a beloved drive time morning personality based in Seattle, Washington. Known to have a keen, sometimes racy streak of humor, Mary was a woman in motion, hiking, sightseeing and even teaching cooking classes, one of her greater passions. That is, until arthritis, continued joint problems and a botched hip replacement surgery stopped her in her tracks. The pain was substantial and her doctors seemed to just sing one tune, more pain pills. A cane afforded her some mobility, but her life had changed speed suddenly.

“ I just never got better and continued to need the pain pills, but I was worried about their addictive potential. I had used cannabis ‘in the olden times’ but never thought about it as medicine. Then my son-in-law gave me ¼ of a medicated cookie. In an hour, no pain ..and it lasted longer.”

She said cannabis has none of the issues that can plague people on prescription opioids including depression, constipation and nausea. 

“After a year and a half, along came one piece of a cookie and.. no more pills, no more cane. I’m a true believer. I thought, ‘Now let’s get the word out.’ ”

She took matters into her own hands. Why be at the mercy of anyone else for info or product? Mary learned not only how to grow but to cook cannabis. It was a natural fit. She became pretty good and enjoyed it so much she figured her cooking classes should be reborn with a new special ingredient. If she could learn this, so could others. ‘Teach a man to fish and all that shit’, as she may say.

“I tried the others things the doctors had in mind.. If there is something you can use that is natural, it’s probably better for you. Green is the only color for me now.”

Now Mary teaches Cooking with Cannabis classes to students who are medical patients, casual consumers and range in age from mid 20’s to 70 plus. She helps them become more familiar with the herb so long demonized. She takes time to teach some history, some basic kitchen chemistry. Everyone goes home having helped prepare 2-3 items and takes not just recipes for more with them but the empowerment to help themselves a bit more. She leaves them with one message: “when used correctly, cannabis is beautifully safe and an amazing healer.’ The woman who used to make them laugh on their drive to work is making them smile in a whole different way now.

How THC Breaks Down The Toxic Plaques Of Alzheimer’s Disease

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by Trey Reckling (originally published by The Fresh Toast)

In 1906 scientist Alois Alzheimer was the first to describe the toxic plaques he found in the microscopic spaces between nerve cells in the brain. More than a hundred years later, we know his name because over 5 million Americans suffer from the disease named for him. A new case is identified every 68 seconds. It is expected to affect three times that many people within 50 years.

Two abnormalities found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s Disease or AD, are the existence of tangles of misfolded proteins and reduced connections between cells, causing diminished function and cell death. In advanced stages, the brain shrinks in affected areas.

A third abnormality is the buildup of plaques, especially in the area of the brain regulating memory. Plaques are made up of peptides like amyloid-beta or Abeta. It is not yet known if  plaques could be helping to cause Alzheimer’s Disease or whether they are one of the results of the condition.

There is no drug currently available that prevents or reverses AD. Some clinicians argue whether the efficacy of available prescription therapies are worth their high price. This opens the door to great hopes from some that cannabis may hold a better answer for these patients.

In a 2006 study published in Molecular Pharmaceutics researchers concluded, “THC is a considerably superior inhibitor of Abeta aggregation” compared to currently available pharmaceuticals.

Another study published July 2014 in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease investigated whether THC could slow or halt the well known symptoms of AD. It found, “These sets of data strongly suggest that THC could be a potential therapeutic treatment option for Alzheimer's disease through multiple functions and pathways.”

More recently, in 2016, Salk Institute scientist David Schubert announced, “Although other studies have offered evidence that cannabinoids might be neuroprotective against the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, we believe our study is the first to demonstrate that cannabinoids affect both inflammation and amyloid beta accumulation in nerve cells.”

Researchers in the Netherlands studied 50 patients with dementia, which is most often caused by AD. They found no therapeutic effect of cannabinoid therapy. A smaller study of 11 patients in Israel concluded that “delusions, agitation/aggression, irritability, apathy, sleep and caregiver distress” were all reduced with the help of cannabis.

Cannabis will not be a panacea for all that ails us. There is some hope in these early studies of how cannabis may help patients with Alzheimers, but it is still too early to make promises. Possible connections between cannabis and AD are turning the heads of some of the finest researchers from Stanford to Tel-Aviv University. That may be enough to inspire more studies and continued hope.

Let’s Talk About How Medical Marijuana Can Help With Eczema

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by Trey Reckling (originally published in The Fresh Toast)

The skin is our largest organ and one that is taken for granted when functioning properly. But anyone who has experienced severe sunburn or allergic reactions knows how unpleasant life can be when the skin is damaged, itching or swollen. (swollen, and for) For over 30 million Americans living with eczema, this challenge is all too familiar.

Itching is a primary symptom of eczema. For many it is mild and can be treated with over the counter lotions and topicals to reduce the discomfort. Others can have a more severe reaction, sometimes leading them to scratch so much they bleed, causing further aggravation and pain. In addition to itching people may experience dry, sensitive and even inflamed skin, dark, leathery or scaly patches of skin and even oozing and crusting for some. The pain and visible symptoms can impact the quality of a person’s life and cause them embarrassment.

Although many children with food allergies also have eczema, doctors do not believe it is caused by an allergic reaction. Rather, it is suspected to be a combination of factors including genetics, irregular response from the immune system, moisture control problems in the skin and

certain triggers like stress, detergents and hot water.

Typical treatments include hydrocortisone lotions, salves and shampoos, antihistamines, prescription corticosteroids and ultraviolet light therapy for more severe cases. But, what about cannabis? Can it help?

The endocannabinoid system produces naturally occurring cannabinoids in the bodies of all vertebrate animals. They are closely related to the phytocannabinoids produced by marijuana and hemp plants. These compounds are known to help moderate bodily systems such as appetite, sleep, pain, auto-immune response and others. It is the immune system that is of particular interest to some scientists.  Researchers at the University of Bonn in Germany conducted a study with mice and found that “mice lacking both known cannabinoid receptors display exacerbated allergic inflammation.” While eczema may not be an allergic reaction, being able to calm the immune response from the body could possibly bring many sufferers relief they are seeking.

That makes sense to Ah Warner, owner of Cannabis Basics, that produces a full line of CHABA, cannabis health and beauty aids. These are topicals with less than .3% THC and are non-psychoactive. They are currently only allowed in Washington State, but patients are swearing by them.

"There are hundreds (,)if not thousands (,)of people using CHABA for skins conditions including eczema,” says Warner,  “unfortunately as a manufacturer I am prohibited by the FDA to make any curative or treatment claims. However, Cannabis Basics now has Washington State MD's, ND's, LMP's, Herbalists and Estheticians recommending our products. Almost every inquiry I get from a medical practitioner was prompted because their patients have turned them onto these types of products."

Lisa Buchanan is a cannabis nurse (RN and OCN) and the owner of Paisley Nursing Group. She has seen great interest in this option. Her patients have reported positive feedback and believes cannabis or products containing it could be an “important addition to a patient’s toolkit for managing their eczema, along with avoiding triggers, reducing stress, and ongoing medical management provided by their healthcare team.”

For the patient new to the idea of cannabis therapy, she suggests,

“Topicals are a great starting point for new users. Start using a single isolated area to check for reaction.  If no problems, continue to use on affected areas.  Many people don't realize the value of a topical until they have discontinued it. Be patient and evaluate over time.”

In addition to the Cannabis Nurses Magazine, which she writes for, Buchanon also suggests ProjectCBD.org and PatientsOutOfTime.org for people seeking more guidance on the potential of cannabis use for this purpose.

As always, we recommend working with a professional healthcare provider familiar with cannabis. While it may not be an herbal cure all, it certainly holds promise in the area of eczema and related skin conditions. That alone is enough to make millions of Americans take notice.

Chronic Pain and Marijuana

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by Trey Reckling (originally published in The Fresh Toast)

Hit your thumb with a hammer. There, now you have a perfect example of acute pain, a temporary, intensely uncomfortable feeling that will probably fade once the tissue heals and swelling subsides. Chronic pain, on the other hand, does not simply fade away but is persistent, lasting for months and longer for some people. Chronic pain greatly affects a person's life and is debilitating in severe cases.

Chronic pain affects nearly 80 million Americans. That’s more than those who suffer with diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, combined. Chronic pain is a condition that is often misunderstood. There was no obvious “hammer” but the pain is real and is fiercely persistent.

What brings relief? Often the treatment options are NSAID medicines (ibuprofen or acetaminophen) or prescription opiates, like hydrocodone and oxycodone. Even the FDA stated that NSAIDS can be dangerous, especially with prolonged use. Today Americans use over 80% of the world's opiates and about 99% of the global hydrocortisone supply. Opiates are not only addictive but can be deadly.

So, what about medical marijuana? Could patients ditch their pills for pot? Some are already doing just that. A study of Medicaid reimbursed prescriptions in 17 states with medical marijuana found that the average physician prescribed 1,826 fewer doses of painkillers in one year. On top of that, a study from researchers from University of Pennsylvania and Johns Hopkins found, “States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate.”

The detail of how it works it up for some debate. We know that our endocannabinoid system regulates many body systems like sleep, appetite and pain management, to name a few. It seems that cannabis does not eliminate the pain but may make it easier to tolerate. In an Oxford University study, MRI scans showed an area in the brain which affects the emotional aspects of pain, “became less active after participants took THC.”

What if a new medicine came on the scene offering to help people cope with pain? What if it could replace more dangerous and more addictive medicines? What if, unlike other available options, it had a nearly impossible overdose threshold? It’s not new. In fact, medical use of cannabis predates all existing pharmacology patents.We are simply getting reacquainted with a reliable, timeless friend.

Cannabis Saved My Dog's Life

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by Trey Reckling    (originally published in the Fresh Toast)

Sweet Georgia Brown, our fourteen-year-old dog, had a stroke. We were on our daily walk to the park when she suddenly couldn’t stand. Her back leg stiffened like a plank, she couldn’t focus her gaze and things got worse. She lost control of her bladder, her eyes darted side to side—I thought, this is it.

Georgia’s brain was severely swollen, and if the swelling wasn’t reduced it could have resulted in brain damage or… that really could have been it. Fortunately, being in marijuana-friendly Seattle, her veterinarian asked what we thought about an emergency intervention using medical marijuana. He could not prescribe it, but said, if we got the right dose, it may be more effective than any pharmacy grade medicine he could offer.

He was right. Thanks to a selected cannabis extract, within twenty-four hours she regained her vision and motor control. My husband helped her to re-learn some basic motor functions, and now, eighteen months later, she has a few age-associated challenges but is otherwise healthy and happy. 

Witnessing Georgia’s recovery made me think, as the news about medical marijuana and its efficacy in treating human ailments continues to spread, what about our furry friends? Does cannabis hold potential to make their lives better? And if so, what potential risks should be considered?

We do know that all invertebrate animals have endocannabinoid systems, a group of receptors that interact with the naturally occurring cannabinoids our bodies produce. These systems affect pain, sleep, appetite, mood and memory. This is the reason that so many human patients are finding relief for their ills with medical marijuana—like pain, skin conditions, GI ailments, and inflammation­. Why would we not hold the hope that pets could gain relief just as humans do when it comes these ailments?

It does not come without risks whether the ingestion is planned or sneaky and opportunistic on the part of the pet. According to The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, ASPCA, dogs that consume cannabis can experience: “Prolonged depression, vomiting, incoordination, sleepiness or excitation, hypersalivaton, dilated pupils, low blood pressure, low body temperature, seizure, coma, death (rare).”

The ASPCA does not distinguish between decarboxylated cannabis or raw/dry cannabis. “Decarbed” cannabis has been heated to make its THC bioavailable and ready for absorption. The THC in raw/dry cannabis has not been activated. This is one reason why an animal consuming “medibles” is so much more affecting than eating raw or dry cannabis.

Dr. Ahna Brutlag, a board-certified veterinary toxicologist with the Pet Poison Hotline (petpoisonhotline.com) said they have seen serious increases of pets consuming cannabis:

Over the past 6 years, we’ve had a 448% increase in cases mostly in the US (some from Canada). The biggest shift, for us, has been the source of marijuana to which pets are exposed. Five to seven years ago, most of our consultations involved pets ingesting dried plant material/buds. Today, the majority of our cases involve pets ingesting edible marijuana products. As many of these ‘medibles’ also contain chocolate, this can pose an additional risk for poisoning, especially for dogs and cats. “

Any responsible pet owner should guard their cannabis like the medicine it is and prevent accidental ingestion by both pets and children. Pet owners should also work with a veterinarian for professional advice and guidance. It is best not to risk the well-being of our furry loved ones by allowing accidental ingestion or experimenting when it comes to appropriate products or dosage. You love them too much for that risk.

Want to protect youth when it comes to marijuana?... Be honest with them.

by Trey Reckling   (originally published by The Fresh Toast)

The Drug Enforcement Administration continues to classify marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance since 1972. Because of this classification, marijuana is seen to have "no medically accepted use" and brings with it a "high potential for abuse." Research has been greatly inhibited by this. Despite these limitations, there are still in excess of 29,000 peer reviewed research papers on cannabis listed by the National Institutes of Health.

The truth is out there as a famous TV show used to remind us. But this is not science fiction, cannabis is an herbal remedy used by shamans thousands of years ago and likely used even by many of our great grandmothers before it was demonized at the beginning of the 1900s. The propaganda machine against marijuana has ranged from blatantly racist to just purely misleading and uninformed. During the 80’s children were told to “Just Say No” and an egg cracked into a hot frying pan reminded us, “this is your brain on drugs.” It was a time before the internet and many youth had no way to seriously fact check the propaganda coming from their TV, from teachers and even the White House. The message to youth was basically, “believe us, we know better.” When those messages proved to be thin on facts and often wrong, the messengers were discredited.

As marijuana legalization spreads, a primary goal is often to protect youth. In an effort to protect children, states enact strict labeling, packaging and marketing rules, create security procedures to make sure children don’t have access and limit proximity of producers and retailers to places where children assemble like schools and playgrounds. If we really want to keep youth safe in these days of increasingly legal cannabis, we need to do one thing above all. We need to be honest with them, then ask them to fact check us. Spreading fear to educate has never been the best method of instruction, though fear of disciplinary and legal consequence is what society often leans on. Instead, let’s tell our kids that good, reliable research exists and be willing to show both sides of the coin. Yes, the largest research study of its kind found that “little evidence to suggest that adolescent marijuana use has a direct effect on intellectual decline.” However, research also currently shows that as many as 9% of marijuana users can become addicted and that teen use can lead to a higher likelihood of substance use disorder later in life. Let’s share with them the studies that show that adolescent cannabis use can have real negative effects on the developing brain.

Let’s have open and honest discussions with youth about cannabis use as we encourage them to abide by state laws that require them to be of age to consume. For the sake of their health and preventing involvement with the legal system, let’s encourage them to not just believe us but to fact check us, to seek out real answers to the questions they have from reliable, science based sources. Young people are not always known for rational decisions. We know this; we have been there. But they will be much better prepared to make smart decisions if they are knowledgeable. Let’s give them that benefit. It’s more than many of us had to go on.

How Will College Campuses Tackle Legal Marijuana?

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by Trey Reckling  

(originally published in TheFreshToast.com)

College campuses have long dealt with the challenge of alcohol on campus in a variety of ways.  On the more liberal end of the spectrum, Stanford’s “open door policy” allows beer and wine at college parties for those 21 and older, while Brigham Young’s Honor Code forbids alcohol, tobacco, caffeine and illegal drugs of any kind. But, how will colleges and universities address the growing question about a student’s right to consume cannabis in states where it is now legal?

American universities, regardless of their location, have mostly maintained prohibition stances on marijuana. Because almost all universities heavily rely on federal financial aid, they have been wary to do anything that signals a softening on a substance still listed by the DEA as a schedule I drug with “no currently accepted medical use.”

Jake Agliata an outreach coordinator with Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, SSDP, believes that this careful approach can hurt students. “One of the things not often talked about with cannabis on college campuses is the medical aspect. Medical cannabis patients who are also students on college campuses are often discriminated against because the school has policies that prevent them from medicating on campus, which is often where they live.” He points out that faculty and staff who are medical marijuana patients are often affected by the same policy.

Regarding these university positions, Agliata states, “One of the issues with prohibitive cannabis policies at any school is that they punish good students for doing something that is not at all harmful to the college community. This is even truer in states that have legalized cannabis, as if a student were consuming outside the boundaries of the campus, they would not be receiving the same level of punishment.”

Universities with the responsibility of teaching and protecting students often do not agree that this behavior is without negative impact. Institutions like the University of Washington, UW, are currently in new territory, with more legal recreational pot shops around its campus in Seattle than Starbucks stores.

Jason R. Kilmer, Ph.D. is an associate professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, assistant director of Health & Wellness for Alcohol & Other Drug Education Division of Student Life at UW. His research focuses on harm reduction-based prevention and intervention efforts around college student alcohol and other drug use. While others may be singing the praises of cannabis, Kilmer must honestly try to assess both foreseen and unintended risks of cannabis on campus.

Kilmer points to important data like Dr. Amelia Arria’s study from the University of Maryland showing that “over 40% of those with chronic (cannabis) use experience enrollment gaps compared to under 25% of those with no use or minimal use.” He must also balance that with the opportunities cannabis legalization is presenting to him as a researcher. Kilmer has witnessed that students “have sensed a shift and change in stigmas associated with use of cannabis, so there are increased opportunities to have conversations about cannabis with less concern about judgment...We are always mindful of people obtaining substances without complete knowledge of what’s in them, and legalization has worked to change that for those purchasing cannabis through legal outlets.” He remains hopeful as some barriers to research have been recently lowered, allowing more study into cannabis and its possible effects on students, their health and their work.

It appears that, for the moment, cannabis is poised in the classic tug of war of academia. The students, or at least a vocal subset of them, push for more liberal considerations while the institution moves carefully, seeking to protect students and its own reputation. Will cannabis use be allowed by more institutions of higher learning? Some hopeful advocates are hopeful that cannabis on campus could cut into the binge drinking culture and the vandalism and violence that often accompanies it. Some university administrators are concerned another intoxicating substance will simply complicate the equation. Which position will prevail? It is simply too early to know. Like so much in this cultural shift, the answer is we must wait to see while the tug of war continues.