Media wrap up – October and November

Throughout October and November 2015 the Australian media covered stories on medicinal cannabis, high potency 'skunk', and cannabis use in pregnancy.

cannabis media

As the end of the year has drawn closer, we’ve again seen fluctuations in media interest in cannabis. While early October saw a lull in cannabis news, the drug was thrust rapidly back into the spotlight later in the month when the Federal Government made a potentially game-changing announcement about medical cannabis. We’ve combined our October and November wrap up, as October’s big news played a significant role in ongoing news stories throughout November.

Medical cannabis – could 2016 be the year?

While October kicked off pretty quietly with regards to cannabis news, all of that changed mid-month, when Federal Health Minister, Sussan Ley, announced plans for a ‘safe, legal and sustainable’ supply of cannabis for medical and scientific purposes. The Minister noted the Government’s empathy for patients suffering terminal or serious illnesses and acknowledged the added stress obtaining illegal cannabis may cause. According to reports, the Government intends to amend the Narcotic Drugs Act to enable regulated cultivation in a similar manner to Tasmania’s poppy cultivation.

Interestingly, even while the announcement was taking place, other journalists were busy penning articles relating to a review of the June/July JAMA article that suggests evidence for the efficacy of medical cannabis is limited. The review found that there is moderate evidence for the use of cannabis to treat spasticity and chronic pain, and little evidence to support use for nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy, sleep disorders and to affect weight gain in HIV patients.

Pro cannabis legalisers will rightly suggest that some of these findings seem to contradict other findings currently available that show more promise in some of these areas. But that doesn’t mean cannabis is proven to be effective for these conditions. What is does clearly show is that the jury is still out, that we need to dig deeper, know more and study harder so we can determine if cannabis is useful, what parts of it are useful, how much, how long, when and with what illnesses or symptoms.

And in other cannabis news…

King’s College in London and Sapienza University Rome have published findings from a study into the effects of ‘skunk’ (high potency cannabis) on the brain. 

The study suggests frequent use of skunk can ‘significantly affect white matter fibres in the brain, whether you have psychosis or not’. The study compared white matter in 56 patients treated for their first episode of psychosis, compared with 43 healthy patients. The NHS has responded to the published research on their own website, suggesting further research is needed for accurate conclusions. A study led by Dr Wendy Swift last year reported that cannabis on the streets of NSW is of similar potency to UK ‘skunk’ at around 15% THC.

A New Zealand study of 164 children aged four and below has shown children of cannabis-using mothers produced better results in tests of global motion perception, than children of mothers who drank alcohol during pregnancy. They pointed out, however, that research also suggests cannabis use by mothers during pregnancy can negatively affect children’s cognitive and motor development, so mothers should avoid using any drug including alcohol and cannabis during pregnancy.

The American Journal of Medicine has published a research study conducted by the University of Miami that suggests cannabis users are less likely than non-users to develop metabolic syndrome (which includes symptoms like elevated blood pressure, excess body fat and high blood sugar). The study included 8,500 participants aged 20 to 59 years old, separated into groups based on cannabis use habits (never used, used in the past, current users).

Scientists at Hyasynth Bio have developed yeast that produces THC and cannabidiol. The development will hopefully enable scientists to easier produce the compounds and better understand how they work.

European MGC Pharmaceuticals has announced plans to team up with the University of Sydney’s business school to research commercial opportunities for cannabis in Australia. The company, which is working on cannabis-based cosmetics, aims to position itself at the forefront of Australian medical cannabis, according to Business Insider.

Last, but not least, in Colorado, where marijuana businesses aren’t required to test their goods for pesticides, several independent studies have found dangerous levels of pesticides in marijuana products. CNN-initiated tests by an independent lab found illegally high levels of neurotoxin imidacloprid according to the Huffington Post, which resulted in more than 2,000 product recalls. The story notes a previous study found products with up to six times the federally allowed limit for pesticides in consumable products.

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