September media: cannabis confusion and contradiction

A brief round-up of how the Australian media covered cannabis stories in September 2015

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When it comes to cannabis news, September was a confusing month at best. While every media outlet needs to ‘work their angle’ on a story, the degree of contradiction between stories from various media outlets was overwhelming at times, and readers could probably be excused for feeling less informed, the more they read.

Medical cannabis

During September, media reported on a study conducted across seven pain-management clinics in Canada which revealed “medical cannabis appears to be reasonably safe and effective in relieving chronic pain”. The study compared a group of 215 cannabis-using (12.5% THC) patients who have non-cancer chronic pain, with a group of 216 chronic pain sufferers who haven’t used cannabis. The results indicated cannabis users had no adverse cognitive effects or ill-effects on kidneys or hormone function, and while both groups improved over time, the cannabis-using group seemed to have significantly greater improvement.

As expected, those using cannabis did have an increased rate of mild-to-moderate side effects such as headache and nausea, and had some restriction of lung function after one year (some users did mix with tobacco) so smoking was not advised by the researchers. Patients were self-selected, not randomised and many were experienced cannabis users over their lifetime, so further research is required.

In the same month, GW Pharmaceuticals also revealed some initial good news in testing of its Cannabidiol product. Despite a lack of success in trials with some other illnesses, including chronic pain, the drug was found to be superior to a placebo for treating refractory schizophrenia, in a mid-stage trial of 88 patients who had failed to respond to anti-psychotic medication. Further research will continue.

Finally, Victoria has taken one more step towards medicinal cannabis legalisation, tabling a report from the Victorian Law Reform Commission for review in Parliament. The drug can’t be imported, so the state will look at growing cannabis locally, but will still require permission from the Federal Government to do so.

Other research

During September, a University of Minnesota study published in Diabetologia reported users of cannabis (more than 100 times in their lifetime) are 40% more likely than non-users to develop pre-diabetes (poor blood sugar control), according to Medical News Today online. It does however note no link between cannabis and actual type 2 diabetes.

Interestingly, the NHS in the UK was quick to clarify, with the Metro and other publications pointing out the Government organisation stressed there is no significant link between cannabis and diabetes – but munchies could be an issue.

A Pittsburg School of Medicine and Rutgers University study examined if males who used cannabis between the ages of 15 and 26 experienced poorer quality of life in later years. The study controlled for co-occurring use of other substances and other pre-existing confounding factors and determined socioeconomic, social and quality of life factors were not affected, even by chronic use (with the exception of socioeconomic status for black men).

An Oberlin College of Ohio study has suggested teenagers are increasingly using e-cigarettes to ‘vape’ (inhale) cannabis. The study included 4,000 high-school aged participants, and concluded the rate of vaping by teens was 30 times higher than that reported for adults. The study also showed e-cigarette use tripled in the high school age group between 2013 and 2014, with 18% having used the e-cigarette to get high.

A year-long study conducted by the Kansas Health Institute examined the possible effects of legalising medical cannabis in Kansas by analysing other states that have legalised the drug. The study concluded crime and illegal consumption would not increase, but car-collisions and hospitalisations due to accidental ingestion would likely increase.  The study leader chose not to examine the medical effects, saying, “There is some research available for certain conditions, but it’s still not conclusive.”

What September media largely points out is that while sometimes confusing, it is important readers view a variety of publications to investigate a story, as various outlets spin the story depending on their position on cannabis and what appeals most to their readers. There is some promising research being undertaken, especially with regards to medical cannabis, but it’s important to seek professional medical advice before changing treatment approaches. 

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