August media wrap up – studies and spin

Cannabis research, synthetics and 'cannabis vomiting syndrome'

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This month was a relatively quiet one as far as cannabis goes, with mainstream health journalists much more focused on the new female ‘viagra’ than cannabis related issues.

What was interesting in August, were the contrasting angles chosen by journalists and writers when approaching cannabis studies released during the month. As is becoming a strong trend, it was not uncommon to see the same study across several sites – with quotes and headings that seemed only vaguely from the same research.

While research is always open to sensible commentary, the growing trend towards spinning study findings highlights many aspects related to cannabis remain unclear, and there will be a need for further research for years into the future. What it also means is that we, as readers, need to be more vigilant than ever in ensuring we read widely and always ask questions!

Medical cannabis takes a backseat

While August saw a smattering of news items related to moves towards legalisation, these were few and far between when compared to other months.

Further moves were made at a Federal level in August, with the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee supporting the use of medical cannabis where it is proven safe and effective, as per a Bill introduced by the Greens party. Minor concerns were raised by committee members with regards to the effect any changes will have on areas like customs and the Therapeutic Goods Act. It was also noted the Bill will need to change to ensure Australia doesn’t breach the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and must receive the support of the government to pass.

Earlier this year, NSW Premier Mike Baird announced pending medical cannabis trials will commence next year and will be led by our own University of New South Wales’ Faculty of Medicine. While New South Wales will lead the trials, other states have been keen to get on board, and in August the Queensland Government noted it anticipated investing $3 million in the trials, to complement New South Wales’ investment.

Cannabis research

During August, Professor Tomas Paus and his team at Toronto University released results from a study of 1,500 young people, aimed at better understanding the effect of cannabis on developing brains. The study found the brains of teenage boys who used cannabis before age 16, and had a genetic risk of schizophrenia, developed differently. Professor Paus noted the boys showed less cortical thickness, suggesting use of cannabis may interfere with how this part of the brain matures.

 

Another interesting story this month looked at a study undertaken by David Pagliaccio at the National Institute of Mental Health, USA. Pagliaccio and his team used magnetic resonance imaging to compare the brains of marijuana users with those of non-users. Examining 482 participants, the results indicated cannabis users had some shrinkage in the amygdala and the ventral striatum – but it may have been there all along, suggesting cannabis users may have smaller brains to start with (due to other environmental or genetic reasons). The study did indicate those who used cannabis were more likely to be “poorer, less agreeable, more likely to use other drugs” and seek more immediate rewards rather than delay for larger future rewards.

A study released by the Conference of Québec University Health Centres in August, examined 786 Inuit adults aged 18 to 74, with results showing those who only used cannabis had lower BMIs than those who had also tried alcohol or tobacco. Cannabis users also appeared to have lower fasting insulin and insulin resistance, meaning they may be less likely to develop diabetes. Interestingly, while most publications simply reported, ‘Cannabis users less likely to be obese’, some took it a step further, claiming, 'Marijuana fights diabetes, another study confirms’. It will be interesting to see whether future research with a range of populations with varying diets replicates these findings.

Along a similar line of thinking, another study undertaken by a team of Australian researchers found the combination of some cannabis compounds with vitamin A may help to reduce fat deposits. Vitamin A was used in an attempt to nullify some of the adverse effects of cannabis on the brain, and the study was carried out using zebra fish and human cells.

Finally, a new study out of Denmark has revealed cannabis may have an impact on sperm. The study asked more than 1,200 Danish men, who provided a sperm sample, about their recent drug use. It found a correlation between people who used cannabis and a notable drop in sperm count. While the study did take into account caffeine, alcohol and cigarette consumption, the scientists aim to do more research in the area, as more information is needed.

Synthetic cannabis

During August, South Australia banned the use of synthetic cannabis products, Full Moon and Sinsence (similar to Spice). The drugs allegedly gave users superhuman strength and made them psychotic. The substances have now been added to the banned list in that state.

Cannabis vomiting syndrome

‘Rise of the bizarre cannabis vomiting syndrome’ was a prominent headline in the Guradian in August, with the publication saying UK doctors claim the rate of people suffering Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome is on the rise. The article warned that a failure to recognise symptoms, which include stomach pain, nausea and often severe vomiting, may lead to misdiagnosis and a drain on hospital resources. Avoiding cannabis can remove the risk of suffering this condition.

If you want to know more about this syndrome, please visit our Cannabinoid Hyperemesis bulletin.

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