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The Medical Minute: Fibromyalgia, Adolescent Use, and the Return of Reefer Madness

We’re fortunate to live in a new era of cannabis where its social and political stigmas are losing credibility one state at a time. Patients are gaining better access while recreational consumers are regaining their personal liberties. Every now and then, we see a burping up of the old Reefer Madness scare tactics that madly drove cannabis prohibition for many decades, and this Medical Minute looks at the latest example proliferated by the media, its implications, as well as other developments in our understandings of medical marijuana.

1. Could One Joint a Week Cause Brain Abnormalities?

We’d be surprised if you haven’t yet heard of the latest study supporting the theory that even occasional cannabis consumption leads to permanent structural abnormalities in the brain; mainstream media covered the Harvard/Northwestern findings with sensational headlines that would be difficult for any cannabis advocate to miss. In case you did, here’s the short of it:

Neuroimaging MRI scans of 40 individuals (ages 18 to 25; 20 cannabis consumers and 20 non-consumers) showed that marijuana – even in small amounts – caused gray matter changes in the brain’s amygdala and nucleus accumbens, areas associated with motivation, reward, and emotional processing. In light of the results, one researcher responded, "This research with the other studies we have done have led me to be extremely concerned about the effects of marijuana in adolescents and young adults and to consider that we may need to be very careful about legalization policies and possibly consider how to prevent anyone under age 25 to 30 from using marijuana at all."

While it’s important to understand the impact of consumption on developing brains, this study draws conclusions without exploring how these structural changes actually affect cognitive functioning. The researchers do state, however, that the marijuana users reported no problems with school, work, family life, or legal matters. Considering the fact that alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine are also associated with changes in the brain, we have to wonder why this particular study of the myriad cannabis studies available was given such widespread attention.

2. Legal Medical Marijuana Not Associated with Adolescent Use

Speaking of developing brains and the legalization policies that would supposedly enable adolescent consumption, a recent meta-analysis tracking 20 years of data showed that medical marijuana laws do not cause increases in teen consumption. The study compared consumption trends in states with and without medical marijuana laws, as well as statistics from before and after legalization. Their analysis sample of over 11 million students demonstrated that legal markets have no more of a negative impact on our youth than the thriving black market. Suprised? Nah, we aren’t either.

3. Cannabis Just Might Be the Best Treatment for Fibromyalgia

Currently, only three legal medications are being prescribed to treat fibromyalgia, a central nervous system disorder that causes pain and sometimes other symptoms like fatigue, stiffness, sleeplessness, and psychiatric disorders. The National Pain Foundation recently surveyed over 1,300 fibromyalgia patients about the efficacy of their treatments. Here’s what they found:

Medical Marijuana:

   Very effective – 62%
   Helps a little – 33%
   Doesn’t help at all – 5%

Cymbalta:

   Very effective – 8%
   Helps a little – 32%
   Doesn’t help at all – 60%

Lyrica:

   Very effective – 10%
   Helps a little – 29%
   Doesn’t help at all – 61%

Savella:

   Very effective – 10%
   Helps a little – 22%
   Doesn’t help at all – 68%

The differences in efficacy are staggeringly disparate, and the results really don’t require much commentary. While it’s easy to look at this information, fist pump, and move on, remember to also share emerging information with those who might benefit from it. You’d be surprised by the number of people who don’t realize what amazing relief lies behind the veil of stigma.

Image sources: Konrad Krzyżanowski's Flore en Valois, Chumry, Untitled, and Clouds Over Finland