Tag: Science & Tech

Taking Drugged Driving Seriously: What Does the Science Say?

I’ve been reporting on cannabis full-time for more than 15 years, so I like to think I’ve heard it all—pro and con—when it comes to the legalization debate. In all that time spent weighing facts and debunking disinformation, only one con argument has ever given me serious pause: What if a large number of newbie pot smokers suddenly get behind the wheel and all start riding dirty at once? 

There are many other supposed cannabis dangers that would warrant being taken seriously, if a small bit of independent investigation didn’t reveal them to be overblown or baseless.

For instance, science shows definitively that cannabis is not a gateway to harder drugs, is not addictive relative to other drugs (including caffeine), does not cause cancer or harm the lungs, and does not lead to an increase in violent crime.

Not that cannabis is completely harmless, of course. But if smoking herb turned you into a scatterbrained, violent heroin addict with lung cancer, that would be a serious concern. As hard data makes plain, however, it’s just not what happens.

Is “stoned driving” any different?


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Hot Button Issue

With Attorney General Jeff Sessions actively looking for excuses to crack down on legal cannabis, prohibition defenders are touting drugged driving as a reason to shut down the legal states.

Recently, the Denver Post published a major investigation of cannabis and driving. The story relied largely on data coming out of Colorado and Washington in the five years since those two states became the first to legalize the adult use of cannabis.

The series began with this headline: Traffic Fatalities Linked to Marijuana Are Up Sharply in Colorado. Is Legalization To Blame?

Well, Is Legalization To Blame?

Apparently nobody’s sure, because a smaller line directly below the headline stated: “Authorities say the numbers cannot be definitively linked to legalized pot.”

Authorities say the crash data can’t be definitively linked to legalized cannabis.

In my experience, the authorities have never been shy about blaming a myriad of social ills on cannabis. So why the hesitance this time? And what, exactly, does the Denver Post mean when they describe traffic fatalities “linked to” marijuana? That’s an awfully vague term.

The Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Task Force—a federally funded law enforcement organization dedicated to suppressing illegal drugs—stated in a 2015 report that the term “marijuana-related” does not “necessarily prove that marijuana was the cause of the incident,” and applies “any time marijuana shows up in the toxicology report [of drivers]. It could be marijuana only or marijuana with other drugs and/or alcohol.”

Which means that if a drug test shows you smoked half a joint last week and drank a bottle of vodka twenty minutes ago, your car crash goes down in the books as “marijuana related.”


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Deal With Facts, Not Fear

Before we fully delve into the confusing science of stoned driving, let’s start by stating the obvious. Operating a motored vehicle while dangerously impaired on any substance—whether legal or illegal—is rightfully a criminal act.

Compared to sober drivers, THC-impaired drivers have a 5% greater risk of crashing. Alcohol-impaired drivers under the legal limit (.08) have a 225% greater risk.

So when the Post asked if “legalization” was to blame for traffic fatalities, that was a skewed way of framing the question. Nobody would argue that alcohol legalization is responsible for a drunk driving accident. We rightly blame the drunk driver, both in the court of law and the court of public opinion.

Clearly, cannabis use can lead to driver impairment, which increases accident risk—but how much cannabis? And how much risk? That depends on a lot of factors.

While it’s literally impossible to fatally overdose on infused chocolates (unless you’re allergic to chocolate), you could fall asleep or space out at the wheel after eating them and cause a fatal accident. That’s a danger that imperils not just the driver, but anyone else in the car or on the road.

When Colorado legalized adult-use cannabis in 2012, it also included a per-se limit for drivers. State law specifies that “drivers with five nanograms of active tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in their whole blood can be prosecuted for driving under the influence (DUI)… and no matter the level of THC, law enforcement officers base arrests on observed impairment.”


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Look at the Full Data Set

Putting aside for a moment the notorious difficulty of measuring cannabis impairment through blood tests or officer observation, the Post’s analysis raised serious questions about cannabis use and drugged driving.

One of the key findings in the Post report was this startling statistic:

  • From 2013 to 2016, the number of drivers who tested positive for marijuana use jumped 145 percent — from 47 to 115.

That doesn’t sound good. But it’s a wholly misleading statistic. “Testing positive for marijuana” only means that cannabis metabolites remain in the driver’s blood, even though the driver may be completely sober. The body expunges alcohol within hours, but those non-impairing cannabis metabolites remain for days and even weeks. The test will register as metabolite-positive if the driver consumed cannabis anytime up to three weeks ago.

If Colorado officials conducted a similar test to find drivers who consumed alcohol within the past three weeks—if such a test existed—it would find 55% to 75% of the state adult population (the percentage range of people who consume alcohol at least once a month) register as alcohol-positive. But they’re no more “drunk” than a metabolite-positive driver is “stoned.”


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In fact, the Post data is doubly misleading, because the statistics on cannabis metabolites actually predate 2013. Annual reports by the state’s Interagency Task Force on Drunk Driving published data on metabolite-positive drivers involved in fatal crashes during 2011 and 2012. Those numbers reveal 2013 not as a normal, pre-legalization baseline, but rather as a bit of an outlier–an unusually low year for metabolite-positive drivers in crashes.

What the full data set reveals is that the percentage of Colorado drivers who are involved in fatal crashes, and have consumed cannabis sometime in the past three weeks, pretty much mirrors the percentage of adults who consume cannabis in the population at large. Which is to say, around 12% to 13%. It was a little under 14% prior to legalization, it was a little over 14% after legalization. In between it fluctuated between 8% and 12%.

Colorado: Drivers in Fatal Crashes (click to enlarge)

Consider the Odds

While the Post report included pushback quotes from two representatives of prominent cannabis industry trade groups, they didn’t talk to anybody like Paul Armentano, Deputy Director of NORML. He’s a longtime expert on these matters, with the peer-reviewed papers to prove it.

Armentano argues—I believe convincingly—that “increased prevalence of THC detection in drivers tells us little about accident risk,” as it could simply be evidence of increased use among the general public, increased testing by law enforcement, or both.

For Armentano, there’s only one metric that really matters: Odds ratios.

“To determine what role, if any, a drug plays in motor vehicle accident culpability we need to looks at odds ratios, which estimate the probability of an event occurring (e.g., motor vehicle crash) over the probability that such an event does not occur,” he says. “Odds ratios greater than 1 indicate a positive relationship, with stronger relationships reflected by higher numbers.”

And guess what? Drivers who test positive for active THC—not merely inactive metabolites—do increase their risk of crashing. But that increased risk is small compared to alcohol—or compared to opioids, texting, phone use, or even the distracting company of two other passengers in the car. When Colorado saw an upsurge in traffic fatalities last year, this was the headline in the Denver PostCDOT Director Blames Surge in Colorado Roadway Fatalities on an ‘Epidemic of Distracted Driving.’ 

The largest domestic case-control study to assess drugs and accident risk—published in a 2015 research note by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a federal agency—found that the odds ratios for THC-positive drivers and crashes, when adjusted for drivers’ age and gender, came out to 1.05. That means THC-positive drivers have a 5% greater crash risk than drivers with no drugs or alcohol in their system.

Context and Relative Risk

It’s worth taking a closer look at that 2015 NHTSA study, because federal officials put a lot of stock in it as “the first large-scale [case control crash risk] study in the United States to include drugs other than alcohol.” Data was collected from more than 3,000 crash-involved drivers and 6,000 control drivers (not involved in crashes) over a 20-month period in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The data was fresh and solid: Research teams responded to crashes 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Drivers were considered THC-positive if they tested for active THC, not for non-impairing metabolites still in their blood days or weeks after consumption.

While THC-positive drivers were 5% more likely to be involved in a crash, the researchers found that drivers who’d taken an opioid painkiller had a 14% greater risk of crashing. Here’s a chart from that NHTSA study comparing THC (marijuana) with opioids (narcotic analgesics) and other drugs:

Source: “Drug and Alcohol Crash Risk,” Compton and Berning, NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts Research Note, Feb. 2015

Those levels of increased risk were tiny, however, compared to the risk involved with alcohol. Drivers within the legal range of blood alcohol level as registered by a breathalyzer (BrAC) were found to be 20% to 222% more likely to be involved in a crash. At .08 BrAC, the legal limit, the risk increased to 293%. At 0.15 BrAC, drivers were more than 12 times (+1118%) more likely to be involved in a crash than a sober person. Here’s a chart from that same study, calculating the increased risk of crashing at rising blood alcohol levels:

Source: “Drug and Alcohol Crash Risk,” Compton and Berning, NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts Research Note, Feb. 2015

By comparison, a driver who has taken penicillin is 25% more likely to be involved in a crash. Drivers carrying two or more passengers are 120% more likely to crash. Drivers using mobile phones to talk or text are 310% more likely to crash.

A separate NHSTA study (“Marijuana And Actual Driving Performance”) further conceded it’s “difficult to establish a relationship between a person’s THC blood or plasma concentration and performance impairing effects … Drivers with high concentrations showed substantial [impairment], but also no impairment, or even some improvement.” In other words, cannabis affects different drivers in different ways, depending on a number of factors.


Blood Testing Drivers for THC is Nonsense, AAA Study Says

Favoring One Set of Data Over Another

Strangely, the Denver Post’s analysis relies heavily on data compiled by the NHSTA, yet they never mention these striking findings from the very same federal agency.

My own theory on that wide range of responses (from “substantial impairment” to “some improvement”): Cannabis affects inexperienced users very differently than seasoned consumers. A 2010 study published in the journal Psychopharmacology concluded that “heavy cannabis users develop tolerance to the impairing effects of THC on neurocognitive task performance.” And a 2012 study in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology confirmed finding “minimal impairment in driving-related psychomotor tasks in chronic daily cannabis users.”

So while the correlation between blood alcohol concentration and impairment is relatively consistent for most people, it may be impossible to establish a THC test that can truly gauge impairment the way a breathalyzer can for booze. Though not for a lack of trying, which creates the danger of severely punishing drivers simply for being cannabis consumers, not for driving while impaired.

A New Form of Prohibition

Because if it becomes essentially illegal to drive to work the morning after smoking a joint, then it becomes essentially illegal to smoke a joint—at least for the vast majority of us who are far more addicted to our cars than we ever could be to cannabis.

Speaking of automobile addiction: What’s with those car-junkies over at AAA (a.k.a. “Triple A”) lobbying against legalization and pushing “grossly distorted” data . According to a Leafly report, “the organization’s newly embraced anti-legalization stance is a hard turn from AAA’s previous position—which is to say, no position at all.”

Maybe it’s time for all AAA members who care about this issue to contact them and demand they start telling the truth.


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The (Positive) Substitution Effect

For instance, what about the idea—hidden in all the data we’ve examined so far—that increased cannabis use could actually be making our roads safer by serving as a substitute for more dangerous behavior.

Increased cannabis use could be making our roads safer by decreasing alcohol intake.

Meaning that while cannabis use in and of itself does increase crash risk, in a zero sum game where someone’s either drinking beer, popping pills or smoking weed, then cannabis is most certainly the safest of those risk factors. A dynamic that, writ large, can have a sizable positive effect.

For example, one 2011 study found that widespread use of legally accessible medical marijuana actually produces a major improvement in public safety because of a correlated reduction in drinking and driving, and an overall reduction in opioid use.

“Specifically, we find that traffic fatalities fall by nearly 9 percent after the legalization of medical marijuana,” concluded University of Colorado Professor Daniel Rees and Montana State University Assistant Professor D. Mark Anderson.


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No, You Don’t Drive Better Stoned

So, to sum up—no, you definitely don’t drive better stoned, especially in high doses. And double-especially if you’re not used to being stoned, or to driving, or to both. Infrequent users of cannabis incur a higher risk of crashing based on the increased motor impairment that comes along with having less experience with THC and its effects.

Most experts recommend waiting at least three hours after your last inhale of cannabis before driving, and waiting far longer if you’ve eaten edibles, since they can sometimes take two hours before the onset of effects, which can then last six hours or longer. Also, please be aware that mixing alcohol and cannabis is more dangerous than using either alone. And don’t ever smoke in a moving vehicle, as it’s irresponsible and also the easiest way to get busted.

Oh, and if you happen to be a passenger in a car heading out for a long road trip, then I highly recommend getting really, really blazed before getting into the car, and then bumping some killer driving music once you hit the highway.

Thank you for visiting MDMMCC.com, the premier Medical Marijuana Certification Center in Maryland. Our Mission at the Maryland Medical Marijuana Certification Clinics (MDMMCC) is to provide the certification necessary for qualified patients to obtain Medical Marijuana in compliance with the Maryland Medical Marijuana Laws in the State of Maryland.  MDMMCC will have offices open throughout Maryland.

How Cannabis Can Combat the Opioid Epidemic: An Interview With Philippe Lucas

Philippe Lucas has deep roots in Canada’s cannabis culture. After co-founding the Vancouver Island Compassion Society medical dispensary in 1999, Lucas applied himself to cannabis science, working as a graduate researcher with the Center for Addictions Research of British Columbia and serving as founding board member of both the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies Canada and the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition. In 2013, he received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for his research on medical cannabis.

Philippe Lucas

(Full disclosure/fun fact: He’s also Vice President of Patient Advocacy at Tilray, the cannabis production company owned by Privateer Holdings, which also owns Leafly.)

Most recently, Lucas is the author of a new study: “Rationale for cannabis-based interventions in the opioid overdose crisis,” published last month in the Harm Reduction Journal. In the study, Lucas lays out a variety of roles that cannabis might play in combatting the opioid epidemic, which currently kills 38,000 people in the U.S. and Canada each year and ranks as the leading cause of death among Americans under 50.


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His study added an important perspective to the growing body of evidence supporting the notion of cannabis as healing tool in the opioid crisis. That idea is quickly moving into mainstream thought, as we’ve seen recently with the public pronouncements of Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch and, just this week, Dr. Oz.

Over the phone from his office in Nanaimo, Lucas let me interrogate him about specifics of the study.

Dave Schmader: What inspired you to undertake this study?

Philippe Lucas: Whether it’s medical use or recreational use, cannabis appears to be having an impact on the rates of opioid abuse. This study is a summation of the evidence, and I’ve taken that summation to suggest three opportunities for cannabis to intervene in the opioid crisis.


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And those are…?

First is introduction—if physicians start recommending the use of medical cannabis prior to introducing patients to opioids, those patients that find cannabis to be a successful treatment for their chronic pain might never have to walk down the very tricky path of opioid use that all too often leads to abuse or overuse or overdose.

“Patients that find cannabis to be a successful treatment for their chronic pain might never have to walk down the very tricky path of opioid use.”

The second opportunity is reduction, for those patients who are successfully using opioids in the treatment of their chronic pain or other conditions but are worried about increasing their use of opioids over time. The evidence suggests you can introduce cannabis as an adjunct treatment and reduce the cravings for opioids, therefore potentially steering people away and reducing the risk of opioid overdose and opioid dependence.

The third part is cessation. Once individuals have become dependent on opioids and they recognize that dependence and are seeking treatment for it through opioid replacement therapy like methadone and suboxone, you can potentially introduce cannabis as an adjunct treatment to increase the success rate of the methadone or suboxone treatment. The reason this point is so important is that when people with an opioid dependence fail out of treatment, that’s the period where they become the most vulnerable to potential overdose. Replacement therapy has failed, they’re at their most vulnerable, and they go back to the illicit drug market, potentially risking overdose.


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A key concept in the study is the “substitution effect.”

Yes. The substitution effect is an economic concept that suggests that the use of one substance never stands alone. In fact, the use of one substance can affect the use of another. When it comes to psychoactive substances, the use of a substance can be affected by changes in price, changes in legality or regulatory access, or changes in the product itself in terms of potency. And that can really affect the use of another drug.

“In medical cannabis states, there was a 25 percent reduction in opioid overdose deaths.”

A 2014 study showed that in medical cannabis states, there was a 25 percent reduction in opioid overdose deaths compared to neighboring states that didn’t have medical cannabis programs. There’s a growing body of research showing that simply making medical cannabis available in a number of US states and in Canada has reduced rates of not just opioid use, but also the use of alcohol, tobacco, and illicit substances,

often leading to total abstinence of those substances. So we’re looking at cannabis as a potential therapeutic agent, but also as a harm reduction agent when it comes to problematic substance use. This evidence suggests cannabis could be an exit drug to problematic substance use and addiction.


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In the study you write, “Cannabis augments the pain-relieving potential of opioids and can re-potentiate their effects.” Tell me about re-potentiation.

Research suggests that when you use cannabis alongside opioids in the treatment of chronic pain, you seem to get a synergistic effect—a greater effect than you might have if each was taken individually. People who have been using opioids for some time sometimes have to increase their dose, and cannabis presents another option for physicians, so instead of increasing the dose of opioids they can instead prescribe medical cannabis as an adjunct treatment in order to keep the patient at a lower dose of opioids, thereby reducing the risk of overdose.


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Another study quote: “[I]t would seem logical to seek to develop policies and associated education strategies to increase physician support for cannabis for therapeutic purposes in the treatment of chronic pain.” This does seem logical. What are the chances of it happening?

Right now we’re facing this tremendous public-health threat around the opioid overdose crisis. Opioid overdose is the most common cause of accidental death in Canada and the US right now. The over-prescription of opioids seems to be leading the way, in that four out of five people currently injecting opioids say that they started by using prescription opioids. There’s an oversaturation of the market and an over-availability on the black market.


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I think that if we can shift prescription patterns by physicians—so that instead of first prescribing opioids and then, if those opioids fail, moving on to medical cannabis—we can modernize those policies and instead focus on introducing medical cannabis first. That’s based on all the available evidence, which indicates that it’s far less harmful than prescription opioids in terms of dependence and risk of overdose.

Right now in Canada and in US states with medical marijuana, physicians are encouraged to prescribe opioids first and if those don’t work, cannabis is considered as a third- or fourth-line treatment option. We need to flip that around and make cannabis the second-line treatment option and move opioids to third or fourth options if indeed cannabinoids are not successful.

Thank you for visiting MDMMCC.com, the premier Medical Marijuana Certification Center in Maryland. Our Mission at the Maryland Medical Marijuana Certification Clinics (MDMMCC) is to provide the certification necessary for qualified patients to obtain Medical Marijuana in compliance with the Maryland Medical Marijuana Laws in the State of Maryland.  MDMMCC will have offices open throughout Maryland.

TechCrunch Asks Cannabis Breathalyzer CEO ‘Why Are You Such a Narc?’

During the latest TechCrunch Disrupt event, one of the premier events for tech startups, TechCrunch Editor-At-Large Josh Constine wasted no time getting right to the point.

As he sat down to interview Mike Lynn, co-founder and CEO of Hound Labs, a startup in the process of developing the first reliable cannabis breathalyzer, Constine pulled no punches, asking, “Why are you such a narc?”

The question got a laugh from both the audience and Lynn, who then launched into an explanation of the benefits of having a reliable breathalyzer on the market.

“What we really try to do at Hound Labs is really be fair, to balance public safety and fairness because we need to have a standard,” he explained. “We don’t want people going around stoned behind the wheel, just like you can’t drive drunk.”


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“But,” he pointed to the counterargument, “at the same time, you don’t want to start firing people or arresting people who aren’t impaired.”

Hound Labs raised $8.1 million in its latest round of funding, specifically for research related to this cannabis breathalyzer, but how does it work?

The machine is similar to an alcohol breathalyzer (and does calculate alcohol levels as well as THC), but the machine comes with single-use cartridges. When breath enters the cartridge, a chemical reaction separates THC molecules, allowing the calculation of THC levels.


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The Hound Labs breathalyzer is currently only available to law enforcement agencies, a contrary point to Lynn’s vehement denial that he is, in fact, a narc. However, he is looking towards marketing the product for employers to help them recognize whether workers are actively impaired, which could save companies millions of dollars in drug tests costs.

So are cannabis breathalyzers for the best or for narcs? Truth be told, TechCrunch misspelled the word “nark” so who knows? Maybe they’re the ones to watch out for.

Thank you for visiting MDMMCC.com, the premier Medical Marijuana Certification Center in Maryland. Our Mission at the Maryland Medical Marijuana Certification Clinics (MDMMCC) is to provide the certification necessary for qualified patients to obtain Medical Marijuana in compliance with the Maryland Medical Marijuana Laws in the State of Maryland.  MDMMCC will have offices open throughout Maryland.

Blockchain Company Aims to Transform Australia’s Medical Cannabis Sector

Blockchain, the technology that powers digital currencies like Bitcoin, will make a cannabis-sector debut in Australia with the help of Canadian cannabis app developer Global Cannabis. The company has announced that it will launch an Australian subsidiary called Global Cannabis Apps (Australia), and has tasked the new company with the development of blockchain software for use in the medical cannabis industry.

A blockchain, sometimes called distributed ledger technology, is distributed secure information recorded across a network of computers. Exciting, right? Surprisingly, yes. Blockchain is being seriously hyped by financial tech experts—drawing comparisons to the printing press, combustion engine, and even the internet in terms of its impact on society.

Why are people so excited about it?


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Blockchain is the basis of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin because it uses a large peer-to-peer network to verify and record transactions, filling the “trust gap” between transacting individuals which has traditionally been bridged by a third party like a bank. By decentralizing and distributing the ledger (the record of transactions made in the currency), blockchain makes it very difficult for anyone to tamper with that record. This prevents fraud and double spending without having to pay a bank, lawyer, or other authenticator.

Proponents of the technology believe that allowing for individuals to make direct, trusted transactions will revolutionize commerce. But they also say that blockchain has many broader applications, such as verifying title in real estate, collecting taxes, or even managing health records. In the health sector, a distributed, trusted ledger could, for example, massively simplify the prescription of medicine to patients.

But critics of blockchain are skeptical, particularly when it comes to health data. One major concern is how to ensure the security of individuals’ private health records. Other critics have claimed that the technology is outrageously overhyped and has few real applications outside of cryptocurrency.


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Now blockchain will be put to the test in Australia’s emergent medical cannabis sector. An early project for Global Cannabis’ Australian arm will be a partnership with BuddingTech, a medical cannabis accelerator focused on providing better data for clinical trials in the medical cannabis industry. Collaborating with BuddingTech, Global Cannabis Australia will task a software team with the development of both a blockchain technology and a regulatory artificial intelligence technology for the medical cannabis industry.

As Australia completes legalization of medical cannabis, clinical trial data will become more and more important to Australian companies developing cannabis-based medicines. Clinical trials are not only a prerequisite for registration of a drug with Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration, they are also critical for building confidence in a product or company and thus attracting investment.

A distributed ledger of clinical trial data could therefore have huge potential in Australia’s fledgling cannabis industry. The software could also provide the foundation for controling and securing prescriptions of medical cannabis products, which would go a long way to addressing concerns about diversion of medical cannabis into recreational black markets.


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Global Cannabis see even broader applications. CEO Brad Moore wants to build in Australia and the roll-out to other markets. “By establishing the most trusted data supply for the medical cannabis industry in one of the toughest regulatory environments, we will have a model that we can expand into other emerging medical cannabis countries,” he said.

This won’t be the first marriage between blockchain technology and cannabis. In the US, where cannabis is still technically illegal under federal law, Potcoin allows for transactions between patients and cannabis businesses in states where medical cannabis has been legalized.

Thank you for visiting MDMMCC.com, the premier Medical Marijuana Certification Center in Maryland. Our Mission at the Maryland Medical Marijuana Certification Clinics (MDMMCC) is to provide the certification necessary for qualified patients to obtain Medical Marijuana in compliance with the Maryland Medical Marijuana Laws in the State of Maryland.  MDMMCC will have offices open throughout Maryland.

Why Does Cannabis Make Music Sound So Good?

You close your eyes and take a breath from your vaporizer as the music begins to play. You’ve listened to this album on numerous occasions, but this time the individual notes, rhythms, and melodies seem to resonate with a particular richness, intensity, and gravitas that together arouse your senses on a whole new level.

As Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac once said, “If you’ve been working on something for a few hours and you smoke a joint, it’s like hearing it again for the first time.” The connection between music and cannabis has a rich history, dating back to the emergence of jazz in the early 20th century. Many pioneers in this improvisational art form were regular users of cannabis, including Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie.


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But why does music sound so good when you’re high?

While scientific research investigating this topic is rare, there are several hypotheses that attempt to explain the pleasurable duet that is cannabis and music.

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Some theorists postulate that cannabis’ effects on an individual’s sense of timing might be responsible for its appeal amongst musicians. Previous studies have shown that cannabis speeds up our internal clocks, making external “real world” time appear to pass slower. For example, one study demonstrated that a 15 second time interval was “expanded” to an average of 16.7 seconds while under the influence of cannabis (while sober controls correctly estimated this interval).

One study demonstrated that a 15 second time interval was “expanded” to an average of 16.7 seconds while under the influence of cannabis.

“If you look into the literature on timing, it seems to be that the brain systems that are influenced by cannabinoids are producing a state of mind in which there seems to be a slower backward counting,” says Jorg Fachner, professor of music, health, and the brain at Anglia Ruskin University in the United Kingdom. “And that means your timing units, the time frames that you are overseeing, seem to be enlarged. So those who are improvising seem to have a bit more time to foresee the melodic developments in improvisation and to fine grain the rhythmic patterns.”


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Indeed, some anecdotal reports suggest that this subjective expansion of time benefits an improvisational art form like jazz because musicians are able to mentally squeeze more notes in a given number of musical bars. These claims, however, have yet to be substantiated by empirical studies.

Why Cannabis Makes Music Sound Better

How does this change in timing affect listeners consuming cannabis?

Focus and Attention

According to individual user reports, modifications in internal time can alter our attentional spotlight, facilitating changes in auditory perception.

“When your time perception changes, your focus of attention changes,” says Fachner. “So when you put on a stereo headset you might have an enhanced ability to select certain information and disregard other information, which could help distinguish the individual sounds a bit more intensively.”

According to Fachner, this enhanced attentional focus to see “the space between the notes” results in music that is perceived to be “much more lively, much more clean, and much more distinct.”


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These anecdotal changes in perception have also been shown to have possible neurological underpinnings.

In 2002, Fachner conducted a study investigating the link between cannabis usage, music perception, and changes in brainwave activity. Using an electroencephalogram (EEG), a device capable of detecting small changes in electrical activity throughout the brain, Fachner first measured the subject’s brainwave activity while sober (both with and without the presence of music).

In order to reduce biases in behavior that could arise from an artificial laboratory setting, the experiments were conducted in the comfort of a living room. The selected music consisted of three songs that included ensemble chamber music, folk-punk, and a Beatles cover. After a 30-minute rest period, participants then smoked cannabis containing 20mg of THC and listened to same music while their brainwave activity was recorded.


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The results indicated that music-listening cannabis users experienced changes in parietal, right temporal and left occipital cortices—brain areas that have previously been associated with attentional strategy, auditory processing, and spatial processing, respectively.

More specifically, the parietal (attentional strategy) cortex showed stronger activity in a particular frequency range called alpha. Interestingly, previous EEG studies have shown that students who are gifted in mathematics also display similar increases in alpha patterns in this brain region while solving problems, indicating that this activity pattern might be indicative of more efficient information processing than the average person.

“One of the interpretations that I had from this data is that when it comes to attention, subjects were focusing a bit more on the sound, and that this attention also required less mental energy,” says Fachner. “So it’s easier to listen, to focus, and to relax.”

In addition, increased activity in the right temporal brain region was also observed in stoned music-listening subjects. Because this area is primarily responsible for processing auditory information, these findings further demonstrate that a change in neural processing strategy could underlie altered music perception.


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Visual Processing

Fachner also observed cannabis-induced changes in the left occipital area, a region in the back of the brain that normally processes visual information.

When you listen to music, it always has a spatial dimension to it,” he says. “We need to know where the sound objects are coming from—that is evolutionarily important. And of course the visual centers process this.”

Changes in this visual processing might be connected with individual reports of synesthesia, or the blending of different sensory systems, while intoxicated. For instance, “there are people that say they have enhanced visual imagery to the music” after smoking, says Fachner.


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While high on cannabis, “you tend to shift your attention more rapidly if it is an interesting-sounding piece of music.”

Jorg Fachner, professor of music, health, and the brain at Anglia Ruskin University

Yet, it is important to note that this EEG study only tested four subjects, each of which might have different perceptual strategies for listening to music and varying tolerances to cannabis. Thus, the results lack sufficient statistical reliability to make wide-reaching claims about the intermingling of cannabis and music on a neurological level.

Other studies from the 1970s have also suggested that that stoned individuals have enhanced auditory intensity (i.e. loudness) perception, an increased tendency of “hearing” hallucinated sounds, as well as dose-related preferences for higher frequency sounds.


Fachner also proposes an alternative explanation for cannabis-induced changes in music perception that involves disruptions in memory processing. While high on cannabis, “you tend to shift your attention more rapidly if it is an interesting-sounding piece of music,” he says.

Because you are rapidly shifting attention and assimilating more information than you have the capacity to retain, you end up “emptying” your short-term memory more often. As a result of this “compressed” memory, the listener is thought to be more present, more in-the-moment with the music, and can cultivate a greater focus on each individual sound.


How Does Cannabis Affect Your Memory?

Stated differently, “A subject becomes less able to integrate past, present and future, his awareness becomes more concentrated on present events; these instances, in turn, are experienced as prolonged or timeless when they appear isolated from the continual progression of time,” wrote Frederick Melges, a psychiatrist at Stanford University.

In summary, “we have a different acoustic space that we perceive, a different time scale for the auditory events, and a different attention strategy for focusing on what is happening in the music,” says Fachner. “And all that seems to be connected to what is happening at the onset of cannabis activity.”

Future Research and Application

The auditory enhancing effects of cannabis might also have potentially therapeutic applications. Fachner notes that based on his results and anecdotal evidence, cannabis could help those with hearing impairments fine tune their listening ability, more effectively differentiate the source of sounds, and hear higher frequency sounds more clearly.

“You have a different perception of the acoustic space, and the higher frequencies give you more information about where the sound source is in the room,” says Fachner.

Yet, scientists continue to face many barriers in their ability to test this and many of the other hypotheses put forth surrounding cannabis and auditory processing. Despite the decriminalization of cannabis in many states across the country, it is still difficult for scientific studies involving controlled substances to clear scientific review boards.

But despite these setbacks to the scientific understanding of cannabis’ transcendent effects on the musical experience, most users tend to agree that this partnership shows no signs of slowing down.

Thank you for visiting MDMMCC.com, the premier Medical Marijuana Certification Center in Maryland. Our Mission at the Maryland Medical Marijuana Certification Clinics (MDMMCC) is to provide the certification necessary for qualified patients to obtain Medical Marijuana in compliance with the Maryland Medical Marijuana Laws in the State of Maryland.  MDMMCC will have offices open throughout Maryland.

Does Cannabis Make You Walk Funny?

Researchers at the University of South Australia have published a study in the September 2017 issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence that looks into the relationship between cannabis consumption and altered gait—or a person’s manner of walking.

The scientists set out to investigate balance and walking gait in adults with a history of cannabis consumption. The hypothesis was that cannabis consumption may be associated with subtle changes in gait and balance.


Cannabis Potency: How Does Lab Testing for THC and CBD Work?

Previous studies had indicated that cannabis intoxication resulted in acute motor deficits, including changes in balance (Ramaekers et al., 2006). Also, in 2008, there was a study that found an acute concentration-dependent disturbance in balance, with increased levels of THC resulting in increased body sway (Zuurman et al., 2008).

Leafly has obtained this exclusive video of the study in question.

The new study closely observed two groups of adults aged 18-49 years.  22 subjects had no history of illicit drug consumption. 22 other subjects had a history of cannabis use, but no history of illicit stimulant or opioid use.

Participants then completed screening tests, a gait and balance test that included a motion capture system, and a clinical neurological examination of movement.


The Biology of Cannabis vs. Opioids for Pain Relief

Their results suggested that cannabis consumption is associated with long-lasting changes in certain elements of a person’s walking gait—but the magnitude of those changes is so small as to be clinically undetectable. The study found no difference between the two groups in term of how their balance changed over time.

Individuals with a history of cannabis consumption exhibited abnormalities in the lower limb during gait. In other words, the velocity of a person’s knee during the swing phase of gait was greater by seven percent in cannabis users than in non-drug users. The velocity of the knee during a swing phase of gait is indicative of increased cadence; however, no difference in walking speed was observed between the two groups.


Researchers Are One Step Closer to a THC Breathalyzer

The authors of the study called for further research to investigate if the gait disturbances diminish with increased time between cannabis consumption.

Thank you for visiting MDMMCC.com, the premier Medical Marijuana Certification Center in Maryland. Our Mission at the Maryland Medical Marijuana Certification Clinics (MDMMCC) is to provide the certification necessary for qualified patients to obtain Medical Marijuana in compliance with the Maryland Medical Marijuana Laws in the State of Maryland.  MDMMCC will have offices open throughout Maryland.

Cannabis Potency: How Does Lab Testing for THC and CBD Work?

Cannabis testing allows consumers to make informed purchasing decisions based on the strength and composition of cannabis products. Accurate testing is crucial for medical cannabis patients who need specific therapeutic effects. It’s also important for adult-use consumers because products vary widely in their potency, which will influence the experience.


Cannabis Testing: The Importance of Independent Third Party Analyses of Cannabis Products

There is a variety of cannabis testing methods used to evaluate safety, quality, and potency information to consumers. While the specific testing requirements vary by state, a few major testing procedures are common throughout the industry. Potency information in particular is a considerable drive for cannabis testing to provide information on THC and CBD levels in cannabis products.

Testing Cannabis Products for THC and CBD Levels

Cannabinoid potency data quantifies levels of plant cannabinoids present in cannabis products. Producers are required to obtain potency data for THC and CBD, the two most common cannabinoids. It’s important for consumers to know THC and CBD levels because these will have a strong influence on the effects of the product. For example, some medical patients may want a strain with a high CBD:THC ratio, while adult-use consumers may request the opposite.


List of Major Cannabinoids in Cannabis and Their Effects

Other compounds, such as minor cannabinoids and terpenes, can be tested for as well, although these measurements are typically not required by law. For this article, we’ll focus on potency testing for THC and CBD.

How Do Labs Measure THC and CBD Levels?

There is a variety of ways to measure THC and CBD concentrations. The most common technique is called High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC). HPLC can separate and quantify a mixture of chemicals in liquid solution.

In HPLC, a sample is collected from cannabis flower mixed with a solvent such as ethanol. The solution is then pumped at high pressure through a tube. The tube contains a material that attracts some molecules in the sample based on their chemical properties. At the end of the column is a detector. Compounds that are attracted to the material inside the tube will travel slower and reach the detector later.


Leafly Investigation: Is Washington’s Top Cannabis Lab Inflating THC Numbers?

HPLC detectors typically measure UV light absorbance, which can be associated with specific molecules. When the molecules reach the detector, their relative abundance is measured. Because different cannabinoids, like THC and CBD, travel at different speeds through the column, they will be detected at different times, allowing for characterization of the sample.

General Overview of HPLC ProcessFigure 1: General Overview of HPLC Process. The cannabis sample is injected into the system and the cannabinoids move through the column. Interactions between the cannabinoids and the column determine how fast each type of cannabinoid can travel through the tube. The detector quantifies the presence of each type of cannabinoid based on how long it takes to be detected. (Photo credit: Amy Phung/Leafly)

The THC and CBD values listed on the back of cannabis packaging come from these laboratory measurements. Since the values obtained in the laboratory are referred to directly by the consumer for product information, accurate potency testing is imperative.


How to Assess THC and CBD Levels in Cannabis Strains and Products

You can run your own DIY chromatography experiment at home using a strip of white construction paper, a black marker (you may need to find a specific type that will work well with this experiment), and a glass of water.

Materials needed for DIY chromatography test(Julia Sumpter/Leafly)

Use the black marker to draw a line across the strip, parallel to the paper’s edge. Sit the paper strip upright into the glass of water, making sure the marker line is just above the water.

DIY chromatography test in progress(Julia Sumpter/Leafly)

Wait several minutes. The water will travel up the paper and separate the pigments in the marker.

DIY chromatography experiment results(Julia Sumpter/Leafly)

Terpenes are more volatile than cannabinoids and require a different method of chromatography for detection. High volatility means that terpenes evaporate easily and are usually found in a gaseous state, whereas cannabinoids are stable in liquid solution. Due to the volatility of terpenes, a different lab technique is preferred.

Cannabis Testing Standardization

According to Confidence Analytics, a state-certified laboratory in Washington, “there are no strong regulations in place about how cannabis chemicals are measured. However, HPLC has emerged as the dominant technique for measuring cannabinoids.” In other industries, there are specific guidelines on testing methods and settings for laboratory equipment.

This lack of regulation can lead to discrepancies in potency data and inaccurate cannabinoid data. States are pushing to standardize cannabis testing and ensure that potency values are consistent across laboratories. In Washington state, a group of I-502 accredited laboratories are undergoing a “round robin,” measuring the potency of an unknown cannabis sample and comparing the results between laboratories. If proper testing practices are in place at each laboratory, reported potency data should be similar across the board.

(Note: Leafly is actively involved in the push to standardize cannabis testing as a member of The Cannabis Alliance, a group designed to promote transparency in the industry.)


How Strain Genetics Influence THC:CBD Ratios

A wide variety of testing should be completed to ensure the safety and quality of cannabis products. Distinct testing methods are used to collect data on terpenes, contamination, and residual solvent levels. Consistent and accurate testing is important for industry transparency and consumer safety.

Unfortunately, there has been controversy surrounding potency testing methods, with suspected inflation of THC concentration in some cases. Implementing standards for cannabis testing procedures has been challenging, as the requirements vary significantly from state-to-state. Consequently, the industry needs to push for a general, national standard for cannabis testing to ensure accurate potency reporting.

“High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC).” HiQ, The Linde Group. [Website]
“Foreign Material & Microbial Bioburden Screening | Analytical 360.” Analytical 360 RSS. [Website]

Thank you for visiting MDMMCC.com, the premier Medical Marijuana Certification Center in Maryland. Our Mission at the Maryland Medical Marijuana Certification Clinics (MDMMCC) is to provide the certification necessary for qualified patients to obtain Medical Marijuana in compliance with the Maryland Medical Marijuana Laws in the State of Maryland.  MDMMCC will have offices open throughout Maryland.

You May Want to Avoid These Ingredients in Cannabis Oil Vape Cartridges

By now, you’ve probably seen or tried firsthand a vaporizer with an oil cartridge. These portable vaporizers are becoming increasingly popular as they’re easy to dose and operate. Visiting a dispensary, you’ll notice different brands made with different strains, solvents, and additives. Which ingredients are safe, and which ones should be avoided?

Burning cannabis oils can produce some of the same free radicals that are formed when you burn cannabis or tobacco, which is why people have turned to vaporizing (vaping). Vaporizing means that cannabis is heated without combustion. Active ingredients are released by the heat into a fine-mist vapor. Since combustion does not occur, smoke is not created.


The Best Discreet Vape Pens and Portable Vaporizers

People who vape cannabis perceive vaping to be safer and less harmful to their health than smoking. Cannabis vaporizers are specifically designed for inhalation without harmful smoke toxins, but how safe are materials being inhaled?

Harmful Agents to Avoid in Cannabis Oil

When vaporized, cannabis oils are frequently mixed with thinning agents for better performance in a vaporizing device. However, when some thinning agents are heated, potentially harmful carbonyl compounds can be produced.

Research in this area first began with e-cigarettes. Cannabis and e-cigarettes use different thinning agents and are heated and vaporized at different temperatures, but there are parallels that have now led researchers to begin similar research on cannabis thinning agents.


How Vaporizing Concentrates Can Customize the Cannabis Experience

In a 2017 study conducted at the Medical Marijuana Research Institute in Arizona, researchers looked at the byproducts produced when vaporizing cannabis oil. These popular cannabis thinning agents were studied:

  • Propylene glycol (PG or PPG)
  • Vegetable glycerin
  • Polyethylene glycol (PEG) 400
  • Medium chain triglycerides

These thinning agents were heated to 230°C (450°F), and scientists tested the resulting vapors to detect the presence of harmful compounds like formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, and acrolein.


Is Smoking Cannabis Bad for You?

The results showed that polyethylene glycol 400 produced much higher acetaldehyde and formaldehyde byproducts than the other three agents. Heating of the thinning agent propylene glycol also produced significantly greater formaldehyde byproduct. Researchers concluded that individuals who vaporize cannabis oil utilizing these thinning agents may risk harmful exposures to the byproducts.

Thinning Agent Alternatives in Vaporizer Cartridges

Producers of vaporizer cartridges are making a mass exodus away from these thinning agents due to their health risks and the unpleasant taste they tend to carry. Instead, many are turning to terpenes as they help thin the oil while improving flavor. Others are using different extraction methods such as distillation to achieve an oil thin enough to be consumed in a cartridge without the need for additive thinners.

As vaporizing oil cartridges becomes more popular, products specifically designed for this purpose are emerging in the marketplace. When purchasing oil cartridges for your portable vaporizer, check the ingredients to see if propylene glycol and/or polyethylene glycol 400 are listed. If so, you may want to avoid them and reach for an alternative product that utilizes terpenes or more health-conscious thinning agents.

Thank you for visiting MDMMCC.com, the premier Medical Marijuana Certification Center in Maryland. Our Mission at the Maryland Medical Marijuana Certification Clinics (MDMMCC) is to provide the certification necessary for qualified patients to obtain Medical Marijuana in compliance with the Maryland Medical Marijuana Laws in the State of Maryland.  MDMMCC will have offices open throughout Maryland.

The Biology of Cannabis vs. Opioids for Pain Relief

Cannabis and opioids are both known for their analgesic, pain-relieving effects. However, opioids are highly addictive—between 1999 and 2014, sales of prescription opioids in the United States quadrupled, with staggering increases in overdoses. In the healthcare system, 49% of patients seeking treatment for pain leave with a prescription. Because the risk of addiction and overdose associated with opioids is so great, finding a drug substitute with less abuse potential is critical.

Amanda Reiman, manager of Marijuana Law and Policy at the Drug Policy Alliance, defines substitution as a “conscious choice to use one drug (legal or illicit) instead of, or in conjunction with, another due to issues such as: perceived safety; level of addiction potential; effectiveness in relieving symptoms; access and level of acceptance.”

It’s important to take these factors into consideration when determining the substitution potential of cannabis. The ideal substitute will perform better than the previous medication by being more safe, effective, and accessible, while also being less addictive.


Is Cannabis Addictive?

States That Legalized Medical Cannabis Show Decreased Opioid Use

There is already evidence that cannabis is used to substitute opioids. In the United States, total prescription drug spending in Medicare for both program and enrollee spending fell by $165 million per year in 2013 after the implementation of several state medical cannabis laws. The most common reported drug substitution was opioids (32-36% of total substitutions), followed by benzodiazepines and antidepressants.


Is Cannabis Better for Chronic Pain Than Opioids?

Data from self-reported studies show that cannabis is already being used to substitute some prescription drugs, and states with legalized medical cannabis have seen decreases in prescription drug rates. Biologically speaking, though, what makes medical cannabis effective for pain relief and a possible substitute for prescription opioids?

Why Can Medical Cannabis Be an Effective Opioid Substitute?

Opioids and THC have analgesic effects because they block pain signals in our nervous system. THC is a plant cannabinoid, most commonly known for its psychoactive effects and causing the “high” associated with cannabis consumption. The THC cannabinoid binds to the CB1 and CB2 receptors of the endocannabinoid system, while opioids bind to opioid receptors.

Evidence suggests CBD can reduce drug cravings and opioid withdrawal symptoms, which suggests CBD could be an effective treatment to opioid addiction.


What Is the Endocannabinoid System and What Is Its Role?

CBD is another cannabinoid that is known for its therapeutic effects. It binds to many different receptors in the brain and can lessen the effects of THC. Evidence suggests CBD can reduce drug cravings and opioid withdrawal symptoms, which suggests CBD could be an effective treatment to opioid addiction.

Opioids and THC in combination offer comparable pain-relieving effects compared to opioids alone. This interaction can be used to reduce opioid doses for pain management and slowly wean patients off opioid medications altogether as they switch to cannabis-based treatments.


CBD and the Brain: What Does It Do and What Is It Good For?

Cannabis and Opioids Together Offer Greater Pain Relief at Lower Doses

Several studies indicate that cannabis interacts with opioids and alters the associated pain-relieving effects. When co-administered, patients can use a lower dose of opioids and achieve the same level of pain relief, thereby reducing the risk of side effects and addiction.

Medical cannabis can allow pain patients to take lower doses of opioidsFigure 1: When THC and prescription opioids are co-administered, the same level of pain relief is achieved with lower opioid dosage. This can prevent some of the negative side effects of opioid treatment and allow patients to reduce opioid use. (Photo credit: Amy Phung/Leafly)

Cannabinoid and opioid pain-relieving effects both work by binding to receptors at the surface of cells and setting off a sequence of events in the cell that result in no pain signal release. The parallel mechanisms of action for opioids and cannabis allow for effective pain relief with co-administration.

For these reasons, cannabis is believed to supplement the effectiveness of opioids in pain management. When THC and morphine are used together, for example, the same level of pain relief is observed at lower doses compared to morphine treatments alone.


Vast Majority of Pain Patients Prefer Cannabis to Opioids, Study Finds

If implemented, this treatment method could be effective in reducing opioid use and the associated negative side effects. Patients could start taking smaller doses of opioids to avoid addiction and relapse, since the addition of THC would provide comparable pain relief. This has the potential to effectively wean patients off their opioid regimen. Further research is needed to determine the exact mechanisms of interaction between opioids and cannabinoids, and to investigate new treatment plans for patients seeking improved chronic pain management.

Cannabidiol (CBD) Reduces Negative Side Effects of Opioids

Drug cravings are a major cause of relapse and a symptom of addiction. However, current treatments are often ineffective at preventing relapse events from occurring. Cannabis could be used to effectively reduce drug cravings and the chance of relapse.

CBD could help break the cycle of addiction by preventing relapse and treating withdrawal symptoms.


Can Cannabis Help Treat Painkiller and Heroin Addiction?

Researchers are investigating CBD as a possible treatment for addiction. Animal and human studies show that CBD is non-addictive and reduces drug cravings. CBD could also be used to treat withdrawal by reducing pain, anxiety, and mood symptoms.

Regular cycle of addiction vs. with CBD treatmentFigure 2: CBD treatment can reduce the chance of relapse for those struggling with drug addiction by altering the withdrawal and drug abstinence phases. Symptoms of withdrawal will be treated, decreasing pain, anxiety, and mood symptoms. CBD can promote drug abstinence by reducing drug craving through suppression of the reward system of the brain. (Photo credit: Amy Phung/Leafly)

CBD could help break the cycle of addiction by preventing relapse and treating withdrawal symptoms. With the heavy use of prescription opioids in the United States, this could help treat addiction and drug abuse, reduce risk of overdose, and lower prescription rates of opioids.


How Cannabis Could Turn the Opioid Epidemic Around

Possible Solutions for the Opioid Epidemic

With the opioid epidemic in full swing, finding a solution to this problem has become more urgent. The most helpful option would be to implement a drug substitution program, finding something that has comparable therapeutic effects with the least amount of side effects possible. Medical cannabis may be a good substitute for prescription opioids because it has similar symptom-relieving effects, especially for chronic pain.

In legalized medical cannabis states, substituting opioids with cannabis and decreasing opioid overdose deaths have already been observed. Cannabis can be used to wean patients off their current opioid regimen and provide pain relief that is comparable to opioid treatment. There is the potential to fight addiction with CBD, reducing drug cravings and symptoms of withdrawal.  More research is needed to identify specific treatment plans for pain relief and drug addiction, but it’s possible that a mixture of THC and CBD could be an effective medication against chronic pain and opioid drug dependence.

Bradford, A.C., & Bradford, W.D. (2016). Medical marijuana laws reduce prescription medication use in medicare part d. Health Affairs, 35(7), 1230-1236 [PDF]
D I Abrams, et al. (2011). Cannabinoid–Opioid Interaction in Chronic Pain. Clinical Pharmacology &Amp; Therapeutics, vol. 90, no. 6, pp. 844–51. [PDF]
Reiman, A. (2009). Cannabis as a substitute for alcohol and other drugs. Harm Reduction Journal6, 35. [PDF]
Suzanne Nielsen, et al. (2017). Opioid-Sparing Effect of Cannabinoids: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Neuropsychopharmacology, vol. 42, no. 9, pp. 1752–1765. [PDF]

Thank you for visiting MDMMCC.com, the premier Medical Marijuana Certification Center in Maryland. Our Mission at the Maryland Medical Marijuana Certification Clinics (MDMMCC) is to provide the certification necessary for qualified patients to obtain Medical Marijuana in compliance with the Maryland Medical Marijuana Laws in the State of Maryland.  MDMMCC will have offices open throughout Maryland.

Researchers Are One Step Closer to a THC Breathalyzer

Federal researchers at a Colorado lab of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have figured out how to measure the vapor pressure of THC, one of the main psychoactive chemicals in cannabis. The discovery means law enforcement officers could someday test for cannabis impairment based on a person’s breath.

The key: Breath sampling may show very recent use, not latent metabolytes.

The traditional tests for cannabis use — blood draws and urine samples — do an adequate job of detecting the past THC usage. But they aren’t very good at figuring out whether someone is currently impaired by THC. Some states, like Washington, allow police officers to test drivers for a cannabis-related DUI by drawing their blood. But traces of THC can stay in the bloodstream of regular consumers for up to seven days, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Employers have run into a similar dilemma. Out of fear of workplace accidents, rejected insurance claims and lawsuits, many businesses in legal states continue to screen their employees for marijuana use. But testing positive for THC isn’t the same as being impaired; conflating the two raises privacy questions. So long as nurses and forklift operators shows up to work sober, should their employers have a say over what they do in their free time?


Should Alcohol and Cannabis Have Separate DUI Laws?

‘The Quest’ Continues

These findings, published in the latest issue of Forensic Chemistry, come from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a branch of the Department of Commerce.

“The quest for a reliable means to detect cannabis intoxication with a breathalyzer is ongoing,” the researchers, Tara Lovestead and Thomas Bruno, wrote. “Breath sampling is attractive because it is non-invasive, can be portable, and has been shown to indicate recent use within [thirty minutes to two hours].”

When asked why they decided to study THC molecules, Lovestead told Leafly, “Well, I’m in Colorado.” She’s been working on this project for about three years. The idea was initially inspired by the state’s legalization of marijuana use, in 2012. After getting approval from the DEA — a process that took about nine months — Lovestead got to work.


Infographic: Know Your Rights When Driving With Cannabis

You Measure the Vapor Pressure of THC

To explain the science, she gave the example of a closed, partially finished liquor bottle. Some of the ethanol is in liquid form. There’s also gaseous ethanol molecules trapped in the enclosed air space above.

If you know how much pressure is produced by ethanol vapor, you can figure out how much ethanol is left in the bottle based on properties of those gases. The same logic applies for THC leaving a human body in exhaled breath. This chemistry can be used to create an ethanol breathalyzer. But scientists have previously struggled to figure out the vapor pressure of THC, which is a relatively complex molecule.

For those without much of a chemistry background, this can be confusing science. But it has a stunning range of applications. In the past, Lovestead has investigated food spoilage by examining the vapors above rotting chicken. She’s also studied the gases left over after a fire —the composition of which can help law-enforcement determine if a blaze resulted from arson.


Will California’s New Drugged Driving Device Finally Get It Right?

In Theory, It Works. In Practice…

Lovestead thinks it will still be a while before cops and employers have a real, working cannabis breathalyzer.

“THC alone is probably not a good marker” of cannabis intoxication, she said, citing a number of other chemicals, including CBD, which she suggested might also need to be measured. She also points out that cops will need more than just a measurement itself; they’ll need to figure out the how those numbers relate to real-world impairment. She thinks other methods, like field sobriety tests, will help fill in that picture.

Still, scientists have cracked at least one of the puzzles necessary to build a cannabis breathalyzer. The time range — vapor readings can show THC ingestion within the last 30 minutes to two hours, according to the paper — makes it a far more practical tool for situations like possible cannabis DUIs. But this government push to create a better device for testing cannabis impairment suffers from one ironic setback. The Drug Enforcement Agency continues to treat cannabis as a Schedule I drug. Although Lovestead could walk into a dispensary anywhere in Colorado and legally a joint, as a federal researcher, it was tricky for her to get the permissions necessary to study cannabis.


How Does Alcohol Affect THC Blood Concentration?

NIDA Seeks a DUI App

Meanwhile, in Washington DC, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is hoping to find a way to measure marijuana-related impairment without relying on exhaled breath. In late June, the agency published a request for proposals related to “digital markers for marijuana intoxication.” In other words, they’re hoping somebody will invent an iPhone app that law enforcement can use to determine possible cannabis-related impairment.

From the RFP:

The app features may leverage and integrate with the internal sensors, compatible adapters and external hardware to monitor the measurable markers of marijuana intoxication. Examples of the app features may include, but not limited to, accelerometer, microphone, gyroscope, facial or eye pupil’s changes recognition software, glucometers, inhalers, skin voltage sensor, heart rate sensor, other existing and newly developed sensors.

More details about the RFP can be found here. NIDA plans to fund as many as three to four projects for $225,000 to $1.5 million.

Thank you for visiting MDMMCC.com, the premier Medical Marijuana Certification Center in Maryland. Our Mission at the Maryland Medical Marijuana Certification Clinics (MDMMCC) is to provide the certification necessary for qualified patients to obtain Medical Marijuana in compliance with the Maryland Medical Marijuana Laws in the State of Maryland.  MDMMCC will have offices open throughout Maryland.