Cannabis and creativity are often portrayed as linked, with their connection seeming culturally agreed upon. From creativity-themed cannabis products, to stunning hand-blown bongs, artist testimonials, and the popularity of “puff and paint” art classes, anecdotal evidence overwhelmingly says creativity and cannabis are kindred indeed.
But people have a lot less to say when it comes to the why’s and how’s behind this commonly-accepted phenomenon. Is the link between cannabis and creativity authentic? Here’s what current science has to say about it.
Blood to Your Creative Bits
Research has revealed that creativity is associated with the brain’s frontal lobe, and that cannabis consumption increases cerebral blood flow (CBF) to this area, which makes it more active. As reported by Jasen Talise in the Berkeley Medical Journal, experiments done in 1992 found that CBF increased after cannabis consumption. (These findings were confirmed by further research done in 2002.)
Talise spoke with Alice Flaherty from the Department of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, who said of CBF, “When subjects with high and low creativity are compared, the former have both higher baseline frontal lobe activity and greater frontal increase while performing creative tasks.”
Such activity stimulates creative output in two ways. First, it activates the area near the brain’s nucleus accumbens, which Flaherty found correlates to increased creativity. Secondly, the frontal lobe serves as the headquarters for something called “creative divergent thinking.”
Divergent Thinking vs. Creativity
Divergent thinking is a common scientific measure of creativity. It is a type of thinking that explores many possible solutions and typically occurs in a spontaneous, free-flowing, non-linear manner. Put in other words, divergent thinking employs methods like brainstorming, creative thinking, and free writing to come up with outside-the-box ideas.
For an example of why scientists connect this kind of thinking to cannabis use, we’ll quickly travel back to 2001. In high school, a friend of mine’s room was a 420 oasis, home to many people’s early cannabis experiences–and the walls were covered with evidence of this exposure, thoughts scribbled in marker, so creative I can still remember a few nearly two decades later:
“I feel like I’m running through Jell-O.”
“I’m a butterflyyyyyyyyyy.” (Drawn in the shape of butterfly. Author may have been involved.)
When it comes to cannabis and creativity, dosage is key.
“Levametation,” the word in the second example, was created for a decidedly outside-the-box game show proposed by its author. It combines “levitate” and “elevation” to describe a process in which cannabis smoke would hang in the air after rising from the floor below, subtly smoking out the contestants. (Cleverest whilst unwittingly stoned wins!) So in this case, divergent thinking came in the form of brainstorming various names to describe an invented process that’s as dubious as it is imaginative.
In day-to-day life, divergent thinking is commonly employed whenever you list numerous possibilities to come up with innovative options; from how to raise Q2 fiscal earnings, to how best use that Costco supply of albacore tuna. Or more broadly, you use divergent thinking whenever you’re working to open your mind in various directions and to new potential solutions. We’ll go over a few widely-referenced studies that measure this kind of thinking to discern how cannabis use affects creativity.
Low Doses Help, Big Doses Hinder
Leafly covered one such study in 2014; it concluded that when it comes to cannabis and creativity, dosage is key. The study found that in low doses (5.5 mg THC), cannabis slightly improved two aspects of divergent thinking: fluency, or the number of responses provided, and flexibility, or the variation in answers.
And, not surprisingly, scores were significantly raised for originality, or the uniqueness of responses. However, when the dose was increased to 22 mg of THC, scores were markedly lower in most categories. (Elaboration, or the amount of detail provided in explaining a response, was low all around–but was slightly higher in the placebo group.)
Getting Low Creatives High
Another study done in 2012 divided participants into high creativity and low creativity groups, then tested them both sober as well as under the effect of cannabis. The researchers had participants bring their own cannabis, so keep in mind that some variation in potency and chemical composition is to be expected here. Cannabis had little effect on the high creativity group, but after partaking, the scores of the low creativity group were actually boosted compared to those of the high creatives.
Basically, this study found that if you’re not already creatively skilled, then cannabis might help you to get creating. And if you’re already creative, this study says cannabis isn’t going to affect your creativity very much.
A Chicken and Egg Situation
The results from this final 2017 study suggest that the people hanging out in my friend’s marker-covered bedroom may have been more creative to begin with. It found that cannabis users both self-reported being more creative as well as veritably scoring higher when their creativity was tested.
However, the study also tested personality types. It used a popular measure called the Big 5, and found that cannabis users scored higher on “openness to experience.” Because this measure reflects high creativity and imagination traits, these findings lead the study to conclude, “While cannabis users appear to demonstrate enhanced creativity, these effects are an artifact of their heightened levels of openness to experience.”
These results pose a bit of a chicken-egg dilemma: does cannabis use improve creativity or do creative people just tend to like cannabis?
In the End, See What Works for You
As with other areas of cannabis research, there’s a lot of work to be done in regard to studying the link between cannabis and creativity. But, in summary, research suggests:
Cannabis increases cerebral blood flow, which points to stimulated creative output.
However, too much THC can actually hinder creativity, while a smaller dose has been found to help a little.
Cannabis can make less creative people more so, but has little effect on those who are already creatively advanced.
There are more creatively advanced people within the population of cannabis consumers.
In the end, scientists don’t have a hard conclusion on this very abstract matter. So if you’re already creative and attest that cannabis does further increase your ability, or if you do your best work after 20 mg of THC, then how scientists predict you’ll score on a specific verbal fluency test isn’t particularly relevant.
Do what works for you. And if you’re still figuring out how cannabis affects you creatively, try playing with different dosages, creative activities, strains, and environments to see if cannabis can help you tap into your inner artist.
It’s allergy season again, and it’s no fun at all. If you’ve got seasonal allergies, it’s a familiar story. The weather is finally nice enough to be outside, but you can’t enjoy it because you’re spending the whole time sneezing and looking through blurry, watery eyes!
If the standard decongestants and nose sprays haven’t worked for you yet, don’t lose hope. You might be surprised to find help in an unlikely place–the cannabis plant!
“I certainly have some people say that it helps their allergies.”
Dr. Frank Lucido, cannabis clinician, Berkeley, CA
Learn the science and find out whether cannabis can help you defeat your seasonal allergies!
How Allergies Work
Allergies are the body’s way of protecting us from invaders, but allergic reactions often get triggered by harmless substances. When something like a piece of dust, mold, or pollen gets into your system, your body reacts, producing custom antibodies to attack the ‘invader’. These antibodies trigger chemicals like histamine which bring on our familiar allergy symptoms like sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, itching, watery eyes, ear congestion, inflammation, wheezing, coughing, or even asthma.
It’s clear allergies can be rough. So can cannabis help?
Some experts say “yes.” Cannabis may be able to help when it comes to reducing allergies, and some cannabis consumers have already noticed the connection.
“I certainly have some people say that it helps their allergies.” explains Dr. Frank Lucido, a cannabis clinician from Berkeley, CA. As a doctor who regularly interacts with cannabis patients, Dr. Lucido says that he rarely see patients who suffer from cannabis-related allergies, but does have some clients who report using cannabis eases their allergic reactions.
Still, other doctor’s say cannabis has potential but may not be all that effective in its current form.
Dr. Peter Grinspoon, a primary care physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, instructor at Harvard Medical School and board member of the advocacy group Doctors For Cannabis Regulation, says that while he knows that some people use cannabis for allergies, he hasn’t come across that use in his patients.
Still he explains that, “some of the cannabinoids have a lot of anti inflammatory properties… so hypothetically, it could help.”
Whether you are dealing nasal inflammation, airway hyperreactivity, allergic asthma, or an immune overreaction, using anti inflammatory agents is usually helpful.
Still, Dr. Grinspoon cautions that just taking cannabis might not be as effective the standard over-the-counter allergy remedies.
“I don’t think cannabis, as we’re taking it now, is nearly as strong as, for example, Flonase.”
Dr. Peter Grinspoon, Massachusetts General Hospital
“I don’t think cannabis, as we’re taking it now, is nearly as strong as, for example, Flonase.” He explains, adding, “I don’t think it’s a great treatment per se for allergies. That isn’t to say it doesn’t help people. If it helps people, that’s great.”
But cannabis for allergies is not something he’s recommending to his patients.
Dr. Grinspoon says he could envision a nasal spray in the future made from concentrated anti-inflammatory cannabinoids and terpenes. With something more targeted at the source of the allergies, he says he could see cannabis, “having the hypothetical potential for being a very effective treatment in the future.”
Still, for those who say cannabis helps them when their allergies get out of control, it can make a difference. It can be amazing to notice the quick reduction in all that sneezing and itching.
So what does the scientific research have to say? Unfortunately, we don’t have enough controlled human studies to say definitively whether cannabis can help with your allergies. But, there are quite a few studies that support the idea that cannabis can play helpful role in reducing allergies. Here are the facts:
Cannabis Vs. Histamine
One of the main ways that cannabis can help with allergies is through reducing the level of histamine released into your system. Histamine, which is triggered by antibodies, brings on a whole host of allergic responses. So preventing or reducing histamine release can make a big difference. One way cannabis can do this is through reducing the antibodies that trigger histamine.
For example, A 2009 study found that cannabinoids impaired activation of mouse T-cells (a type of white blood cell). Since T-cell activation increases antibody responses, it leads to increased histamine and thus, increased allergic reactions. By impairing this activation, cannabinoids are able to reduce the antibody response and help lesson your allergy symptoms.
And it’s not just cannabinoids that can help. Terpenes play a role as well. In a 2014 study, researchers found that alpha-pinene, a common terpene in cannabis, may also be able to help reduce antibody levels. Mice who were treated with the terpene showed decreased clinical symptoms of allergies, like rubbing their nose, eyes, and ears. But they also had significantly lower levels of nasal immunoglobulin E, an important antibody that triggers histamine release.
A cell study from 2005 suggests cannabis can also prevent increased histamine responses through a different route. This study found that exposure to THC could suppress mast cell activation. Mast cells are found in connective tissue and their activation triggers the release of histamine.
So suppressing mast cell activation could prevent or reduce the severity of your allergies.
“Cannabis seems to inhibit the inflammatory pathway.” explains Dr. Sue Sisley, a cannabis researcher currently conducting controlled human studies on cannabis’ effects. “And that certainly does relate to allergies because if you can cut the inflammatory pathway, then it could certainly help the untreated allergies, all the classic symptoms, the itchy, runny nose, itchiness, hives, all those kinds of things.”
Still, Dr. Sisley cautions that this is still theoretical. “It makes sense. It’s just that I can’t back it up with science,” she explains. “It’s like most things in cannabis research, we have a mountain of anecdotal reports, but very little objective controlled data to back it up.”
Her study, which is investigating cannabis’ use for veterans with PTSD, will also take a closer look at cytokines–a marker for inflammation.
“We’re treating the veterans with all different varieties. So there’s a high-THC, a high-CBD, there’s a 1:1 ratio of THC to CBD. So we’ll be able to see how smoking these different varieties of flower affect the levels of their cytokines,” Dr. Sisley explains. “We’ve never really measured that, so in this study were drawing all these cytokines, and measuring their concentration.”
While the study isn’t designed to look at allergies, the research on cytokines may shed light on cannabis effects on inflammation – and this route towards easing allergic responses.
THC Vs. Allergic Skin Reactions
THC may also be able to help when it comes to allergic skin reactions. In a study from 2007, scientists looked at whether THC-based drugs could help reduce allergic responses in the skin. Researchers applied synthetic THC to the skin of mice with severe skin allergies and found that the skin cells of the treated mice had less cytokines–a chemical responsible for signaling immune cells to come to an irritated area. Researchers say this means cannabis could be helpful for reducing allergic reactions in skin.
CBD and THC Open Up Airways
In addition to reducing the symptoms of your runny nose and itchy skin, cannabis can also help with more severe allergy symptoms like asthma. Both THC and CBD have been shown to be effective bronchodilators in animal models–meaning that they are able to open up constricted airways. You can even find THC inhalers designed to help frequent asthma sufferers. Still, asthma can be a dangerous condition and needs to be treated with care. Make sure to talk to a doctor before making any changes to your asthma treatment plan.
While research on cannabis for allergies is still in an early phase, there is some evidence to support the idea that cannabis can help with your allergies. Whether it’s reducing your congestion and itching, calming your skin, or opening up your airways – cannabis may help.
But don’t take our word for it! Try it out the next time you get those springtime sniffles. You might be surprised at how much better you feel.
Rising Cases of Cannabis Allergy
While cannabis can definitely help ease allergy symptoms, like many pollen-rich plants it’s also been known to cause it’s own allergic responses. And as legal cannabis use increases, reports of cannabis allergies have increased as well, with commonly reported symptoms like increased congestion, runny nose, watery eyes, post-nasal drip, and itchy eyes or nose. In more rare cases, other symptoms may arise as well. Some folks complain about migraines when they smell cannabis. Some report skin rashes from contact with cannabis resin. In more severe cases, cannabis allergies can worsen asthma or even cause anaphylactic shock.
In addition, some researchers have begun to notice a trend of cross-reactivity with allergies to cannabis or hemp and certain other plants such as tobacco, natural latex, plant-food-derived alcoholic beverages, and tomatoes. This means that those allergic to cannabis are more likely to also be allergic to these other plants-derived substances. Research is still unclear whether halting cannabis use can reduce allergic responses to these other plants.
While these allergic responses are more commonly reported amongst cannabis users, they may also affect those who are exposed passively to cannabis in their home environment (such as those who live with a cannabis smoker, or live near a cannabis grow site) or those who are exposed in occupational settings.
Until federal prohibition’s end makes research easier, allergy sufferers will have to do the research, and experiment for themselves.
How does cannabis affect your allergies? Let the Leafly community know in the comments below!
As you gaze upon these words, dear reader, a horde of alien marauders are ransacking all corners of the globe, chewing through the latest pharmaceutical defenses and leaving behind a gruesome trail of dead and weakened victims. According to a recent report by the World Health Organization (WHO), ferocious tribes of bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi are on the rampage, and some are proving virtually invincible to the so-called “last resort” antibiotics.
WHO has identified the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” as one of the major looming heath crises of the 21st century. These crafty, elusive shape-shifters are not only capable of surviving an onslaught of antibiotics, but they continually reinvent themselves by genetic mutation, horizontal gene transfer and natural selection, developing new tactics against even the most powerful drugs and spawning malignant offspring that wreak havoc with devastating vitality. They even share their genetic material with other pernicious bugs.
The major offenders in this perilous conflict are not just the superbugs themselves but the rampant overuse of antibiotics. It’s estimated that 30% of all prescribed antibiotics are unnecessary, a testament to our culture’s desire for quick-fix solutions to our health woes. (This doesn’t take into account the fact that the bulk of all antibiotics used in the United States are given to livestock, a whole other ball of worms.) The practice of scribbling a script for every little sniffle has helped create a vicious circle of weakened immune systems, ravaged gut microbiomes, and the escalating spread of dangerous diseases by people, animals, and agricultural crops.
When the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) throws words around like “nightmare” and “sound the alarm,” it’s time to take notice. “Without urgent action,” the CDC warns, “many modern medicines could become obsolete, turning even common infections into deadly threats.” The CDC’s recent antibiotic resistance initiative includes a key goal: to cut inappropriate prescribing practices by 50% in doctors’ office and 20% in hospitals. And while this protocol has helped to rein in some infectious foes, others are on a frightening upswing.
One of the most treacherous malefactors on the prowl is Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, or MRSA. This highly contagious bacterial infection is commonly associated with people who have compromised immune systems, like hospital patients and the elderly. Over the past decade, an even more menacing strain of community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA) has muscled its way into healthier populations, popping up like a malevolent jack-in-the-box in places and situations where people are packed tight– contact sports teams; gyms and locker rooms; schools and daycare facilities; prisons, homeless shelters, and military barracks. CA-MRSA is even turning up in spas, resorts, cruise ships, and nail salons.
One out of every hundred hospitalizations in the United States is due to a MRSA infection, and about a quarter of those become seriously invasive, killing 20,000 people each year. A recent report by the CDC indicates that hospitals have made progress in reducing rates of MRSA, but CA-MRSA rates have not declined and now comprise 80% of all MRSA infections. The disease has become so prevalent that October 2 is depressingly called “World MRSA Day.”
According to researchers, CA-MRSA is a cunning bacterial strain with a bunch of biological tricks up its sleeve. It has the unique ability to hide and disguise itself against neutrophils. Neutrophils are commonly known as white blood cells, specifically the ones tasked with fighting off these Machiavellian villains. Even more sinister, CA-MRSA secretes a nasty little peptide that wreaks havoc in two ways: it helps build a biofilm, a slimy structure that enables the bug to stick to its host and spread rapidly, and even creepier, it commits a heinous bio-crime called lysis, infiltrating neutrophils and actually causing them to explode, thereby shattering the body’s immune defense mechanism.
Left untreated, CA-MRSA can lead to sepsis, endocarditis, pneumonia and necrotizing fasciitis (necrosis comes from the Greek nekrosis, “to make dead”). All of these complications are potentially fatal, and the beta-lactam antibiotics typically prescribed for staph (single-molecule drugs such as penicillin, cephalosporins, monobactams, and carbapenems) are proving to be no longer effective. Even Vancomycin, an “antibiotic of last resort,” is losing the fight against CA-MRSA. To complicate matters even more, the use of antibiotics – and the resulting disruption of the body’s healthy gut bacteria – is increasingly shown to contribute to future health problems.
Angry red pustules
The first time I heard of MRSA was in the late 1990’s. A dear childhood friend contracted the infection, and it had become dangerously systemic. After doctors tried every available treatment – including a powerful course of IV antibiotics that turned my friend beet-red, covered him in hives, ravaged his kidneys, and made him so dizzy and nauseous he couldn’t keep food down -he died from associated complications.
What does it mean to protect ourselves in a world crawling with MRSA and other superbugs? Beyond the obvious like washing our hands, we need effective options to fight infections that don’t rely solely on antibiotics. Scientists are researching new treatments that target bacterial bad guys in novel ways, but this is a laborious and time-consuming process. In the meantime, there are other weapons we can wield to protect ourselves from these insidious infiltrators – as I learned the hard way when I myself was infected by MRSA a few years ago.
I’d spent a pleasurable California weekend in the nearby resort town of Calistoga, soaking in healthful, mineral-rich waters. I returned home fully rejuvenated and free of stress. Or so I thought. Two days later, my body was bitmapped in boils and I was losing my mind. A platoon of angry red pustules had taken up residence across my back. For a mild skin condition, I would typically reach for a plant-based treatment, but this bacterial ambush was so sudden and aggressive – and so disgusting – I wasn’t going to mess around.
I went straight to my GP, who diagnosed a staph infection and prescribed an antibacterial skin cleanser and a topical antibiotic ointment. At first, I was somewhat relieved that this treatment wouldn’t involve carpet-bombing my friendly neighborhood of gut bacteria, given the importance of an up-to-snuff microbiome in so many aspects of our health. But after a week of washing my occupied territory as directed and applying the ointment twice daily, my betes noires show no sign of retreating. Like Napolean’s army, they were conquering new territory and morphing into something even more repugnant.
I felt contaminated, radioactive. I avoided people and slunk around like Quasimodo, lurking in the shadows. And I worried. Covered by crusty carbuncles, I was becoming a modern-day version of Baba Yaga, the boil-ridden witch of Russian folklore who lived deep in the forest in a hut that stood on a pair of chicken legs. Alas, I had her pus-filled boils, but none of her magic powers.
Cannabis & antibiotic resistance
Alarmed at my lack of improvement, my doctor prescribed a course of oral antibiotics. I knew about the association of the microbiome with mental health, and now pictured myself rotting away in an asylum, my mind gone to mush after all of my gut bacteria had been wiped out. There had to be a better way. Increasingly desperate, I started looking into whatever research was available about cannabis and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Unfortunately, due to marijuana prohibition, there’s not much out there on this subject. (Thanks again, Feds, for the lack of science.) I found a few relevant articles in peer-reviewed journals, which underscored the complex and nuanced effect cannabis has on immune function. In a recent review in NeuroImmunoModulation, a team of Mexican scientists reported that cannabinoids demonstrated a statistically significant antibiotic effect on some infectious diseases, and actually impaired the body’s immune system for others.
The good news is that several plant cannabinoids have been shown to wreak havoc against Staphylococcus aureus – the very bug I was fighting. A 2008 study in the Journal of Natural Products, published by the American Chemical Society, found that cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabigerol (CBG), two nonintoxicating cannabinoids, “showed potent activity against a variety of MRSA strains.” Three other plant cannabinoids – tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabinol (CBN) and cannabichromene (CBC) – also showed encouraging results in preclinical research. How the cannabinoids work is not fully understood, but it appears to be due to natural antimicrobial defense mechanisms.
The journal concluded: “Given the availability of C. sativa strains producing high concentrations of nonpsychotropic cannabinoids, this plant represents an interesting source of antibacterial agents to address the problem of multidrug resistance in MRSA and other pathogenic bacteria. This issue has enormous clinical implications, since MRSA is spreading throughout the world and, in the United States, currently accounts for more deaths each year than AIDS. Although the use of cannabinoids as systemic antibacterial agents awaits rigorous clinical trials … their topical application to reduce skin colonization by MRSA seems promising.”
CBD and manuka honey to the rescue
I also heard about the potent antibiotic properties of manuka honey, and I thought about combining it with a CBD-rich cannabis extract. While honey has been known since ancient times for its antibiotic and wound-healing properties, manuka is something special. Made by bees from the nectar of Leptospermum scoparium (more commonly known as tea tree, a plant indigenous to New Zealand and Australia), manuka honey has unique bacteria-busting abilities that scientists have only recently begun to investigate.
A 2016 article published in Frontiers in Microbiology discusses how manuka honey disrupts invading bacteria’s ability to produce biofilms. In another study, manuka was shown to prevent bacterial subdivision, and it appears to evade bacterial resistance. Not only is manuka honey effective on its own, but it also works synergistically with other antibiotics, increasing their effectiveness.
So, I took matters into my own hands and made my own bacteria-killing juice. I decarboxylated the dried flowers of a CBD-rich cannabis strain called Blue Jay Way, which was lab-tested to show a 2-to-1 ratio of CBD-to-THC (14% CBD and 7% THC). I infused some olive oil using the old hippie Crockpot method. After straining out the plant material, I added some beeswax for its thickening properties. And when the infusion was mostly cool, I mixed in a generous amount of New Zealand manuka honey with 20+ bioactivity.
I applied this salve to my skin infection twice per day. It was a little sticky, but that was the worst of it. Within 24 hours, it started working! Like the water-splashed Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz, the lesions began shrinking and drying up. Over the next few days, I gleefully watched as the skin on my back became a killing field where all those little, white-blood-cell-exploding staph-holes were obliterated forever. Within a week, the infection had resolved completely, leaving my gut flora intact.
Unlike my experience with pharmaceutical antibiotics, whole-plant CBD-rich cannabis combined with manuka honey did not cause any adverse side effects. Nor did it trigger a backlash of antibacterial resistance, which is threatening the very foundations of Western medicine. We’ve become increasingly dependent upon medical conveniences, quick fixes and silver bullets, while often ignoring their broader consequences. In our impatience to get on with the business of life, we don’t always pay attention to the subtler conversations our bodies carry on, day and night, in our microbiomes and beyond. Maybe it’s time to listen.
Melinda Misuraca is a Project CBD contributing writer with a past life as an old-school cannabis farmer specializing in CBD-rich cultivars. Her articles have appeared in High Times, Alternet, and several other publications.
Alvarez-Suarez JM, Gasparrini M, Forbes-Hernandez TY, Mazzoni L, Giampieri F. The Composition and Biological Activity of Honey: A Focus on Manuka Honey. Foods. 2014 Jul 21;3(3):420-432. doi: 10.3390/foods3030420. Review. PubMed PMID: 28234328; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5302252.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, has become wildly popular in recent years–and widely available, both online and in stores across the country. But despite the belief by some that the 2018 farm bill broadly legalized the cannabinoid, the truth is that federal agencies are still scrambling to determine their next steps.
Want a say in the process? Now’s your chance.
The US Food and Drug Administration oversees the nation’s food, pharmaceutical drugs, and cosmetics–three categories of products that have recently been overwhelmed by CBD and various claims about its benefits. As the FDA begins to craft regulations around CBD and infused products, the agency is asking for public comment on how to proceed.
“While the use of cannabis and cannabis-derived products, including hemp and hemp-derived products, has increased dramatically in recent years, questions remain regarding the safety considerations raised by the widespread use of these products,” wrote Lowell Schiller, the FDA’s acting associate commissioner for policy, in a Federal Register filing published Tuesday. “These questions could impact the approaches we consider taking in regulating the development and marketing of products.”
Ahead of a public hearing on CBD scheduled for May 31 near Washington, DC, the agency is asking for public comment on three specific aspects of CBD and infused products: health and safety risks; manufacturing and product quality; and marketing, labeling, and sales.
More information is available on the federal government’s Regulations.gov website (click here to go directly to the comment form). Written comments can be sent to:
Dockets Management Staff (HFA-305)
Food and Drug Administration
5630 Fishers Lane, Rm. 1061
Rockville, MD 20852
Requests to speak or make a presentation at the May 31 hearing must be received by May 10, while written or electronically filed comments can be filed until much later: July 2.
It’s hard to gauge how the FDA might proceed with regulating CBD. On one hand, the agency has been far more responsive to scientific evidence around cannabinoids than the US Drug Enforcement Administration. Late last year, FDA officials wrote to their counterparts at the DEA explaining that “CBD and its salts … do not have a significant potential for abuse and could be removed from the [Controlled Substances Act].” Meanwhile, the DEA has repeatedly insisted that any CBD product other than the pharmaceutical drug Epidiolex remains a Schedule I controlled substance.
But while the FDA seems more sympathetic to CBD, the agency is also trying to rein in an industry that has exploded in recent years. Hundreds of startups have exploited the legal uncertainty around CBD by insisting that cannabidiol products are already “legal in all 50 states” and promising relief for all types of ailments, whether backed by evidence or not.
“There’s too much money to be made for problems not to come up.”
Justin Polkis, Virginia Commonwealth University
That does not sit well with FDA officials. Earlier this week they took action, sending warning letters to three CBD companies–Nutra Pure, PotNetwork Holdings, and Advanced Spine and Pain–that agency officials say were making false claims about the use of CBD to treat diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
“According to their advertisements, the products can effectively treat diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, fibromyalgia, and ‘neuropsychiatric disorders,'” the FDA and FTC said in a joint statement.
“We’ve seen, or heard of interest in, products containing cannabis or cannabis derivatives that are marketed as human drugs, dietary supplements, conventional foods, animal foods and drugs, and cosmetics, among other things,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in the statement. (Gottlieb, who has pressed his agency to take action on CBD, is scheduled to step down from his post later this month.)
After last year’s passage of the farm bill, the FDA issued a statement saying that CBD in food products is prohibited under the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. As a result, national drug store chains such as CVS have begun to carry CBD products, but only in non-edible form.
In the Federal Register post about the upcoming hearing, the FDA also raised concerns about the possibility of liver damage as the result of taking high doses of CBD (20 millilgrams of CBD per kilogram of body weight per day, or about 1,360 mg for a 150-lb. person). It says the risk was determined as part of the FDA approval process for Epidiolex, a purified form of CBD approved last year to treat certain forms of epilepsy.
“This is a potentially serious risk that can be managed when the product is taken under medical supervision in accordance with the FDA approved labeling for the product, but it is less clear how this risk might be managed if this substance is used far more widely, without medical supervision, and not in accordance with FDA-approved labeling,” the Federal Register filing says.
For reference, acetaminophen–a popular pain reliever and fever reducer found in over-the-counter drugs such as Tylenol and Nyquil–is a leading cause of acute liver failure across much of the globe. “Harmless at low doses, acetaminophen has direct hepatotoxic potential when taken as an overdose and can cause acute liver injury and death from acute liver failure,” according to the National Institutes of Health.
The current unregulated nature of CBD has also raised concerns among consumers and outside observers for other reasons. Among them, a study last year by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) found unlabeled contaminants in a number of products sold by Diamond CBD, a retailer owned by PotNetwork Holdings. The unexpected chemicals included dextromethorphan (DXM)–a well-known cough medicine with a history of recreational abuse and health dangers–and 5F-ADB, one of a growing group of synthetic cannabinoids often known as K2 or Spice.
“Somebody needs to step in and regulate this stuff,” Justin Polkis, the lead author of the VCU study told Leafly last year. “There’s too much money to be made for problems not to come up.”
Diamond CEO Kevin Hagen told Leafly at the time that he welcomed regulation.
“All companies make big claims about their products,” Hagen said. “It’s the FDA’s job to ask for [better] labeling.”
Researchers have linked heavy alcohol use with higher rates of domestic violence and divorce. But what do we know about marijuana use in relationships? Until recently, not that much.
As legalization–and thus, normalization–makes its way across the U.S., social scientists have begun digging a little deeper into the immediate effects of personal cannabis use. According to a new study published in the journal Cannabis, in certain circumstances marijuana use can lead to positive experiences for couples.
To better understand whether marijuana–either used with a partner or independently–leads to increased intimacy in the short term, the study’s authors asked 183 married or cohabiting couples who consumed regularly to track their use for 30 days. Participants filed a report via their smartphones every time they started using cannabis and again when they finished.
“Simultaneous marijuana use (male and female partners reported use at the same hour) increased the likelihood of an intimate experience for both men and women.”
Additionally, participants also filed a report each morning indicating whether they had “an interaction or meaningful conversation with [their] partner that involved intimacy, love, caring, or support” the day before, and if so, the time. This allowed researchers to determine if there was a correlation between when participants used marijuana and when they experienced intimacy. (To be clear, although the term “intimacy” is often equated with sex, the study’s authors did not specifically define it as such.)
In their analysis, the study’s authors determined that shared cannabis experiences increased the likelihood of intimacy within two hours of use. Additionally, they found that these positive experiences were also more likely to occur if only one person toked up as compared to neither partner reporting use.
To get a better understanding of the difference between the impact of simultaneous use and independent use, the researchers conducted a second analysis using data on whether or not a partner was present at the time a person used marijuana.
“Results of this analysis…show positive Actor and Partner effects associated with using marijuana in the presence of the partner for both men and women,” they wrote. “For example, Laura is more likely to report an intimacy event within 2 hours of using marijuana in Mike’s presence (an Actor effect) than when she doesn’t use marijuana. Laura is also more likely to report an intimacy event within 2 hours of Mike reporting marijuana use in Laura’s presence (a Partner effect).”
“However, marijuana use when the partner was not present neither increased nor decreased the likelihood of experiencing intimacy relative to no marijuana use,” the study found.
Past research has suggested drug use may be a significant source of stress for a couple, especially if only one person consumes. The current study, however, found no such evidence–though the authors admit that the couples in their study may not be bothered by their partner’s solo marijuana use because of how regularly they themselves consume.
It’s possible, of course, that people in relationships with problematic users may not experience these same positive effects. As the study’s authors point out, their research using daily reporting sheds some light on the short-term effects of marijuana use, but more studies are needed.
For now, what we do know is that marijuana use appears to improve sex–at least for women. A separate recent study found that cannabis positively affects women’s sexual experiences in a number of ways, including an increase in satisfying orgasms.
No one forgets the first time they tried an edible, particularly if it’s the DIY varietal. For me, it was a batch of pot brownies my junior year of college. In typical pre-legalization fashion, we dumped roughly one-eighth of some unknown strain into a pan of oil or butter to infuse the core mixture (always from a box, of course). The ventilation was poor and I started to get high off the fumes, resulting in a munchie-fueled takedown of one-and-a-half highly concentrated (and extremely repulsive) tasting brownies.
Unsurprisingly, the rest of this story devolves into a nice little surrealist anxiety spiral of classic overdosing (long story short: I ended up stoned for almost 24 hours, running into iconic film critic Richard Ebert at dawn in the sobering haze of my rookie mistake. Whoa! Strong edibles!). I’ve told this story many times, but it’s beginning to date now that edibles are less of a guessing game thanks to standardized, tested products and the guiding voice of cannabis cookbooks like Bong Appetit.
“There Are Genuinely No Limits”
As a lifelong cannabis enthusiast and someone who has been covering food for the past 15 years, the evolution of cannabis as an ingredient is nothing less than fascinating. Experimental chefs, cooks, and food scientists are growing an encyclopedic knowledge of cannabis strains, terpenes, medicinal benefits, dosage, and culinary techniques so that the possibilities of cooking with cannabis are limitless. Who needs crappy box brownies when you can poach a whole octopus in cannabis-infused olive oil?
In fact, that’s one of the recipes in the eponymous debut cookbook from popular Viceland show, “Bong Appetit,” which premieres its third season on April 2. Hosted by Vanessa Lavorato, the vision behind boutique cannabis chocolatier Marigold Sweets in Los Angeles, along with BReal of rap group Cypress Hill and chef-owner Miguel Trinidad of Jeepney in New York (who both replace seasons 1 and 2 co-host Abdullah Saeed), the show invites chefs and cooks to discuss the intersection of cooking, culture, and cannabis over a dinner party.
“So much of [the TV show] is just about experimentation and what you can do when there are genuinely no limits,” says Rupa Bhattacharya, editor in chief at Munchies and co-author of the Bong Appetit cookbook alongside Lavorato. “I feel the show itself has done so much to normalize cooking with cannabis, as well as just thinking of it as an ingredient, and how all of those flavors and combinations that work so well together.”
More Than Just Recipes
Bong Appetit isn’t the first cookbook to explore cooking with cannabis, but it is certainly among the most versatile. For the uninitiated, cooking with cannabis can be incredibly challenging, even for an experienced cook. Proper dosing is a relatively new concept and even the term “terpene” is not widely understood or used beyond hardcore enthusiasts and industry insiders. Which means that the majority of people who have not been making edibles on the regular in legal states are not likely considering whether their mac and cheese pairs better with a fruity strain like Blueberry or something citrusy like Lemon Haze.
Putting all of that into context, and you can understand why trying to develop an interesting, fun cannabis cookbook that’s a one-size-fits-all is undeniably impressive.
“In addition to just the fundamental cost of ingredients in the pantry, some people who use this book are going to live in legal states and some aren’t,” says Bhattacharya. “If you have access to the kind of pantry you have in the book–incredible. But we also wanted it to work for people who didn’t. So, we try to keep the infusions fairly straightforward, be it butters, various oils, and if you wanted to add terpenes, there are options to do that.”
Beyond its visually stunning design work, the format is incredibly intuitive. Unlike other cannabis cookbooks that deep-dive too much into the science and terminology, Bong Appetit keeps information streamlined and user-friendly, with plenty of great tips. Once you get the basics down (including the super-smart advice of simmering your oil in a mason jar instead of a double boiler), it’s easy to adlib based on whatever constraints you might have in your kitchen to properly dose out a dinner party without knocking everyone out.
That includes omitting cannabis entirely, as the recipes have been tested with infused and non-infused oils and fats. Among the most interesting recipes: an “apple bong” carved like the OG version, with an infused mezcal cocktail inside and flower on top to additionally smoke-infuse the drink (yes, you’re basically smoking bong water, but it’s good bong water!).
“There’s one cake recipe where you can really ‘choose your own adventure’ and you can actually infuse I think almost every ingredient except for the flour,” she says. “So, there’s a chart of how much you can get and you can really make this work for you. It’s more of a question of what you like what you have access to, and what you’re capable of from a culinary standing.”
And, yes, there is a recipe for infused olive oil poached octopus in the book. But are people actually going to be doing this at home?
“I completely hear that, but I hope so! The octopus is phenomenal and such an easy way to do it that it’s gonna blow your mind how easy it is. We fought to get that in the book. We really wanted to have it in there and it makes me so happy that it’s there.”
When Glenn Healy, head of the NHL Alumni Association, recently announced that a hundred retired players would be given CBD in a study examining the compound’s possible role in treating pain and post-concussion neurological disorders, many former athletes celebrated–especially those struggling with depression, post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), and dementia from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). But one question lingered in the minds of some people: “What about THC?”
“I know some former players who are using THC instead of CBD to cope,” said Rob Frid, who suffered dozens of concussions while playing junior and minor league hockey and now suffers from chronic pain and debilitating neurological problems. (The 43-year-old has been diagnosed with dystonia, a disorder that causes painful muscle spasms.) “There is no doubt in my mind that studying THC would be beneficial,” he told Leafly.
Researchers have been pointing to THC as a possible treatment for brain injuries for decades. In 1998, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States published a report outlining the neuroprotective properties of cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Those findings formed the basis of a US government-held patent on cannabis compounds as antioxidants and neuroprotectants. The government stated that both compounds could play a role in limiting neurological damage following stroke and trauma.
In 2013, Israeli researchers discovered that cannabis may prevent long-term brain damage when THC is administered before or shortly after injury. They found that doing so induces the biochemical processes necessary to protect critical brain cells while preserving long-term cognitive function. In fact, Israel Defense Force doctors have administered CBD or low-dose THC as a first-line treatment to soldiers who suffer brain trauma.
THC plays a role in pain management, according to Tony Iezzi, a psychologist who specializes in treating patients dealing with brain injury and chronic pain. “CBD alone won’t always cut it when it comes to treating pain. You need something more, and that is where THC comes in,” he told Leafly, adding that the two compounds work in tandem to treat pain.
Iezzi, who is affiliated with the London Health Sciences Centre in London, Ontario, believes that only CBD is front and centre in the NHL Alumni Association study in part because of the stigma associated with THC, which has psychoactive properties. “I think they chose to focus on CBD because it’s the more socially acceptable of the two cannabis compounds. They have to start somewhere,” he added. “At some point they will have to devote some attention to the effects of THC.”
His views are echoed by Mark Ware, the chief medical officer at Canopy Growth, an Ontario-based licensed producer that has partnered with the NHL Alumni Association and Neeka Health Canada to conduct this clinical research.
Ware, who has been an associate professor of family medicine and anesthesia at McGill University and is a well-known cannabis researcher, sees potential in THC to treat pain and post-concussion neurological disorders.
But it’s not front and centre in this study partly because of the stigma, he told Leafly. “There is a long history of people thinking of THC as a substance of abuse. We have to be conscious of that.” He cites another factor, too. Having THC in their system might pose a problem for study participants required to undergo drug tests for employment or insurance purposes. “There are many reasons to be careful with regards to THC, especially among those who must test clean for it,” he said.
That being said, Ware has not ruled out incorporating THC into this study, which is expected to begin this summer and take a year to complete. He explains that the study has three arms. The first group of participants will take CBD, the second group will be given a placebo and the third group will administer CBD along with one other element–one that is yet to be determined. Will it be THC?
“Nothing is written in stone at this point,” said Ware, adding that the goal of the study is to help determine “the secret sauce” that can be used to treat pain and post-concussion neurological disorders.
Ware said that if THC isn’t examined in this study it could very well be incorporated into a future study. “There is no scientific reason for not looking at it,” he conceded.
Though Frid is disappointed that THC is not at the fore of the upcoming NHL alumni study, the former hockey enforcer sees the initiative as a positive development. “NHL alumni are no longer saying, ‘Let’s wait for the science.’ They are making it happen. They are taking a step forward,” said Frid. “It’s amazing news.”
Regardless of whether weed is legal where you live, we still have to contend with roommates, parents, and neighbours, some of whom might take issue with the conspicuous scent of smoking cannabis.
So, strike a compromise: Continue smoking but take actions to minimize the risk they’ll smell it in the first place.
We all know about the trick of stuffing a towel under the crack of your closed door. But there’s something else that helps that you need to look into: a sploof.
These are handheld devices that typically contain carbon filters. You blow through one end, and out the other comes a whisper of the smoke you exhaled into it. They’re never 100% effective but using a sploof should be the difference between having happy roommates and getting an eviction notice.
We couldn’t write a sploof review without first bringing up the Smokebuddy. You’ve probably seen them being sold at your local headshop–this brand really seems to have a stranglehold across North America, as you can find the device in smoke shops across Canada and the US.
While the SmokeBuddy can be held in your hand, it is probably too big for your pocket.
It comes in a variety of visually designs, including tie-dye, camo, or your favourite primary and secondary colours.
The company boasts that it can last up to 300 exhales through regular use, at which point you’ll find a ton of resistance when you try to blow into the Buddy.
We won’t lie, we didn’t count how many exhales it lasted us, but the Smokebuddy easily lasted more than a month of regular use.
What didn’t we like? The plastic packaging is a real pain to open: You’ll need a pair of heavy duty scissors and a calm mind. And Smokebuddies are for one-time use: there is no replaceable filter system and the device’s outer plastic shell makes it nearly impossible to recycle.
Americans can buy the Smokebuddy right on Amazon for $12.50 USD, while Canadians will need to shell out $24.95.
The Smokebuddy also has a smaller “junior” model as well as a larger “mega” model. So if portability or long-lasting use are your top wants, you might want to try those variations.
Eco Four Twenty
This small, cylindrical, device is a heavyweight that exudes, “I am unbreakable.” It’s billed as a sploof made with “aircraft grade aluminium casing” and including a “2 stage medical grade filter.” While it costs a bit more than the Smokebuddy, the Eco Four Twenty also boasts a replaceable cartridge system that uses activated carbon as well as HEPA, good for 500 exhales.
The Eco Four Twenty feels good in your hand. And the thought of buying replacements that are cheaper than purchasing a new Smokebuddy really piqued my interest.
There’s just one problem: The filter lasted for less than a week of regular use–we tried twice. There is no way in hell this thing lasts anywhere close to advertised 500 exhales. If we had to guestimate it lasted us a fifth of that, at most. Maybe they’re testing it on bong-smoking ants?
Still, the Eco Four Twenty does have some positive points, especially due to its small size and the sleek design that makes it the sploof you would most want to see on your coffee table. That replaceable filter, also makes it one of the more eco-friendly options.
The creators behind the EFT are Canadian, so if you live north of the US border chances are you can find it in your local headshop. You can also expect fast shipping from Toronto if you order it directly from the company.
The device costs $26.95 USD and a pack of two replacements
One of the first competitors of Smokebuddy, the Sploofy, has a legion of fans. The device has now gone through three iterations, begging the question–how much did the first version suck? Well, pretty badly, at least when we first tried it. A significant amount of smoke leaked from the front of the device before it even had a chance to go through the filter.
Having recently released a third generation, the V3 redeems itself with a re-designed mouthpiece, and in our tests it alleviated the problems that we had with the first version. The V3 also boasts a HEPA filter that the Smokebuddy doesn’t.
While Sploofy’s website doesn’t estimate how many exhales you get, this bad boy lasted us quite a while. It’s even taller in size as the Smokebuddy and just as wide, and it appears that the filter is bigger than the SB–meaning you may get even more use out of it.
The device is covered with a sheath of hard plastic, which reveals an ugly undercarriage containing the filter and a big wad of glue holding a mesh screen on to the filter. But hey, does anyone’s car look clean under the hood?
The bulky filter cartridge is also replaceable. The Sploofy V3 retails on online for $19.99 USD.
A new competitor will soon be on the block, and Leafly was able to snag its hands on a prototype. Coming in a hot-red plastic casing, Angel hopes to disrupt the commercial sploof market and take on the Sploofies and Smokebuddies of the world with a design that easily slips into your pocket and allows for a tight grip when being used.
We didn’t test it to its limits, but if we had to guess, its smaller size likely makes it last for a shorter period of time than the Smokebuddy and Sploofy (but hopefully more than the Eco-Four Twenty).
Flow Filters, the developer behind the device, tells Leafly that they are hoping to sell it at the same or lower price than the Smokebuddy.
While not on the market just yet, we’re cautiously optimistic that the Angel sploofy will turn out to be a big hit: the team is taking months to perfect the design and the filtering medium, so you have a sense they want to put out a quality product when it comes time to hit the shelves.
A DIY Solution
Need a sploof fast and at practically no cost?
All you need to McGyver your own is: a finished toilet paper roll, dryer sheets, and elastic bands.
Stuff the roll with dryer sheets, and then take a few more dryer sheets and lay them flat on one end of the roll. Use the elastic bands to secure the dryer sheets snuggly on to the end of the roll.
And there you have it, a sploof that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.
You can even decorate it too. Want to call it “David Blowie,” in honour of the rockstar’s 1976 arrest for marijuana? Go right ahead! You can even bedazzle it with fake jewels if you’re into arts and crafts.
What’s great about the home-made sploof is that it masks and freshens the air around you, something none of the store-bought sploofs can do (we smell an opportunity). Conversely, the store-bought units may not do as good a job at masking but it
Look, your home-made sploof isn’t going to be as air tight as the chamber holding the filter of a manufactured sploof, so you’re always going to have at least a little bit of smell linger. But if you have marijuana-skeptic roommates or parents in your residence, the decision between no sploof and a home-made sploof is easy.
Which sploof is the best? That’s a hard question because there’s so many factors, and each sploof has its own pros and cons. In our tests, all of them were able to dissipate the smoke, leaving only a very transient whiff of cannabis odor. So whether you’re looking for something that fits in your pocket, starts a conversation while sitting on your coffee table, or that provides a long-lasting solution, there’s a sploof for you.
It’s no secret that many cancer patients are using cannabis to help manage pain, fatigue, nausea, and other side effects of chemotherapy. Less well known is the fact that extensive preclinical research shows that plant cannabinoids – most notably, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) – produce antitumor responses in various animal models of cancer.
The vast majority of this preclinical research has examined the anticancer activity of pure compounds, mainly THC isolates. But medical cannabis patients aren’t using pure, single-molecule THC to battle cancer. Instead, they are consuming whole plant cannabis oil extracts that include hundreds of compounds, many of which also have therapeutic properties. These artisanal cannabis oil preparations are available in licensed dispensaries in states where medical cannabis is legal and elsewhere via the unregulated black market.
Thus far, however, few rigorous studies have analyzed the effects of whole plant cannabis extracts. So a team of Spanish researchers, led by Cristina Sanchez at Complutense University in Madrid, decided to compare the efficacy of pure THC isolates and THC-rich oil extracts in a series of preclinical experiments that focused on breast cancer. (The oil extracts were provided by Aunt Zelda’s, a California-based medical cannabis producer.) The researchers also investigated the effects of pure THC and an artisanal THC-rich oil formulation when each was combined with standard chemotherapy drugs.
Their findings were reported in a 2018 article – “Appraising the ‘Entourage Effect’: Antitumor action of a pure cannabinoid versus a botanical drug preparation in preclinical models of breast cancer” – which was published in the journal Biochemical Pharmacology. The phrase “entourage effect” in this context refers to the full-spectrum synergistic interplay between numerous cannabis compounds – cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids – that impart a therapeutic impact that’s greater than the sum of the plant’s individual components.
Spoiler alert: Both THC and the artisanal THC-rich oil were shown to have antitumoral properties, but the oil worked better than the THC isolate for three different breast cancer subtypes.
Tricky to Treat
It is estimated that one in eight women will develop breast cancer. Breast cancer is tricky to treat because there are few biomarkers that signal when someone has the disease, and many patients show or develop resistance to current therapies. Moreover, several specific types of breast cancer respond poorly to modern treatment. These difficulties underscore the importance of exploring new treatments for breast cancer.
Two biomarkers frequently used to diagnose breast cancer are hormonal receptors (the estrogen receptor and progesterone receptor) and the HER2 oncogene (a gene which can transform a normal cell into a tumor cell). But a more aggressive malignancy, known as “triple-negative breast cancer,” doesn’t express hormonal receptors or the HER2 oncogene. No targeted therapy exists for triple-negative breast cancer, so patients are treated with harsh chemotherapies that indiscriminately kill proliferating cells, whether cancerous or not.
These three types of cancer – hormone-sensitive, HER2, and triple-negative – were used as models for “Appraising the entourage effect.”
In all models of breast cancer studied, in vitro as well as in vivo, the whole plant extract was significantly more effective at producing anticancer effects than single-molecule THC. These results were largely consistent for type of cancer and type of model. Researchers tested the compounds in cell cultures (petri dishes) and in rodent models (mice).
THC & Hormone-Sensitive Breast Cancer
In the case of hormone-sensitive breast cancer cells, whole plant extract was found to be 15-25% more potent than THC alone. In live-animal models single molecule THC exhibited no significant antitumor response, unlike the whole plant extract, which had a pronounced antitumor effect. Testing on lab animals is a necessary step towards establishing the efficacy of a specific clinical treatment.
When the cannabinoid preparations were added to tamoxifen, a standard chemotherapy drug, in a cell plate, the combined therapy was about 20-25% more effective than chemotherapy alone. But these results were not replicated in live-animal trials. Importantly, the cannabinoids also did not negatively impact the efficacy of the chemotherapy. This suggests that at the very least using cannabis as an add-on treatment to deal with common side effects of chemotherapy, like nausea and appetite loss, won’t impede chemotherapy’s ability to destroy cancer cells.
In hormone-sensitive breast cancer, it appears that THC produces effects via interaction with the CB2 cannabinoid receptor. CB2 receptor activation has received significant attention because of its potential to treat diseases while avoiding the “high” mediated by the CB1 cannabinoid receptor, which THC also activates. When THC binds to CB1, it causes the swimmy-headed feelings of intoxication associated with cannabis consumption.
THC & HER2-Positive Breast Cancer
Whole plant extract was found to be significantly more potent than THC for HER2-positive breast cancer cells. Both single-molecule THC and whole plant extract showed antitumor effects when the experiment was replicated in mice. Additionally, both THC and the whole plant extract amplified the anticancer effects of lapatinib, the standard chemotherapy drug for HER2 breast cancer.
As with hormone-sensitive breast cancer, THC’s antitumoral effect in HER2-positive breast cancer experiments was shown to be mediated by the CB2 cannabinoid receptor. Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, a subsequent report by Cristina Sanchez and other Spanish scientists noted that HER2 and CB2 receptors are often found in the same exact place on cells.
CB2 actually conjoins with HER2 – forming what is called a dimer – and this dimerization is associated with poor treatment outcome for breast cancer. The PNAS report shed new light on THC’s anticancer mechanism of action: When THC binds to the CB2 receptor, it breaks up the CB2-HER2 dimer, triggering a chain reaction of signals that culminates in tumor regression.
THC & Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
Triple-negative, the breast cancer subtype with the worst prognosis, does not generally respond well to chemotherapy. But the Spanish group found that THC and THC-rich cannabis oil both offer some hope in improving treatment outcomes for this highly aggressive cancer. Again, the whole plant extract was found to be more effective than THC alone in decreasing the viability of cancer cells in vitro as well as in mouse model studies.
There are several other examples where a combination of plant cannabinoids and standard chemotherapy agents have produced a heightened antitumoral response that exceeded the potency of either therapy alone. A phase 2 clinical trial tested the strength of Sativex, an equal THC and CBD mixture, combined with temozolomide, the “gold-standard” chemo for brain cancer, and the results were positive.
Cancer patients are often treated with several single-compound drugs in an effort to create a treatment that can hit multiple targets. “Although current medicine is mostly based on the use of pure compounds that have single targets,” the Spanish scientists write, “it is increasingly obvious that for diseases as complex as cancer, multi-target approaches could conceivably be more effective.”
The results of the Spanish study, along with compelling data from other researchers, suggest a promising future for whole plant cannabis oil extracts and multitarget cancer therapies. But the Western medical system and its typical drug development procedures are not conducive to the approval of complex botanical preparations as multitarget medicaments – in part because elucidating a precise mechanism of action when numerous compounds are involved is much more difficult than studying a single-molecule pharmaceutical that’s geared toward a single, primary outcome.
The fact that both the THC isolate and the whole plant cannabis extract were shown to be effective at reducing tumor viability is truly groundbreaking and should be an impetus for advancing the development of nontoxic, cannabinoid-based treatments for breast cancer.
Cannabinoid therapies are particularly promising for tumor-producing cancers given that “no overtly cannabis-resistant tumors have been described so far,” according to the Spanish researchers. “Considering how different cancer subtypes are, and the fact that the viability of non-transformed cells is not affected by cannabinoids at the concentrations they kill tumor cells, it is tempting to speculate that these compounds tackle essential, as yet unidentified, cellular functions that all cancer cells share, and that are absent in their non-cancerous counterparts.”
The Spanish breast cancer study underscores the importance of the entourage effect by demonstrating that full spectrum artisanal cannabis oil extract with numerous components is more effective than pure THC.* “[A]lthough the pharmacology of cannabis drug preparation extracts is obviously more complex to study,” the researchers acknowledge, “this therapeutic approach has the potential to produce better therapeutic responses than pure cannabinoids.”
The Spanish scientists emphasize that the whole plant cannabis drug preparation “did not, in any case, diminish the antitumor efficacy of any of the standard treatments.” That’s good news for cancer patients who use cannabis to manage the adverse side effects of chemo. Cannabis is very likely a safe add-on therapy for treating pain and nausea and for appetite stimulation. And it may also increase the efficacy of standard chemotherapy treatments, which means that chemo could be more effective – requiring lower and less toxic doses – when used in combination with cannabis.
Alex Andia, who holds his PhD in Chemistry, teaches Organic Chemistry at the City University of New York – City College. He is also the brains behind Chemical Makeup, a non-profit dedicated to promoting the queer voice in science.
Copyright, Project CBD. May not be reprinted without permission.
*An interesting finding from the Spanish breast canceer study pertains to the not fully understood role of terpenes, the aromatic compounds that give cannabis its distinctive smell. The scientists created a “terpene cocktail” composed of the 5 most prominent terpenes in the full-spectrum cannabis oil extract: beta-caryophyllene, alpha-humulene, nerolidol, linalool, and beta-pinene. When added to the THC isolate, however, this terpene cocktail failed to increase the antitumoral efficacy of the single-molecule cannabinoid. This could mean that mixing a few terpenes with pure THC does not adequately recreate the qualities of a full-spectrum cannabis oil extract. Or it could be that other compounds in the oil extract are responsible for enhancing THC’s anticancer impact. The authors note that the whole plant cannabis oil extract used in the study also contained measurable amounts of cannabigerol (CBG) and tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA – the ‘raw’ form of THC that won’t get you high). CBG has demonstrated effectiveness against colon cancer in preclinical models, and THCA is known to interact with a PPAR (nuclear) receptor that mediates apoptosis (cell death) in cancer cell lines. A combination of all these compounds may be required to achieve the antitumoral response observed in the Spanish breast cancer study.
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CBD, THC, and Cancer
Mounting evidence shows cannabinoids in marijuana slow cancer growth, inhibit formation of new blood cells that feed a tumor, and help manage pain, fatigue, nausea, and other side effects.
Terpenes and the “Entourage Effect”
Terpenes are volatile aromatic molecules that evaporate easily and readily announce themselves to the nose. Terpenes, it turns out, are healthy for people as well as plants.
Single Compound vs. Whole Plant CBD
A groundbreaking study has documented the superior therapeutic properties of whole plant CBD-rich cannabis extract as compared to single-molecule CBD.
Pain, when used as an umbrella term, is more vast than the Pacific Ocean. Using CBD to treat pain can be effective only under the pretense that the type of pain is well-understood and properly diagnosed.
Most of us have crossed paths with the loud, piercing, cuss-worthy persona of acute pain: an elbow dings the edge of the table or a pinky toe that has found the bed frame yet again at 3 a.m. Other types of pain produce less shock value but are no less odious in nature.
For the sake of this article, I’ll simply go into the types of pain that CBD has shown to treat effectively: neuropathic and inflammatory pain.
Types of Pain
CBD treats neuropathic pain like Cinderella’s foot fit the magic shoe–a blissful, but unexpected, union. Neuropathic pain is largely created and sustained due to the glutamenergic system, which is a major excitatory neuronal pathway. Glutamate is the neurotransmitter that is responsible for turning neurons on, which is great, sometimes.
Inflammatory pain is related to neuropathic pain, except it is not limited to neurons. Examples of inflammatory pain include all types of arthritis, a few autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, and simple conditions like headaches, cramps, muscle aches, and pains.
For humans, communication is key, not only interpersonally but also molecularly. Problems arise in paradise when cells become damaged due to injury or chronic illness. When the body senses this damage, it cranks inflammation to HIGH and begins pumping inflammatory agents on its cells.
The point is to promote death of the damaged cell, otherwise called apoptosis. Our bodies don’t enjoy malfunctioning cells and would prefer that they throw in the towel–this is important in ridding ourselves of possible cancer and maintaining optimal functioning. However, when this becomes a chronic condition, it is named inflammatory pain.
How CBD Works for Pain
CBD inhibits glutamate release and other inflammatory agents, which makes it ‘neuroprotective‘ and excellent at dulling the prickling, tingling and burning sensations that neuropathic pain is characterized for. CBD can be used as a supplement to help manage neuropathic pain, alongside other natural supplements such as magnesium glycinate.
Pain due to inflammation is not as easily characterized as other types of pain, mostly because its origins of pain vary and so does the experience. On the bright side, CBD is good at calming inflammation, no matter what the root cause.
The anti-inflammatory mechanism of cannabidiol is unique to cannabis. It doesn’t work like other anti-inflammatory drugs by inhibiting COX-1 and COX-2 receptors, which means you don’t run the risk of developing gastrointestinal ulcers or heart attacks, hooray! Some studies have shown that cannabinoids (CBD and THC) are up to twenty times more potent anti-inflammatory agents when compared to NSAIDs (eg. ibuprofen).
When taken regularly alongside other natural anti-inflammatory supplements (eg. curcumin, Omega-3), CBD can provide systemic relief of inflammation. Usually taken three times per day, dosing at each interval depends on your unique needs. Typically patients start with 0.5 ml per dose and increase until maximum relief.
Cannabidiol can be an effective, non-psychotropic alternative to THC when used correctly. However, we are still in the infancy stage of incorporating CBD into health and medicine, so it is important to consult your physician when contemplating the use of CBD to treat pain.
The takeaway? CBD isn’t effective in treating all types of pain–for that reason, it’s important to understand your pain: does it worsen with the weather, cause swelling, or is it persistent and stabbing? If you feel that you experience inflammatory or neuropathic pain, talk to your doctor. CBD supplementation could be right for you.