Marijuana stock euphoria: Should you join the wild ride?

Investors in Canada’s nascent market for legal marijuana saw stock prices swing wildly this week – and weed growers were delighted to exploit the frenzy by raising tens of millions of dollars.

But beyond this week, what does the future hold for Canadian pot producers? The industry is not only gearing up for the Liberal government’s legalization of the recreational marijuana market, but also grappling with what is happening south of the border.

Last week, California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts voted to legalize recreational marijuana but it’s unclear what tack U.S. President-elect Donald Trump will take on cannabis.

“With these things [marijuana stocks] so hot right now, you have to really be careful,” Bruce Campbell of StoneCastle Investment Management said on Market Call. “If I was buying, it certainly wouldn’t buy in one big chunk.”

WEED’S WILD WEEK

Shares in Canopy Growth Corp (CGC.TO), which says it sold more than a tonne of weed in its latest quarter and harvested 1.7 tonnes, soared from $9.34 a share last Friday to almost $18 this past Wednesday in frenzied trading. On the same day, halts were triggered on several Canadian cannabis stocks. By Friday morning, Canopy shares dropped to $13.59, still up 45 per cent on the week and representing a market value of $1.5 billion.

Aurora Cannabis (ACB.V) – whose “garden is home to thousands of happy plants growing in the foothills of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, sipping fresh mountain water in gentle breezes and basking in ideal lighting conditions” – closed at $2.12 last week, jumping more than 50 per cent to $3.37 a share this Friday.

Meanwhile, shares in Aphria Inc (APH.V) climbed from $4.64 last week, to hit $6.41 on Friday.

TRUMP’S EFFECT ON POT

Investors betting on the advent of a large recreational market in Canada should see weed stocks move higher over the next year, but there will be big price swings on the way, Khurram Malik of Jacob Capital Management said.

“It’s risen a little too quickly for our comfort,” Malik said in an interview with BNN on Thursday.

“Yes it’s a speculative sector, yes it’s a high-risk sector, yes it’s a highly volatile sector. But if you’ve got a two- or three-year investing horizon it’s not a bad time to get in [on marijuana stocks].”

Investors will also have to weigh the implications of how marijuana regulation develops in the U.S.

While U.S. president-elect Donald Trump has said states should be allowed to decide their own cannabis policies, he’s also a close ally of Rudy Giuliani. The former New York City mayor is said to have presided over the transformation of the city into “the marijuana arrest capital.” And, Vice President-elect Mike Pence has backed tough punishment in Indiana.

Canopy Growth chairman and CEO Bruce Linton told BNN that the continued federal ban south of the border means his company has a powerful competitive advantage because it will let Canopy lock up intellectual property.

U.S. producers will remain “fractured and fragmented… they can’t patent and they can’t trademark,” Linton said.

He added that Smith Falls, Ont.-based Canopy has valuable technical knowledge and strong brands such as Tweed, which it touts as “approachable and friendly, yet reliable and trusted.”

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But Commodities guest Chris Damas, publisher of the BCMI Report, warns that U.S. growers have plenty of expertise.

“Methinks they are pretty good at growing marijuana down in California and even in the wetter climes of Washington, Oregon and Colorado,” Damas said in an email to BNN.

“Recreational cannabis legalization in the four states that voted for it last Tuesday has nothing to do with Canada, except as a potential competitive threat. That market is already being satisfied – either illegally, or via co-ops.”

Still, investing in makers of the drug may be too much to stomach for some investors.

Gordon Reid, president and CEO of Goodreid Investment Counsel, told BNN in an interview on Thursday that he’s avoiding marijuana stocks, partly because they carry too much social stigma for many of his clients.

“Just as with cigarette smoking and other socially sensitive issues we want to be on the right side and we feel we have made the right decision,” Reid said.

WILL THE EUPHORIA LAST?

Meanwhile, in time-honoured fashion, executives in this hot sector have been quick to take advantage of investor interest.

Supreme Pharmaceuticals (SL.CD) sold $50 million worth of convertible debentures garnished with share purchase warrants exercisable at $1.70 per share for  three years. As of Friday, its stock traded at $1.81. The debentures are convertible at just $1.30 a share.

OrganiGram Holdings Inc. (OGI.V) sold 9.9 million shares at $3.55 for proceeds of $35 million. The shares traded at $3.88 on Friday.

Aphria last week sold $35 million worth of stock at $4.

Damas of the BCMI Report warns that the euphoria may not last, especially when Trudeau actually unveils his legalization scheme.

“The overblown potential of the ‘recreational’ cannabis market potential misreads Justin Trudeau and the Liberals’ intent. Trudeau has repeatedly stipulated that decriminalization has been proposed to make cannabis LESS available, not more, especially to youths,” Damas said.

He adds: “Position disclosure: We do not own cannabis stocks presently.”

 

SOURCE: By Andrew Bell, BNN.ca

Whoopi Goldberg launches medical marijuana products for period pain

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The actress’s new line includes bath soaks and balms for women who want the pain relief without getting high

Whoopi Goldberg has announced plans to launch her own line of medical marijuana products to treat period pains.

The actress has joined forces with Maya Elisabeth, who runs a medical marijuana company, to create a line of balms, bath soaks and cocoa infused with medical marijuana to soothe menstrual cramps.

Goldberg, 60, said the products are ideal for women who don’t want to smoke or get high to relieve pain.

She follows a number of high-profile figures who have launched business ventures related to marijuana after the drug was decriminalised in a number of states. The rapper Snoop Dogg launched Leafs by Snoop, his own brand of marijuana, in November.

“For me, I feel like if you don’t want to get high high, this is a product specifically just to get rid of discomfort,” she told Vanity Fair. “Smoking a joint is fine, but most people can’t smoke a joint and go to work.”

“This, you can put it in your purse.

“You can put the rub on your lower stomach and lower back at work, and then when you get home you can get in the tub for a soak or make tea, and it allows you to continue to work throughout the day.”

Goldberg has spoken previously about using a vape pen to relieve the headaches she suffers due to glaucoma.

SOURCE: http://www.independent.co.uk, by HEATHER SAUL

Medical marijuana takes off in Israel

Even though Israel enforces a strict ban on recreational use of marijuana, Israeli doctors have prescribed it to more than 25,000 Israelis to alleviate their symptoms

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With its moat, wall, barbed wire, armed guards and security cameras, the facility could be mistaken for a military base if it weren’t for the pungent odour of marijuana in the air.

Here, on the outskirts of a quiet village in northern Israel, 50,000 plants of 230 varieties grow at the country’s second-largest medical cannabis plantation.

 

“For cannabis, we are in the promised land with a good climate, 300 days of sunshine each year and perfect levels of humidity,” said Tamir Gedo, head of BOL Pharma, a company authorised by the Israeli health ministry to grow and distribute medical cannabis.

The recreational use of cannabis is illegal in the Jewish state, but for the past 10 years its therapeutic use has not only been permitted but also encouraged.

 

Last year, doctors prescribed the herb to about 25,000 patients suffering from cancer, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress and degenerative diseases.

 

The purpose is not to cure them but to alleviate their symptoms.The use of cannabis in medicine divides doctors around issues of addiction and behavioural problems such as aggression. Nevertheless, it has long been known to revive lost appetite and to help in treating sleep disorders, anxiety and inflammation, its supporters say.

 

They say much research remains to be done but it is advancing faster in Israel, where authorities allow human clinical trials, than in many other countries. Entrepreneurs, investors and researchers are increasingly entering the business and searching for the holy grail of medicinal marijuana: a purified form of the drug with minimal side-effects and which can be administered in accurate doses.

 

Inside the fortified premises of BOL (Breath Of Life) Pharma are laboratories and greenhouses, with each plant monitored by software that remotely controls its biochemical parameters. Growing cannabis for medical use demands careful supervision of active ingredients such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which gives recreational users their high but is not recommended for all patients, particularly children.

 

“With the support of the (health) ministry, which has always had a pioneering attitude to this issue, we have built up expertise in clinical trials and we can share it with companies in the United States and Europe,” said Gedo. He cites initial results of trials on patients with Crohn’s disease, which is characterised by chronic inflammation of the intestine, diarrhoea and recurrent abdominal pain.

 

 

Forbidden to export its cannabis plants, Israel is concentrating instead on marketing its agronomic, medical and technological expertise in the hope of becoming a world hub in the field. The prestigious Hebrew University of Jerusalem has just opened a cannabis research centre joining 19 other teams from local academic institutions.

 

About 200 industry players gathered in Tel Aviv this month for Canna Tech, an international conference on the industry. Suited salespeople, some a little red-eyed despite a ban on consumption laid down by the organisers, exhibited products including electronic cannabis cigarettes, cannabis-based creams and ointments and a remedy for dry mouth.

 

Some startups are focused on the plant’s by-products, others on user accessories, but a few have bigger ideas. “Look at what has happened in the past two years, the speed at which legalisation of cannabis is advancing,” said Saul Kaye, head of the first Israeli incubator for cannabis industry startups.

 

“We’re not going to miss this opportunity, and seeing what the first investors are putting on the table, we feel that it is going to be very big.” In January, US tobacco giant Philip Morris ploughed $20 million into Israeli company Syke, which produces precision inhalers for medical cannabis.

At the same time, Israeli firm Eybna announced it had isolated therapeutic organic compounds from the plant without the psychoactive ingredients which make unprescribed use illegal.

 

SOURCE: http://www.ynetnews.com, by AFP

 

 

Study: Regular marijuana use linked to problems in midlife

19792892-mmmain.pngA study of nearly 1,000 people in New Zealand, where marijuana is not legal, found that regular, long-term use was associated with financial and social problems in midlife.

A study that followed children from birth to midlife found that heavy marijuana users who smoked for years often fared worse as adults than their parents: Many ended up in jobs that paid less, required fewer skills and were less prestigious.

That wasn’t so much the case for other people.

“The rest of the people in the study who were not regular and persistent cannabis users ended up in a higher social class than their parents,” said Magdalena Cerda, lead investigator and associate professor at the University of California, Davis.

The study, published Wednesday in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, also found that marijuana users who smoked at least four times a week experienced more financial difficulties, such as problems with debt and food insecurity, than their parents. Their lives were fraught with more social problems, too.

“They experienced more antisocial behavior at work such as lying to get a job or stealing money and more relationship problems such as intimate partner violence or controlling behavior towards their partner,” Cerda said.

Other studies have associated heavy and persistent marijuana use with problems in adulthood but haven’t always ruled out other factors. This research tried to do that by tracking and comparing variables such as intelligence, family structure, gender, ethnicity, parental substance abuse, criminal convictions and antisocial behavior and depression in childhood.

In accounting for so many variables, researchers made the study’s conclusions stronger, Cerda said, acknowledging that there may be unknown factors that they didn’t track.

Dr. Colin Roberts, a pediatric neurologist at Oregon Health & Science University and a member of Oregon’s Cannabis Research Task Force created to study medical marijuana, said the findings are worth considering.

“It’s a good study,” Roberts said. “They established an association that’s pretty compelling.”

The study’s sample size, almost 950 people, also gives it heft, he said.

The study is based on four decades of data collected in New Zealand, where marijuana is illegal. Investigators have been following people born between 1972 and 1973 in Dunedin, the second largest city on the South Island. The participants in the study come from a range of socio-economic classes, from professionals to unskilled laborers, who had physical, psychological, social and financial assessments at birth and ages 3, 5, 9, 11, 13, 15, 18, 21, 26, 32 and 38.

“There was a large number of people that were looked at which is really important,” Roberts said. “We can’t do studies like this in the U.S. because it’s really hard to collect information on people over that period of time. We don’t have a central source for people’s medical records.”

The study analyzed the data from the childhood evaluations to determine pre-existing conditions that might cause financial or social problems later in life. Then it evaluated the marijuana use of people starting at age 18 through 38 and financial and social problems at age 38. It found that 15 percent were frequent users, which they defined as smoking marijuana four or more times a week.

The longer those people smoked, the worse their problems in midlife.

That’s consistent with what professionals like Dr. Kevin Hill see in their practices. He’s the author of “Marijuana: The Unbiased Truth about the World’s Most Popular Weed” and an addiction psychiatrist at McLean Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School in Massachusetts.

“This paper supports what we see clinically,” Hill said. “If you’re using at a level that’s consistent with cannabis addiction, you will have problems in multiple spheres – work, school and relationships.”

Not everyone who smoked marijuana four times or more a week for years experienced downward mobility and not everyone who abstained fared better than their parents. But a higher proportion of the former group – nearly 52 percent – had a worse outcome compared with 14 percent of the latter.

The study also looked at alcohol use. Those with an alcohol dependency experienced more social problems than their parents and landed lower-paying jobs. But the marijuana users who were dependent on the drug had even more financial worries than those addicted to alcohol.

“Those of us in the field know that cannabis is potentially dangerous but the same argument should be made with alcohol,” Hill said. “We have 22 million Americans who used cannabis last year and yet we rarely talk about cannabis being dangerous and we should.”

Yet he cautioned that people who are dependent on marijuana remain in the minority, just as those who abuse alcohol are.

Alcohol remains the bigger problem because it’s more widespread, Cerda said, but she added that the increasing acceptance of marijuana could increase the cost to society. Oregon is one of 23 states where marijuana is legal for medical use and four states that have approved recreational marijuana use.

The study points to a need for investment in prevention and treatment, she said.

“If we do that, it may have long-term consequences for the potential burden that this may place on communities, families and on the broader social welfare system,” Cerda said.

 

SOURCE: http://www.oregonlive.com, by LYNNE TERRY

5 Ways Marijuana Can Be Your Secret Weapon Against Brutal Hangovers

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It’s impossible to overstate the importance of cannabis as a life-saving medicine, useful in treating a host of serious ailments from epilepsy to Crohn’s disease to cancer.

But it’s also a panacea for an ailment that, while not life-threatening, certainly feels that way at the time: the dreaded booze hangover.

Here are five ways cannabis helps you bounce back after a night of overindulgence:

Smoking marijuana can help combat nausea.

Cannabis is a superlative anti-nausea medication, nixing dry-heaving stomach convulsions brought on by pounding back eight straight bourbons the night before.

The herb’s analgesic effects shouldn’t come as any surprise: synthetic versions of THC have been used to combat nausea since the late 1980s.

A 2011 British study found “considerable evidence [of] the anti-emetic effect of cannabinoids, shown across a wide variety of animals.”

Recently, animal experiments have found cannabinoids especially useful in treating the more difficult-to-control symptoms of nausea in chemo patients, which could mean it also beats Gravol when it comes to counteracting the effects of last night’s revelry.


It can significantly reduce the frequency of pounding headaches.

A hangover usually means a pounding headache that feels as though your head is trapped in a vice — a symptom cannabis has also been shown to combat.

A study published in the journal Pharmacotherapy found consuming marijuana resulted in a significant reduction in the frequency of migraine headaches.

“The researchers found that in migraine patients who used medical marijuana, the occurrence of migraines dropped from 10.4 to 4.6 percent a month, which is considered statistically and clinically significant,” according to Tech Times.

They also discovered that inhaling marijuana appears to be the most ideal way to treat headaches because the effects occur sooner compared with using edibles.


Smoking marijuana treats hangover-induced anxiety.

Whether it’s the horrible physical sensations you’re experiencing, or dread regarding what you said and did the night before, many hungover people experience an overwhelming sense that their lives are going down the tubes, making hiding in bed the only option.

Using cannabis to treat hangover-induced anxiety is a double-edged sword. As Leafly points out,

For some, a small puff of cannabis provides unrivaled relief of worry, panic, stress, and other anxiety-related symptoms.

Unfortunately others experience heightened paranoia and exacerbated anxiety with marijuana […]what many people don’t realize is there are many strains now that have little to no THC. These low-THC, high-CBD strains are changing the game for anxiety sufferers, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t strains rich in THC that can’t also help.

For best results, try an indica like Granddaddy Purple, known for helping release stress and tension.


Did your hangover result in a loss of appetite? Marijuana can help change that.

If you’re in the throes of a truly nuclear-grade hangover, the last thing you want is to attempt to eat anything other than dry crackers. It’s unfortunate, since your poor, abused body could definitely use a re-up of nutrients. Here’s where the munchies become a godsend.

As Dr. Donald Abrams, chief of hematology-oncology at San Francisco General Hospital and a professor of clinical medicine at the University of California tells Newsweek,

Marijuana is the only anti-nausea medicine that increases appetite.


Indica strains can help with hangover-induced sleep deprivation.

Ever wake up at 6 am after a heavy night of drinking, hungover as heck, and unable to go back to sleep? That’s because your body jolts awake after it’s finished processing the alcohol in your system.

“As the alcohol starts to wear off, your body can come out of deep sleep and back into REM sleep, which is much easier to wake from,” explainsGizmodo’s Robbie Gonzalez.

As with anxiety, an indica strain is your friend when you want to get some shut eye. Try a tranquilizing Bubba Kush or Northern Lights, which will hopefully allow you to rest up and get on the road to recovery.

 

SOURCE: http://www.elitedaily.com, by JULIA WRIGHT

 

REGULAR MARIJUANA USE LINKED TO ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL PROBLEMS

marijuana (3).jpgHeavy marijuana use and dependence, over the course of years, is linked in a new study with economic and social problems at age 38.

People who smoke marijuana on a regular basis for years and those who are dependent on it are significantly more likely to have economic and social problems at midlife than those who use it only occasionally or not at all, new research shows. And the longer that people regularly smoke, the greater their chances of having these troubles.

The study does not prove that marijuana causes these problems, but it does go further than probably any other research has done before to demonstrate a strong link. The paper was compiled from information gathered on nearly 1,000 New Zealanders in the town of Dunedin, who were checked on and interviewed regularly from birth to the age of 38. It was published online March 23 in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.

People in the study who smoked regularly, defined as at least four times per week over the course of several years, had significantly more economic problems, such as high levels of debt, poorer credit ratings, limits on cash flow and even difficulty paying for food and rent, says study author Magdalena Cerdá, a researcher at the University of California, Davis.

Moreover, they also were more likely to exhibit antisocial tendencies in the workplace, including such things as lying and engaging in arguments with co-workers. And they were more like to have conflicts in their intimate relationships, she adds.

Heavy smokers also ended up in a lower “social class” than their parents, Cerdá says. (Social class was defined as level of job specialty, with professionals like doctors and lawyers at the top and unskilled laborers at the bottom.) Meanwhile, those who didn’t regularly smoke ended up in a higher social class than their parents. While noteworthy, the finding raises some philosophical questions about what “social class” really means and what the value of such distinctions are.

Unlike many studies, this paper tried to control for a wide variety of potentially confounding factors, such as ethnicity, social class of origin, family history of substance dependence, low childhood self-control, childhood IQ, adolescent psychological problems like depression and motivation level at age 18. The researchers also controlled for the use of alcohol and other drugs. When people using these substances were excluded and only those using solely marijuana were considered, the link held up, the study found.

It should be noted, however, that the findings don’t apply to light or occasional smokers. And Igor Grant, a physician and researcher at UC San Diego who wasn’t involved in the paper, clarified that people who admitted smoking four times per week were probably more realistically smoking on a daily basis. Meanwhile, only a small fraction of marijuana users— around 9 percent, according to one large study—become dependent on it. And this number, as with just about everything involving marijuana, is a subject of controversy, with some saying it’s higher and others saying it’s lower or inappropriately measured in the first place.

The study participants were interviewed by researchers at ages 3, 5, 9, 11, 13, 15, 18, 21, 26, 32 and 38.

Researchers found that cannabis and alcohol dependence were both about equally linked with downward mobility, antisocial behavior in the workplace and relationship conflicts. But marijuana dependence appears to be linked even more strongly to financial problems than alcohol dependence is, Cerdá says.

Of course, alcohol dependence has much worse health effects than heavy cannabis use, and this study didn’t address physical health, Cerdá says.

As to whether these results could be unique to New Zealand, Ceradá says she doesn’t think so because “there have been multiple studies looking at this, and they’ve been pretty consistent.” That said, the levels of regular use and dependence—15 and 18 percent, respectively, among the New Zealand study participants—is higher than those found in the United States. But these rates may go up as marijuana is legalized in more and more states.

(The reason those numbers are different is because some people smoke regularly without being dependent, and some become dependent without smoking heavily, Cerdá says.)

There are, of course, limitations to this study. “It is difficult to definitely establish a causal relationship in studies of this sort, as the authors acknowledge,” says Wayne Hall, a researcher at the University of Queensland who wasn’t involved in the paper. “It may be that cannabis dependence is a marker of other risk factors for social and economic adversity. [But] this is less likely given that the effects persisted after controlling for plausible confounders and that much the same pattern was true of alcohol dependence” in the group, he adds.

One of the strengths of the study was to show that people generally began to have economic and social problems after smoking regularly and were not different beforehand as teens on measures of IQ, motivation, impulsivity or likelihood of using other drugs, Cerdá says.

However, Grant says that it’s possible there is something unique about the type of person who goes on to smoke regularly or become dependent, and some of the problems encountered may have to do with underlying personality differences that are difficult to measure—or psychological problems not yet manifest—as opposed to marijuana itself.

“It’s not the ordinary person who would use marijuana every day for years on end,” Grant says. “Whether marijuana caused these problems or these were people who were destined to have these problems anyway, I don’t think we can really figure out.”

 

SOURCE: http://www.newsweek.com, by DOUGLAS MAIN

Science Seeks to Unlock Marijuana’s Secrets

As the once-vilified drug becomes more accepted, researchers around the world are trying to understand how it works and how it might fight disease.

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There’s nothing new about cannabis, of course. It’s been around humankind pretty much forever.

In Siberia charred seeds have been found inside burial mounds dating back to 3000 B.C. The Chinese were using cannabis as a medicine thousands of years ago. Marijuana is deeply American too—as American as George Washington, who grew hemp at Mount Vernon. For most of the country’s history, cannabis was legal, commonly found in tinctures and extracts.

Then came Reefer Madness. Marijuana, the Assassin of Youth. The Killer Weed. The Gateway Drug. For nearly 70 years the plant went into hiding, and medical research largely stopped. In 1970 the federal government made it even harder to study marijuana, classifying it as a Schedule I drug—a dangerous substance with no valid medical purpose and a high potential for abuse, in the same category as heroin. In America most people expanding knowledge about cannabis were by definition criminals.

But now, as more and more people are turning to the drug to treat ailments, the science of cannabis is experiencing a rebirth. We’re finding surprises, and possibly miracles, concealed inside this once forbidden plant. Although marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I drug, Vivek Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general, recently expressed interest in what science will learn about marijuana, noting that preliminary data show that “for certain medical conditions and symptoms” it can be “helpful.”

In 23 states and the District of Columbia cannabis is legal for some medical uses, and a majority of Americans favor legalization for recreational use. Other countries are rethinking their relationship to pot too. Uruguay has voted to legalize it. Portugal has decriminalized it. Israel, Canada, and the Netherlands have medical marijuana programs, and in recent years numerous countries have liberalized possession laws.

Ganja is simply around us more, its unmistakable but increasingly unremarkable smell hanging in the air. Yes, smoking it may lead to temporary laughing sickness, intense shoe-gazing, amnesia about what happened two seconds ago, and a ravenous yearning for Cheez Doodles. Though there’s never been a death reported from an overdose, marijuana—especially today’s stout iterations—is also a powerful and in some circumstances harmful drug.

Still, for many, cannabis has become a tonic to dull pain, aid sleep, stimulate appetite, buffer life’s thumps and shocks. Pot’s champions say it peels back layers of stress. It’s also thought to be useful as, among other things, an analgesic, an antiemetic, a bronchodilator, and an anti-inflammatory. It’s even been found to help cure a bad case of the hiccups. Compounds in the plant, some scientists contend, may help the body regulate vital functions—such as protecting the brain against trauma, boosting the immune system, and aiding in “memory extinction” after catastrophic events.

In the apparent rush to accept weed into the mainstream, to tax and regulate it, to legitimize and commodify it, important questions arise. What’s going on inside this plant? How does marijuana really affect our bodies and our brains? What might the chemicals in it tell us about how our neurological systems function? Could those chemicals lead us to beneficial new pharmaceuticals?

If cannabis has something to tell us, what’s it saying?

THE CHEMIST
Treasure Trove

Even into the middle of the 20th century, science still didn’t understand the first thing about marijuana. What was inside it and how it worked remained a mystery. Because of its illegality and tainted image, few serious scientists wanted to besmirch their reputations by studying it.

Then one day in 1963 a young organic chemist in Israel named Raphael Mechoulam, working at the Weizmann Institute of Science outside Tel Aviv, decided to peer into the plant’s chemical composition. It struck him as odd that even though morphine had been teased from opium in 1805 and cocaine from coca leaves in 1855, scientists had no idea what the principal psychoactive ingredient was in marijuana. “It was just a plant,” says Mechoulam, now 84. “It was a mess, a mélange of unidentified compounds.”

So Mechoulam called the Israeli national police and scored five kilos of confiscated Lebanese hashish. He and his research group isolated—and in some cases also synthesized—an array of substances, which he injected separately into rhesus monkeys. Only one had any observable effect. “Normally the rhesus monkey is quite an aggressive individual,” he says. But when injected with this compound, the monkeys became emphatically calm. “Sedated, I would say,” he recalls with a chuckle.

Further testing found what the world now knows: This compound is the plant’s principal active ingredient, its mind-altering essence—the stuff that makes you high. Mechoulam, along with a colleague, had discovered tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). He and his team also elucidated the chemical structure of cannabidiol (CBD), another key ingredient in marijuana, one that has many potential medical uses but no psychoactive effect on humans.

For these breakthroughs and many others, Mechoulam is widely known as the patriarch of cannabis science. Born in Bulgaria, he is a decorous man with wispy white hair and watery eyes who wears natty tweeds, silk scarves, and crisp dress slacks. He’s a respected member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities and an emeritus professor at Hebrew University’s Hadassah Medical School, where he still runs a lab. The author of more than 400 scientific papers and the holder of about 25 patents, this kindly grandfather has spent a lifetime studying cannabis, which he calls a “medicinal treasure trove waiting to be discovered.” His work has spawned a subculture of cannabis research around the globe. Though he says he’s never smoked the stuff, he’s a celebrity in the pot world and receives prodigious amounts of fan mail.

“It’s all your fault,” I say to him when we meet in his book-lined, award-crammed office to discuss the explosion of interest in the science of marijuana.

“Mea culpa!” he replies with a smile.

Israel has one of the world’s most advanced medical marijuana programs. Mechoulam played an active role in setting it up, and he’s proud of the results. More than 20,000 patients have a license to use cannabis to treat such conditions as glaucoma, Crohn’s disease, inflammation, appetite loss, Tourette’s syndrome, and asthma.

Despite that, he’s not particularly in favor of legalizing cannabis for recreational use. He doesn’t think anyone should go to jail for possessing it, but he insists that marijuana is “not an innocuous substance”—especially for young people. He cites studies showing that the prolonged use of high-THC strains of marijuana can change the way the developing brain grows. He notes that in some people cannabis can provoke serious and debilitating anxiety attacks. And he points to studies that suggest cannabis may trigger the onset of schizophrenia among those who have a genetic predisposition to the disease.

If he had his way, what Mechoulam regards as the often irresponsible silliness of recreational pot culture would give way to an earnest and enthusiastic embrace of cannabis—but only as a medical substance to be strictly regulated and relentlessly researched. “Right now,” he complains, “people don’t know what they’re getting. For it to work in the medical world, it has to be quantitative. If you can’t count it, it’s not science.”

In 1992 Mechoulam’s quest for quantification led him from the plant itself to the inner recesses of the human brain. That year he and several colleagues made an extraordinary discovery. They isolated the chemical made by the human body that binds to the same receptor in the brain that THC does. Mechoulam named it anandamide—from the Sanskrit for “supreme joy.” (When asked why he didn’t give it a Hebrew name, he replies, “Because in Hebrew there are not so many words for happiness. Jews don’t like being happy.”)

Since then several other so-called endocannabinoids and their receptors have been discovered. Scientists have come to recognize that endocannabinoids interact with a specific neurological network—much the way that endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine do. Exercise, Mechoulam notes, has been shown to elevate endocannabinoid levels in the brain, and “this probably accounts for what jogging enthusiasts call runner’s high.” These compounds, he explains, apparently play an important role in such basic functions as memory, balance, movement, immune health, and neuroprotection.

Typically, pharmaceutical companies making cannabis-based medicines have sought to isolate individual compounds from the plant. But Mechoulam strongly suspects that in some cases those chemicals would work much better in concert with other compounds found in marijuana. He calls this the entourage effect, and it’s just one of the many cannabis mysteries that he says require further study.

“We have just scratched the surface,” he says, “and I greatly regret that I don’t have another lifetime to devote to this field, for we may well discover that cannabinoids are involved in some way in all human diseases.”

THE BOTANIST
Into the Light

The 44,000-square-foot building hulks across from a police station in an industrial part of Denver, along a gritty stretch of converted warehouses that’s come to be known as the Green Mile. There’s nothing to indicate the nature of the enterprise. The door buzzes open, and I’m met by the chief horticulturist of Mindful, one of the largest cannabis companies in the world. A druidlike 38-year-old with keen blue eyes, Phillip Hague wears fatigues, hiking boots, and the incredulous grin of someone who—through a confluence of events he never imagined possible—has found his exact life’s calling.

Hague is a self-described plantsman, a dirty-thumbed gardener since he was eight and a devotee of the great agricultural scientist Luther Burbank. For years Hague grew poinsettias, caladiums, chrysanthemums, and other plants at his family’s nursery in Texas. But now his attentions are lavished on much more lucrative buds.

He leads me through Mindful’s bustling front offices and into its interior corridors. In freezers Mindful stores seeds from all over—Asia, India, North Africa, the Caribbean. A world traveler who’s become something of a Johnny Appleseed for marijuana, Hague is extremely interested in the plant’s historical biodiversity, and his seed bank of rare, wild, and ancient strains is a significant part of Mindful’s intellectual property. “We have to recognize that humans evolved with it practically since the dawn of time,” he says. “It’s older than writing. Cannabis use is part of us, and it always has been. It spread from Central Asia after the last ice age and went out across the planet with man.”

Hague joined Colorado’s green revolution nearly at the beginning. When the U.S. Justice Department announced in 2009 that it would not focus on prosecuting people who complied with state medical marijuana laws, he looked at his wife and said, “We’re moving to Denver.” Now he runs one of the world’s most prominent “grows,” where more than 20,000 cannabis plants thrive.

We file past the curing rooms and down a hallway pulsating with pumps, fans, filters, generators, trimming machines. A forklift trundles by. Surveillance cameras capture everything, as young workers in medical scrubs scurry about, their faces lit with the pressure and promise of an unorthodox business that’s boomed beyond comprehension. Mindful has big plans to expand, building similar facilities in other states. “Pot is hot!” Hague says with a laugh that conveys amazement and exhaustion. “I’m blown away by what’s happening here every single day.”

He throws open an industrial door, and my eyeballs are scalded by a halo of plasma bulbs. We step into an immense, warm room that smells like a hundred Yes concerts. Once my eyes adjust, I can see the crop in all its rippling glory—close to a thousand female plants standing six feet tall, their roots bathed in a soup of nutrients, their spiky leaves nodding in the breeze of the oscillating fans. Here in a sweep of the eye is more than a half million dollars’ worth of artisanal pot.

I lean over to sniff one of the powdery, tightly clustered flower buds, purple-brown and coursing with white wisps. These tiny trichomes fairly ooze with cannabinoid-rich resin. This strain is called Highway Man, after a Willie Nelson song. Hybridized by Hague, it’s a variety loaded with THC. The best parts will be trimmed by hand, dried, cured, and packaged for sale at one of Mindful’s dispensaries. “This whole room will be ready for harvest in just a few days,” Hague notes with the subtle smirk of a competitive breeder who’s won international awards for his strains.

But Hague has something else he wants to show me. He leads me into a moist propagation room, where a young crop is taking root in near darkness. These babies, tagged with yellow labels, are being grown strictly for medical purposes. They’re all clones, cuttings from a mother plant. Hague is proud of this variety, which contains almost no THC but is rich in CBD and other compounds that have shown at least anecdotal promise in treating such diseases and disorders as multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, post-traumatic stress disorder, dementia, schizophrenia, osteoporosis, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease).

“It’s these low-THC strains that really keep me up at night, dreaming about what they can do,” Hague says, noting that marijuana contains numerous substances—cannabinoids, flavonoids, terpenes—that have never been investigated in depth.

“It sounds hokey,” he says as he caresses one of the cuttings like a gloating father, “but I believe cannabis has a consciousness. It’s tired of being persecuted. It’s ready to step out into the light.”

THE BIOCHEMIST
Miracle Cure?

By now nearly everyone has heard that cannabis can play a palliative role for cancer sufferers, especially in alleviating some of the nasty side effects of chemotherapy. There’s no question that pot can stave off nausea, improve appetite, and help with pain and sleep. But could it cure cancer? Troll the Internet and you’ll see hundreds, if not thousands, of such claims. A gullible Googler could easily believe we’re on the brink of a miracle cure.

The majority of these claims are anecdotal at best and fraudulent at worst. But there are also mentions of laboratory evidence pointing to cannabinoids as possible anticancer agents, and many of these reports lead to a lab in Spain run by a thoughtful, circumspect man named Manuel Guzmán.

Guzmán is a biochemist who’s studied cannabis for about 20 years. I visit him in his office at the Complutense University of Madrid, in a golden, graffiti-splotched building on a tree-lined boulevard. A handsome guy in his early 50s with blue eyes and shaggy brown hair tinged with gray, he speaks rapidly in a soft voice that makes a listener lean forward. “When the headline of a newspaper screams, ‘Brain Cancer Is Beaten With Cannabis!’ it is not true,” he says. “There are many claims on the Internet, but they are very, very weak.”

He blinks thoughtfully, then turns to his computer. “However, let me show you something.” On his screen flash two MRIs of a rat’s brain. The animal has a large mass lodged in the right hemisphere, caused by human brain tumor cells Guzmán’s researchers injected. He zooms in. The mass bulges hideously. The rat, I think, is a goner. “This particular animal was treated with THC for one week,” Guzmán continues. “And this is what happened afterward.” The two images that now fill his screen are normal. The mass has not only shrunk—it’s disappeared. “As you can see, no tumor at all.”

In this study Guzmán and his colleagues, who’ve been treating cancer-riddled animals with cannabis compounds for 15 years, found that the tumors in a third of the rats were eradicated and in another third, reduced.

This is the kind of finding that gets the world excited, and Guzmán constantly worries that his breakthrough research may give cancer sufferers false hope—and fuel specious Internet claims. “The problem is,” he says, “mice are not humans. We do not know if this can be extrapolated to humans at all.”

Guzmán leads me around his cramped lab—centrifuges, microscopes, beakers, petri dishes, a postdoc researcher in a white smock extracting tissue from a mouse corpse pinned under bright lights. It’s your typical bioresearch lab, except that everything is devoted to the effects of cannabis on the body and brain. The lab focuses not just on cancer but also on neurodegenerative diseases and on how cannabinoids affect early brain development. On this last topic the Guzmán group’s research is unequivocal: Mice born of mothers regularly given high doses of THC during pregnancy show pronounced problems. They’re uncoordinated, have difficulty with social interactions, and have a low anxiety threshold—they’re often paralyzed with fear at stimuli, such as a cat puppet placed near their cage, that don’t upset other juvenile mice.

The lab also has studied how the chemicals in cannabis, as well as cannabinoids like the anandamide produced by our bodies, protect our brains against various types of insults, such as physical and emotional trauma. “Our brain needs to remember things, of course,” says Guzmán, “but it also needs to forget things—horrific things, unnecessary things. It’s much like the memory in your computer—you have to forget what is not necessary, just like you need to periodically delete old files. And you have to forget what is not good for your mental health—a war, a trauma, an aversive memory of some kind. The cannabinoid system is crucial in helping us push bad memories away.”

But it’s Guzmán’s brain tumor research that has captured headlines—and the interest of pharmaceutical companies. Through his years of research he has ascertained that a combination of THC, CBD, and temozolomide (a moderately successful conventional drug) works best in treating brain tumors in mice. A cocktail composed of these three compounds appears to attack brain cancer cells in multiple ways, preventing their spread but also triggering them, in effect, to commit suicide.

Now a groundbreaking clinical trial based on Guzmán’s work is under way at St. James’s University Hospital, in Leeds, England. Neuro-oncologists are treating patients who have aggressive brain tumors with temozolomide and Sativex, a THC-CBD oral spray developed by GW Pharmaceuticals.

Guzmán cautions against overoptimism but welcomes the beginning of human studies. “We have to be objective,” he says. “At least the mind-set is opening around the world, and funding agencies now know that cannabis, as a drug, is scientifically serious, therapeutically promising, and clinically relevant.”

Will cannabis help fight cancer? “I have a gut feeling,” he says, “that this is real.”

THE CAREGIVER
Medical Migrants

The seizures started in May 2013 when she was six months old. Infantile spasms, they were called. It looked like a startle reflex—her arms rigid at her side, her face a frozen mask of fear, her eyes fluttering from side to side. Addelyn Patrick’s little brain raced and surged, as though an electromagnetic storm were sweeping through it. “It’s your worst possible nightmare,” her mother, Meagan, says. “Just awful, awful, awful to watch your child in pain, in fear, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.”

From their small town in southwestern Maine, Meagan and her husband, Ken, took Addy to Boston to consult with neurologists. These epileptic seizures, they concluded, were the result of a congenital brain malformation called schizencephaly. One of the hemispheres of Addy’s brain had not developed fully in utero, leaving an abnormal cleft. She also had a related condition called optic nerve hypoplasia, which caused her eyes to wander—and which, further tests revealed, made her all but blind. By summer Addy was having 20 to 30 seizures a day. Then 100 a day. Then 300. “Everything was misfiring all at once,” says Meagan. “We were afraid we were going to lose her.”

The Patricks followed the advice they’d been given and heavily medicated Addy with anticonvulsants. The powerful meds reduced her seizures, but they also put her to sleep for almost the entire day. “Addy was gone,” Meagan says. “She just lay there, sleeping all the time. Like a rag doll.”

Meagan quit her job as a third-grade teacher to care for her daughter. Over nine months Addy was hospitalized 20 times.

When Meagan’s in-laws suggested they look into medical marijuana, she recoiled. “This is a federally illegal drug we are talking about,” she recalls thinking. But she did her own research. A good deal of anecdotal evidence shows that high-CBD strains of cannabis can have a strong antiseizure effect. The medical literature, though scant, goes back surprisingly far. In 1843 a British doctor named William O’Shaughnessy published an article detailing how cannabis oil had arrested an infant’s relentless convulsions.

In September 2013 the Patricks met with Elizabeth Thiele, a pediatric neurologist at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital who’s helping lead a study of CBD in treating refractory childhood epilepsy. Legally, Thiele could not prescribe cannabis to Addy or even recommend it. But she strongly advised the Patricks to consider all medical options.

Encouraged, Meagan went to Colorado and met with parents whose epileptic children were taking a strain of cannabis called Charlotte’s Web, named for a little girl, Charlotte Figi, who’d responded astonishingly well to the low-THC, high-CBD oil produced near Colorado Springs.

What Meagan saw in Colorado impressed her—the growing knowledge base of cannabis producers, the kinship of parents coping with similar ordeals, the quality of the dispensaries, and the expertise of the test labs in ensuring consistent cannabis-oil formulations. Colorado Springs had become a mecca for a remarkable medical migration. More than a hundred families with children who had life-threatening medical conditions had uprooted themselves and moved. These families, many of them associated with a nonprofit organization called the Realm of Caring, consider themselves “medical refugees.” Most couldn’t medicate their children with cannabis in their home states without risking arrest for trafficking or even child abuse.

Meagan experimented with high-CBD oil. The seizures all but stopped. She weaned Addy off some of her other meds, and it was as though she’d come back from a coma. “It sounds like a small thing,” says Meagan. “But if you have a child who smiles for the first time in many, many months, well, your whole world changes.”

By early last year the Patricks had made up their minds. They would move to Colorado to join the movement. “It was a no-brainer,” Meagan says. “If they were growing something on Mars that might help Addy, I’d be in my backyard building a spaceship.”

When I meet the Patricks in late 2014, they’ve settled into their new home on the north side of Colorado Springs. Pikes Peak looms in their living room window. Addy is thriving. Since first taking CBD oil, she hasn’t been hospitalized. She still has occasional seizures—one or two a day—but they’re less intense. Her eyes wander less. She listens more. She laughs. She’s learned how to hug and has discovered the power of her vocal cords.

Critics contend that the Realm of Caring parents are using their kids as guinea pigs, that not enough studies have been done, that many, if not most, of the claims can be dismissed as the result of the placebo effect. “It’s true, we don’t know the long-term effects of CBD, and we should study it,” Meagan says. “But I can tell you this. Without it, our Addy would be a sack of potatoes.” No one asks, she notes, about the long-term effects of a widely used pharmaceutical that has been routinely prescribed for her two-year-old. “Our insurance pays for it, no questions asked,” she says. “But it’s highly addictive, highly toxic, turns you into a zombie, and can actually kill you. And yet it’s perfectly legal.”

Thiele says early results of the CBD study are extremely encouraging. “CBD is not a silver bullet—it doesn’t work for everybody,” she cautions. “But I’m impressed. It clearly can be a very effective treatment for many people. I have several kids in the study who’ve been completely seizure free for over a year.”

Reports like these only deepen Meagan’s frustrations with what she has come to regard as the imbecility of federal marijuana laws that put her at risk of arrest for transporting a drug that “wouldn’t get a mouse high” across state lines. “It’s unacceptable,” she says, “that we’re allowing our citizens to suffer like this.”

But the Patricks are in a good place now—happier than they’ve been in years. “We have Addy back again,” Meagan says. “If I wasn’t living through this, I don’t know that I’d believe it myself. I don’t feel like cannabis is a miracle cure. But I feel like it should be a tool in every neurologist’s toolbox, all around the country.”

THE GENETICIST
Building the Map

“It’s such an interesting plant, such a valuable plant,” says Nolan Kane, who specializes in evolutionary biology. “It’s been around for millions of years, and it’s one of man’s oldest crops. And yet there are so many basic problems that need to be answered. Where did it come from? How and why did it evolve? Why does it make all these suites of compounds? We don’t even know how many species there are.”

We’re standing in a laboratory greenhouse on the campus of the University of Colorado Boulder looking at ten hemp plants that Kane recently procured for research purposes. They’re spindly, stalky little things, like gangling teenagers, a far cry from the lascivious crop that Hague had shown me. These plants, like nearly all hemp varieties, carry extremely low levels of THC.

They may not look threatening, but their very presence here, in the confines of a major university lab, represents years of wrangling to win federal and university approval. Right now, Kane’s allowed to grow only hemp strains. The rest of his research material is cannabis DNA, which is supplied by Colorado growers who extract it using methods he’s taught them.

Kane fingers one of his innocuous-looking plants, expressing mild bemusement at the U.S. ban on commercial hemp cultivation. “Hemp produces fibers of unparalleled quality,” he notes. “It’s a tremendously high biomass crop that replenishes the soil and doesn’t require much in terms of inputs. We import tons and tons of hemp each year from China and even Canada, yet as a matter of federal policy, we can’t legally grow it. There are places where farmers in the U.S. can literally look across the Canadian border and see fields that are yielding huge profits.”

A geneticist, Kane studies cannabis from a unique perspective—he probes its DNA. He’s an affable, outdoorsy guy with a bright face and eyes that wander and dart inquisitively when he talks. He has studied chocolate and for many years the sunflower, eventually mapping its genome, a sequence of more than three and a half billion nucleotides. Now he’s moved on to marijuana. Though its sequence is much shorter, roughly 800 million nucleotides, he considers it a far more intriguing plant.

A sketchy outline of the cannabis genome already exists, but it’s highly fragmented, scattered into about 60,000 pieces. Kane’s ambitious goal, which will take many years to achieve, is to assemble those fragments in the right order. “The analogy I use is, we have 60,000 pages of what promises to be an excellent book, but they’re strewn all over the floor,” he says. “We have no idea yet how those pages fit together to make a good story.”

Many people are more than a little eager to learn how Kane’s story will play out. “There’s a certain pressure,” he says, “because this work will have huge implications, and anything we do in this lab will be under a lot of scrutiny. You can feel it. People are just wanting this to happen.”

Once the map is complete, enterprising geneticists will be able to use it in myriad ways, such as breeding strains that contain much higher levels of one of the plant’s rare compounds with medically important properties. “It’s like discovering some hidden motif deep in a piece of music,” Kane says. “Through remixing, you can accentuate it and turn it up so that it becomes a prominent feature of the song.”

As Kane leads me around his lab, I see the excitement on his face and on the faces of his young staff. The place feels almost like a start-up company. “So much of science is incremental,” he says, “but with this cannabis work, the science will not be incremental. It will be transformative. Transformative not just in our understanding of the plant but also of ourselves—our brains, our neurology, our psychology. Transformative in terms of the biochemistry of its compounds. Transformative in terms of its impact across several different industries, including medicine, agriculture, and biofuels. It may even transform part of our diet—hemp seed is known to be a ready source of a very healthy, protein-rich oil.”

Cannabis, Kane says, “is an embarrassment of riches.”

 

 

SOURCE: http://www.nationalgeographic.com, by HAMPTON SIDES