Title: Medicinal versus Recreational Cannabis Use among Returning Veterans
A recent study found significant mental and physical health differences between veterans who use cannabis that they label as “medicinal” use versus those who prefer to label their use as “recreational.” Veterans who feel that they are self-medicating with cannabis, in what they believe fits more closely with a “medical” label are five times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), nearly four times more likely to suffer from Major Depressive Disorder, and are more likely to experience Insomnia, or trouble sleeping. Furthermore, a majority of veterans medicating with cannabis suffer from conditions that qualify them to receive a medical marijuana registration card. Even so, they tend to refrain from discussing their interest in access with their doctors, out of fear of losing their valuable VA benefits.
Dr. Caplan and the #MDTake:
Over the years, countless veterans have valiantly and courageously dedicated themselves to missions of support for their fellow men, women, and country. In preparation, training, service, battle, leadership, education, and so many other ways, veterans have given back to their culture in a way few others can. The understanding that they may be shunned by their culture for seeking help, related to the suffering they may have experienced while serving their country, is unconscionable. It is shameful that the government and military have not appreciated and supported the easy opportunity to give back to our veterans, and it is long overdue that the culture gives back to those who have given a piece of themselves so that others may share the liberties they have served to uphold.
Cannabis for Chronic Pain: Challenges and Considerations
Comparisons between the use of inhaled cannabis plant versus pharmaceutical-grade oral cannabinoids demonstrate an advantage of inhalation over oral delivery. Conditions for which inhalation has provided superior over oral consumption include:
An important note: patients consuming cannabinoids orally are more likely to withdraw from studies due to negative side effects and lack of efficacy. Also, edible cannabis may compete, amplify, or have effects delayed, when interacting with other ingested foods and drinks, A major advantage of inhalation is the opportunity for patients to titrate, or easily test varying dosages at home, with reasonably rapid feedback. On the other hand, dosage adjustments for oral food-borne cannabinoids are much more complex, and cannabis in the form of oral pharmaceutical-products may require a doctor visit and a new prescription.
Dr. Caplan and the #MDTake:
In the clinic, there seems to be a great divide in the population, a group of patients who simply adore the edibles (often in low-dose candies, low-dose chocolate, or titrated tinctures), and a group who use inhalation, almost exclusively. There are also some who are discovering topicals (salves, patches, lotions). There is a growing number of patients who use each of these methods with intention, related to their timing of onset and their duration of action, but this requires education, practice, and a degree of sophistication in use that is relatively new to the industry.
As with most consumption, medicinal or not, it seems common for individuals to find a method that they enjoy and stick to it. Interestingly, in recent years, the US cannabis industry has evolved in a wild growth phase. As it has embraced a dynamic landscape, with increasing competition from all sides, including new stores and product offerings popping up all the time, there seems to be a growing openness, in consumers, to trying new products and exploring new offerings. Coincidentally, this openness to change and the unfamiliar happens to mirror one of the core neurobiological functions of cannabis in the brain, as seen across the neuropsychiatric and neuroimaging cannabis literature.
How exciting to imagine a future medicine that may help consumers to be more open to change?
In a recent review of systematic reviews and controlled studies, researchers were unable to find sufficient evidence to support the clinical use of medical cannabis or the pharmaceutical formulations for gastrointestinal, cancer, or rheumatic pain, or weight loss in cancer of AIDS. Many data from previous studies were either statistically insignificant or were of low quality. However, the authors did find that existing literature sufficiently supported the treatment of neuropathic pain with cannabis. Additional controlled studies may shed more light on the use of cannabis for general pain management. Interestingly, while the authors do raise two important limitations of the studies that they highlight in the article (inadequate size of some studies and generally limited supply of traditional scientific studies from which to draw conclusions) they do not address some of the more fundamental concerns with the reporting.
Dr. Caplan and the #MDTake:
The limitations of studies in cannabis are numerous and an important consideration for researchers as they study cannabis, and equally essentially to consider for those of us reading the study product. To my personal count, there are at least 40 different types of biases that can skew data in a way that delivers information other than a precise description of actual events. This study, as many like it, presumptuously assumes that, if data doesn’t show a trend that so-mocked “anecdotal” data shows, then surely the anecdote must be incorrect. What if the reviews are simply not yet accurately recording what human iteration has discovered repeatedly for millennia?
The conclusion the review draws follows:
“Conclusion: The public perception of the efficacy, tolerability, and safety of cannabis-based medicines in pain management and palliative medicine con- flicts with the findings of systematic reviews and prospective observational studies conducted according to the standards of evidence-based medicine.“
Is the right question for science to question the validity of the stories that individuals are telling, against an imperfect science of information collection, as well as the limited scope of statistical validity for understanding data? Or is the right task for science to question its own methods of assumptions in discovery and understanding?
On the one hand, we have millions of people calling the color of the ocean “blue.” On the other hand, we have data that tells us that water, in fact, has no color. Similarly, the anecdotes from cannabis consumers are telling a story that is starkly different from the currently available data.
For those interested in combing through a close inspection of the many ways that data can be misrepresented and misunderstood, check out https://first10em.com/bias/
Bacteria: Within facilities that lack appropriate oversight, any bacteria present during the manufacturing of a vaped product can be a source of risk for the consumer.
Fungus: Similarly, fungus can be a normal part of ambient air and life on earth, particularly around plants and soil. If production facilities do not have state-of-the-science monitoring or control mechanisms to limit mold, fungus can accumulate during the manufacturing process and can be transmitted to consumers.
Particles: Nicotine- or cannabis-containing products that are not produced in regulated facilities (home-grown and/or street-sold real or counterfeit products) may contain dangerous solvents, including solutions that contain lipid content that does not belong inside human lungs. Equally concerning, even in states with strict regulatory oversight over cannabis, the regulations may not cover particulate matter which may come into the consumer’s body from the containers that store tested cannabis products. For example, labs across the US have identified particles of vapor cartridge construction materials that become airborne during the heating process of vaporization. There is currently no testing standard for such circumstances. More, the sheer volume of particles emitted by a tool producing vapor is unregulated. With respect to its effects on the lungs, it is likely that there are meaningful differences (and potential risk differences) between a vaporizer which produces a small cloud of particles compared with one that produces a large, dense cloud.
Nicotine/E-liquids: Many nicotine vaporizers contain flavoring, coloring, preservative liquids that can be irritating to the lungs and breathing architecture. Non-nicotine liquid mixers can include sugary substances which promote dangerous growth of bacteria, inside the lungs.
Supervision: Street or home-produced products lack quality control measures to ensure that they are made safely, and/or contain safe ingredients, and are being delivered inside safe devices. In contrast, most FDA-overseen nicotine products and state-overseen cannabis production facilities limit many risk factors for currently-known threats to health
Risks on the Consumer Side of the Market:
Bacteria: Once purchased, products exposed to everyday life can acquire potentially dangerous bacteria after they are produced and sold. When used with poor maintenance practices, or by a consumer with hygiene practices that may add additional risk, bacterial infections can arise.
Fungus: Like bacteria exposure and potential infections, mold/fungus can accumulate after a vaping product is purchased. Good maintenance/cleansing practices help to prevent this risk, and appropriate hygiene around the consumption of vaping products typically minimizes this concern.
Particulate Matter: When using and re-using vaporizer tools (pens, vaporizer ovens, edibles), foreign particulate matter may break-off from cartridges, or may accidentally enter into products that were previously free of these contaminants. Many of the popular vaporizer cartridges, for example, seem to come from three facilities in China and are sold, worldwide, because of the attractive low price-point. Across the US, lab evidence has discovered evidence of small particles of the cartridges themselves (plastics, metals, other materials.) These particles can cause irritation to, or have toxic local effects on, the lungs. These reactions can certainly stimulate an inflammatory response which is sometimes equally uncomfortable as the offending irritation.
Coughing: Vaporizing a product which causes the user to cough excessively can risk the accidental aspiration of bacteria or particles from the mouth. These particles, if small enough, can cause inflammation or infection in the lungs.
Nicotine: In addition to the well-documented increased risk of cancer from the consumption of nicotine, this chemical is an irritant to the tissues with which it interacts, causing arterial wall constriction and thickening. It increases blood pressure and heart rate, promotes increased inflammation and suppresses normal immune system function. More, it also artificially elevates dopamine, norepinephrine, and acetylcholine, with poorly understood consequences that are unlikely to be healthy for the lungs.
Maintenance: Vaporizing old or poorly-kept products may ignore the very real effects of deterioration of materials which may pose health concerns. A product which is not well-maintained or regularly cleaned may contain infectious particles, irritating particles, toxic elements which may also be found in a pocket or storage container (insecticides, animal poisons, other chemicals which may preserve or protect during production or travel)
Between the production and the consumer sides of the vaporization arena, individual differences and outside influences can have a tremendous impact on the experience of vapor. Someone with a history of lung disease may tolerate a very different product than someone without such a history. Similarly, someone with a weakened immune system may have a more difficult time healing from an average exposure (to an irritant or an infectious particle) than someone with different circumstances. These are not likely to explain a large incidence of illnesses, but in addition to the concerns above, they may help explain a smaller portion.
Some of the Medical Illnesses Potentially Associated with Vaping:
Typically this is related to the components of e-cigarettes: nicotine, propylene glycol/glycerol, ethylene glycol, any of >7000 flavorings, metals including tin, lead, nickel, chromium, manganese, and arsenic (have all been found in e-cigarette liquids), also nitrosamines common to tobacco, carbonyl compounds, volatile organic compounds, and phenolic compounds.
General Recommendations for Safer Consumption:
Use state-supervised companies, including dispensaries for cannabis-related vaporizer materials, and reputable nicotine suppliers
Convection vaporizer ovens that involve safe heating materials (ceramic, glass, quartz) are preferable to vaporizer cartridges.
Any means of detaching product from direct contact with a heat source is preferable. For example, stainless-steel containers that hold product, and are then placed into a heating chamber, is likely to be safer than placing product directly against heat.
Here is a nice summary of information for US medical cannabis patients with respect to traveling while on a cannabis regimen (what to think about, including plane/trains/automobiles, helpful tips, which states have reciprocity, and/or access to medical cannabis options, etc)
“Pancreatic cancer is particularly refractory to modern therapies, with a 5-year survival rate for patients at a dismal 8%. One of the significant barriers to effective treatment is the immunosuppressive pancreatic tumor microenvironment and development of resistance to treatment. New treatment options to increase both the survival and quality of life of patients are urgently needed. This study reports on a new non-cannabinoid, non-psychoactive derivative of cannabis, termed FBL-03G, with the potential to treat pancreatic cancer. In vitro results show major increase in apoptosis and consequential decrease in survival for two pancreatic cancer models- Panc-02 and KPC pancreatic cancer cells treated with varying concentrations of FBL-03G and radiotherapy. Meanwhile, in vivo results demonstrate therapeutic efficacy in delaying both local and metastatic tumor progression in animal models with pancreatic cancer when using FBL-03G sustainably delivered from smart radiotherapy biomaterials. Repeated experiments also showed significant (P < 0.0001) increase in survival for animals with pancreatic cancer compared to control cohorts. The findings demonstrate the potential for this new cannabis derivative in the treatment of both localized and advanced pancreatic cancer, providing impetus for further studies toward clinical translation.
“From the results of this study, the key findings include, observation that a non-cannabinoid derivative of cannabis can enhance radiotherapy treatment outcomes in-vitro and in-vivo as highlighted in Figures 2, 4. Secondly, the sustained delivery of the cannabis derivative FBL-03G from smart radiotherapy biomaterials (SRBs) results in tumor growth inhibition of both locally treated and distant untreated tumors, with and without radiotherapy. The use of smart radiotherapy biomaterials (SRBs) (8, 23) was recently proposed as a novel approach to deliver cannabinoids, allowing for prolonged exposure of tumor cells to these cannabis derivatives, which is expected to be more effective (10). The FBL-03G payload used in this study is a flavonoid non- cannabinoid derivative of cannabis, and the potential to inhibit both local and metastatic tumor progression is remarkable, especially for pancreatic cancer, with a dismal 5-year survival rate of 8% (1).”
“While the results indicate that sustained exposure of tumor cells to FBL-03G can boost both local and metastatic tumor cell kill, the mechanism of such action needs to be further investigated. One hypothesis is that, FBL-03G can serve as an immunotherapy agent, inhibiting growth of locally treated and untreated tumors, representing metastasis. Metastasis accounts for most of all cancer-associated suffering and death, and questionably presents the most daunting challenge in cancer management. Henceforth, the observed significant increase in survival is promising, especially for pancreatic cancer which is often recalcitrant to treatments. Another hypothesis is that sustained delivery allows FBL-03G to reach the untreated tumor over a prolonged period as well. Either way, the FBL-03G results reveal a new potential non-cannabinoid cannabis derivative with major potential for consideration in further investigations in the treatment of pancreatic cancer, where new therapy options are urgently needed.”
Dr Caplan’s Take:
This article is one in a growing collection of impressive data that highlights a critical area of Medicine that has hidden from the scientific community for decades. The goal of the review is NOT to hail praise on cannabis as a panacea, nor even a sole treatment option, for pancreatic cancer. Rather, it highlights that it seems to be working effectively, both in living tumor cells in the lab and in animal models with live tumor cells. For a devastating illness that currently carries a grim prognosis, the proposition here is to learn more.
The milestones between pioneering scientific study and effective medication are many and there is much work to be done. Studies must be reviewed, criticized, replicated, integrated, before pioneering products can be developed, produced, tested, scaled, brought to market, marketed, sold, and consumed. The process is long, but at least there is a seed of hope at the beginning!