Happy 10th weed-iversary, Colorado!

by Enriquo Palazzo

Colorado’s cannabis industry is officially the big 1-0. Here are all the lessons we’ve learned over the last decade.

Enriquo Palazzo
SPECIAL TO DGO

In November, the state of Colorado celebrated the 10th anniversary of the approval of Amendment 64, which made recreational marijuana legal statewide. Since the historic passage of the bill, we have seen 21 more states across the US pass similar legislation.

Colorado has led the country’s legal cannabis charge by cultivating the best flow-er and edibles, which has turned into a $2 billion per year industry. Researchers across the country have since placed their focus on the chemical makeup, health benefits, and risks of cannabis use.

Prior to legalization, the adverse effects of cannabis were the only factors studied due to it being federally illegal — and widely viewed as a harmful substance. But the shifts in public opinion on marijuana over the last decade have opened the door to all kinds of research people could at one point only dream about.
We’ve learned a lot about cannabis and its effects in the 10 years since Colorado pioneered the way for the rest of the nation, and we have learned some amazing things. Here are some of the lessons we’ve learned since cannabis became legal a decade ago in Colorado.

Lesson #1: Labels don’t mean much

One interesting takeaway that researchers found recently is that the labels on cannabis products these days don’t tell you — much other than whether the container holds a sativa, indica, or hybrid. These labels leave consumers scratching their heads regarding what is in the product.

And, one of the major pain points that researchers discovered while studying the nearly 90,000 samples from six different states is there is no set standardization when it comes to labels. What researchers did discover, however, was that the vast majority of the cannabinoids in recreational cannabis are psychoactive THC. Not terribly surprising, right?

When researchers looked closely at the samples and
their terpene contents, what they found was that
products generally fall
into three distinct categories:

1.) Cannabis that was high in the terpenes caryophyllene and limo-nene;

2.) Cannabis that was high in myrcene and pinene, and

3.) Cannabis that was high in terpinolene and myrcene.
Unfortunately, those categories did not correspond directly to being indica, sativa, or hybrid, according to researchers. In other words, a sample with the label indica will have an indistinguishable terpene composition as samples labeled sativa or hybrid — and it’s impossible to figure out which one they are based on terpenes alone.

Dispensaries are required to disclose the dosage information on the label so customers are aware of the percentage of THC and CBD, but they are not required to list information about other compounds, including terpenes. They can also call the product whatever they choose.

You would imagine that all Blue Dream strains are the same no matter what dispensary you are shopping at, but according to researchers, it just depends on the strain.

Lesson #2: It has im-measurable health benefits

Professor Angela Bryan and her colleagues have spent the last several years studying how commercial cannabis products influence and affect public health.

In order to study these effects, Bryan and her colleagues must drive to the study participants’ homes and take health-related measurements in the van before the participants consume THC edibles or flower in their own homes.

Due to federal law, all cannabis products come from the participants, not from Bryan.

After the participants consume the cannabis, their measurements are retaken. What Bryan and her team have found is that cannabis provides beneficial effects for people who are in chronic pain, people who have anxiety, and those who have cancer. In fact, more than 87% report using medical marijuana for pain-related conditions.

The early data from the study shows that when people use a THC strain containing CBD they show fewer signs of intoxication and less cognitive impairment. Adults with chronic pain who receive cannabis treatment have been shown to see a significant reduction in pain, according to researchers. And in adults with chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, oral cannabinoids have effectively kept patients from vomiting, according to their research.

And while numerous studies have also shown that many people remain hesitant to try cannabis because they are worried they will feel too high or anxious, these researchers have noted that there may not be a way to resolve that. What they’ve found is that the right combination of cannabidiol CBD and THC can help patients reap therapeutic benefits without the side effects that are concerning to some potential users.

Those who use a THC+CBD strain report feeling less physically and mentally stoned and have less of a desire to smoke more, according to researchers. The study has also found that using a CBD and THC combination results in lower levels of circulating cytokines. Cytokines are markers of inflammation often associated with pain located in the blood. Previous studies in animals suggest CBD and THC may work synergistically to fight inflammation and pain, while CBD may attenuate the cognitive impairment associated with THC — which this study appears to back up.

Other recent studies have shown that cannabis has also been shown to help regulate and prevent diabetes. Research conducted by the American Alliance for Medical Cannabis has shown it to stabilize blood sugars, lower blood pressure, and improve blood circulation.

Lesson #3: There may be some risks to certain groups

Cannabis use is not without risk, especially for pregnant women and young people who are still developing. Recent research from the University of Colorado Boulder found that teenagers who are heavy cannabis users are potentially at risk of sleep problems later in life, and use by pregnant women may increase the risk of sleep problems in their children.

CU Boulder studied 1,882 twins from the Colorado Twin Registry during the study, and participants completed surveys about their sleep habits, marijuana use, and mental health. Researchers found that about one-third of the participants who started using marijuana before they turned 18 suffered from insomnia, compared to less than 20% of those who did not smoke marijuana regularly before they turned 18.

There are theories about why early cannabis use causes sleep problems later in life, but scientists aren’t exactly sure what causes it. One theory is that the cannabinoid receptors are being desensitized or disturbed by all the cannabis when the brain is still developing, leading to sleep issues later in life. Brain imaging studies have shown early marijuana use can alter the developing prefrontal cortex, which leads to structural changes in the brain, which bolsters this idea.

During the study, researchers looked at 472 identical twin pairs that share 100% of their genetic makeup and 304 fraternal pairs that share only 50%, and researchers were able to infer to what degree the traits were inherited. What they concluded was that many of the same genes that contribute to the risk of early cannabis use are also associated with insomnia — and insomnia with short sleep. Researchers acknowledge that there’s a chance that sleep problems could influence marijuana use
— and that cannabis use can influence sleep problems.

Researchers don’t believe that all strains of marijuana are bad for everyone all of the time. Certain strains have been shown to be beneficial in promoting sleep, especially if used occasionally. One thing researchers do stress is for young people not to use marijuana as a sleep aid because their brains are still developing.

And researchers also found that while there are multiple ways to consume marijuana that might not seem as bad as smoking, it’s not a good idea while pregnant. Even exposure during pregnancy can have negative consequences, according to researchers. Studies have shown evidence that using marijuana in any form during pregnancy is associated with decreased academic ability, cognitive function, and attention in the offspring.

Lesson #4: Cannabis users aren’t actually lazy

We’ve all heard jokes about how stoners are just couch potatoes eating left-over pizza and Funyuns while watching TV, but Bryan’s research — outlined above — found that this was not true. What Bryan’s research found was that cannabis users tend to have a lower body mass index, better insulin function, and better waist-to-hip ratio and are more likely to meet exercise recommendations than non-users.

Bryan and her colleagues also found that 80% of those interviewed mix marijuana with working out, with 70% saying it increases enjoyment. Another 78% of participants claim it boosts recovery, and 52% say it motivates them.

Another recent study showed that adults 40 and older who regularly use cannabis spend more time engaging in physical activity than non-users, adding to the theory that cannabis users aren’t living up to the lazy hype. This results in cannabis users engaging in roughly 2.5 more hours per week of light to moderate physical activity than the average non-user.

It might surprise some that the research doesn’t support the idea that cannabis users are lazy, but cannabis users can be found in nearly all arenas of sports and exercise — especially in Colorado, where an active lifestyle is the norm. But non-lazy stoners take part in all types of activities, according to research, from surfing, bike riding, snowboarding, and skiing to running long distances.

One of the drivers in cannabis use in people 40 and over might be because they are using it for pain relief, and with that pain relief comes the ability to participate in activities they enjoyed when they were younger. After all, cannabis has been shown to have anti-inflamma-tory and anti-analgesic properties, but there is no single identifiable reason as to why cannabis reduces inflammation. Researchers believe that cannabinoids are able to create pathways in the brain that reduce or shut off the body’s anti-inflammatory response. Whatev-er the reason, it is very promising for those searching for alternative forms of pain relief, especially when it’s between dangerous and addictive painkillers or cannabis.

Lesson #5: Legalization increased use, but not necessarily problems

According to research from CU Boulder, residents in states with legal cannabis use marijuana 24% more fre-quently than residents of states where it remains illegal. However, while canna-bis markets allow for an uptick in use, ongoing research has shown no increase in behavioral problems in states where cannabis is legal.

In fact, property crime and violent crime rates tend to decrease after states legalize cannabis. Even the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service has stated that their research indicates that medical marijua-na laws significantly reduce violent and property crime rates.

And while critics of legal marijuana have long claimed that crime and drug use will increase, recent studies show how untrue those claims are. DUIs and crime did not explode following legaliza-tion in any state.

Several studies also have shown that opioid use and deaths have actually declined in states following legalization. According to an extensive study by BMJ, higher storefront cannabis dispensary counts are associated with reduced opioid-related death rates at the county level.

Furthermore, numerous studies have proven that legalization not only results in less marijuana being smuggled into the U.S. from other countries, but that the legislation also affects the amount of cocaine and heroin that is brought into the country as well. When the de-mand for marijuana declines, this hurts the importers so much that they have trouble importing other drugs, too.

To be fair, this is a relatively new area of research. Future research needs to be done to ensure that limitations in recent studies do not provide insufficient data for these claims. Only a few states have been examined thoroughly, and with legalization on the rise, it is important to continue evaluating its effects on crime, as well as other concerns regarding marijuana use and legalization.

Lesson #6: Less may be more

Researchers have also found that just because users take more cannabis doesn’t necessarily mean they will get any higher, but it just might put them at greater risk of long-term adverse side effects.

Researchers theorize that no matter the THC intake, the cannabinoid recep-tors in the brain might at some point be so oversaturated with high levels of THC that using more cannabis will not do much more. In other words, at some point, the user will be at their limit and they won’t get any higher.

To come to this conclu-sion, researchers assessed over 120 regular users, with half of the users used some form of concentrate, while the other half used flower. What they found was that potency did not track intoxication levels. The concentrate users did not get any higher than the flower users, even with the higher potency of the concentrates.

However, there were striking differences in blood levels between the two groups. Still, the feelings of being high were remarkably similar, regardless of what type or potency of cannabis participants used. Their balance and cognitive impairment mea-sures were similar, too.

The study also found that the partic-ipants’ balance was about 11% worse after using cannabis and memory was compromised. But within about an hour, that impairment faded.

Researchers aren’t sure how the concentrate group could have such high THC levels without more significant intoxication, however, but they suspect a few things are at play. For starters, regular users of concentrates likely de-velop a tolerance over time. There may also be genetic or biological differences that make some people metabolize THC more quickly. And, it may be that once the compounds in marijuana, called can-nabinoids, fill receptors in the brain that spark intoxication, additional cannabi-noids will have little impact.

At the end of the day, what we’ve really learned is that 10 years of legal marijuana has brought some interesting discoveries from those researching all aspects of the plant, its uses, and its effects — and we’ve learned some inter-esting anecdotal lessons, too. It’s been a fascinating decade, to say the least, and we can only imagine what the next 10 years will bring, especially as our tech-nology and research methods improve.

And, with any hope, the continued acceptance of cannabis will ensure that there is even more research into the plant that brings so many of us our daily dose of blissfulness. The more we know, you know?

 

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