Study: This Is How Much Marijuana To Use Without Freaking Out

There’s a great ongoing debate in California marijuana circles at the moment—the same ancient question, persistent and pervasive, that’s hovered over legalization since the beginning: How much is too much?

How strong do we allow marijuana edibles to be, before everybody loses their minds?

If you listen to the cannabis industry, edibles packed with 500 milligrams of THC and above are not unreasonable and ought to be a basic sundry good in every dispensary (albeit affixed with warning labels advising the unfamiliar to please, please go slow, and maybe take a few nibbles before swallowing the whole bar and having a well-documented freakout).

California regulators believe 100 milligrams per edible is plenty—and if profoundly sick people need to eat six cookies to achieve the pain relief they say they need, well, maybe they’re better off with a few drops of concentrated oil.  

Neither side will want to listen to the academics.

According to a study published in a recent issue of the Journal of Alcohol and Drug Dependence, the optimum dose of cannabis, enough to allow the average person to relax, is a paltry 7.5 milligrams.

Just a little more—12.5 milligrams, to be precise—greatly increases the chance of experiencing stress and anxiety, the study declared, thereby defeating the purpose of using weed to take the edge off in the first place.

As Business Insider noted, researchers at the University of Chicago found 42 people, aged 18 to 40, who were familiar with cannabis but not daily users. Participants were given a dose of THC via a capsule—either a “low” dose of 7.5 milligrams of THC, a high dose of 12.5 milligrams or a placebo. Two and a half hours after the participants took their pill, they were asked to complete a series of tasks—a mock job interview, some basic arithmetic, some benign small talk and then a game of solitaire—and to gauge their stress levels during completion of said tasks.

According to the study, the more THC the participants took, the less chill and the more stressful—”threatening” and “challenging”—the tasks were. Those hit with the low dose reported the opposite effect—7.5 milligrams of THC “significantly reduced self-reported subjective distress,” the researchers found.

The problem for most marijuana users is that both the low and the high dose have much, much less THC than the average products sold in dispensaries.

As Business Insider noted, just a few puffs on the average joint would deliver more THC than the high dose—and the high dose is but 1.25 percent of a 1000-milligram Korova “black bar,” one of the strongest and most potent edibles on the market and 12.5 percent of the proposed 100-milligram maximum dose in California’s pending regulations.

By the market’s standards, “weak” edibles have 25 to 50 milligrams of THC and popping 2.5 milligram mints at work is cool—it’s “microdosing,” bro.  

By the study’s strict standards, many consumers are consuming enough THC to medicate a small village.

And here’s where we discover the study’s limitations, and why it will be difficult for consumers to get too much value out of its findings. Study participants were dosed with THC capsules—meaning pure THC, no other cannabinoids, no terpenes.

As has been demonstrated time and again, cannabis’s net effect on the body and brain has everything to do with the other constituent cannabinoids present, as well as the strain’s terpene content.

So is a 13-milligram dose going to blow your doors off, where roughy half will help you wind down and tackle your day with relaxed aplomb? Maybe, if it’s pure THC; maybe not, if it isn’t and comes in a flower with substantial amounts of myrcene, a terpene with known sedative effects.

To their credit, the researchers won’t say. Instead, they’re calling for more research, perhaps with the products marijuana users actually use—which, conveniently, are next to impossible to obtain for research purposes. 

“Studies like these—examining the effects of cannabis and its pharmacological constituents under controlled conditions—are extremely important, considering the widespread use of cannabis for both medical and non-medical purposes,” said lead researcher Emma Childs, in a press release advertising the study. “Unfortunately, significant regulatory obstacles make it extremely difficult to conduct this type of research.”

The other problem with applying the study’s conclusions broadly is that the body can very quickly build up a tolerance to cannabis.

A heroic dose that would floor an average civilian would barely cause a wook who dabs on the regular to blink twice. And as medical marijuana advocates say time and again, someone with intractable pain needs a big dose, and shouldn’t have to eat a whole package of pot cookies to get it.

So is 100 milligrams too little and is 500 milligrams too much? The answer, frustratingly for regulators and for the industry is—it all depends.

RELATED: Which Strains to Smoke for Social Anxiety
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New Study Confirms Pot Smokers are Happy, Well Adjusted and Successful

Not to be that person who says “I told you so,” but a new study has concluded that pot smokers are not a bunch of lazy slackers but indeed well-adjusted human beings who cross a large swath of society’s diverse types of individuals.

The landmark new study conducted by BDS Analytics, entitled “Cannabis Consumers are Happy Campers,” surveyed 2,000 California and Colorado adults, with a quota of 1,200 people who have used marijuana within the past six months.

The logic was to gather info from a population sample that was representative of the general public.

Their subjects, according to BDS’s research division page, were comprised of “consumers” to “acceptors,” who don’t consume but might consider it, as well as “rejecters” who don’t consume and don’t want to.

“One theme that clearly emerges from the research is the overall healthy well-being of cannabis consumers… when compared to ‘acceptors’ and ‘rejecters,’” the report reads, breaking down the myth of cannabis consumers and work ethic.

Researchers found that the average annual household income among California cannabis consumers is $93,800, compared to $72,800 for ‘acceptors’ and $75,900 for ‘rejecters.’

Twenty percent of cannabis consumers also hold master’s degrees, compared to 13 percent of ‘acceptors’ and 12 percent of ‘rejecters.’

Colorado consumers were more satisfied with their lives now than they were a year ago and more likely to enjoy the fine arts, social activities and outdoor recreation than the acceptors and rejecters.

Sixty-four percent of Colorado consumers enjoyed being employed full-time, with just over 51 percent of acceptors and 54 percent of rejecters.

“Cannabis consumers are far removed from the caricatures historically used to describe them,” said Linda Gilbert, head of the consumer research division at BDS Analytics. “In fact, positive lifestyle indicators like volunteering, socializing, satisfaction with life and enjoyment of exercise and the outdoors are highest among cannabis consumers, at least in Colorado and California.”

The study will be updated every six months indefinitely. BDS will do its next research on this topic in Washington and Oregon.

“The aim is that this will eventually be a national study,” Gilbert said. “I hope and expect that 10 to 20 years from now, this study will still be continuing.”

“The thing everyone agrees on,” Gilbert continued, “is that cannabis can impair your ability to drive, and that we need tests to determine if you are driving under the influence.”

BDS Analytics is obsessed, in a good way, with gathering factual data within the cannabis sector and prides itself on “enabling dispensaries, brands, and growers to sustain their success.”

So, they love doing studies like this one, and we love reading them.

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Study: Low-Dose THC Can Relieve Stress, but Too Much May Do the Opposite

The popular claim that cannabis relieves stress and helps one relax has just been confirmed in a new study.

However, don’t bogart that joint, my friend.

Researchers found that weed’s stress-relieving properties are most effective when micro-dosed. But too much can have the opposite effect.

The study was done by a group of researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and the University of Chicago.

This is how they did the study:

Forty-two healthy volunteers aged between 18 and 40, all of whom had prior experience with weed, were split into three groups and given capsules with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in them.

Group one, the low-dose group, received a capsule with 7.5 milligrams of THC; the moderate-dose group got 12.5 milligrams; and the placebo group got none.

Neither participants, nor investigators, knew who was in each group.

Lead researcher, Emma Childs, from the UIC Department of Psychiatry, noted the difficulty in equating ingested cannabis to smoked cannabis, but said the doses used in the study produced effects that were equivalent to a few puffs of a joint.

She also explained that they didn’t include larger doses so as to avoid potential adverse or cardiovascular effects.

The Method:

In the two 4-hour sessions, five days apart. each participant took two THC capsules at each session, waited for it to enter their bloodstream, then were interviewed by lab assistants who purposely offered no positive verbal or body language feedback. Then, participants were asked to do a challenging math task, which Childs called “very reliably stress-inducing.”

On their second visit, participants talked about their favorite movie or book for five minutes, then were asked to play solitaire for five minutes.

During and after these tasks, participants assessed their own stress levels and feelings. Their heart rates, blood pressures and levels of cortisol (a key stress hormone) were monitored and measured at intervals.

The Results:

As predicted, the low-dose group reported less stress after the psychosocial test than those given the placebo. Their stress levels also dropped faster after the test.

The moderate-dose group reported more negative moods before and during the tasks. They were more likely to rate the psychosocial tasks as “challenging” or even “threatening.”

“We found that THC at low doses reduced stress, while higher doses had the opposite effect, underscoring the importance of dose when it comes to THC and its effects,” Childs told the UIC News Center.

We need more research.

“Studies like these… are extremely important, considering the widespread use of cannabis for both medical and non-medical purposes,” Childs explained. “Unfortunately, significant regulatory obstacles make it extremely difficult to conduct this type of research with the result that cannabis is now widely available for medical purposes with minimal scientific foundation.”

The study was published in the Journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

RELATED: Best Strains to Smoke for Social Anxiety
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Positive Effects of Medical Marijuana on Alzheimer’s Prevention

preclinical study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that very small doses of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), can slow the production of toxic clumps of beta-amyloid proteins in the brain, which are thought to kick start the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

In a healthy brain, these protein fragments are broken down and eliminated. For those with Alzheimer’s disease, the fragments accumulate to form hard, insoluble plaques.

The study supports the results of previous research that found evidence of the protective effects of cannabinoids, including THC, on patients with neurodegenerative diseases.

Back in 2006, Kim Janda, a chemistry professor at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, and his colleagues published the first study showing that THC might have a positive effect in fighting Alzheimer’s.

“It was one of first papers that showed there could possibly be a link,” Janda said. “There was huge pushback when we published it.”

Since then, many other studies have been undertaken, and the news keeps getting better.

Researchers from the Abarbanel Mental Health Center, the Medical Faculty at Tel-Aviv University and the Department of Psychology at Bar-Ilan University have also conducted a study to observe the effects of cannabis on Alzheimer’s.

The Israeli study observed the effects of medical marijuana on 11 people living with Alzheimer’s over the course of four weeks. Ten participants finished the trial.

Despite the small size of the study, researchers concluded that: “Adding medical cannabis oil to Alzheimer’s patients’ pharmacotherapy is a safe and promising treatment option.”

More research is obviously needed to support a long-range study with proper control groups.

With the anti-science administration in the White House, funding for such research may be difficult to come by at the moment.

But, if our current leaders could look beyond their preconceived and mostly erroneous views of cannabis, it would be worth it for the government to join the rest of the scientific world.

Especially considering that in the United States there are 76 million baby-boomers, and they are living longer than ever. Studies have warned that as many as 28 million of them could develop Alzheimer’s.

The cost of caring for them could exceed $300 billion—that is unless the Trump administration has its way and cuts all available medical care. But that’s another story.

Those baby boomers who are already disposed to consuming cannabis may be a step ahead of their friends.

So, if you’re reading this, join the folks who are taking the decision into their own hands and warding off Alzheimer’s with a simple and pleasant, remedy.

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GW Pharmaceuticals Files for FDA Approval After Report Confirms Success in Treating Epilepsy

GW Pharmaceuticals has chosen the perfect moment to file its cannabis-derived therapy, Epidiolex, with U.S. regulators.

The New England Journal of Medicine just published results from a Phase III study showing that GW’s Epidiolex (derived from cannabidiol) significantly reduced monthly convulsive seizures, especially in children with Dravet syndrome, one of the most difficult types of epilepsy to treat. Children can have dozens, even hundreds, of seizures per month.

GW Pharmaceuticals first reported in March 2016 that CBD-derived Epidiolex cut monthly convulsive seizures by 39 percent in children with Dravet syndrome, but full results of the 120-patient study were only published last week.

The findings stem from a double-blind, placebo-controlled study—the most scientifically rigorous type of investigation possible.

“This study clearly establishes cannabidiol as an effective anti-seizure drug for this disorder and this age group,” said principal investigator and lead author of the study, Dr. Orrin Devinsky, director of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center at New York University Langone Medical Center.

“It certainly deserves to be studied in other types of epilepsy,” he added.

The journal article also showed that five percent of patients stopped having seizures altogether and 43 percent saw their seizures cut by half.

The treatment, which is given as a syrup, is a purified form of cannabidiol (CBD) and contains less than 0.1 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

GW is seeking regulatory approval to sell Epidiolex as a treatment for both Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, another severe form of epilepsy.

Stephen Wright, GW’s chief medical officer, said the company would submit its application to the Food and Drug Administration by mid-year, with a filing in Europe following a little later in 2017.

An editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine said the clinical trial represented “the beginning of solid evidence for the use of cannibinoids in epilepsy,” after an era of anecdote and emotional debates.

“These results suggest that Epidiolex can provide clinically meaningful benefits, and I look forward to the prospect of an appropriately standardized and tested pharmaceutical formulation of cannabidiol available as a treatment option for these patients,” said Devinsky.

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Prominent Researcher Says Cannabinoids Can Help Heal Brain Trauma

Dr. Esther Shohami is one of the world’s foremost cannabinoid researchers. Her research is focused on the effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI) on cognitive functions, and the involvement of the endocannabinoid system in rehabilitation after TBI. She is also involved in developing new cannabinoid-like drugs to treat TBI. Dr. Shohami is a neuropharmacologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Ramona Rubin of Doc Green’s Healing Collective had the opportunity to catch up with Dr. Shohami at the recent Patients Out of Time conference in Berkeley, California.

HT: Welcome to Berkeley. I understand this is not your first visit to California?

ES: I spent a summer here in Berkeley with a colleague at the UC in 2003. It’s wonderful weather, wonderful location, I am enjoying the sun and the company. Patients Out Of Time is a very interesting meeting with a blend of people that I don’t usually see represented at scientific meetings.

You’re here sharing your research on traumatic brain injury. How did you come to discover the role of the endocannabinoid system in protecting and healing the brain after injury?

I work upstairs in the same building as the lab of Professor Raphael Mechoulam. After he identified THC in the cannabis plant, he went on to identify anandamide and 2-AG, endogenous cannabinoids present in body tissues.  He encouraged me for many years to look at the role of the endocannabinoids in my experimental model of traumatic brain injury.  When I did, I found that endocannabinoids play a beneficial role in the brain’s healing and recovery process, protecting the brain from secondary damage. And not just one effect, but acting on many systems and targets for healing. They affect the blood-brain barrier, mediate the response to high levels of glutamate, are neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory.

You’ve been researching and publishing for many years. Are you still discovering things that surprise you?

The cannabinoid system is a very new field, so nearly whatever you do here results in a novel finding. When we started working on 2-AG in the mouse brain, we had no idea what was happening. Chapter by chapter, our knowledge evolved, and we came up with a very nice story about the role of the endocannabinoid system as a neuroprotective system in the body. This is something 20 years ago nobody thought of, so this is really exciting. When you have good students that are dedicated and really work on it, it’s the teamwork, and we all share the enthusiasm. Sometimes we look at the results and say “Wow, this is exactly what we anticipated”, and if it’s not what we anticipated, we have to think about what happened and revise our thoughts.

To do science well you have to be alert and follow literature and communicate with others. You cannot be a loner in the scientific life. You have to work with other scientists, you have to collaborate, you have to be open. This is my philosophy, I know that not every lab is like this, but my students always share and help each other.

Cannabinoid research and medicine faces stigmas and regulatory challenges around the world. What has your experience been?  

For my research in Israel we need a special license to work with some of these novel cannabinoid compounds. Luckily, I work with Dr. Mechoulam, and he has an open permit. So I never applied to the Ministry—he synthesizes them in the lab, and I can get them from him.

From what I hear, in this country it’s very frustrating. How do you get data to tell if it’s good or bad, and how it should be used with patients, if you don’t have access to the material to do the research? This is very wrong, and I hope you get it sorted out here. To do good research you must have access to the compounds. No doubt.

The author with Dr. Esther Shohami at the 2017 Patients Out of Time conference in Berkeley, CA

I take it you’re referring to the biochemically inferior National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) marijuana that is the only legally available cannabis plant material for researchers in the United States?

Yes. And access in general.

What is your advice for lawmakers?

Regulators should be aware that compared to opiates, this is a much more benign family of compounds. It’s very potent. It’s involved in health and disease in every organ. The body tries to tell us something. Look at the body, look at the distribution of the receptors, look at the organs where you find the receptors of this system. You cannot ignore it. You cannot just behave as if it’s not there. Be more educated about what this system is about and realize that it should be prioritized in research and for translation to medical use.

You visited a medical cannabis dispensary here in California, where we just legalized recreational use. What are your impressions of our medical access?

The trip to the dispensary was a bit disappointing. I found the place quite efficient, but not very friendly and inviting, with a somewhat cold atmosphere. As an outsider I didn’t feel this place was very welcoming—yet I’m sure that those that visit on a regular basis find whatever they need, not only for treatment, but also as a social meeting place.

You know, we have known for many many years there is no drug that has no side effects. Every drug or substance has the good and the bad, and it’s all in the balance between the two. Recreational use is a very personal choice, and everyone should decide for themselves if they want to drink alcohol, or smoke cannabis, or gamble. But for older people, for whom small doses can be very helpful, if it will help them, they shouldn’t be afraid of getting it.

Anything else you care to share?

The smoke here in the air! The first time I really realized what it is to smell the smoke was when I was here in Berkeley. My colleague and I were walking down the street and I asked her “What is this smell?” She said “You don’t know? That’s the smell of smoking marijuana. You’re in Berkeley.” That’s how I first got to know the smell.

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Florida Health Department: No Smokeable Marijuana

Florida is rapidly shaping up as a test case in whether the term “medical marijuana” necessarily includes actual herbaceous cannabis. On May 15, the state’s Health Department ordered Quincy-based Trulieve dispenary to stop selling a “whole flower” product—officially intended for use in vaporizers, but which can, of course, also be smoked. Trulieve just last week began sales of a product dubbed Entourage,—named for the so-called “entourage effect,” the synergistic workings of the various compounds in the cannabis flower. The product is meant to be used in the Volcano vaporizer, reports the Orlando Weekly. The Health Department’s cease-and-desist letter came after local media reports about the sales of Entourage.

“Licensed dispensing organizations have a responsibility to ensure their product is not one that can easily be transitioned into a smokable form. Therefore, whole flower products are not permitted,” state Office of Compassionate Use director Christian Bax wrote in the letter to Trulieve.

Current Florida law bans smoking of medical marijuana but allows use of vaporizers. The Entourage product comes in “vaporizer cups,” but the cannabis inside “can be removed with minimal effort,” according to the cease-and-desist letter.

Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers responded with a statement saying the company was “surprised by the letter” but is “immediately and completely complying with the department’s wishes while evaluating our options.”

The Health Department action comes as Florida’s legislature is considering enabling legislation on last year’s victorious medical marijuana initiative, Amendment 2. A current version of the law would ban herbaceous cannabis, in spite of voter intent. Low-THC strains can be used by patients suffering from cancer, epilepsy or chronic seizures under the state’s CBD-specific law passed in 2014. The law was later expanded to include patients with terminal conditions, and allow use of more potent strains.

John Morgan, the Orlando trial lawyer who largely bankrolled Amendment 2, has pledged to sue the state over the smoking issue, according to The Cannabist.

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Foundation to Help Fund PTSD Research and Get Veterans Jobs in the Pot Industry

Dr. Sue Sisley, a psychiatrist and former clinical assistant professor at Arizona University (AU), is one of the nation’s foremost scientific experts on medical marijuana.

Although she’s never served in the military Sisley, wears or carries a dog tag stamped with the number “22,” as a constant reminder of how many American vets commit suicide each day—most suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to data from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“Even though we all realize that is a falsely low number… it is a horrific number,” Sisley told NewsMax Health, noting that veteran suicides far outnumber the national civilian average.

After leaving AU, where she received her medical degree, Sisley finally received approval from the government to study cannabis for PTSD.

Now she has joined forces with a U.S. veteran, Roberto Pickering, a former infantry Marine who was diagnosed as 100 percent disabled from PTSD in 2004.

Unlike thousands of post-9/11 veterans who have committed suicide, Pickering—after years of unsuccessful prescription drug use—found another way to cope with his PTSD. He began experimenting with marijuana about 10 years ago and since then has been helping other veterans.

Together, Sisley and Pickering launched the Battlefield Foundation, which provides emotional support, as well as important health and economic solutions, for vets .

Pickering described the foundation’s three-pronged approach to help veterans to the LA Weekly.

The first prong is emotional support in the form of sponsorship, popularized by Alcoholics Anonymous, for vets suffering with PTSD.

The second prong is medical support—offering non-opiate based relief through cannabis therapy.

This is where Sisley comes in: She and her colleagues at the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) received a grant from the government nearly two years ago to study cannabis as a treatment for veterans with PTSD.

Because of the notoriously low quality weed provided by the government and grown at the University of Mississippi—the the only facility approved by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)—Pickering and Sisley applied for their own license to grow, but are still waiting.

Under the medical approach, primary goals include funding and raising money for clinical trials.

To that end, the Battlefield Foundation will have a for-profit brand that will invest profits back into the foundation for the research Sisley is overseeing.

Trials are necessary, says Sisley, even though veterans already understand that cannabis can help treat their PTSD.

“Some vets will say, ‘I don’t need your study, I already know it helps,’ but we need controlled trials and access to objective information, not just anecdotal reports,” Sisley explained. “That will help the veteran community more than anything.”

In that medical trials can cost millions, initially veterans with access to medical marijuana under California law can report back to Sisley and her team about how cannabis works for them.

“The medical prong is all about the clinical trials; we’re developing a database that can be published,” said Sisley.

The third prong is economic support. The idea is to find veterans jobs in the cannabis industry or place them in positions at Pickering’s own cultivation facilities. He has one in L.A. and one in Oakland.

Pickering’s vision, he told Stars and Stripes, includes crews of veterans working together for $20 an hour trimming marijuana buds for consumption.

“Vets are coming back from war, and now they have a war here in America to fight,” he said. “The enemy is suicide and an opioid epidemic, and these guys are getting healed in the very industry that’s eliminating that.”

Pickering added that vets could go even further and start their own profitable companies.

“This is medicine, and I want it to be treated as medicine and given to the masses,” Pickering said. “All I can say is, ‘Look at my life then, look at my life now.’ I want to make [cannabis] an option for all veterans, for all people, not just veterans. Sue [Sisley] is trying to give us that definitive scientific argument.”

RELATED: Pots & Vets—America’s Shame
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Heroin Epidemic Pushing Up Hepatitis C Infections in U.S.


NEW YORK (AP) — The heroin epidemic is driving up hepatitis C infections, with the biggest increase in people in their 20s, U.S. health officials said Thursday.

The number of new infections nearly tripled in five years, to about 2,400 in 2015. The virus is spread by sharing needles to inject drugs, and the increase coincided with a surge in heroin use.

But officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention think the reported infections are only a fraction of the actual number. Most people don’t get sick for many years, so they aren’t tested and don’t know they are infected. The CDC estimates that the number of infections in 2015 was 34,000, or twice as many as the estimate for 2010.

The biggest jump in new infections is in people ages 20 to 29, the CDC said.

The hepatitis C virus spreads through the blood but does most of its damage by infecting the liver. It can lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer. In recent years, new hepatitis C drugs hit the market that can cure the infection in only a few months. But they are expensive – a course of treatment can costs tens of thousands of dollars.

The CDC also released national hepatitis C death figures: nearly 20,000 deaths in 2015. The number hasn’t changed much recently but that figure reflects a different group of infected people – baby boomers. The apparent leveling off may be due to a push to test all baby boomers for the virus and the treatment improvements, said the CDC’s Dr. Jonathan Mermin.

Of the 3.5 million Americans living with hepatitis, most were born between 1945 and 1965 and were infected decades ago, according to the CDC.

Before widespread screening of blood donations began in 1992, the virus was also spread through blood transfusions. New cases fell to under 900 nearly 15 years ago and stayed at that level until they rose sharply in 2011. That was around the time heroin use began increasing, as drug abusers caught up in the opioid crisis shifted from prescription painkillers to heroin.

RELATED: When Heroin Is Safer…
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Pot vs. Pills: Will Cannabis Help End the Opioid-Abuse Epidemic?

With the election of Donald Trump and Republican majorities in Congress, the GOP has vowed to move forward with its longtime pledge to undo the Affordable Care Act. While it remains to be seen what approach the Republicans will take to replace the ACA, overhauling the country’s health-care system presents a timely opportunity to address an epidemic gripping the nation: the explosive growth in opioid addiction and abuse.

The numbers are staggering. The total number of opioid pain relievers prescribed in the United States jumped from 76 million in 1991 to 207 million in 2013. In that time, Americans accounted for nearly 100 percent of the hydrocodone sales in the world and 81 percent of oxycodone sales. This explosive growth in opioid use has resulted in a surge of opioid-related deaths. In 2015, opioids were involved in 33,091 deaths, a fourfold increase since 1999 that accounted for 63 percent of all drug-related deaths. As a result of this increase, drug-related deaths for the first time exceeded the number of deaths from car crashes in the United States.

With over two million Americans addicted to prescription painkillers and an additional 600,000 addicted to heroin, there’s a growing urgency to find alternative therapies that can slow or reverse this epidemic.

Cannabis presents a significant alternative. It’s been found to be beneficial in treating chronic pain, neuropathic pain and the spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis—conditions for which opioids are commonly prescribed. Additionally, researchers are investigating whether its neuroprotective properties also help reduce the likelihood of becoming dependent on opioids when both are used together.

More research is essential, but the substitution of cannabis for painkillers has already begun. A recent analysis of the Medicare program found that drug prescriptions fell significantly in states where medical marijuana was legal. Doctors in legal-marijuana states prescribe an average of nearly 1,800 fewer doses of painkillers per year than those in states without medical cannabis.

Patients suffering from pain are the biggest drivers of the demand for medical marijuana. Analysis by New Frontier found that chronic-pain patients accounted for the largest proportion of medical marijuana patients in states that allow pain as a qualifying condition. In the five states analyzed, chronic-pain patients accounted for well over half of medical marijuana patients. In Arizona alone, pain sufferers account for 81 percent of registered patients, the most in any state.

Pharmaceutical companies are watching these developments closely; the increased substitution of medical cannabis for opioids could significantly impact their bottom line. The top three pain medicines in the Medicare program—Oxy-Contin, hydrocodone and Fentanyl—accounted for $1.96 billion in prescriptions in 2013 alone.

With so much revenue at stake, it’s not surprising that opioid manufacturers are investing money in preventing the expansion of legal cannabis. In 2016, Insys Therapeutics, the manufacturer of Subsys—one of the most potent and expensive opioids on the market—donated $500,000 to oppose adult-use legalization in Arizona. The donation made Insys the third-largest funder of the opposition campaign, and it was a key contributor to the failure of the legalization ballot measure.

Insys claimed that it opposed the measure “because it fails to protect the safety of Arizona’s citizens, and particularly its children.” However, the company’s motives may not have been entirely altruistic: Insys admitted in a filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission that legal marijuana poses a direct threat to its product lines, including a product under development called Dronabinol Oral Solution, which uses synthetic THC to treat the nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy.

The tension between pharmaceutical companies and legal marijuana will likely continue for many years to come. However, at a time when tens of thousands of Americans are dying from opioid overdoses and millions more are dealing with the scourge of opioid addiction, it’s imperative that lawmakers, drug manufacturers and health-care providers find ways to solve this catastrophic epidemic. A solution may be as close as your nearest dispensary.

John Kagia is executive vice president of industry analytics for New Frontier Data.

RELATED: Science Says Why Opioids Are So Addictive
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