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Legal cannabis linked to fewer industrial hemp poisonings

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Vancouver, Washington – Synthetic cannabinoids, the dangerous designer drugs known by street names like K2, Spice, or AK-47, appear less attractive in states that have legalized the natural form of cannabis.

A Washington State University study found a 37% decrease in reports of poisoning from illicit industrial cannabis, which is difficult to detect using standard drug tests, in states with legal recreational or “adult use” cannabis compared to states with restrictive policies.

“This study shows some potential public health benefits for legalizing and regulating cannabis use by adults,” said study lead author Tracy Klein, associate professor of nursing at Washington State University. “Based on both previous research and this current study, it is clear that users who have the option of using a less toxic product are more likely to do so.”

Industrial hemp is not actually weed. It is so named because it acts on the same cannabinoid receptors in the brain as the psychoactive component of the cannabis plant, tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. However, illicit synthetics bind to these receptors up to 100 times more strongly and lack any of the intermediate components of whole plant cannabinoids such as CBD or CBD. As a result, synthetic cannabinoids are highly toxic and can lead to severe disability and even death.

In this study, published in the Journal of Clinical Toxicology, researchers analyzed data from the National Toxicology Data System from 2016 to 2019, before the onset of the epidemic. They only looked at states that had relatively stable policies during those years, and put them into one of three categories: permitting like Washington State, permitting medical and recreational cannabis use for adults, medical like Hawaii, permitting cannabis for medical use only, or restricting. Like Idaho, almost all types of cannabis are prohibited.

In this sample, there were 7,600 calls for reports of poisoning related to industrial cannabis use, about 65% of which required medical attention. There were also 61 deaths. The researchers found that reports of industrial poisoning decreased overall during this time period, but there was a 13% decrease in medical cases and a much larger 37% decrease in permissive cases.

Previous study in open gamma It found that anti-toxin calls related to natural cannabis use also increased from 2017 to 2019 across the US but were primarily driven by manufactured products, such as plant-based vaping items and food, which can contain high levels of THC. In contrast, calls for detoxification from whole cannabis plants decreased over the same time period.

While some synthetic hemp has been made for medical use, such as dronabinol and nabilone used primarily to treat nausea associated with cancer treatment, the illicit versions are illegal in all states and have no medical purpose. Enforcement can be difficult because manufacturers frequently change their formulas. They are also usually not detected in standard urine drug tests – which may be one reason why people in restrictive states use them.

Klein said future research is needed to better understand the use of these drugs and the differences between them. She noted that the study’s data set does not contain the growing popularity of the synthetically-derived Delta-8, which is marketed as a less potent form of Delta-9, the psychoactive cannabinoid found in naturally produced plant products.

“We know there are many cannabinoids in development and on the market — and regulators are struggling to catch up,” said Klein, who is also the assistant director of the WSU Center for Cannabis Policy, Research and Outreach.

The authors note that the current study likely underestimates the use of these drugs, because the drugs are difficult to detect.

“You can’t easily test for illegal cannabis. A lot of times, we just find out if a patient is using it because they are in the hospital or because they have died,” Klein said.

In addition to Klein, study co-authors include Julie Dailey of the Multnomah County Department of Health and the Oregon Health Authority, Janessa Graves of the Washington State University School of Nursing and Dr. Erica Lebelt of the University of Arkansas School of Medicine.

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