Releaf Magazine
8Feb/160

Would You Try Marijuana Gum For Chronic Pain?

If upcoming study results are positive, people with multiple sclerosis may have a marijuana gum available for treatment of symptoms by 2017. The gum is made by AXIM Biotechnology, Inc. and is called MedChew Rx.

The marijuana gum has been tested for treatment of pain andspasticity in multiple sclerosis, and the company expects the Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency to approve the product for this use. MedChew Rx contains 5 mg of cannabidiol (CBD) and 5 mg of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and will be available by prescription.

Cannabidiol is one of more than 100 cannabinoid chemicals found in marijuana plants. It does not make people high and has been shown to possess multiple health benefits, including an ability to treat seizures and other neurological conditions. THC, another type of cannabinoid, has psychoactive properties as well as medicinal abilities.

How marijuana gum works
According to Dr. George E. Anastassoy, MD, DDS, MBA, chief executive officer of AXIM Biotechnology, the marijuana gum is unique because of its “precise, controlled release mechanism to the oral mucosal capillary circulation,” which means it bypasses the liver. Obtaining the marijuana components via chewing also is safer, associated with fewer side effects, and more socially acceptable than traditional methods, such as smoking or oral consumption, according to Professor John Zajicek, an expert on medical cannabis and the individual responsible for conducting AXIM’s clinical trials on pain and spasticity in multiple sclerosis.

Zajicek noted in a company statement that “Chewing gum is a potentially good route as it would avoid respiratory irritations” that some people experience when smoking and that “it will deliver a prolonged dose without peaking too much.”

The gum also provides “neuroprotective and neurostimulatory benefits” derived from chewing, an activity which itself has a therapeutic impact. In fact, research has shown that chewing (mastication) promotes generation of neurons (neurogenesis), stimulates the cardiovascular system, and enhances oral health, as well as helps with stress reduction and loss of cognition associated with aging.

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VIA Cure Pain

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3Feb/160

R.I. would raise revenue by ‘tagging’ medical marijuana plants

Rhode Island House of Representatives

Growing medical marijuana could help grow state revenue by an additional $8.4 million next year, under Governor Raimondo's budget plan.

The governor has proposed that every medical marijuana plant not grown at a commercial compassion center must have a state tag. Each tag would cost $150 for patients who grow their own plants or $350 for caregivers who are allowed to cultivate marijuana for up to five patients.

The requirement is meant to create more of a "level playing field" between caregivers and compassion centers, which grow marijuana on a large-scale basis and are already subjected to more rigorous regulations and taxes, according to Michael Raia, spokesman for the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

The tags, which will identify plants that are legal and those that are not, will also play a role in enforcing drug laws and preventing abuse of medical marijuana privileges.

"The goal of the reforms is to ensure that medical marijuana patients maintain access to treatment while minimizing access among those who illegally use and sell marijuana," according to a news release.

With each plant expected to produce about $17,000 worth of medical marijuana, Raia said the fee amounts to no more than 2 percent of revenue.

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VIA Providence Journal

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2Feb/160

A year after Congress voted to end war on medical pot, raids continue in California

Marijuana grower Basil McMahon with his crop in Grass Valley, Calif. A new package of state laws will clarify California's regulation of the medical marijuana industry, beginning in 2018. (Randall Benton / Sacramento Bee)

by Evan Halper

When Congress effectively lifted the federal ban on medical marijuana a year ago, Californians drove the landmark change, which was tucked into a sprawling spending package by a liberal lawmaker from the Monterey peninsula and his conservative colleague from Orange County.

A year later, marijuana legalization advocates are conflicted over how big a victory the congressional vote, which was repeated this month, has turned out to be.

“The number of raids has dropped substantially, though not completely,” across the country, said Mike Liszewski, government affairs director for Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group. A federal court ruling this fall, if it is upheld, would limit federal agents from targeting all but operations that are clearly flouting state law, he noted.

But in California, in particular, federal prosecutors continue to pursue cases, in large part because of flaws in the existing state medical marijuana law, which all sides agree is long overdue for an overhaul. Gov. Jerry Brown has signed three measures to clarify the state law, but those won’t take effect until 2018.

So for now, the state that was America’s birthplace for legal medical pot remains at the center of legal disputes as federal prosecutors struggle to navigate a murky landscape in which the line between healers and drug dealers is not always clear.

The two members of Congress who championed the new approach say prosecutors are not following Congress’ intent.

“The will of the people is clear: The majority of the states have enacted medical marijuana laws, Congress has voted twice now to protect those patients, and a federal judge has upheld” the measure, Rep. Sam Farr (D-Carmel) wrote in an email. “How many times does the Justice Department need to be told to back off before it finally sinks in?”

Officials from the Justice Department declined comment, citing continued litigation.

Congress has put the department in a pickle, however. Federal law still classifies marijuana in the most dangerous category of narcotics, alongside heroin and LSD, substances which the law declares to be lacking any accepted medical use. Congress has declined to change that even as it has approved the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, as the provision has come to be known.

The city of Oakland is invoking that amendment in demanding federal prosecutors drop their bid to seize marijuana and other assets from Harborside Health Center, the nation’s largest dispensary, which has generated a tax windfall for the cash-strapped city.

Across San Francisco Bay, in Marin County, local officials cheered when a federal judge declared in October that the continued prosecution of a dispensary was an affront to the new law – only to learn on Friday that prosecutors plan to continue the fight through an appeal.

Complicating matters are the several states that now permit the sale of marijuana for recreational use. The Obama administration has opted to allow that experiment to continue unabated. So operations in California, like Harborside, that target patients seeking the drug to treat ailments can still be prosecuted while shops in Denver that unabashedly cater to college students on weekend binges operate freely.

Over the summer, Farr and Rohrabacher accused the Justice Department of illegally misappropriating federal money to continue those prosecutions, calling on its inspector general to launch an investigation. The department has yet to respond.

Federal officials have argued in court that their prosecutions don’t violate the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment because the occasional bust doesn’t impede the state from allowing the use of medical marijuana. After the judge in the Marin County case rejected that argument as “tortured,” prosecutors are left with the argument that the sales in question are not clearly in compliance with California law, which was written very broadly.

“The early medical marijuana laws were Trojan horses designed to allow effective legalization for anyone who could fake an ache,” said Jonathan Caulkins, a professor of public policy at Carnegie Mellon University. “California is in that category.”

Even in the case of Harborside, which state and local officials often hold up as a gold standard for the medical marijuana business, California's loose rules about who is permitted to buy medical pot have left the operations a natural target for prosecutors, Caulkins said.

“Harborside is gigantic, and the Justice Department thinks it is not providing marijuana just for kids with epilepsy or people with cancer or people with HIV,” Caulkins said.

States that have more recently adopted medical marijuana provisions are not seeing their legitimate medical marijuana businesses targeted because they serve a much narrower group of clients, he said.

But the Justice Department's continued pursuit of Harborside is riling officials in Oakland. The business pays the city about $1.4 million annually in taxes, or as Oakland put it in one court filing, enough to pay the salaries of a dozen police officers or firefighters.

Advocates are hopeful that it will only be a matter of time before the prosecutions subside. California is among several states poised to decide next year whether to legalize pot for any adult who chooses to purchase it, whether to treat an illness or to just get high. If the state adopts rules to regulate a legalized market that satisfy the Justice Department – as Colorado and Washington state have done – prosecutors will probably move on to other business.

“I’ve seen no evidence the department is going after anybody doing recreational sales in Washington or Colorado,” said Douglas Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University. “Whatever the law is in a given state, prosecutors have decided it is not worth their time or energy to go after folks who are in compliance with it.”

But until California clarifies its law – either through an initiative or the new measures Brown signed this year – prosecutors will be reluctant to look to cities like Oakland for guidance on what pot businesses should and should not be permitted to do.

"They worry that the minute they show deference to some city officials in Oakland, someone will come out of the woodwork in Detroit who says, 'I have a city councilman who says you should leave me alone,'" Berman said. “The feds are concerned not only with how these rules play out in this case, but the next case and the next case.”

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VIA LA Times

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31Jan/160

New Research Shows Marijuana Heals Broken Bones and Prevents Rejection of Transplanted Organs

The medical uses of cannabis and its derivatives are continuing to be discovered at an astonishing rate. This is despite the fact that U.S. government clings to an absurd, baseless classification of cannabis as a Schedule I drug, which severely limits research and scientific advancement.

We can add bone fractures and organ transplants to the diverse list of conditions that medicinal cannabis can treat.

A study performed by Tel Aviv University and Hebrew University researchers finds that the non-psychotropic component cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD) helps heal bone fractures. They administered the compound to rats with mid-femoral fractures and found that it “markedly enhanced the healing process of the femora after just eight weeks.”

The team had found in earlier research that our bodies’ cannabinoid receptors stimulate bone formation and inhibit bone loss. It was a natural progression to test how this can be utilized to aid bone healing.

“The clinical potential of cannabinoid-related compounds is simply undeniable at this point,” said Dr. Gabet. “While there is still a lot of work to be done to develop appropriate therapies, it is clear that it is possible to detach a clinical therapy objective from the psychoactivity of cannabis. CBD, the principal agent in our study, is primarily anti-inflammatory and has no psychoactivity.”

Back in the U.S., researchers at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine discovered another new field of cannabis treatment. They found that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in cannabis, can delay the rejection of incompatible organs.

The research performed in mice provides clear justification for its testing in clinical trials. If THC can be used to prevent organ rejection, as the authors suggest is possible, it can literally save lives. Again, the work focuses on cannabinoid receptors.

“More and more research is identifying potential beneficial effects of substances contained in marijuana, but a major challenge has been identifying the molecular pathways involved,” said John Wherry, Ph.D., Deputy Editor of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology. “These new studies point to important roles for the cannabinoid receptors as targets that might be exploited using approaches that refine how we think about substances derived from marijuana.”

Scientists around the world are resuming the exploration of medical cannabis that was interrupted in the 1930s and ‘40s by irrational government prohibitions. We are only just discovering its usefulness in treating epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, cancer and multiple sclerosis.

For centuries, cannabis was used as a medical remedy. The tools of modern medicine are now allowing extraordinary insights into this plant and the powerful capabilities of cannabinoid receptors.

Despite the amazing benefits of this plant, in police state USA, police officers will kill you for it — and they will call it “justice.”

(Article by Justin Gardner; from The Free Thought Project)

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VIA Counter Current News

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29Jan/160

[Canadian] Tax revenue from legal pot could hit $5 billion each year, CIBC says

it Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s secret stash.

A new report from CIBC World Markets says Canada’s federal and provincial governments could reap as much as $5 billion annually in tax revenues from the sale of legal marijuana.

CIBC economist Avery Shenfeld crunched the numbers using current estimates of Canadian recreational pot consumption, the revenue experience in U.S. states that have legalized, and other factors – such as prevailing “sin tax” rates on alcohol and tobacco.

The Liberal government has promised to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana and has made MP Bill Blair, the former Toronto police chief, the lead on investigating a new regulatory model.

Trudeau maintains that legalized pot will not be a cash cow, and that all revenues will be used to address public health and addictions issues.

The bank report suggests there will be a sizeable bump in government revenues from the eventual legal sales, but says the cash will not enough be to make government deficits simply go up in smoke.

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VIA Global News

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28Jan/160

Lawmakers press VA to allow medical marijuana for veterans

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is pressing the Department of Veterans Affairs to allow veterans to use medical marijuana.

Currently, VA doctors are prohibited from recommending medical marijuana to their patients, even in states that have legalized pot.

These veterans must go to nonmilitary doctors outside their healthcare plan to obtain a prescription. The tedious and expensive process often discourages veterans from seeking access to such treatment, critics say.

In a letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald sent Wednesday, nearly two dozen lawmakers urge the agency to abandon that policy.

"Since many medical marijuana states require that a doctor fill out a form certifying that a patient is suffering from a qualifying condition in order to allow them to gain access to medical marijuana through state-regulated dispensaries, this policy only encourages those VA patients who are seeking treatment to go outside of the VA system and seek a recommendation from a physician likely far less familiar with their symptoms and medical history,” the lawmakers wrote.

"It is not in the veterans’ best interest for the VA to interfere with the doctor-patient relationship."

The VA policy expires at the end of the month and lawmakers don't want the agency to renew the medical marijuana provision.

The letter was signed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), among others.

The controversial VA policy is part of a larger federal prohibition on marijuana, but a growing number of lawmakers are pushing to overhaul pot laws in Washington.

Medical marijuana is legal in 23 states and Washington, D.C.

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VIA The Hill

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26Jan/160

NINE-YEAR-OLD AUTISTIC BOY SPEAKS FIRST WORDS AFTER 48 HOURS ON CANNABIS OIL


While much of America is still stuck in a “Reefer Madness” mindset, the world of science has offered us a number of advancements regarding cannabis. Kalel Santiago of Puerto Rico is only nine-years-old, but he has already endured a lifetime of suffering.

When Kalel was ten months old, he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a rare childhood cancer. After two years of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation treatments and a triumphant victory over his cancer, Kalel was diagnosed with severe, nonverbal autism.

“While he was in the hospital, we noticed he didn’t speak at all and had some behavior that wasn’t right, like hand flapping, and walking on his toes,” Kalel’s father, Abiel Gomez Santiago, told Yahoo Parenting. “But we waited until he was 3 and cancer-free to look at his behavior.”

Over the years, Kalel’s parents tried various schools and therapies, including a surf-therapy school near their home with which they found some success. Ultimately, they discovered a treatment that would be life-altering: hemp oil, which Yahoo Parenting notes has been shown to ease symptoms of epilepsy and autism.

The family took home a sample bottle of cannabidiol spray and began administering doses by mouth twice daily. After only two days, something miraculous happened: Kalel spoke for the first time in his life. The boy’s father told Yahoo:

“He surprised us in school by saying the vowels, A-E-I-O-U. It was the first time ever. You can’t imagine the emotion we had, hearing Kalel’s voice for the first time. It was amazing. The teacher recorded him and sent it to my wife and me and we said well, the only different thing we have been doing is using the CBD.”

Soon after Kalel began speaking:

“He said, ‘amo mi mama,’ ‘I love my mom.’  I don’t know how to thank [the CBD oil makers].”

“He’s been connecting — like he’s awakening to seeing the world,” Abiel said, noting that they have been keeping up with the treatments for almost a month now.

“He’s looking you in your eyes, he’s been trying to say different things and imitate what we are saying. He’s saying ‘uncle,’ ‘aunt,’ the names of my two kids. It’s something amazing that I cannot explain.”

Kalel’s continued improvements have even managed to shock Hemp Health, the company that produces the oil.  “We were really amazed to hear Kalel’s progress, because what they are using is a lower-concentrate product,” said Miguel Feliciano, president ofHemp Health’s Puerto Rico distributor, Antonio & Associates.

Dr. Giovanni Martinez, a clinical psychologist who worked with Kalel at the surf-therapy school, is also amazed by the boy’s progress. “Like his parents, I am also in shock,” he told Yahoo.

“I never got him to speak, and it was something that was haunting me. Language was something that was missing.”

“I’m not going to say let’s give this to every kid, because we have to monitor and study it,” Martinez cautioned. “But I am very impressed with his language development. Imagine a mom who has been waiting almost 9 years to hear her child speak?”

“To me,” he said, “the story of Kalel is groundbreaking.”

It is widely speculated that cannabis oil can be an effective cancer treatment, among a number of other serious conditions. However, its effectiveness has traditionally been limited by one major factor: the law.

SFWeekly reported in 2013 that while cannabis oil has been shown to be effective, Uncle Sam has stepped in — much to patients’ detriment:

“One of the most high-profile was the case of Montana toddler Cash Hyde, diagnosed with a brain tumor at 20 months, whose family credits cannabis oil for keeping the tumor at bay and keeping him alive — until a change in Montana state law cut off his access to oil for a few months. The tumor returned and he died in November, at age four.”

Since 2013, there have been some advancement in the law as parents are increasingly considering cannabis an option to treat their children. In April, the state of Tennessee, for example, passed a billthat would legalize cannabis oil for use in treating seizures in children. Similar legislation was passed in Georgia in March.

Treatments are, unfortunately, not available to everyone. The federal government still classifies all forms of marijuana as being as dangerous as heroin and other hard drugs. While the federal government no longer enforces the law in states that have voted to legalize cannabis and strictly regulate it, numerous states still deprive residents of the medical benefits of cannabis.

We’ve come a long way, but there are still miles to go in the fight to provide Americans with the right to have access to this powerful and effective medicine.

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VIA Healthy Resources

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22Jan/160

Women & Children’s Hospital to conduct study of medical marijuana for seizures


By Henry Davis | News Medical Reporter

Women & Children’s Hospital is one of five sites that will study an experimental marijuana compound to treat children and young adults with severe, treatment-resistant epilepsy, the state Health Department announced.

Some studies indicate that GW Pharma’s Epidiolex may help reduce seizures in certain forms of epilepsy.

Patients must be ages 1 to 21, and have tried at least four anti-epileptic drugs without success to be eligible for the trial.

GW Pharma has agreed to make Epidiolex available at no charge for the state-sponsored studies that also include the University of Rochester Medical Center, Montefiore Medical Center, New York Langone Medical Center and Mount Sinai Beth Israel.

Epidiolex is an oil that is 99 percent cannabidiol, a nonpsychoactive marijuana derivative. The compound is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration and is unavailable except through clinical trials, which GW Pharma has been conducting elsewhere in the country to examine the safety and effectiveness of Epidiolex in two epilepsy syndromes known as Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut.

For patients with severe epilepsy, pharmaceutical-grade cannabidiol is the best option, since it allows for accurate dose prescription and titration, Dr. Arie Weinstock, professor of clinical neurology at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo and medical director of pediatric epilepsy, said in a statement.

There could be wide variability between medical marijuana obtained from different dispensaries or even between batches from a single dispensary, he said.

UB researchers working at Women & Children’s Hospital said data gathered by the Epidiolex studies, which will enroll 100 patients in New York State, including 20 in Buffalo, will be used to support an application to the FDA for approval of the drug.

The trials here will investigate how well the cannabidiol compound works when given with existing medications to treat seizures.

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder characterized by seizures. Treatment-resistant epilepsy affects about 35 percent of patients.

Visit www.wadsworth.org/news/nysdoh-epidiolex-expanded for more information.

email: hdavis@buffnews.com

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VIA Buffalo News

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20Jan/160

Israel’s Cannabis Industry Blazes Ahead


by

Some months ago I wrote about Israel’s potential rise as a cannabis superpower and recent news suggest the country is living up to its reputation as a leader in medical cannabis.

In January the government announced plans to open the local medical marijuana market to new farms and sellers.

Adding to the developments on a governmental level, Israeli startups are utilizing cannabis for medical and technological advancements all the while working their way around regulations and other hurdles.

Today only eight farms are allowed to grow cannabis for medical purposes in Israel and to change this, the country’s Health Ministry announced a plan to open the medical marijuana market to new players. This means that anyone who meets specific safety and quality requirements is eligible to grow and sell cannabis.

“Even today there are pharmacies giving out all kinds of other medicines such as morphine. We will also sort out cannabis. There will be registration and we will supervise it,” Yaakov Litzman, Israel’s minister of health told a local newspaper.

Problematic Reform

Although the announcement is good news for farms looking to become certified growers and sellers, several questions remain. Instead of opting for a full liberalization of growing cannabis, Israeli government is looking to take full control of the market.

What’s more, the current proposal seems to suggest that the government is looking to prevent the distribution of cannabis for smoking purposes while giving preferential treatment to inhalers and capsules.

Indeed, the health ministry’s might create more problems than it attempts to solve.

“The plan is more complicated than it looks. It seems that the health ministry is going for full-control. Although the headlines about deregulation are promising, the small details claim the opposite.

The government will prefer importing and for smoking alternatives like capsules and such, which eliminates 95% of the current strains,” said Oren Lebovitch, the chief editor of Cannabis, Israel’s leading cannabis publication.

There are currently 25,000 patients in Israel who receive cannabis for medical reasons. The patients are supplied by eight government mandated growers. The real questions is: if the patient-end of the equation is not reformed, why does Israel need more growers?

“Only two of the companies currently growing cannabis are profitable, so there’s no incentive for other growers to join until there are more patients – so what is the reform for?,” asked Lebovtich.

“What’s more, the reform will eliminate specific strains — most of which are used in studies that are showing great outcomes,” said Lebovitch. “In the new reform patients won’t be able to choose the strains they are using today but only based on groups of only three cannabinoids (THC, CBD, CBN), ignoring other tens or hundreds of other cannabinoids and terpenes, which are important for the “Entourage Effect” (the interaction of various compounds in marijuana).”

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This decision might also be the one that will make the whole reform to collapse since patients will probably turn to the high-court because they’re breaking their current treatment, Lebovitch added.

Since the current reform is tailored for domestic purposes and having more growers would only be meaningful if countries were allowed to export cannabis.

This might change as optimists believe that the UN will overturn its ban from 1988.

However, while the proposal does little to address Israel’s capability to export cannabis, its focus on the local market might serve country well in the future. What’s more Israeli cannabis research is lightyears ahead of Europe and the US.

“Israel is 10 years ahead of Europe and the US in medical research as it’s quite easy for companies to run clinical trials and research on cannabis. The new proposal by the MInistry of Health — placing emphasis on medical research, will enable us to maintain our competitive advantage. It will infuse more investment and entrepreneurship,” says Dr. Tamir Gedo from BOL Pharma.

Dr. Gedo admits that the proposal has some problem areas, but believes it will do more good than harm.

“One of the ideas put forth in the proposal is to increase the number of physicians who are eligible to prescribe medical cannabis – this would increase the number of patients.”

In Startups We Trust

While the government is deliberating new reforms to expand Israel’s cannabis industry, it’s likely that the so-called reforms will cause more problems than they will solve, as is often the case with government meddling. The proposal will also have to pass several committees before it’s voted on in the Knesset (Israel’s parliament).

Luckily, Israeli startups know better than to wait for the government to act. In January, Cigarette conglomerate Philip Morris International announced that it will invest $20 million in Syqe Medical, an Israeli start-up that developed the world’s first precision metered dose inhaler for medical use, according to Israeli news site Calcalist.

In January, Eybna, a local cannabis startup announced that has developed natural terpene based cannabis flavors, free of illegal traces, ​with the intention of selling them as a branded component to product manufacturers around the world. Terpenes are the aromatic compounds that give each cannabis strain its unique smell and flavor

According to Nadav Eyal, CEO and cofounder of Eybna, the company’s proprietary technology is a game-changer.

“Until today all methods of isolating cannabis terpenes left traces of other illegal compounds found in cannabis like THC in the final product, but now Eybna’s proprietary technology enables the creation of natural strain-specific cannabis terpenes that are 100% free of illegal traces, meaning that using our technology, brands can now create cannabis flavored and scented products legally worldwide.”

Israel’s cannabis industry is booming, but the government needs to do a better catching up. While the government has woken up to the needs of the industry, it will take a while before Israeli legislation will be modified to meet the needs of the country’s dynamic cannabis research and startup ecosystems.

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VIA TechCrunch

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19Jan/161

Prescription painkiller deaths fall in medical marijuana states

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Researchers aren’t sure why, but in the 23 U.S. states where medical marijuana has been legalized, deaths from opioid overdoses have decreased by almost 25 percent, according to a new analysis.

“Most of the discussion on medical marijuana has been about its effect on individuals in terms of reducing pain or other symptoms,” said lead author Dr. Marcus Bachhuber in an email to Reuters Health. “The unique contribution of our study is the finding that medical marijuana laws and policies may have a broader impact on public health.”

California, Oregon and Washington first legalized medical marijuana before 1999, with 10 more following suit between then and 2010, the time period of the analysis. Another 10 states and Washington, D.C. adopted similar laws since 2010.

For the study, Bachhuber, of the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the University of Pennsylvania, and his colleagues used state-level death certificate data for all 50 states between 1999 and 2010.

In states with a medical marijuana law, overdose deaths from opioids like morphine, oxycodone and heroin decreased by an average of 20 percent after one year, 25 percent by two years and up to 33 percent by years five and six compared to what would have been expected, according to results in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Meanwhile, opioid overdose deaths across the country increased dramatically, from 4,030 in 1999 to 16,651 in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Three of every four of those deaths involved prescription pain medications.

Of those who die from prescription opioid overdoses, 60 percent have a legitimate prescription from a single doctor, the CDC also reports.

Medical marijuana, where legal, is most often approved for treating pain conditions, making it an option in addition to or instead of prescription painkillers, Bachhuber and his coauthors wrote.

In Colorado, where recreational growth, possession and consumption of pot has been legal since 2012 and a buzzing industry for the first half of 2014, use among teens seems not to have increased (see Reuters story of July 29, 2014 here: reut.rs/1o040NI).

Medical marijuana laws seem to be linked with higher rates of marijuana use among adults, Bachhuber said, but results are mixed for teens.

But the full scope of risks, and benefits, of medical marijuana is still unknown, he said.

“I think medical providers struggle in figuring out what conditions medical marijuana could be used for, who would benefit from it, how effective it is and who might have side effects; some doctors would even say there is no scientifically proven, valid, medical use of marijuana,” Bachhuber said. “More studies about the risks and benefits of medical marijuana are needed to help guide us in clinical practice.”

Marie J. Hayes of the University of Maine in Orno co-wrote an accompanying commentary in the journal.

“Generally healthcare providers feel very strongly that medical marijuana may not be the way to go,” she told Reuters Health. “There is the risk of smoke, the worry about whether that is carcinogenic but people so far haven’t been able to prove that.”

There may be a risk that legal medical marijuana will make the drug more accessible for kids and smoking may impair driving or carry other risks, she said.

“But we’re already developing Oxycontin and Vicodin and teens are getting their hands on it,” she said.

If legalizing medical marijuana does help tackle the problem of painkiller deaths, that will be very significant, she said.

“Because opioid mortality is such a tremendously significant health crisis now, we have to do something and figure out what’s going on,” Hayes said.

The efforts states currently make to combat these deaths, like prescription monitoring programs, have been relatively ineffectual, she said.

“Everything we’re doing is having no effect, except for in the states that have implemented medical marijuana laws,” Hayes said.

People who overdose on opioids likely became addicted to it and are also battling other psychological problems, she said. Marijuana, which is not itself without risks, is arguably less addictive and almost impossible to overdose on compared to opioids, Hayes said.

Adults consuming marijuana don’t show up in the emergency room with an overdose, she said. “But,” she added, “we don’t put it in Rite Aid because we’re confused by it as a society.”

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VIA Reuters

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