Monday, October 24, 2016

Big Pharma shells out to block cannabis legalisation

It's always been interesting to see who spends money to fight legalisation - big pharma, the alcohol industry and police and jail unions - all keen on scaring the public to increase their budgets and profits.
Here's the latest in the saga, as Arizona takes the plunge.

"For big pharma, however, an expanding amount of data explains their fears. Opiate overdoses dropped by roughly 25% in states that have legalized medical marijuana"

The company that produces Fentanyl, 100 times stronger than morphine, is paying big bucks to stall cannabis legalisation.

It's interesting to see the copy used in the anti-cannabis ads. They remind me of ads opposing marriage equality they showed on Gruen. We truly live in a post-truth world.

One ad says: "Colorado schools were promised millions in new revenues when the state approved recreational pot use", says the voiceover in one ad. Instead, schoolchildren were plagued by “marijuana edibles that look like candy."

While the candy-like edibles were definitely a regulatory oversight (now rectified I believe), the ads ignore real benefits like this:

"In Colorado alone, marijuana sales reached $996m in 2015 and raked in $135m in tax revenue. Towns have earmarked the money for road improvements, recreation centers and scholarships for low-income students."

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Legal cannabis revenues deliver major economic boost

The Marijuana Policy Project in the USA has been researching legal sales revenues for cannabis.
In the report, Arcview found that the legal marijuana market grew from $4.6 billion in 2014 to $5.7 billion in 2015, while also projecting that the 2016 market will be $7.1 billion. This incredible growth is the result of enacting new state-level marijuana laws, mostly driven by MPP.
These results must cause fiscal conservatives and prohibitionists some discomfort as it becomes more and more obvious that their ideology robs the public purse and makes their beloved tax cuts less feasible. Wedged and on the wrong side of history!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

NSW population study of medicinal cannabis challenges the official program

Further to my previous post, which questioned the approach to medicinal cannabis research being taken by the Mike Baird government, the ABC reported today on a Sydney University study in which parents of epileptic children who are being treating with the illegal substance are being asked to tell their stories.

I had been wondering why the academic conducting the official research, Professor Jennifer Martin from Newcastle University, had published the opinion piece (linked above) years before her research was complete. The piece talked up the risks of the drug and argued for the Big Pharma approach of finding selected molecules from cannabis and offering them as a (presumably) patented medicine. Academics usually go public only when research is complete and has been peer-reviewed.

When I heard today's news a penny dropped. Perhaps the Sydney University study, looking at actual users of the whole oil, might threaten the direction Mike Baird and Professor Martin have taken?

Ms Martin claimed:
There seems to be a sudden rush to make it available, as if the world was going to run out, or the evidence to use it was new and overwhelmingly good. Sadly, none of this is a reality. There is no new evidence.
If that's what the professor and her colleagues think, perhaps they are concerned that more such evidence will emerge from the Sydney University study, and that could disrupt and discredit their own line of research?

Such internecine rivalry is not unknown in academia. This might explain the unusual opinion piece with its several questionable arguments - an attempt to sway public opinion to the conservative, Big Pharma prohibitionist side.

 Given the wealth of anecdotal evidence about the efficacy of medicinal cannabis, the parents of afflicted children may not agree with Professor Martin and her view that "we already have safe and effective therapies available" and there is no need to hurry with legalisation.

One mother of a child with severe epilepsy, quoted in the ABC story, reports:
Within a week the seizures had gone from 20 or 30 big ones a day and 100 little ones, to probably four in a week - it was amazing.
Perhaps that mother is lying, but what on earth would she gain from that? She's risking a lot outing herself as a buyer of an illegal substance. If she's not lying, Professor Martin's assertions seem both highly contestable and distinctly lacking empathy.

And of course Professor Martin seems to fall into the old prohibitionist fallacy: that cannabis should remain illegal because there is no evidence of its medical benefits, while on the other hand there is little evidence because the substance is illegal and unbiased research on it has been actively suppressed by prohibitionist governments.

Professor Martin falsely conflates medical cannabis - which, properly produced, has little or no psychoactive effect and is usually taken as oil - with smoking marijuana recreationally. Even the picture with her article shows chopped green cannabis, ready to smoke, next to a baby monitor. Scary perhaps but quite misleading.

Monday, August 15, 2016

NSW is legalising medical cannabis - so why is it devolving into a Big Pharma spinfest?

Something very strange is happening in NSW. To the surprise of many, Liberal Premier Mike Baird last year announced he would legalise medical cannabis. He cited the plight of Lucy Haslam from Tamworth whose son had an incurable fatal condition and who received palliation from cannabis oil where normal treatments had failed. Her sterling activism had apparently shifted the mountain, although her son has sadly since passed away.

This seemed strange because Mike Baird appears to be in lockstep with Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione, and the police always oppose any moves to legalise cannabis because they garner huge budgets from prohibition. And Big Pharma always opposes it because anyone can grow it and it might threaten sales of their own drugs. In fact that's happening - the use of pharmaceutical painkillers is dropping rapidly in US states which have legalised medical cannabis.

But wait. People in the know tell me that actual cannabis oil will not be legalised - the research ball has been thrown to the pharmaceutical industry to extract relevant molecules from cannabis and produce medicines accordingly.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The real risks of drug driving and drunk driving

With the NSW police tripling their drug-driving tests, especially targeting cannabis, it's worth noting the actual risks involved.

In summary, cannabis increases the risk of a fatal accident: 1.8x

Opioids: 3x

Stimulants including meth: 3.7x

Benzos (Valium etc): 4.8x

Alcohol at .02 Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) - which is legal for most drivers: 4x

Alcohol at 0.8 BAC: 13x

Alcohol at 0.16 BAC: 35x

[As an interesting aside, people with Sleep Apnea are 7-8 times more likely to crash a car than people without the condition - As reported on ABC's PM program 4/7/2016]

Full details below courtesy of Paul Dessauer:

Drug use and fatal motor vehicle crashes:
A case-control study.
Guohua Li et al
Accident Analysis and Prevention Sept 2013

<<< ABSTRACT Drugged driving is a serious safety concern, but its role in motor vehicle crashes has not been adequately studied. Using a case-control design, the authors assessed the association between drug use and fatal crash risk. Cases (n=737) were drivers who were involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes in the continental United States during specific time periods in 2007, and controls (n=7719) were participants of the 2007 National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers. Overall, 31.9% of the cases and 13.7% of the controls tested positive for at least one non-alcohol drug. The estimated odds ratios of fatal crash involvement associated with specific drug categories were 1.83 [95% confidence interval (CI): 1.39, 2.39] for marijuana, 3.03 (95% CI: 2.00, 4.48) for narcotics, 3.57 (95% CI: 2.63, 4.76) for stimulants, and 4.83 (95% CI: 3.18, 7.21) for depressants. Drivers who tested positive for both alcohol and drugs were at substantially heightened risk relative to those using neither alcohol nor drugs (Odds Ratio=23.24; 95% CI: 17.79, 30.28). These results indicate that drug use is associated with a significantly increased risk of fatal crash involvement, particularly when used in combination with alcohol. >>>

Full text available;
https://www.cuinjuryresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Li-et-al-AAP-2013.pdf​

Drivers who tested positive for cannabis (detected either as actual THC in blood or THC-COOH metabolites in saliva) were found to have a 1.81:1 odds ratio – this equates to roughly an 81% greater chance of a fatal accident. Another way to express this is that a driver’s current cannabis intoxication increases the risk of road fatality by 1.8 times.

The study also examined prescribed pharmaceuticals and illicit drugs in the following classes;

Opioids such as morphine, oxycodone and hydrocodone were found to have an odds ratio of 3.03:1, ( or three times the risk) of fatal crash.

Stimulants such as methamphetamine, dexamphetamine, methylphenidate and phentermine have a 3.57:1 odds ratio, ( >three and a half times the risk)

Benzodiazepines such as valium or alprazolam registered a 4.83:1 risk, (nearly five times the risk).

The study compared these risk levels to alcohol, alone and in combination with other substances;

Alcohol, absent any other drug in the driver’s system, had an odds ratio of 13.64:1 (more than thirteen and a half times the risk of a sober driver).

This risk was even worse in drivers with alcohol and other drugs in their system- averaged over all it was 3.41:1.
Cannabis plus alcohol recorded the highest risk of all- this combination had an odds ratio of 23.24:1 (which is roughly equivalent to the risk associated with a driver who has not consumed cannabis or any other drugs, but who has a blood alcohol level of 0.1)

Just to put these figures into perspective, cannabis alone increased the risk of a fatal collision by 1.8 times.

Drivers with a blood alcohol content of 0.02 (BAC)  have a risk of fatal collision 4 times greater than sober drivers.
(Of course, in Australia we let people with a BAC of up to 0.05 drive on our roads every day).

A blood alcohol level of 0.08 BAC increases risk of fatality 13 times.
(In many US states this is still the legal limit).

A BAC of 0.12 increases risk by 25 times.

A BAC of 0.16 increases risk 35 times.

http://www.wigmoreonalcohol.com/meta-analysis-of-fmvc-risk-at-low-bac/

Alcohol intoxication is responsible for approximately ¼ of all motor vehicle fatalities.

There is an excellent discussion of cannabis, alcohol, and motor vehicle fatalities, including some of the confounders, (such as age and gender), and the uncertainties (eg serum levels of THC are a less effective measure of impairment than blood alcohol levels),  here;
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2722956/

Please be aware that I do not endorse driving under the influence of any psychoactive drug. Except perhaps coffee.
Please be aware that I do endorse and advocate for evidence-based policy.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Drug testing drivers doesn't work, but Duncan Gay doesn't care

"Evidence-based" seems to be a term not comprehended by some NSW Coalition ministers, especially the National Party's Duncan Gay, Roads Minister.

The decision to drastically ramp up drug testing on NSW drivers, despite the program being almost farcically ineffective, demonstrates again the ideological fairyland inhabited by Gay and his colleagues.

Too bad for the victims of this pogrom.

Greens MLC David Shoebridge has posted a comprehensive rebuttal of the program which should be read by all drivers, especially Duncan Gay.

But it's a cinch the man who just increased penalties for bike-riders by 350% won't bother. After all, those pesky bike-riders all probably smoke dope anyway, right Duncan? And after all, the rash of 4WDs being written off by cyclists just demands action, right?

You're an intellectual giant mate.