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IACM-Bulletin of 09 March 2014

Science/Human: Controversy over two sudden deaths attributed to cannabis use

Cannabis may cause sudden unexpected death, scientists of the Institutes of Legal Medicine of the Universities of Duesseldorf and Frankfurt claim. In the journal Forensic Science International Dr Benno Hartung and colleagues presented two case reports of young men, who died unexpectedly. Both were tested positive for THC in blood. The first was a 23-year-old man, who collapsed while using public transport. The THC concentration in his blood was 5.2 ng/ml and that of THC-COOH 12.9 ng/ml. In addition, dilatative cardiomyopathy was found. The second case was a 28-year-old man, who was found dead at home. Blood concentrations were 1.9 ng/ml for THC and 10.1 ng/ml for THC-COOH. No specific causes for death were found, such as cardiovascular diseases, in this case. Authors wrote that "to our knowledge, these are the first cases of suspected fatal cannabis intoxications where full post-mortem investigations (…) were carried out.”

The two cases gained much interest in the media; however the causal relationship between cannabis use and the deaths were contested by other experts. In a number of people with sudden unexpected death no causes can be identified and cardiologists talk about “idiopathic ventricular fibrillation,” where idiopathic means a condition the cause of which is not known. Frank Musshoff, a professor at the Institute for Legal Medicine of the University of Bonn and the current president of the German Society of Toxicology and Forensic Chemistry is cited in the newspaper “Die Zeit” that the authors have “presumed to cannabis” since they did not find any other causes. He noted that the THC concentrations were low. It is known that THC increases heart rate and may alter blood pressure, which may be hazardous in people with heart disease. It can be expected that many people have THC in their blood, whether they live or suddenly die. Dr Hartung conceded that such deaths are very rare.

Hartung B, Kauferstein S, Ritz-Timme S, Daldrup T. Sudden unexpected death under acute influence of cannabis. Forensic Sci Int 2014 Feb 14. [in press]

Associated Press of 26 February 2014.

News in brief

Science/Human: Moderate to heavy cannabis use does not influence working memory
In a 3-year study with 22 current heavy cannabis users, 4 abstinent heavy cannabis users after 3 years and 23 non-cannabis-using controls researchers found that cannabis use does not change working-memory network functionality.
Department of Psychology, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Cousijn J, et al. Addict Biol 2014;19(2):282-93.

Science/Animal: CBD may improve cognition in Alzheimer's disease
CBD was used to investigate its effects on memory deficits in a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease. Authors wrote that “this is the first study to investigate the effect of chronic CBD treatment on cognition in an AD transgenic mouse model. Our findings suggest that CBD may have therapeutic potential for specific cognitive impairments associated with AD.”
Neuroscience Research Australia, Randwick, Australia.
Cheng D, et al. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2014 Mar 1. [in press]

USA: Citizens of Alaska will decide on the legalisation of cannabis
Alaska voters will decide this summer whether their state will become the third U.S. state to legalize the sale and recreational use of cannabis for adults under a proposal that officially qualified for a state-wide ballot.
Reuters of 27 February 2014.

USA: Florida and Georgia want to allow cannabis rich in CBD
The Florida House Criminal Justice Committee voted 11-1 in favour of approving a proposal to allow the medical use of cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychotropic cannabinoid. The House of Representatives of Georgia approved a similar legislation in a 171-4 vote.
Reuters of 4 March 2014.
Reuters of 5 March 2014.

Science/Animal: Cannabinoids may be used in bladder inflammation
A synthetic cannabinoid, which selectively binds to the CB2 receptor (JWH015) reduced symptoms in interstitial cystitis, a debilitating bladder inflammation disorder, while a cannabinoid (ACEA), which binds to the CB1 receptor was not effective. Authors wrote that ”these findings strongly suggest that modulation of the cannabinoid CB2 receptors might be a promising therapeutic strategy for the treatment of bladder diseases and conditions characterized by inflammation, such as interstitial cystitis.”
Neuroscienze PharmaNess S.c.a r.l., Pula, Italy.
Tambaro S, et al. EUR J Pharmacol. 2014 Feb 20. [in press]

World: International Narcotics Control Board criticises legalisation of cannabis
The United Nations' drug agency says that the legalization of cannabis in the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington poses a threat to the international fight against drug abuse. In a report published on 4 March, the International Narcotics Control Board said that it "deeply regrets" moves by those two states to lift restrictions on the sale and use of cannabis.
Associated Press of 4 March 2014.

Science/Animal: Endocannabinoids reduce pain
The treatment of rats with a substance (URB597), which inhibits the activity of the enzyme fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) responsible for the degradation of the endocannabinoid anandamide reduces pain. Such inhibitors increase the concentration of endocannabinoids. Authors concluded that “these results suggest that URB597 produces antinociception.”
Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, USA.
Kwilasz AJ, et al. Behav Pharmacol. 2014 Feb 27. [in press]

Science/Animal: THC may reduce working memory in adolescents
In a study with adolescent rhesus monkeys, who received THC for 6 months, researchers found a worse spatial working memory compared to non-treated controls.
Center for Neuroscience, University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.
Verrico CD, et al. Am J Psychiatry. 2014 Feb 28. [in press]

Science: Hemp seed oil high in omega-3 fatty acids and gamma-linolenic acid
Four industrial hemp cultivars (Felina 32, Chamaeleon, Uso31, and Finola) were investigated for oil production in Italy. Felina 32 and Chamaeleon oils exhibited the highest amount of linoleic acid (59%, omega-6 fatty acid) and alpha-linolenic acid (18%, omega-3 fatty acid). Finola and Uso31 oils resulted in the richest of gamma-linolenic acid (5-6%).
Department of Food Science, University of Udine, Italy.
Porto CD, et al. J Diet Suppl. 2014 Feb 19. [in press]

Science/Animal: Cannabinoids may protect nerve cells in the eye
A synthetic cannabinoid (HU-210), which acts similar to THC on both cannabinoid receptors, protected against nerve cell degeneration in the eyes of rats. Authors concluded that “cannabinoids are potentially useful to delay retinal degeneration in RP patients.” RP means retinitis pigmentosa.
Department of Physiology, Genetics and Microbiology, University of Alicante, Spain.
Lax P, et al. Exp Eye Res 2014;120:175-85.

Science/Cells: Beta-caryophyllene increases insulin secretion
Beta-caryophyllene (trans-caryophyllene) activates the CB2 receptor and promotes glucose-stimulated insulin secretion. This substance is present in the essential oils of several plants including cannabis and pepper.
Henan Provincial People's Hospital, Zhengzhou University, China.
Suijun W, et al. Biochem Biophys Res Commun 2014;444(4):451-4.

Science/Animal: The anti-depressant effects of transcranial magnetic stimulation are mediated by the endocannabinoid system
The mode of action of transcranial magnetic stimulation on depression was investigated in rats. Researchers found that its effects were mediated by the CB1 receptor.
Xijing Hospital, Fourth Military Medical University, Shaanxi, China.
Wang HN, et al. J Psychiatr Res 2014;51:79-87.

Science/Animal: CB2 receptor agonists protect against neuropathy caused by paclitaxel
In rats a synthetic CB2 receptor agonist (MDA7) protected against neuropathy caused by the chemotherapeutic agent paclitaxel.
Anesthesiology Institute, Cleveland Clinic, USA.
Xu JJ, et al. Neuroscience 2014;260:185-94.

Science/Animal: The activation of CB1 receptors protects against glutamate toxicity in a model of multiple sclerosis
New research provide further evidence that the CB1 receptor is involved in EAE (experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis), an animal model of multiple sclerosis. Activation of this cannabinoid receptor reduces the damage caused by the neurotransmitter glutamate in this disease.
IRCCS Fondazione Santa Lucia, Rome, Italy.
Musella A, et al. Neuropharmacology 2014;79:567-72.

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