Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sex Differences In Pain Relief with Cannabis

Photos by Larry Utley of a bipolar woman experiencing pain relief with cannabis.
Her face is shown pre-treatment (left) and at 30 and 60 seconds after smoking.

Less than 10% of neurological and pharmacological research is conducted on females in the US, says Dr. Rebecca Craft of Washington State University. Her lab is working to help correct that imbalance, by studying the effects of THC on male and female rats.

Craft's lab took healthy rats, 10 males and 10 females, and dosed them every 15 minutes with THC. At each dosage level, researchers did two tests for acute pain: putting the rats’ tails in 122-degree water and measuring how quickly they pulled their tails out; and applying pressure to their paws and measuring at what level of pressure they retracted their paws. As expected, the analgesic effect of THC increased at higher levels in both sexes, but to a greater extent in females.

Researchers then did a nine-day experiment, injecting the rats twice daily with THC in an amount determined to produce 80% of maximal analgesia (a lesser amount for females). The pain experiments were then repeated, in order to study to what extent tolerance to THC’s pain-relieving effects had taken place. It took more THC to show a pain-relieving response in rats that had received chronic doses, and this effect was also more pronounced in females.

Taken together with a recent study showing that women using cannabis daily reported a higher incidence of “abuse related effects” than men,  Dr. Craft’s work has been reported as being cautionary for women using cannabis medicinally. However Dr. Craft says that it’s hard to relate results, or doses, between acute pain studies in rodents and chronic pain in humans. For example, the opposite effect is found for morphine: male rats are more susceptible to its acute effects and develop greater tolerance, but the same sex difference has not been found in humans.

It’s been theorized that the hormone estradiol in menstruating females is responsible for the observed differences in cannabinoid effects, possibly through the mechanism of beta-arrestin2, an intracellular signaling molecule that interacts with the CB1 cannabinoid receptor in the brain. But some studies Craft’s lab has been working on indicate that sex hormones aren’t responsible for sex differences in tolerance to THC’s pain-relieving effects, although they may have a role in its sedative effects. Also, in rats a different enzyme metabolizes THC into its main active metabolite 11-OH-THC in males and females, but in humans, the enzyme is the same for both sexes.

Dr. Rebecca Craft of WSU
Dr. Craft’s next study will be working with a chronic pain model in rats, mimicking the inflammatory pain of rheumatoid arthritis. Chronic pain models in rodents have also been developed for neuropathic pain of the type experienced by chemotherapy patients and diabetes sufferers.

The work is important: women are more likely to present with chronic pain issues, for diseases like fibromyalgia, IBS, MS and migraine as well as the depression that comes with pain. Craft is encouraged by NIDA’s recent pronouncement that the agency will be providing more cannabis for research. Her work is funded by a NIDA grant.

More human research is needed, Dr. Craft stresses, and also more research on females in both human and animal studies. The NIH has recently announced it will require sex-balancing in upcoming studies.

Pointing to these developments, and to the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana that is happening across the US, Craft predicts, “We will see an explosion of information in the coming decades.”

Saturday, September 20, 2014

RIP Polly Bergen

Actress, activist and businesswoman Polly Bergen has died at 84. 

Bergen played an enlightened mother who bakes pot brownies for her cancer-stricken daughter on Desperate Housewives. During Episode 3, Season 4 of Desperate Housewives ("The Game"), Lynette (played by Felicity Huffman) gets seriously stoned on her mom Stella's baked goods. Spongebob Squarepants epiphanies, charades and platitudes follow. The show originally aired on October 14, 2007.

Not quite the square she often played, Bergen experimented with LSD along with Cary Grant and Esther Williams, as an aid to psychotherapy back when it was legal. 

According to film critic Rex Reed, Bergen was a women's rights advocate. “She and Gloria Steinem teamed up to raise money and educate people as to the needs of women,” Reed told the LA Times. “She went many times to the White House and spoke before the Senate and at other other functions. She encouraged people to vote -- that was important to her.” She knocked on doors for Hillary Clinton, and Planned Parenthood was a cause particularly close to her heart. Bergen had three adopted children. 

The brunette beauty is known for her role as a wife terrorized by Robert Mitchum in Cape Fear; she later appeared as Mitchum's wife in the miniseries "War and Remembrance." She was the first woman to play a US President, in 1964's Kisses for My President. When Geena Davis portrayed a woman president in the 2005 TV drama "Commander in Chief," Bergen was cast as her mother.

Bergen suffered from emphysema due to heavy cigarette smoking, which interfered with her singing career. She wrote books about beauty and fashion, and started a cosmetic company that she later sold to FabergĂ©. 

(I misreported here that Bergen played Johnny Depp's grandmother in Cry Baby. Instead, she played the square grandmother who gets corrupted by the "evil influences" of her town. Apologies to Susan Tyrrell, who played Ramona Ricketts so well.)

Myrna Loy and Marijuana

Loy (with back to camera) talks to a pothead with Columbo looking on. 
The 1972 season premiere of the popular TV show Columbo has an interesting exchange about marijuana, featuring movie queen Myrna Loy.

Loy plays a society lady who heads the local symphony board, interviewing a horn player who's been implicated in a murder. Asked about his shady associations, he says of his friends, "Well some of them have been busted for grass...I smoke grass sometimes, just like you drink gin. Didn't you ever have a drink of gin during prohibition when gin was illegal?" Her only response was, "Let's not get smart about how old I am."

Born Myrna Adele Williams in Helena, Montana in 1905, Loy was 28 when alcohol prohibition ended in 1933. She began her career as a dancer during the pre-production code silent film days when she played exotic femme fatales. According to Wikipedia, she was an extra in 1925's Pretty Ladies, in which she and fellow newcomer Joan Crawford entered hanging from a chandelier. In 1929, she played Princess Yasmani, who heads a band of muslim rebels in The Black Watch, and a dancer named Azuri in The Desert Song, which was scrubbed of its sexual innuendoes and homosexual themes before it was re-released later.

Loy's earlier, exotic look in the pre-code days.
Loy is most known for playing the urbane Nora Charles in The Thin Man movies of the '40s, opposite William Powell as a hard-drinking, smooth-talking detective. In the 1932 film Jewel Robbery, Powell plays a thief who sends his marks into giggly submission by offering them his "herbal" cigarettes. "Now inhale deeply," he says to one victim. To another he says, "Two puffs and you'll be hearing soft music... the world will begin to revolve pleasantly."

Loy wasn't necessarily a pothead, but as demonstrated by her willingness to discuss grass (wearing bright green) in the Columbo episode, she was a human rights advocate. She was a personal friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, and stood up against the HUAC Hollywood witch hunt. In later life, she assumed an influential role as Co-Chairman of the Advisory Council of the National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing. In 1948 she became a member of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO, the first Hollywood celebrity to do so.

Columbo, which had a 13-season run, was conceived and written by Richard Levinson and William Link. In 1970, Levinson and Link penned the teleplay for the TV movie "My Sweet Charlie," starring Patty Duke as a bigoted, unwed pregnant teenager who encounters Charlie Roberts, a militant African American attorney falsely accused of murder during a demonstration in rural Texas. The landmark film was made on location in Port Bolivar, Texas.

According to Patty Duke's autobiography, her friendship with Freeman led to rumors of an affair. Marijuana was planted in Duke's Galveston hotel room by locals, though it was quickly determined not to belong to Duke. Texas governor John Connally intervened with local authorities to stop harassment of the production company and Duke. Al Freeman Jr., who played Roberts, also appeared in Finian's Rainbow. (Source: Wikipedia).

“Code of the West,” a documentary on the Montana medical marijuana debate that took center stage in the 2011 legislative session, premiered at the Myrna Loy Center in Helena, which sponsors live performances and alternative films for under-served audiences.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

RIP Joan Rivers, Forever Outrageous

Joan Rivers, a breakthrough artist who was the first comedienne to perform at Carnegie Hall, has died at age 81.

As well as her stand-up career, which continued well past retirement age, Rivers was a prolific writer. She authored the films The Girl Most Likely To... and Rabbit Test, which she directed. She also wrote 12 books, starting with Having a Baby Can Be A Scream and the best-selling The Life and Hard Times of Heidi Abramowitz. She appeared on the Late Night with Seth Meyers to promote her final book, Diary of a Mad Diva, on August 4.

"My heart is torn in half. She wasn't done," tweeted Sarah Silverman, who just showed off her vape pen before picking up a writing Emmy for her new HBO special. Silverman and Jimmy Kimmel traded insults in Joan's honor on a guest appearance where Silverman's "clutch cam" moment at the Emmys was reprised.

As self-deprecating as Phyllis Diller before her, Rivers was a favorite of Johnny Carson while telling jokes like, "At 30, a woman is an 'old maid'; at 90, a man is still 'a catch.'" But when Rivers accepted an offer for her own talk show on the Fox network, produced by her husband Edgar, Johnny never spoke to her again. Edgar committed suicide after Joan's show was cancelled, leaving her to raise their daughter Melissa alone. She did what she could after that, turning her shrewd eye outwards, and was open about the plastic surgeries she endured to stay viewable.

Rivers won an Emmy for her daytime talk show, and was nominated for Drama Desk and Tony awards for her performance in the title role of “Sally Marr ... and Her Escorts,” a 1994 Broadway play based on the life of VIP Lenny Bruce’s mother. Later, she won Celebrity Apprentice, headed the hilarious Fashion Police and did a reality TV show with her daughter Melissa.

It was on her reality show that Rivers smoked pot in 2012.  When TMZ asked her who else she'd smoked with back in the day, she replied, "Oh, Betty White, George Carlin, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby...we had fun."

Rivers and Lily Tomlin were the two females picked to honor Carlin after, a few days before his death, he was awarded the Mark Twain prize for humor. That night, she said of Carlin, "We met in Greenwich Village, but we couldn't pinpoint the date because he was high on acid and I was totally wasted."

“Can we talk?” was Rivers's catch phrase, and she talked up a storm about marijuana on an Access Live appearance (below), where she says she loves marijuana "because it makes you giggly," but that she rarely smoked it because "it makes you eat." But interestingly, a new study says that although females seem more sensitive to marijuana, it's males who most often get the munchees.

Monday, September 1, 2014

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: "Life of Crime" with Jennifer Aniston

Tokin' Woman Jennifer Aniston stars in Life of Crime, the new film by Elmore Leonard (Get Shorty), in which she plays a society wife kidnapped by a couple of pot-smoking Detroit hoods.

Jen pulls off what could be a stereotypical role with pluck and heart, aided by supporting cast starting with her heinous husband (Tim Robbins) and his scheming girlfriend (Isla Fisher, who played Mary Jane in the Scooby Doo movie and Myrtle in The Great Gatsby). Also in the film are SNL's Will Forte, Mark Boone Junior from Sons of Anarchy, and rapper Mos Def (aka yaslin bey).

I particularly like the scenes where Aniston's character Mickey gives the Peeping Tom Nazi who has her imprisoned what he deserves, and where she has a little fun laughing at the classic Sanford and Son scene involving marijuana. In the film, as so often in life, smoking a little weed leads to a woman looking at the world in a different, better way. Nicely, subtly done.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Why Take Marijuana (or Alcohol)? Researchers Want to Know

Maybe I'm just trying to make up for the bikini shot I posted last night (hey, it had pot leaves on it!) but I spent my Friday night wonkily reading results from some interesting research published in 1976, when marijuana was still spelled with an "h" (see above).

Researchers from Stanford University and the Veteran's Administration in Palo Alto put 220-item questionnaires into the mailboxes of an entering class of first-year law students and of medical students and house officers at the University hospital. The questionnaire asked respondents to rate each of 38 possible effects of marijuana or alcohol as a major reason to take it, a minor reason, not a reason, or having no effect. Forms were returned anonymously. The data gathered are based on the 51 respondents who used both marijuana and alcohol with a frequency of greater than once a month for some six-month period of their life. 

Ranked in order of the percentage who cited the effect as a major reason for taking the drug, marijuana’s top effect was “increases enjoyment of sights and sounds,” with 45% of respondents calling that a major reason for using it; this effect didn’t make the cut for alcohol users. The top reason for using alcohol was “increases my feeling of sociability,” which appears ninth in the rankings for marijuana.

Coming in at #2 for alcohol was “relieves anxiety or tension,” something not attributed to marijuana as a reason for use. For marijuana, “enables me to experience a different state of consciousness” was the #2 reason; for alcohol that was #6. “Makes me feel euphoric” earned large enough percentages to rank #3 on both lists.

The research was supported by a National Institute for Mental Health grant and the VA administration. It found that marijuana had several effects like, “enables me to think more creatively,” “enables me to get insight into myself,” and “provides philosophic or religious insights” which weren’t attributed to alcohol. "Marihuana is valued as a drug for experiencing and thinking about things in a new way," the authors wrote. "Since much of psychotherapy is based on helping people to achieve new perspectives and insights, marihuana might be considered as an aid for psychological problem solving and growth." 

While 17% of respondents said alcohol “makes me feel more attractive to others,” only 26% said alcohol “enhances sexual sensation” while 70% said marijuana did (as a major or minor reason). "When performance anxiety leads to male impotence or female frigidity, marihuana might enhance sexual sensation, permitting enough success to break out of the vicious circle of failure leading to anxiety leading to further failure." Take that, Viagra. (No bikini required.)  

Walton T. Roth
Jared R. Tinklenberg
Bert S. Kopell

Dept of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Stanford University
Veterans Administration Hospital
Palo Alto

Supported by a NIMH grant and the VA administration.

The Therapeutic Potential of Marijuana, 1976
Edited by Sidney Cohen and Richard C. Stillman
Plenum Medical Book Co, NY and London

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Beauty in a Bhang-Leaf Bikini

Dutch model and TV personality Sylvie van der Vaart (aka Sylvie Meis) has been spotted in a pot-leaf bikini (left).

Sylvie may have a medical reason to celebrate marijuana. According to Wikipedia, she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 and underwent surgery and chemotherapy. She reports she is now cancer free.

The bikini's fabric, with blue pot leaves, looks rather like the pot-leaf tie worn by Robin Williams on a 2012 TV appearance. 

"The world is changing… nicely," remarks cannabis historian Michael Aldrich.

Hempy Summer, everyone.