2019 Cannabis News In Review

 A lot has happened in the cannabis space during 2019. The wave of cannabis legalization and decriminalization has continued to roll in. Thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill that made growing hemp legal in the US, the CBD industry has exploded. Science is unearthing new information about cannabis, and new conversations and dialogues are sprouting up surrounding that information. Too much has happened to cover it all in detail, but here are some of the most important things that happened to cannabis this year:

CBD Boom

Many of the health claims being made by CBD proponents haven’t been scientifically proven yet, but that hasn’t stopped the cannabinoid from enjoying a meteoric rise in popularity. Restaurants have started selling CBD-infused beverages and foods, and pure CBD supplements are just about everywhere, even appearing in major retailers like Walmart and King Soopers in the US. There are even CBD beauty products and supplements intended for pets. 

Regulations regarding CBD are constantly changing and relaxing, allowing more people access to CBD. And, despite the difficulties that scientists face when researching CBD, they are making new progress. For example, a study published on May 21 showed that CBD may be effective in reducing drug cravings in people with heroin use disorder.

Debate Over Cannabis Use During Pregnancy

In January, a surprising study revealed that 30% of pregnant women did not believe that cannabis use during pregnancy posed any threat to their developing fetuses. This seems like an odd assumption, considering that cigarettes, alcohol, and other drugs are all known to be harmful during pregnancy. The misconception that cannabis was different is likely a result of cannabis’ reputation for being generally harmless, plus a lack of specific research into this issue. A study published in April showed that babies whose mothers use cannabis during pregnancy are more likely to have developmental issues with learning, memory, and behavior.

Legal Progress

In 2019, the wave of cannabis legalization and decriminalization continued. Brazil legalized cannabis-derived medical products, and Guam legalized the plant for recreational use. In April, Israel decriminalized cannabis. In the US, recreational use was legalized in Illinois and Michigan, and it was decriminalized in New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, and Hawaii. In June, Ireland legalized medical cannabis for a temporary 5-year program. In September, the Australian Capital Territory became the first Australian territory to legalize recreational cannabis, although the new law won’t take effect until January 31, 2020. In Norway, cannabis is still punished with a fine and a black mark on the user’s criminal record, but the government has mandated that the drug be decriminalized before January 1, 2020. 

In addition to the laws that have been passed, dozens of initiatives and pieces of legislation were introduced in 2019, including 27 US states’ bills that would have legalized cannabis. Many of these bills failed. However, the fact that reform legislation is being created is more proof of further progress. In the US, multiple acts were introduced in the branches of the federal government, aiming to de-schedule and legalize cannabis on a federal level. It hasn’t happened yet, but it is almost certainly on the way. 

Cannabis And Schizophrenia Findings

Several studies that had been conducted in the past came into the public eye in 2019. These studies showed a correlation between cannabis use and schizophrenia – however, the studies also take care to note that this doesn’t necessarily point to a causation. The correlation is dependent on age of first use, frequency of use, and the potency of the cannabis. Fortunately, the correlation seems to shrink or disappear in users who do not start using cannabis until adulthood. So, wait until you’re 21 and you shouldn’t have to worry. 

Canada’s Legal Cannabis Revamp

On October 17 – one year exactly after Canada first legalized cannabis – the government enacted some revisions and additions to the law. When cannabis was legalized in 2018, cannabis flower was the only product that could legally be sold. The new additions to the law regulate the processing, production, distribution, and sale of derivate products like edibles, vapes, beverages, concentrates, and topicals. 

Vape-Related Illnesses

In the US, there was a mid-year outbreak of “e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury,” or EVALI. It’s a mouthful, so instead it was commonly referred to as “vaping illness.” As of November 20, 2019, there have been 2,290 cases of the illness across 49 states, and 47 deaths. Many of these cases occurred as a result of using black-market vape juices, but not all. The Center for Disease Control has found that vitamin E acetate is the culprit. As long as that ingredient is not present, there seems to be little risk associated with vaping. However, the incident has exposed a need for more research into the health risks that may or may not be posed by vaping, as well as a need for tighter regulations.

Cannabis And Terpene Education

There’s a ton we don’t know about cannabis, and because the drug is often restricted, it’s very difficult for scientists to do research that needs to be done. Progress to uncover new information is slow, but it is happening. Even so, 2019 was a great year for cannabis education. With Canada’s recent legalization and increasing public acceptance of cannabis came an increase in people’s curiosity. Tons of sites (like this one) sprang up to satisfy that curiosity, and the information that we do have on cannabis is now all over the internet, within easy reach of anyone who needs or wants to know. That is a victory.

One of the most interesting trends in 2019 regarding cannabis education was the spread of all the information regarding terpenes. We learned that terpenes play an essential role in determining how a strain smells and how it affects the user. We also learned that the indica/sativa distinction isn’t actually helpful – since sativas and indicas have interbred so much, looking at a strain’s terpene makeup is a much better way to predict a strain’s effects. Leafly even rolled out a new categorization system based on that idea, which is likely to change the way people talk about cannabis in 2020.

Science is making progress toward discovering more of the secrets that the cannabis plant holds – both the positives and the negatives. The knowledge that we have about cannabis is circulating, and we are making progress toward a more well-educated and knowledgeable public. Laws are continuing to change. Looking back on 2019, we can see that the world is making definite strides toward a safer, more responsible relationship to cannabis. Here’s hoping we can say the same next year!

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