Portugal’s parliament legalizes cannabis-based medicines.

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LISBON (Reuters) – Portugal’s parliament overwhelmingly approved a bill on Friday to legalize marijuana-based medicines, after rejecting earlier proposals to allow patients to grow the drug at home.

Portugal decriminalized the use of all drugs in 2001 to fight a heroin epidemic, and has legal plantations growing marijuana products for export. But it had trailed EU countries such as Italy and Germany, as well as Canada and parts of the United States on medical marijuana.

Only one party, the center-right CDS-PP, abstained in the vote in parliament legalizing marijuana-based prescription drugs to treat chronic pain, post traumatic stress disorder, side effects from cancer therapy, and some other ailments.

The bill now goes to President Marcelo Rebelo de Souza to be signed into law.

All drugs will need a license from regulator Infarmed, the body which last year authorized a medical marijuana plantation in central Portugal growing plants with a high content of psychoactive ingredient THC for export.

Portugal, on the Atlantic coast has a warm temperate subtropical climate, with mild winters, warm summers and lots of sunny days, which is often compared to that of California, making it an ideal place for cannabis cultivation.

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New Study Suggests Marijuana Users Have a Decreased Risk of Atrial Fibrillation and In-Hospital Mortality

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Once upon a time smoking marijuana was considered to be completely detrimental to your health and to be avoided at all costs. Now medical experts are beginning to backtrack a little.

A new study involving more than one million patients has demonstrated that marijuana users actually had a decreased risk of both atrial fibrillation (AFib) and in-hospital mortality following a heart attack. Results of which were presented at the Heart Rhythm Society’s 39th Annual Scientific Sessions last month.

According to federal data, between the years of 2002 and 2014, there’s been a staggering 455% increase in the consumption of marijuana among people in the U.S. aged between 55-64. For those aged 64 and over, there’s been a 333% increase. It’s also estimated that as many as one in eight Americans smoke marijuana.

While previous studies have demonstrated a link between cannabis use and increased heart rate and blood pressure, not much is known about the effects of heart arrhythmias such as VT and VF. VT is a fast but regular heartbeat that may lead to VF which is a fast and irregular beat that could cause sudden cardiac arrest.

The study involved comparing in-hospital outcomes with clinical profiles in both marijuana users and non-marijuana users between the years of 1994 to 2013. All patients were aged between 18-70 years old and all had a primary diagnosis of AMI.

A total of 3,854 patients out of 1,273,897 who were admitted with AMI were marijuana users. The study also revealed that most of these patients were young males. Of those experiencing cardiac arrest of VT/VF, 9.7% were marijuana users and 9.7% weren’t. Of those that had AFib, 4.5% were marijuana users while 8.7% were non-users. The figures for death were 4% and 6% respectively.

“The legalization of marijuana is spreading quickly across the U.S. resulting in more people using it, but we still don’t know the true, long-term impact it has on one’s heart health,” says Christine Tomkins MD, senior author of the study and assistant professor of cardiology medicine at University of Colorado School of Medicine. “Our study is the first to examine the relationship between marijuana use after a heart attack and various arrhythmias and we did not see a negative connection.”

In order to better understand the link between marijuana and arrhythmias in chronic ischemic heart disease patients future studies are needed, note the authors. They also confirm the need to understand how marijuana affects the heart as the number of users over the age of 50 is increasing significantly.

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Boehner says government should ‘get out of the way’ of marijuana.

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WEST CHESTER, Ohio — For decades, John Boehner was against the use of marijuana in any form.

But since he left Congress and did some more research, Boehner has joined a company promoting medical marijuana.

“There’s a lot of evidence that it works,” he said.

Boehner sat down for an interview with WCPO while attending a golf outing fundraiser at Wetherington County Club for the Boys and Girls Club of West Chester Monday. The former House speaker now sits on the advisory board of Acreage Holdings a cannabis company working in 11 states, in addition to his full-time job with the Washington law firm Squire Patton Boggs.

He said the stories of sick children being helped by medical marijuana moved him.

“When you look at kids with epilepsy … they’re taking the non-psychotic part of this plant and reducing the number of seizures they have,” Boehner said.

Boehner also had conversations about medical marijuana with men and women who served in the military.

“Even with chronic pain, or veterans with PTSD, they ought to be able to have access to medical marijuana because we believe it actually helps them,” he said.

Boehner said he believes more research is needed on the issue, but universities won’t touch it because marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug. So it’s up to states.

“When you look at the states where medical marijuana is pretty prevalent, the use of opioids is down 25 percent,” he said.

Even for recreational use, Boehner said the federal government should get out of the way. He said he no longer believes marijuana should be classified as a Schedule 1 drug.

“If the states decide they want to do this, this is up to them, but I am not going to be an advocate on what the states should and should not do,” Boehner said. “That’s clearly up to them.”

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How mapping marijuana DNA could change the future of cannabis.

Scientists hope that a “cannabis genome” could mean better results for growers and patients – but will it allow big pharma to take over?

Scientists are currently in the midst of exploring uncharted territory: The cannabis genome. Unlike with other plants, researchers don’t have a long history of closely analyzing the genetic makeup of the plant. But for the past seven years – as more and more states legalize medical and recreational pot – researchers have been working on producing a high-quality marijuana genome. Everyone from low-level researchers to larger companies are part of this effort, and they say mapping the cannabis genome could be highly beneficial to people who grow or use cannabis.

“No one has any idea what they’re smoking. Everything is name draw, so consumers and patients don’t know what they’re getting,” says Mowgli Holmes, co-founder and CEO of Phylos Bioscience, which has been working on its cannabis genome for over two years. “DNA sequencing uniquely identifies a plant, which allows growers to really tell their customers what plant they’re actually getting.”

Phylos Bioscience released its first reference genome for cannabis at the end of 2016. A team of Canadian researchers had released a cannabis genome in 2011, but, Holmes says, Phylos’ genome was far more complex and detailed. Though it’s been utilized by scientists around the world, Phylos is currently working to release an even more comprehensive genome.

In order to analyze a strain’s DNA, researchers put ground cannabis into a container and then add something called a lysis solution to release genomic DNA from the plant’s cells. From there, the researchers use several other solutions to separate out the different kinds of molecules in the cell so that DNA can be isolated for sequencing.

Phylos has a program where cannabis growers can send samples of their plants to the company to get the plant’s genetic information, which helps growers, and also helps the company add more genetic data to its genome. “We’ve now sequenced thousands of different plants, and we have by far the biggest database of individual plant data,” Holmes said.

Beyond just learning which plants most benefit growers and their customers, creating a comprehensive cannabis genome advances our understanding the medicinal properties of cannabis itself. Once scientists know how the DNA of the plant produces different compounds that can be used for medical purposes, says Holmes, they can breed medical marijuana for more specific purposes.

“The plants genetics control what chemicals they’re going to make,” Holmes says.

Though mapping cannabis’ genome is a large effort, the plant is relatively simple compared to the DNA sequence of other plants. Nolan Kane, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who has worked on the cannabis genome, tells Rolling Stone that other genomes he’s worked are far more complicated.

“The genome itself doesn’t bring challenges that are insurmountable or unique, in the sense of the technical challenges,” Kane said. “It’s actually on the smaller side for a plant genome.”

An employee works in an indoor cultivation facility of Cannabis sativa plants at Medropharm GmbH, in Switzerland.

An employee works in an indoor cultivation facility of Cannabis sativa plants at Medropharm GmbH, pictured in Kradolf-Schoenenberg, Canton of Thurgau, Switzerland, on October 18, 2017.

Kane says the sunflower genome is “3.5 Gigabases” – a measure of the plant’s nucleotides, or its genetic building blocks – which is nearly five times the size of cannabis’ genome. He says plants like pine trees and spruce trees have genomes that are 40 times larger than that of cannabis.

Of course, with all this information there could be some drawbacks. Many worry that certain cannabis strains could be patented by large agricultural or pharmaceutical companies, which could do harm to smaller cannabis growers who fear the legal ramifications of butting heads with their larger counterparts. One of the leading companies that is researching the cannabis genome, Sunrise Genetics, is fully aware of people’s patenting concerns and shares some of those worries.

Some broad patents were given to those looking to protect strains they have developed, and Sunrise argues knowing more about cannabis DNA could actually help invalidate those broad patents.

“One major concern of our company, and in the field in general, is that some of the most recent patents granted for cannabis appear too far-reaching,” says C.J. Schwartz, CEO of Sunrise Genetics. “A recent example is a patent claiming unique combinations of cannabinoid and terpene profiles. How can you say something is unique when there is nothing to compare it against? What if you get those same profiles with a different strain (and a different combination of genes)?”

Sean O’Connor, a law professor who focuses on intellectual property at the University of Washington, says that cannabis patenting by large companies is definitely on the way. “If we get federal legalization… you’re definitely going to see both recreational and pharma folks coming in and trying to patent what they can, and then there is going to be competition and lawsuits,” he says.

O’Connor points out that pharmaceutical companies will be able to isolate strains of cannabis DNA and then create compounds found in cannabis in the lab, and that will result in them patenting many drugs based on their creations.

“Some of the most exciting but controversial research is in isolating and identifying cannabinoids and particular chemical compounds, not THC that gets you high but other things that could have therapeutic benefits, and then folks will… just generate that chemical,” O’Connor said. “They don’t need the whole cannabis plant. What you’ll see is a pharmaceuticalization of medical marijuana.”

With all of the patenting concerns in mind, Holmes of Phylos Bioscience is actually already working to fight off future cannabis patents. An archive of over 1,000 strains he helped create called the Open Cannabis Project is documenting the different strains Holmes and others have sequenced. Since there is evidence these particular strains already exist, it could help prevent those strains from being patented. If someone tries to patent a strain that can be easily found in the database, the patent office would likely not grant the patent, because there would be evidence it’s not new.

“We can’t stop the way patenting works in the world,” Holmes says. “All we can do is make data public and make it hard for people to patent stuff they shouldn’t patent.”

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