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The 420 Experience: Resources and Research on Cannabis

This research guide aims to both summarize resources on campus and to provide resources for further reading based on multiple frames of analysis: health/medicine, economics, (de)criminalization, among others.

The 420 Experience: 4/20/2016

Screenshot of email advertising the event

Presenters included:

  • Kathy Siwicki, Professor of Neurobiology
    • Professor Siwicki talked about the neurobiology of marijuana, looking at the biology of how cannabinoids interact with our brain systems, and relationships between these biological data and the psychoactive effects of marijuana.
    • Delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol, otherwise known as THC, the psychoactive molecule in marijuana
    • How does it affect the brain? Let's talk some level 1 neurobiology...
      • THC alters chemical signaling at synapses in the brain
      • THC binds to CB1 (cannabinoid) receptors, acts as an inhibitor
        • Question: Does the sensitivity of these receptors vary with age?
        • Answer: Number of receptors might vary with age, sensitivity, not so much
      • These receptors are not localized in the brain, but are present everywhere
    • This understanding of neurobiology allows us to understand the psychoactive effects in the brain
      • Effects in the frontal lobe, which affects social inhibitions, judgment, etc. leads to increased talkativeness
      • Additional studies needed, but marijuana usage seems to accentuate what the user is already feeling. Ex. if you're feeling anxious, you may become more anxious.
      • Contrast with cocaine, which targets a very specific part of the brain (nucleus accumbens system)
    • Long term effects are hard to document because not many researchers are conducting these studies
      • Increased risk of schizophrenia development for extended use by teenagers
      • Why? Because schizophrenia is associated with the abnormal development of the brain
    • Prof Siwicki rounded out her segment by talking addressing the current climate in PA; hard to study effects of the drug on conditions when the drug is hard to acquire! Only hundreds of studies done, no comparison to the number of studies done on substances such as nicotine and alcohol
  • Joshua Ellow, Alcohol and Other Drugs Counselor and Educator
  • Benjamin Smith, Visiting Assistant Professor and Section Head, Arabic
    • Professor Smith discussed a personal side of the medical marijuana issue: his mother's struggle with chronic pain and the relief available to her in the state of Rhode Island through medical marijuana usage.
    • "My parents are now caretakers for other patients, and are involved in advocacy in Rhode Island and nationally, in order to raise awareness of the benefits of medical marijuana for those who suffer from chronic pain and many other conditions."
    • Mom was one of the first patients to get a license for MMJ, due to chronic pain
      • one of the problems is that she can't metabolize certain medications
    • Rhode Island has some odd rules/regulation around marijuana
      • Permitted licenses to grow
    • She was able to get relief to sleep through the night and manage her chronic pain
    • RI has a policy - with the license, able to become caretakers for others who are not able to grow/attain licenses
      • Many different conditions, as mentioned, such as PTSD, MS, etc.
      • It provides relief in different ways for different conditions - interesting to hear that it chemically affects the entire brain, in contrast to medications that are meant to target a certain area
    • Different strains appearing with varying levels of THC and CBD
    • Parents are now involved in the community around MMJ--most important response from patients is that they have a sense of dignity restored in their life due to the relief the feel + lessening of pain
    • Unfortunate that many people are arriving at MMJ as a last resort after various other opiates and drugs with many intense side effects (fatigue, nausea, flu-like symptoms)
    • "I don't think my mother would be alive today if it wasn't for medical marijuana."
  • Ellen Magenheim, Professor of Economics
    • Professor Magenheim addressed the economics issues at play when legal and illegal markets function simultaneously, and how the economics of the market change as public policy changes.
    • Topics Prof Magenheim will address tonight: trends in public policy and marijuana, demand and supply, what we might see in the future.
    • No movement at the federal level; it's interesting that state legislation is more innovative at this time
    • Right now, federal govt classifies marijuana on par with cocaine and heroin
    • Why the gap between state and federal views? Because there are disagreements about the effects of consumption, etc
      • Prof Siwicki chimed in: and the laws are what makes it hard to conduct the studies!
    • It's not that the legalization has driven the illegal markets out of existence--they exist simultaneously
    • Lots of questions, but not many answers:
      • How do prices, quantities, and quality change once there are parallel legal and illegal markets?
      • Are there spillover effects into markets for legal and illegal recreational and/or medical substances?
      • What are the public policy goals and are they being met?
      • What is the effect on state tax revenues?
      • What is the effect on health?
    • Diverse demanders and demand patterns - young, old, recreational, medical
    • Similarly, diverse supply and suppliers
      • Major deregulation coming in CA, big opportunities for big enterprises to become involved
    • At the moment it's very hard to draw real conclusions
    • Mentioned NPR Marketplace segment about sexism in the marijuana growing industry
    • Demand is inelastic
      • If demand goes up, will it start to be considered a luxury item, like caviar and cosmetic surgery?
    • Crowd-sourced data on cost on ThePriceOfWeed.com
    • Too many data problems with many current economic studies
    • Trying to present a sense of the questions that economists would want to answer
    • Was able to find empirical evidence on consumption
      • For adults: marijuana is a substitute for opioids and large amounts of alcohol; there is a significant drop in opioid and alcohol related deaths when marijuana is used instead
      • For youth: marijuana is a complement
    • "What do we know? Nothing with certainty."

Campus Life and Cannabis

College Prowler: Swarthmore College--Off the Record
Published in 2005; how do you think campus life has changed (or not)?

Campus Policy on Alcohol and Other Drugs
Student Handbook, updated annually


In student news: