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Researchers Developing Vaccine to Fight Opioid Use Disorder |

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Scientists with a new research center at the University of Washington are working on a vaccine to help fight the opioid epidemic in a bid to stem the tide of overdose deaths that has swept the nation over the past two decades. 

Marco Pravetoni, the head of the new UW Medicine Center for Medication Development for Substance Use Disorders, is leading the effort to develop the vaccine. Similar to immunization against an invading pathogen, the vaccine under development would stimulate the body’s immune system to attack and destroy opioid molecules before they can enter the brain. 

Such a vaccine would not prevent drug cravings commonly experienced by those with opioid abuse disorder. But the treatment, if successful, would block the effects of opioids including euphoria, pain relief and even overdose, thus likely reducing abuse.

The new research center opened this month and has raised more than $2 million in initial funding. Pravetoni hopes to raise enough money to complete further research on the vaccine under development.

“What I’m hoping to achieve is pretty much every year, we’re going to start a new clinical trial,” Pravetoni told the Seattle Times in early January.

An Epidemic of Opioid Overdoses

In November, provisional data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that during the 12-month period ending April 2021, 100,306 Americans died of drug overdoses. Synthetic opioids were involved in nearly two-thirds of the overdose deaths reported.

The overdose-reversal drug naloxone has been shown to save lives in emergencies. Additionally, treatments for opioid abuse disorder including methadone and buprenorphine can help those struggling with addiction, although opioid replacement therapy drugs have their own risk of addiction. New treatments could increase the chances of success for those struggling with opioid abuse, according to Rebecca Baker, director of the National Institutes of Health’s Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative, a program that has helped fund Pravetoni’s research.

“(Existing medications) don’t work for everyone. And a lot of people don’t stay on them in the long term,” Baker said. “Would the outcomes be better if we had more options?”

The University of Washington’s opioid vaccine project is building on research published in the journal Nature in 1974. In that study, a rhesus monkey had been trained to self-administer heroin and cocaine. After being given an experimental vaccine to block the effects of heroin, the monkey continued to use cocaine but greatly reduced its use of heroin, suggesting the vaccine had done its job.

That study led to further research into the possibility of creating a vaccine for nicotine addiction. Although early results appeared promising, human trials showed the treatment was only as effective as a placebo. A vaccine developed to fight cocaine addiction saw a similar fate, and neither treatment received approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

Kim Janda, a chemistry and immunology professor at Scripps Research Institute in California, has spent decades researching vaccines against addictive drugs. He believes that continued research could eventually produce an effective vaccine.

“We’ve learned a lot more [about] what is possible, what’s maybe not going to be as fruitful,” Janda said, adding that vaccines may not work against all drugs of abuse. “But if there’s enough money to put behind these vaccines, and you had the infrastructure to do it, then you could move it along fairly quickly.”

This year, Pravetoni and a researcher with Columbia University have launched the first Phase 1 clinical trial of a vaccine to prevent opioid abuse. The safety and efficacy of the vaccine, which is designed to block the effects of oxycodone, is being tested in people who are already addicted but not receiving the disease.

Is an Opioid Vaccine Worth the Cost?

But human drug trials are expensive. Pravetoni estimates that bringing an effective opioid vaccine to market could cost up to $300 million. Some addiction experts, including Dr. Ryan Marino, an emergency medicine physician and medical toxicologist at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, wonder if the money could be better spent.

“It is true that more treatment options are generally better,” Marino told Filter. “But what doesn’t make sense to me—as someone who treats both overdose and addiction—is putting so much funding towards this when we already have an antidote for opioids, a long-acting opioid blocker and two other evidence-based treatment options for opioid use disorder that both reduce opioid use and prevent overdose.”

Harm reduction activists working on the ground with people who have substance abuse disorders say that limited funds could be spent more effectively. Jessica Blanchard, the founder of Georgia a mobile harm reduction program called 229 Safer Living Access, distributes safer sex supplies and naloxone provided by other groups. But she personally covers the other costs to administer the program, which limits its operations substantially.

“With funding, not only could I afford to buy in bulk, greatly reducing cost, but I could also give participants more supplies to share with those unable to make contact with the program,” Blanchard said. “I would pay program participants to do secondary distribution. (They) are the experts here. They express a desire to participate in distributing supplies and educating their peers. But without the ability to compensate them for their time and lived-experiential knowledge, I simply can not ask them to help.”



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Cannabis Compounds Prevented Covid Infection in Recent Laboratory Study

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The two cannabis compounds commonly found in hemp — called cannabigerolic acid, or CBGA, and cannabidiolic acid, or CBDA — were identified during a chemical screening effort as having potential to combat coronavirus, researchers from Oregon State University said. In the study, they bound to spike proteins found on the virus and blocked a step the pathogen uses to infect people.

The researchers tested the compounds’ effect against alpha and beta variants of the virus in a laboratory. The study didn’t involve giving the supplements to people or comparing infection rates in those who use the compounds to those who don’t.

Hemp is a source of fiber, food and animal feed, and extracts are commonly added to cosmetics, body lotions, dietary supplements and food.

“These compounds can be taken orally and have a long history of safe use in humans,” said Richard van Breemen, a researcher with Oregon State’s Global Hemp Innovation Center. “They have the potential to prevent as well as treat infection by SARS-CoV-2,” he said in a statement.

Source: Boomberg

Image: Unsplashed

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Brand Spotlight: Moon Made Farms

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“I’ve always been somebody who was a minority among minorities, being marginalized and also being attracted to marginalized subcultures. Rock ‘n’ roll is where I found my family, and in cannabis, I found another family.” Inspired by the “female expression of the most powerful plant on Earth,” her words, Tina Gordon of Moon Made Farms carved out a cannabis brand, and a name for herself, in Humboldt County, California. But it hasn’t always been this way.

“I was living in San Francisco for most of my adult life, and during that time, I was living a very underground lifestyle with art, music and playing in bands, releasing records, van touring, that kind of thing, for about 20 years,” Gordon said. “I was in a bunch of different punk and metal bands; I did a mobile soundstage, that kind of thing. And I used to do art shows, photography, video. I really dedicated myself to having a full, creative life, to live lean, and to live life to the fullest.”

However, after two decades living that lifestyle, things began to transition. After going through a band break-up and a career shift, she was looking for where to go next. Suddenly, Gordon found herself spending more and more time in Humboldt County instead of the Bay Area, first filming a documentary, then even dating someone in the area and realizing she wanted to spend all of her time there. She also fell in love with growing the cannabis plant, something she never would have tried in her previous life.

“Moon Made Farms acknowledges the feminine in this plant, the moon being a symbol of femininity. The moon has a regular schedule with subtle changes every, single night. So, sun-grown isn’t just about the sun; it’s about the moon and the night cycle as well.”

“I didn’t even have houseplants in San Francisco,” she admitted. “I was really urban. And then when I went through my first season in Humboldt, and I saw this plant grow from seed to full expression, I was completely captivated, and it shifted my awareness to the natural world and how incredible it is. The sensory experience of growing this plant changed my life.”

As she began listening to the earth and the plants she was growing, she started to realize how sacred the relationship between cannabis and grower truly is. Seeing how cannabis thrives when given rain-caught water, fresh air, full sunlight and all the other natural elements that can be granted through outdoor growing in the Emerald Triangle, Gordon knew she had a new obsession. Now, instead of making music and art, she’s all about growing the juiciest, most gorgeous buds. But she never left the social justice element behind.

Gordon started learning permaculture regenerative techniques and working them into her growing to develop more sustainable practices around producing cannabis. As an advocate for outdoor growing, she is always trying to learn more. And as a social justice advocate, she always tries to pull in queer folks, women and other marginalized people to work on her farm.

Photo Credit: Matthew Brightman

“I’ve always been somebody who was a minority among minorities, being marginalized and also being attracted to marginalized subcultures,” Gordon said. “Rock ‘n’ roll is where I found my family, and in cannabis, I found another family. And when something changes your life as much as cannabis, there is a responsibility to pay it forward, a responsibility to do activism work and social justice work and to help educate people about the true value of this plant.

Through education, she wants to make sure that the focus is on sun-grown and natural cannabis, a personal passion.

“Misconceptions about outdoor-grown flower are based on the industry standard,” she said.

“That started because of prohibition, when all the outdoor farmers were forced inside, so indoor farming became the industry standard. Now that we’re emerging out of prohibition, it just feels like the plant should go back outside. Now, during that time, some incredible advancements have happened. A lot has happened in the way of genetics and techniques around this plant, but I would love to see this plant go back outside, and for there to be extensive research done on the properties and potential of what this plant has to offer.

Photo Credit: Debra Keith

Now, Moon Made Farms is known on the market for producing quality, sungrown, sustainable cannabis that stands out from the rest, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work and ethos that Gordon puts into her work. She’s also thrilled that she gets to revisit her musician days and sell merch for her farm, and she loves studying the growth cycle of the plant. As for the moon, to her, it’s a celebration of the feminine within the cannabis plant, the dark within the light.

“Moon Made Farms acknowledges the feminine in this plant, the moon being a symbol of femininity. The moon has a regular schedule with subtle changes every, single night. So, sun-grown isn’t just about the sun; it’s about the moon and the night cycle as well. This is a photosensitive plant. It’s sensitive to light. And that quality of light will affect the plant in every way, so one of the most important things about the plant being grown outside is that exposure to the night sky. And so, Moon Made Farms is acknowledging lunar farming techniques, an ancient way of cultivating all plants, as well as the symbol of the feminine that the moon represents.”

Read this story originally published in High Times July 2021 Issue in our archive.



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Leading political groups and charities call for UK cannabis reform

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The report Regulating Right, Repairing Wrongs: Exploring Equity and Social Justice Initiatives within UK Cannabis Reform, proposes 14 guiding social equity principles that should be integrated in the UK.

The report outlines an evidence-based roadmap to prioritise and protect those most vulnerable to the harms of prohibition in legal recreational markets.

Dr Laura Garius, Policy Lead at Release and one of the paper’s authors, said: “The UK Government’s new drug strategy regurgitated a ‘tough on drugs’ rhetoric, despite the Home Office’s own research concluding that the estimated £1.6 billion spend per year on drug law enforcement is not impacting levels of drug use.

“Change is inevitable – cannabis is the most widely used illicit drug in the UK and the world, and it is simply too lucrative a market for politicians to ignore. However, we must make sure that cannabis will be regulated right.

“The legal renaissance of cannabis is a vital opportunity to address the harm that cannabis prohibition has caused to Black and Brown communities and to people with lived experience of cannabis policing.

“Social equity models of cannabis reform are already being developed around the world while the UK is left faltering behind. We must be prepared to follow in these footsteps and recognise that cannabis reform is not progressive if the harms continue for some.”

A number of US states, in particular, New York and Massachusetts, have paved the way for a social and racial justice model of cannabis reform.

These 14 principles are designed to ensure that the same people who are locked up by punitive drug policies are not locked out of the legal market.

Some of the main principles include:

  • Decriminalisation must go hand in hand with regulation by removing criminal or civil sanctions for the use or possession of cannabis, regardless of its legal or illegal origin.
  • Tax revenue should be invested in communities that have been over-criminalised, and support harm reduction interventions and wider drug treatment initiatives.
  • The non-commercial domestic cultivation of cannabis should be included in the same way that individuals are currently allowed to brew their own beer.
  • The automatic expungement of past cannabis-related convictions.
  • Schemes must be in place which actively support the integration of people who have been criminalised for cannabis-related activities into the legal industry.
  • Cooperative models for the distribution of cannabis (such as social clubs) should be incorporated into any new regulatory system.

This report is uniquely driven by civil society, and to date, 15 organisations have pledged their support for our principles, including support from the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats for Drug Policy Reform.

Source: Canex

Image: Unsplashed

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