In response to changes in federal law governing CBD, or cannabidiol — a non-psychoactive component of cannabis — the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on Sunday updated its policy to allow passengers to fly with some forms of the compound.
While marijuana generally remains illegal under U.S. law — classified alongside heroin and LSD as having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse” — the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last year approved the first CBD-containing drug, called Epidiolex, to treat two rare forms of childhood epilepsy. To eliminate confusion, the TSA website now clarifies that this drug is legal to bring on-board flights.
The agency’s update also notes that other CBD products are allowed, provided that they’re derived from hemp rather than marijuana. Both plants are strains of cannabis, but unlike marijuana, hemp contains very little THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the component of the drug that gets users high. Given hemp’s value as a raw material for everything from construction to clothing, the Trump administration legalized its production last December.
The development is sure to be welcomed by CBD enthusiasts, who despite a dearth of research regarding its efficacy, tout the compound’s use for all manner of ailments from arthritis to anxiety. But exactly how TSA will differentiate between various CBD products is not yet clear. (To comply with the law, hemp-derived products must contain no more than .3 percent THC.)
While the agency has said that questions regarding the legality of substances will be referred to law enforcement, police themselves may struggle to make such determinations. Earlier this year in Texas, police raided two stores and confiscated hundreds of pounds of CBD oil. Though they claimed in earlier undercover buys to have identified some products as marijuana, the levels of THC detected were not listed in the search warrant.
And in Virginia, an NBC investigation found that state forensic labs aren’t actually capable of determining the exact amount. Following legislation that legalized hemp-derived CBD in the state in March, police similarly arrested a store owner after detecting THC in his products, despite protestations that he was not in fact selling marijuana.
“Sometimes,” Virginia legislator Mark Keam told NBC, “law runs ahead of technology.”
Also in the news:
• Native American tribal leaders and environmental activists have scored a small victory in their years-long effort to stave off oil and gas drilling around New Mexico’s Chaco Culture National Historical Park. This week, U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced a one-year moratorium on the sale of new oil and gas leases on federal lands in the region. The move comes after Bernhardt, at the urging of U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich, visited the site and met with leaders of the Navajo Nation and Pueblo tribes. Bernhardt said afterward that the remote, ancient site had “blown him away.” The new moratorium will delay plans for the sale of oil and gas leases within an informal, 10-mile buffer zone around the park — a zone that is believed to contain important archaeological, religious, and ritualistic sites. But activists continue to press for the adoption of legislation — introduced earlier this year by members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation — that would make the informal buffer zone permanent. Drilling proponents say that the legislation will be a tough sell in the Republican-led U.S. Senate and point to the potential of oil and gas development to deliver economic growth. (Associated Press)
• The discovery of a peculiar genetic mutation linked to clusters of Alzheimer’s disease in Colombia has led, over nearly two decades, to dozens of studies and increasingly widespread media coverage. That’s because the Paisa mutation — named for the paisa people of Colombia’s Antioquia region — has provided researchers with new clues to the underlying mechanics of Alzheimer’s, and those insights might well lead to drugs that could prevent the crippling disease. But one Colombian family in the village Girardota, while also prone to Alzheimer’s, had a different kind of mutation — one that both hinted at other Alzheimer’s-causing mutations in Colombia, and also revealed an unexpected link between the families of Girardota and ancestors arriving not from Spain, as was suggested by the Paisa mutation, but from Africa. “While the Paisa mutation may have come in with a conquistador,” Undark reported this week, “this one had arrived with a slave, or arisen in his or her descendants.” The revelation runs counter to the origin stories that generations of Antioquia residents have told about themselves, according to one anthropologist — “a myth of racial purity and a lack of black and Indian heritage.” Now, as researchers continue to unravel the full complexity and import of these mutations, a lead investigator’s inclination is to consider them branches of a more diverse genetic tree. “What we really have are two Paisa mutations,” he said. “The African and the European.” (Undark)
• Last week, aerospace giant SpaceX propelled the first 60 members of its planned 12,000-satelitte mega-constellation into outer space. The massive fleet of low-orbit telecommunications satellites – known collectively as Starlink – could soon provide the entire planet with internet access including remote areas difficult to reach using on-Earth methods. But despite reassurances from SpaceX head Elon Musk that the satellites would not be visible when the stars are out, many astronomers are now expressing concern that the project will muddy their observations and interfere with their research. Light pollution from the some-2,000 active satellites currently in orbit is already a headache for scientists using long exposure shots from high-powered telescopes to observe deep space, as the devices can leave streaks of light across images as they move through the telescope’s field of view. “There’s been a long and very productive partnership between astronomers and the technology side of things to try and find solutions that work for everyone,” Phil Bull, a theoretical cosmologist at Queen Mary University of London, told The Verge. “As far as I’m aware, that just hasn’t happened here. And to be honest, it’s unusual to have not consulted on this kind of impact.” (The Verge)
• During the past 15 years, at least 34,000 people have died while taking immunosuppressant medications known as biologics, which have been increasingly used to treat a variety of autoimmune disorders including rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and Crohn’s disease. While these drugs have led to significant reductions in symptoms and remission for many patients, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) data analyzed by The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reveals that more than 1 million “adverse events” were reported in people using the drugs between 2004 and today, including nearly 500,000 that were deemed serious. Fungal infections and sepsis among people receiving biologics are particularly concerning due to patients’ weakened immune systems, leading to increased hospitalizations. Since 2000, the FDA has issued more than 25 warnings and safety communications regarding biologic drugs or required the drugs’ labels be updated to list information about serious new risks. Patients “take these drugs so they can live a life,” says Chadi Hage, an associate professor of clinical medicine at Indiana University. “But at the same time, the more they are educated about what is risky and what is not, the better the story will be.” (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
• The great glaciers of the Himalayas are melting faster than normal, scientists confirmed this week, and the pace of the runoff threatens the long-term water security of an estimated 221 million people who depend on the glaciers for their drinking water. The researchers warned that due to rising temperatures, the glaciers are melting too fast for the winter snows to fully replenish them. Unless action is taken to reduce the heat associated with global climate change, severe water shortages are predicted in coming decades. In the shorter term, the glacial melt is also exposing the bodies of dead climbers, long hidden under the thick sheets of ice. “Finding bones is the new normal for us,” said one climber and guide. The government of Nepal is now trying to figure out the most respectful way to handle the newly emerging corpses. (The New York Times)
• And finally: Move over Smokey the Bear — there’s a new fire safety mascot in town. Following record costs for fighting wildfires in 2018, the state of Oregon is launching its own fire-safety awareness campaign featuring a local celebrity: Bigfoot. The ape-like creature, also known as Sasquatch, is a well-known fixture in North American folklore, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. “Prevent wildfires … leave only footprints,” reads one campaign poster, which features a large, hairy silhouette hiking alongside two people. The tagline plays on the mysterious footprints commonly used to argue for Bigfoot’s true existence. “Protect Bigfoot: Don’t let wildfire be the one that got away,” states another. Last year, humans were the leading cause of wildfires in the state, though those ignited by lightning ultimately burned more acres. “Wildfires can easily be ignited by backyard burning, an unattended campfire, a hot car on tall, dry grass, or from dragging tow chains, and they spread fast,” State Fire Marshal Jim Walker, told the Portland Tribune. “We hope our Bigfoot campaign will draw attention and create a bigger ‘footprint’ of wildfire prevention efforts around the state.” (The Oregonian)