Italians Love Cannabis Light. What Is It?

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In Italy, laws around the sale and use of cannabis remain in flux. But it’s still possible in many locations to buy what is known as "cannabis light," a low-dose THC product. A new study shows Italians are buying it up like de-caf espresso, using the cannabis light to replace pharmaceuticals.

The study, published in The Journal of Health Economics, found that legalization of cannabis light in 2017 led Italians to buy it in increasing numbers, while at the same time sales for anti-anxiety medications and sedatives dropped.

The product is comparable to CBD products in the United States that have exploded in popularity since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill that legalized hemp. 

“The large-scale accessibility to the new product, which was advertised as a relaxant one, induced some patients to abandon traditional medicine to seek relief,” researchers wrote in the study. 

Cannabis light started because of a loophole in hemp legalization.

In 2016, a loophole in an Italian law legalizing hemp allowed entrepreneurs in the country to sell low-dose THC products in shops. The products could contain no more than 0.6 percent THC.

Cannabis light first became widely available in Italy in 2017. In May 2019, then-Interior Minister Matteo Salvini led a cannabis crackdown, followed by a decision from Italy’s Supreme Court to ban the sale of cannabis derivatives. The country’s Parliament then seemed prepared to pass an amendment to existing law allowing cannabis light, but the Italian Senate blocked the measure. However, a passage in the Supreme Court ruling that allowed sales of cannabis products “devoid of any doping or psychotropic effect” has kept retailers selling cannabis light products, even though some government action seems targeted at not allowing them to do so.

In short, Italian law in this area is not completely clear. But Italians desire for cannabis light is.

The study looked at the impact of cannabis light on prescription medicine sales.

The study published by the economists looked at monthly drug sales from an Italian association of pharmacy owners between January 2016 and February 2018. They then compared those numbers to sales reported from cannabis light shops.

They found that as sales increased for cannabis light, sales decreased for prescription drugs in some areas. They included:

  • An 11.5 percent decrease in anxiolytics (anti-anxiety medications)
  • A 10 percent reduction in sedatives
  • A 4.8 percent reduction in anti-psychotics

The researchers argued that the relaxing properties of cannabis light account for people using them, especially to replace anxiety medications and sleep sedatives.

“This is intuitively explained by the relaxant properties of CBD, which is often used to treat sleep disorders,” they wrote. “Moreover, the large coefficients that we observe for sedatives and anxiolytics can be explained by the marketing strategies for cannabis and CBD-related products sold, which are typically advertised for its relaxant effects.”

The study shows yet again that people want to try marijuana for medicinal purposes. In the case of the Italian study, researchers noted that using cannabis light “may stem from the patients’ needs of more effective relief, which is not currently addressed by traditional medicine. This configures a form of market failure that lawmakers should account for.”

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