French pot smokers mob scientists for sight study

French Researchers were swamped with willing participants after calling for heavy cannabis smokers for a study on vision. The doctors, however, can't seem to find members for their non-smoker control group.

French pot smokers mob scientists for sight study
Photo: Raimund Koch

A team of 20 researchers at the university hospital in the northern French city of  Nancy has been inundated with applications since putting out a call for pot smokers interested in furthering the cause of science.

With more than 300 candidates applying to take part in the study, the researchers have more than filled the necessary quota of tokers who have smoked at least seven joints a week over the past year.

"They [cannabis smokers] want to know more about the consequences of their habit," lead researcher Dr Vincent Laprévote told newspaper Le Parisien.

Though simply possessing a joint can land a smoker in jail, France has a flourishing marijuana culture. The country recently won the dubious distinction, with 39 percent of  its 15 and 16 year olds saying they had tried the drug, as being Europe's youth pot smoking capital. 

That's why it's no surprise the scientists say they have found it a lot more difficult to recruit regular cigarette smokers and non-smokers, with more applicants still required in these groups. In all, they require 180 people aged 18-55. These will be divided into groups of cannabis smokers, cigarette smokers and non-smokers.

The main aim of the study is to examine how cannabis affects vision.

"Several research teams have recently put forward the hypothesis that large-scale consumption of cannabis during adolescence might modify communication systems between neurons that are particularly linked to human vision," the researchers write.

"This question is important since vision is often a very early indicator of anomalies in brain function," they add.

Volunteers will devote two half days to the project. During this this time they will fill out a questionnaire, leave a urine sample, take memory tests and eye tests, and wear a cap that measures brain activity.

"We want to see what happens in the first milliseconds of brain reaction," said Dr Laprévote in a statement.

"Our hypothesis is that there's a spatial and temporal distinction in the perception of a signal and that the visual system's capacity is damaged by the use of cannabis. If this is verified, we will have found an indication of the risks of cannabis consumption and will be better able to detect and advise consumers," he added.

This research could come in handy if a France's first law ever law to legalize marijuana for recreational use gets anywhere with lawmakers. The bill would allow the government to sell the drug from tightly regulated stores, but only to adults.  

While it is well established that long-term intense cannabis use affects memory, attention and problem-solving capabilites, the researchers say its impact on senses such as sight is less well known.  

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France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25

Free birth control for all women under 25 will be available in France from Saturday, expanding a scheme targeting under-18s to ensure young women don't stop taking contraception because they cannot afford it.

France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25
A doctor holds an interuterine contraceptive device (IUD) before inserting it in a patient. Photo: Adek Berry/AFP

The scheme, which could benefit three million women, covers the pill, IUDs, contraceptive patches and other methods composed of steroid hormones. Contraception for minors was already free in France.

Several European countries, including Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, make contraception free for teens. Britain makes several forms of contraception free to all.

France announced the extension to women under 25 in September, saying surveys showed a decline in the use of contraception mainly for financial reasons.

The move is part of a series of measures taken by President Emmanuel Macron’s government to boost women’s rights and alleviate youth poverty. The free provision is supported by women’s groups including the association En Avant Tous.

“Between 18 and 25-years-old, women are very vulnerable because they lose a lot of rights compared to when they were minors and are very precarious economically,” spokeswoman Louise Delavier told AFP.

Leslie Fonquerne, an expert in gender issues, said there was more to be done.

“This measure in no way resolves the imbalance in the contraceptive burden between women and men,” the sociologist said.

In some developed countries, the free contraception won by women after decades of campaigning is coming under attack again from the religious right.

In the United States, former president Barack Obama’s signature health reform, known as Obamacare, gave most people with health insurance free access to birth control.

But his successor Donald Trump scrapped the measure, allowing employers to opt out of providing contraception coverage on religious grounds — a decision upheld by the Supreme Court in 2020.

Poland’s conservative government has also heavily restricted access to emergency contraception as part of its war on birth control.