Teen cannabis use and illicit drug use in early adulthood linked

Researchers have found regular and occasional cannabis use as a teen is associated with a greater risk of other illicit drug taking in early adulthood. The study also found cannabis use was associated with harmful drinking and smoking.

Study: Cannabis Often Substituted For Prescription Medications

Medical marijuanaAdults often substitute cannabis for the use of prescription medications, according to data published in the Journal of Pain Research.

Investigators from the Bastyr University Research Institute assessed the frequency of drug substitution among a self-selected national sample of 2,774 self-identified marijuana consumers.

Just under half of respondents (46 percent) reported using cannabis in place of prescription medications. Respondents were most likely to use cannabis in lieu of narcotics/opioids (36 percent), anxiolytics/benzodiazepenes (14 percent), and antidepressants (13 percent).

Women were more likely than men to report drug substitution, as were older respondents. Those who identified as medical cannabis patients were more than four times as likely as non-medical users to report drug substitution.

“These data contribute to a growing body of literature suggesting cannabis, legal or otherwise, is being used as a substitute for prescription drugs, particularly prescription pain relievers,” authors concluded.

The study’s conclusions are similar to those of several others, such as these here, here, here, and here, finding reduced prescription drug use and spending by those with access to cannabis.

Full text of the study, “Cannabis as a substitute for prescription drugs — a cross sectional study,” appears in the Journal of Pain Research here.

Study: Medical Cannabis Use Associated With Improved Cognitive Performance, Reduced Use Of Opioids

Marijuana researchMedical cannabis administration is associated with improved cognitive performance and lower levels of prescription drug use, according to longitudinal data published online in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology.

Investigators from Harvard Medical School, Tufts University, and McLean Hospital evaluated the use of medicinal cannabis on patients’ cognitive performance over a three-month period. Participants in the study were either naïve to cannabis or had abstained from the substance over the previous decade. Baseline evaluations of patients’ cognitive performance were taken prior to their cannabis use and then again following treatment.

Researchers reported “no significant decrements in performance” following medical marijuana use. Rather, they determined, “[P]atients experienced some improvement on measures of executive functioning, including the Stroop Color Word Test and Trail Making Test, mostly reflected as increased speed in completing tasks without a loss of accuracy.”

Participants in the study were less likely to experience feelings of depression during treatment, and many significantly reduced their use of prescription drugs. “[D]ata revealed a notable decrease in weekly use across all medication classes, including reductions in use of opiates (-42.88 percent), antidepressants (-17.64 percent), mood stabilizers (-33.33 percent), and benzodiazepines (-38.89 percent),” authors reported – a finding that is consistent with prior studies.

Patients in the study will continue to be assessed over the course of one-year of treatment to assess whether these preliminary trends persist long-term.

Full text of the study, “Splendor in the grass? A pilot study assessing the impact of marijuana on executive function,” appears online here.

America Can Learn A Lot From Portugal’s Drug Policy

C1_8734_r_xSince 1996, when California voters approved the medical use of marijuana, most of the high-profile political progress that has been made towards legalizing marijuana has been made in the United States. And starting with Colorado and Washington, all of the full legalization experiments have been homegrown.

But that does not mean we should not be looking to other countries for successful experiments and policies. Drug use and abuse is worldwide, so the solution to the destructive war on drug users must also be worldwide.

The Portugal Experiment

In 2001, the Portugal legislature bravely enacted a comprehensive form of drug decriminalization, in which all criminal penalties were removed for personal drug possession and use offenses — reclassifying them as administrative violations. Instead of arresting individuals in possession of personal-use amounts of any drug, defined as less than a ten-day supply of any drug — a gram of heroin, ecstasy, or amphetamine; two-grams of cocaine; or 25 grams of marijuana — they are now given a violation and ordered to appear before a rather ominous sounding “dissuasion commission.”

The possession of larger amounts of drugs and drug sales continue to be criminal matters for which an offender is subject to arrest and prosecution.

The “dissuasion commission,” which is comprised of one local legal official and two health and social service professionals, first determines whether the individual is addicted, and if so to what degree. It then determines whether the individual is referred to a voluntary treatment program, given a fine, or receives other administrative sanctions. The majority of cases are simply suspended, and the violator receives no sanction. According to Nuno Capaz, a sociologist who serves on the Lisbon “dissuasion panel,” between 80 and 85 percent of the people who are referred to the panels today are caught with hashish or cannabis.

For persistent offenders, or those identified as addicts, these panels can order sanctions or treatment, and recreational users may face fines or community service. If an addict refuses treatment, they are required to check in regularly with their family doctor (Portugal has a free national healthcare program), and if they fail, the local police remind them of their obligation. And those running the Portuguese system attribute this close working relationship between the police and the public health officials as crucial to their success. “This small change actually makes a huge change in terms of police officers’ work,” says Capaz. “Of course, every policy officer knows where people hang out to smoke joints. If they wanted to they would just go there and pick up the same guy over and over. That doesn’t happen.”

Flying in the face of the more prevalent “lock-em-up and throw-away-the-key” anti-drug policies popular at the time in most countries, especially the United States, there were initially fears that Portugal would become overrun with heroin addicts from all over Europe, and the government received a lot of criticism for their experimental policy from such staid groups as the International Narcotics Control Board – part of the UN drug convention system.

What Decriminalization Really Means

Decriminalization was a half-way measure originally recommended for marijuana policy in the U.S. by the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse in 1972. It says consumers, who generally comprise up to 90 percent of the marijuana arrests, should be removed from the criminal justice system, but that commercial sales of marijuana should remain illegal. While that is obviously an improvement over total prohibition, where users are also subject to arrest and jail, it generally is thought to lead to an increase in demand without any legal supply — a boon to the illegal black market and those willing to take the risk to sell to the newly legal consumers.

Seventeen states in the U.S. have enacted a version of marijuana decriminalization (some have eliminated all penalties for minor possession offenses; others have reduced the penalty to a fine-only). But more recently states that wish to end prohibition have looked toward full legalization, where the commercial market is regulated and taxed. Nonetheless, decriminalization remains an option for those states that no longer wish to treat smokers as criminals, but do not yet feel politically comfortable with full legalization.

Not The Results In Portugal That Were Expected

But the results from Portugal seem to dispel those initial fears that decriminalizing drugs would result in an increase in dangerous drug use, especially among addicts.

First, and most importantly, decriminalization in Portugal for a decade and a half has not led to any major increases in the rate of drug use. There were minor increases in drug use during the initial year (2001), but the rates of drug use after that have not changed significantly, or, in some cases, have actually declined since 2001, and remain below the average rates in both Europe and the United States. And importantly, adolescent use, and use by people who are deemed “dependent” or who inject drugs, has decreased in Portugal since 2003.

So decriminalization may yet prove to be an attractive alternative to prohibition for the more dangerous drugs in the United States. No one wants to see a cocaine store on the corner, but neither do most people want to ruin an individual’s life with a long prison sentence for the use of cocaine. If it is a problem, it is a medical one, not a criminal justice problem.

And Portugal has experienced more than a 60 percent decrease in the number of people arrested and prosecuted for drug offenses. More than 80 percent of the cases coming before the “dissuasion commissions” are perceived to have no problems and receive no sanction.

The percentage of prisoners in Portuguese prisons for drug offenses has been reduced from a high of 44 percent to the current rate of 13 percent. And drug overdose deaths have decreased from 80 in 2001 to 16 in 2012. In the U.S., for comparison, more than 14,000 people died from prescription opioid overdoses alone each year.

“There is no doubt that the phenomenon of addiction is in decline in Portugal,” Portugal’s Drug Czar Dr. Joao Goulão explained, according to Drug Policy Alliance. He attributed this shift to “a set of policies that target reduction of both supply and demand, including measures of prevention, treatment, harm reduction and social reinsertion.” Adding that, “[t]he biggest effect has been to allow the stigma of drug addiction to fall, to let people speak clearly and to pursue professional help without fear.”

And he strongly favors a policy of harm reduction. “I think harm reduction is not giving up on people,” Dr. Goulão said, according to Vice, “…assuming that even if someone is still using drugs, that person deserves the investment of the state in order to have a better and longer life.”

And even the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has concluded that “Portugal’s policy has reportedly not led to an increase in drug tourism. It also appears that a number of drug-related problems has decreased.” And some leading independent researchers investigating the Portugal experiment wrote in the British Journal of Criminology in 2010 that “contrary to predictions, the Portuguese decriminalization did not lead to major increases in drug use. Indeed, evidence indicates reductions in problematic use drug-related harms and criminal justice overcrowding.”

So What Can We Learn From Portugal

First, we can begin to stop treating so harshly illicit drug users, who use something other than marijuana. Sure heroin and cocaine and methamphetamine are more potentially dangerous than marijuana; but that does not mean those drug users should be treated like criminals. If, like Portugal, we can minimize abuse, greatly reduce the number of people arrested on drug charges, reduce overdose deaths, reduce adolescent drug use and problematic drug abuse, greatly reduce our prison population, and still maintain a safe, free and open society, then why would we not want to begin to move in that direction?

Also, we can learn from Portugal the importance of adopting a policy of harm reduction that recognizes the value of all lives, including those who may, for a time, use dangerous drugs, and to provide needed mental health services to those whom we can identify as problem drug abusers. Portugal seems to make it clear that their success simply could not have been possible without making health care professionals available to those who will avail themselves of that help.

And third, we can and should learn that the stigma of drug use or abuse — regardless of the drug involved — needs to be eliminated, to create an environment in which individuals feel free to seek help without fear of being labeled a bad person. It’s time to treat drug abuse as a medical issue, not primarily a criminal justice issue.

Poll: Two-Thirds Of Americans Say ‘Efforts To Enforce Marijuana Laws Cost More Than They Are Worth’

legalization_pollSixty-five percent of Americans ages 18 and older believe that “government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth” and 55 percent of respondents say that the plant’s use ought to be legal, according to national polling data compiled by YouGov.com.

Those living in the western region of the United States (65 percent), Hispanics (64 percent), Democrats (63 percent), and those under 30 (63 percent) were most likely to endorse legalizing marijuana use. Republicans (45 percent), African Americans (44 percent), and those over the age of 65 (40 percent) were least likely to be supportive.

By contrast, a majority of respondents of all ages and political persuasions agreed with the notion that marijuana law enforcement costs more than it’s worth.

In response to a separate polling question, respondents agreed by a margin of more than 2 to 1 that the government should not enforce federal anti-marijuana laws in states that have legalized its use.

A majority of those polled also disputed the allegation that cannabis use is a ‘gateway’ to other illicit drug use. Of those under the age of 60, only 25 percent believed the claim.

The YouGov.com survey polled 1,000 US citizens and possesses a margin of error of +/- 4.5 percent.

Chronic low back pain linked to higher rates of illicit drug use

People living with chronic low back pain (cLBP) are more likely to use illicit drugs — including marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine — compared to those without back pain, reports a study.

Not blowing smoke: Research finds medical marijuana lowers prescription drug use

Medical marijuana is having a positive impact on the bottom line of Medicare’s prescription drug benefit program in states that have legalized its use for medicinal purposes, according to new research.The savings, due to lower prescription drug use, were estimated to be $165.2 million in 2013, a year when 17 states and the District of Columbia had implemented medical marijuana laws.

Trauma in childhood linked to drug use in adolescence

Latest research from a national sample of almost 10,000 US adolescents found psychological trauma, especially abuse and domestic violence before age 11, can increase the likelihood of experimentation with drugs in adolescence, independent of a history of mental illness. This is the first study to document these associations in an American national sample of adolescents.

Surprising finds about drug use

Conducting an economic analysis of drug use is a particularly difficult endeavor, but for one researcher, it just meant taking a look at the history books.

More than 25 percent of women giving birth who test positive for marijuana also using other drugs

As an increasing number of states legalize marijuana for medical or recreational use, health officials expect consumption of tetrahydrocanabis during pregnancy to increase. A new study suggests a mother’s use of marijuana while pregnant could indicate other drug use as well.

Government Accountability Office Says The Drug War Isn’t Working; Did Anybody Think It Was?

The federal government’s anti-drug efforts are inefficient and ineffective, according to a just released report issued by the Congressional watchdog agency, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO).

As if we didn’t know.

The GAO report assessed whether the Obama administration’s anti-drug strategies, as articulated by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (the ONDCP aka the Drug Czar’s office) in its 2010 National Drug Control Strategy report, have yet to achieve its stated goals.

The answer? They haven’t.

States the GAO:

“The public health, social, and economic consequences of illicit drug use, coupled with the constrained fiscal environment of recent years, highlight the need to ensure that federal programs efficiently and effectively use their resources to address this problem. ONDCP has developed a 5-year Strategy to reduce illicit drug use and its consequences, but our analysis shows lack of progress toward achieving four of the Strategy’s five goals for which primary data are available.”

In particular, the GAO criticized the administration for failing to adequately address rising levels of youth marijuana consumption. The GAO also rebuffed the ONDCP’s allegation that increased rates adolescent marijuana use are a result of the passage of statewide laws decriminalizing the plant or allowing for its therapeutic use.

“Other factors, including state laws and changing attitudes and social norms regarding drugs, may also affect drug use. We examined studies on three of these other factors, which we refer to as societal factors, which may affect youth marijuana use. … The studies that assessed the effect of medical marijuana laws that met our review criteria found mixed results on effects of the laws on youth marijuana use. … [S]tudies that assessed the effect of marijuana decriminalization that met our review criteria found little to no effect of the laws on youth marijuana use.”

You can read the full GAO report here.

Parents talking about their own drug use to children could be detrimental

Parents know that one day they will have to talk to their children about drug use. The hardest part is to decide whether or not talking about ones own drug use will be useful in communicating an antidrug message. Recent research found that children whose parents did not disclose drug use, but delivered a strong antidrug message, were more likely to exhibit antidrug attitudes.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell: Hemp Production Would Be a Positive Development

In a statement published Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), a previously outspoken opponent of marijuana law reform, did something surprising. He came out in support of allowing the production of industrial hemp.

“I am convinced that allowing its production will be a positive development for Kentucky’s farm families and economy,” McConnell’s statement read, “The utilization of hemp to produce everything from clothing to paper is real and if there is a capacity to center a new domestic industry in Kentucky that will create jobs in these difficult economic times that sounds like a good thing to me.”

The Senator cited his discussions with fellow Ketucky Senator Rand Paul and Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Come as being influential in his new position.

It is worth noting, that as recently as last year, Senator McConnell was vociforus in his opposition to marijuana law reform. Replying to a constituent’s letter in 2012, McConnell stated that he was opposed to legalizing marijuana due to the “detrimental effects of drugs..[such as] short-term memory loss, loss of core motor functions, heightened risk of lung disease, and even death.”

While he makes clear that he wants hemp regulated in a way “that does not compromise Kentucky law enforcement’s marijuana eradication efforts or in any way promote illegal drug use,” perhaps his new found support for hemp will become his “gateway” to supporting further rational marijuana policies.

Parents can spot teen drug use and take steps to prevent it

Minneapolis, MN (PRWEB) June 30, 2010

Summer, with its promise of free time and relaxed adult supervision, can present prime opportunities for adolescents and teenagers to use alcohol or other drugs. Consider the facts:

No evidence medical marijuana increases teen drug use, study suggests

While marijuana use by teens has been increasing since 2005, an analysis of data from 1993 through 2009 by economists at three universities has found no evidence linking the legalization of medical marijuana to increased use by high school students.

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