Tag Archives: Addiction

Legal Marijuana Imperils Traffic Safety, Adds Mental Health Burden

By Dean Whitlock, a freelance writer from Thetford, Vermont, writes about safety as it relates to marijuana.  The article appeared in Vermont Digger on May 2, 2017.

The discussions of H.170, which would legalize possession and home-growing of small quantities of marijuana, have focused a lot on the danger to teenagers, which is appropriate since adolescents are in a stage of neural development that makes them much more likely to become addicted, develop mental health conditions, and suffer decreases in cognitive processing and memory retention. The problem with this focus is that people over 21, particularly up to the age of 25 or 26, are still susceptible to all of these effects, just at a lower level of risk.

That point aside, the area where every age runs the same risk is on the highway. Again, teens and young adults are more at risk because they tend to take more risks in the first place. They are also less experienced with driving and with the use of alcohol and drugs. But adults do make the same stupid mistake of driving under the influence.

According to the best data we have available, drinking alcohol before driving increases the risk of accident five-fold at the still-legal .08 blood level. Driving under the influence of marijuana doubles your risk. That being the case, we would expect to find considerably more people dying on the roads because of alcohol then because of marijuana. The data on traffic accident fatalities that we have from the Vermont Department of Safety tell a somewhat different story:

This data is based on blood tests that measure active THC, so we can be reasonably sure that the drivers had used marijuana recently enough to still be DUI.

Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana Imperils Safety

Note the small difference between the number of deaths due to alcohol and the number due to marijuana. The most likely reason for this is that many marijuana users think it’s OK to drive after using. For teenagers, we have clear evidence for that from our Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

Here’s the 2015 data:

Reports from both Colorado and Washington indicate that the same must be happening there. While accidents and fatalities involving drunk drivers went down in recent years, the numbers involving marijuana went up.

Why is this happening? Because we are not teaching people – young or old – that marijuana impairs your ability to drive. At a well-attended forum on marijuana effects held in Burlington last month, one attendee stood up and insisted that marijuana helps people drive more carefully, and this message pervades the popular websites that cater to people interested in learning more about marijuana from sources “untainted” by officials like police officers and scientists.

It’s important to note that the traffic fatality data shown above only includes deaths in accidents. It does not include the five Harwood teenagers killed on I-89 last October. The driver of the car that hit theirs, Steve Bourgoin (36, hardly a teen), has been charged with second-degree murder, so their deaths are not considered to be due to a traffic accident.

Addiction is Not a Crime

Addiction is not a crime, it is a mental health issue, and the behavior of users who suffer acute or chronic psychotic episodes goes far beyond the usual definition of addiction.

When Bourgoin’s blood toxicology report was completed, authorities withheld the contents pending trial; however, Vermont investigative reporter Mike Donoghue, writing for Vermont News First, quoted several sources in saying that there was active THC in Bourgoin’s blood at the time of the accident. Since then, Vermont Rep. Ben Joseph, D-Grand Isle-Chittenden, a retired judge, has reported being told the same thing by contacts of his in the state legal apparatus.

As reported on VTDigger, Bourgoin told friends that he suffered from anxiety and PTSD due to childhood trauma, and his former girlfriend told detectives that he self-treated with marijuana for “mood spells.” Court documents quote her saying, “It was always very evident when he was out [of marijuana], as he would be more angry and violent during those times.”

Anger is one of marijuana’s withdrawal symptoms, and it is a more addictive drug than most people think. A review of several studies of treatment methods for marijuana addiction found that one-year abstinence rates for adults, even under the most effective treatments, ranged only from 19 to 29 percent.

In a 20-year study involving more than 2000 U.S. war veterans being treated for PTSD, the vets who used medical marijuana along with the standard therapy reported more violent behaviors and worse outcomes after treatment than vets who didn’t use marijuana. The heaviest users showed the strongest effects. Another study found that marijuana use resulted in increased suicidal ideation among marijuana users.

Marijuana and Mental Health Problems

There are other correlations between marijuana and serious mental health problems. Since 2002, a series of studies in Europe have reported that individuals who use cannabis have a greater risk of developing psychotic symptoms. Not only does marijuana bring on symptoms earlier and make them worse, it is a causative factor.

A Finnish study published this past November compared sets of twins where one used marijuana heavily and the other did not. Heavy use increased the risk of developing psychosis by a factor of 3.5. Again, the data indicated that, in many cases, marijuana abuse caused the psychosis, not the other way around. The newly released report on marijuana from the U.S. National Academies of Sciences agrees with these findings.

Addiction is not a crime, it is a mental health issue, and the behavior of users who suffer acute or chronic psychotic episodes goes far beyond the usual definition of addiction. These sufferers needs effective treatment far more than jail time. And these new research findings, combined with Vermont’s recent traffic fatality data, highlight the fact that marijuana is not harmless. Legalizing recreational marijuana in Vermont would not be a simple matter.

Vermont has already decriminalized marijuana use. What we haven’t done is provide a mental health system that can deal with the thousands of cases of addiction, psychosis, and other mental illnesses that we already have in our state, nor have we done nearly enough to educate Vermonters about marijuana’s harms, in order to prevent tragedies from happening.

Legalizing marijuana – whether like alcohol or tobacco – will only make our mental health burden worse, while it makes our highways far less safe.

A former supporter of legalization, Whitlock is now opposed. He is a member of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM-VT)

Marijuana Can’t Treat the Opiate, Heroin Epidemic

Any marijuana use leads to less intelligence potential, less empathy for life, less motivation and poorer decision making.  A war on drugs is a protection and defense of our brains.   Governor Susana Martinez probably recognizes how Colorado’s marijuana problem leads to the drug epidemic and filters into New Mexico’s substance abuse issues.   Read about her veto in Part 1.

One young man who gave us a testimony explained how his marijuana use led directly to heroin addiction.

In Colorado, Dr. Libby Stuyt, addictions psychiatrist, traces a direct line from marijuana legalization to the heroin epidemic.    Colorado’s recent report on heroin has shown that the number of deaths from heroin overdose have doubled between 2011 and 2015.

In fact, Pueblo County, has suffered from heroin use and addiction more than any other Colorado county.  Pueblo, Denver and Boulder have the highest rates of youth marijuana use.   Southern Colorado is suffering the most from the heroin epidemic. Counties that have banned marijuana dispensaries have been affected the least by the heroin.

Misunderstanding of the Opioid and Heroin Epidemic

Since the government has clamped down on opiate prescriptions, more users have replaced the pain drugs with heroin.  Since the legalization of marijuana, Mexican cartels have replaced much of their marijuana with heroin.  Heroin is now cheaper and addicts find it easier to get heroin than prescription pills.

Politically there is a great deal of misunderstanding about the opioid epidemic. If it was initially caused by over prescribing of medications, that’s no longer primarily the case.   Seth Leibsohn wrote an insightful article on the subject last week. The abuse of opioid prescriptions acquired legitimately constitutes a small portion of the overdose problem, he said. *

A simple crackdown on prescriptions will not solve the problem, according to Maia Szalavitz.  Although Szalavitz misunderstands the  inherent danger in using marijuana,* she explains the underlying causes of substance abuse quite well.  Impulsive children are at high risk of becoming drug users, but so are some highly cautious and anxious young people.   Two thirds of people with opioid addictions have had severely traumatic childhoods, and the more exposure to trauma, the higher the risk.  We need to help abused, neglected, fragile and otherwise traumatized children before they turn to self-medication as teens.  On the other hand, we should also provide tools and teach coping skills to children who are impulsive, ADHD or anxious.   (Overmedicating children doesn’t allow them to develop the skills needed to transition into adulthood.)

Let’s Help People Get off ALL Drugs

Effective treatment for addictions is getting off all drugs, not going to other harmful, brain-altering substances.   “The goal in helping a loved one with a substance use problem is not to reduce their use. It is to stop drug use,” according to Sven-Olov Carlsson of Drug Policy Futures.  He gave the opening address at the World Federation of Drugs Conference in Vienna last year.  As Carlsson said, the current heroin epidemic proves that “harm reduction” is not saving lives.

No one sets out to become an addict.   Fortunately, more people and states are realizing the foolishness of allowing “medical” marijuana for intractable pain.  It opens up a Pandora’s Box of problems, as in California and elsewhere.

Addiction specialists estimate that one in five American adults is addicted to drugs or alcohol.  With such large numbers, there should be no “stigma” attached to addiction or treatment.  A new or revised health care act should maintain the provision to treat addiction.

Those who are addicted have a strong need to protect a secret.  Their brains have been hijacked and there isn’t a straight path back to previous functioning.

Optimum treatment requires a period of time when the person is not using any substance of addiction in order for the brain to heal.  During that time, the person needs to be able to learn new things. The lack of treatment resources which allows this to happen is a big barrier to recovery.   Marijuana cannot be used to treat this current drug epidemic.

___________________________________________________________________________*  Another recent article explains how doctors began to take pain seriously, treating it as a fifth vital sign.  Szalavitz based her 10% addiction rate for marijuana on the weaker pot of the ’70s and ’80s, not the pot of today.  She also disregarded teen users of pot.

 

brain-therapies

Successful Strategies for Deep Healing of Trauma and Pain

Using Mind-Body Connection for Deep Healing

The average medical marijuana cardholder in California is a 32-year-old male who uses it for chronic pain.  If so many young people have so much chronic pain, it’s tempting to think medical marijuana is for “anyone who can fake an ache.”*

Another part of the equation is that physical pain often develops as a result of stressful events lodged in the body.  It’s also possible that many ‘patients,’ including those who are veterans, actually suffer from deep emotional pain and trauma.  (Read Part 1 for the Mind-Body Connection to trauma and pain.)

Two young women who wrote to Parents Opposed to Pot explained their need for medical marijuana to deal with traumatic childhoods. One said it was because her mother had committed suicide, while the other said she had experienced traumatizing sexual abuse.

Using marijuana in order to numb painful feelings, or for getting high, will only mask the underlying emotional pain. In all cases of psychological issues, including PTSD, marijuana works against true healing, no matter how much temporary relief it provides.

21st Century Strategies for Healing

Since pain or disease (dis  ease) is imbalance, the body which created the disease can also be the body which heals the disease.

Dr. Libby Stuyt, a professional advisor to Parents Opposed to Pot uses Brain Synchronization Therapy to heal trauma in the body and
bad memories. The neuroplasticity of the brain means that even post-traumatic experiences can be weakened or discarded. At the same time, the brain can relearn forgotten neural pathways.

Dr. Libby Stuyt is Medical Director for the Circle Program at the Colorado Mental Health Institute

Besides Brain Synchronization Therapy, Dr. Stuyt recommends both EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Recovery) and Biofeedback based on heart rate variability.

Neurofeedback is another therapy which can heal trauma, PTSD and ADHD without drugs.  Even the Washington Post describes very positive outcomes from Neurofeedback for healing additional problems such as depression and severe pain.

Some therapists have found a newer technique, Brainspotting, to be  even more effective than EMDR.   The theory is that Brainspotting taps into the body’s innate self-scanning capacity to process and release focused areas that are maladaptive.  Brainspotting can often reduce and eliminate body pain and tension associated with physical conditions.

Listen to Dr. Libby Stuyt’s video about why marijuana is not an effective treatment for PTSD.

Another technique, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy provides healing in which the victim need not remember or relive the painful experiences.   This therapy changes the brain’s reactions to events to change how legacy of trauma affects the victim.  Sensorimotor therapy treats the effects of events as they recur in response to reminders of the trauma.

Treating Root Causes Rather than Just the Symptoms

The good news is that there are ways to treat PTSD and chronic pain that don’t involve drugs, ways that treat the root causes rather than symptoms.  “Medical” marijuana does not provide deep healing.

Medical marijuana is an addiction-for-profit industry which needs new users and promotes long-term use.   Habitual users run the risk of becoming psychotic.  Like continuous opiate users, they may also develop addiction.

At the Alternative Wellness Club, published in Oregonlive, 2014, patients were introduced to “dabbing.” Some of these  users  claimed to have bipolar disorder which may in fact be related to trauma–or triggered by marijuana. Dabbing increases the risk for addiction and psychosis.

The recent report from National Academy of Science found marijuana can give moderate relief to three medical conditions, pain being one of the conditions.  Although the human body has cannabinoid receptors, marijuana’s cannabinoids are foreign to our bodies.  They’re not endo-cannabinoids, the body’s natural occurring chemicals, but exo-cannabinoids.  With marijuana use over time, THC will replace the cannabinoids associated with joy and happiness.

Therefore, it’s hard to claim THC is truly “natural” for humans.

Mind-body healing solutions are the “natural” solutions, and they cannot be addictive.  They offer help for chronic suffering in ways “medical” marijuana and pharmaceutical medicines cannot help.

Read Parts 3 and 4 to find out more about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and drug policy.

*Quote is from Professor Jonathan Caulkins of Carnegie Mellon.

It’s not ‘just’ marijuana

It’s Not ‘Just’ Marijuana

Allowing marijuana use will just give addiction a foot in the door

(It’s not ‘just’ marijuana originally posted in Central Maine Press on March 4, 2017)  Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinel (Maine)

BY ROBERT CHARLES

He came into my office with his hair on fire. A father, middle-aged. I made a habit of leaving my door on Capitol Hill open.

Most committee staff directors and counsels don’t do that; they have “gatekeepers.” Nominally, I did too, but I felt I worked for every taxpayer, every single one, and he was one.

My criminal justice committee, plus the speaker’s task force and bipartisan working group on narcotics and addiction that I ran, all focused on oversight. Part of the job was oversight of the Justice Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and other federal agencies struggling with the spike of drug abuse that was happening then, in the 1990s.

I asked this upset father to come in. He had something obviously important on his mind. In that moment, I appeared to be “the federal government.” I pointed to the big stuffed chair, sat down myself and listened.

He was mid-sentence. “And he was a typical, strong, independent 18-year-old,” he was saying. I nodded. “And he was a good kid … I had been law enforcement, see? I found the pot in his room.” I nodded. “And he was a skier, loved to ski.”

When Teaching Moderation Didn’t Work

“I confronted him, knew what it was …” He seemed to be reliving that inflection point. “But I said, look, ’cause he was a good kid, I said, “OK, OK, look, everything in moderation.”

I did not say anything.

“It seemed OK, you know? That’s what they always said about other things. I wanted to keep the relationship with my son, you know? A good kid.”

The conversation poured out of him.

“Then things changed, he got distant. Other drugs, heroin. He tried to stop.” The father started to ramble. The law’s fault. The criminal justice system. His son had been stealing. Treatment. Friends who weren’t friends. More treatment. Profanity. Exasperation.

I listened. Sometimes that was all I could do. He had come to tell someone. He was looking for something, and I sensed I could not give it to him.

“So, you see, that was three years ago. I was a good dad, said everything in moderation … it was just marijuana.”

He looked up at me sharply. I knew there was more. Finally, it came.

“Last month, I went up there, top of the mountain, where he always skied. I took the ashes of my son, in a shoe box. I held him in a shoe box. The same son I had held 21 years ago as a baby. And I sprinkled his ashes there…”

We were both quiet. He cried. And I cried. I told him he was not alone. I told him many things about this terrible crisis that gripped us, gripped the nation. And he got, I think, some small, insignificant consolation.

That father wanted something I could not give him, beyond a hug and shared tears, and consideration for his agony. He wanted the moment back. The earlier moment. He wanted his son back.

Why No Caring and Empathy for Others’ Pain?

That was almost 20 years ago. The nation had lost 14,000 kids to overdoses that year. Congress wrote and passed the Drug Free Communities Act of 1997, Mental Health Parity Act of 1996, the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, and federal anti-drug trafficking laws, including against trafficking marijuana. And drug abuse went down — markedly.

People cared. They knew intuitively that narcotics — including marijuana — were not cigarettes, not beer. Attitudes changed, as they had back in the 1980s during the Ronald and Nancy Reagan years.

And then the great forgetting began again. Drug addiction — so often starting with marijuana, as it is readily available — began to climb again. Then the availability of opiates and heroin. No one paid attention.

And here we are, again, today. Only last year, more than 52,000 people died of drug overdoses, taken from loving, devastated parents, as well as siblings and friends. They want the status quo ante, those precious moments back, decisions back, sons and daughters back.

They want to be able to say, “No, marijuana is not harmless, not a good choice, not the right thing — no matter what voters or governments say.”

This week, I talked to another parent who lost her son to heroin, and began with marijuana.

I teared up again, a good kid, led in the wrong direction by a government that did not care enough to tell the truth, explain the trap door, the treachery of addiction that comes so often with marijuana. “We thought, you know … it was just marijuana.”

The truth? There is no “just” about it.

Robert Charles grew up in Maine who served as assistant secretary of state under Colin Powell.