Tag Archives: mental health

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)

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,” according to Professor Jon Caulkins of Carnegie Mellon

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.

Can Genetics Explain Why Pot is Dangerous to Mental Health?

First Time Marijuana Use Can Result in Crippling Mental Illness

On February 2, 2017, Psychiatrist.com published the case of a 20-year old man who went into psychosis from first time marijuana use.   The paper reveals: “Several first-time, non-chronic cannabis users have presented to our clinic with psychosis or thought disorders lasting months after first- or second-time cannabis use.”  The authors work at Columbia University Department of Psychiatry and the New York State Psychiatric Institute.

Why do some people have a predisposition for psychosis and schizophrenia from marijuana use? It can’t entirely be explained coming from a family with history of mental illness.   Another case study of a young man with bipolar had no family history for mental illness.  His diagnosis of bipolar disorder seems uniquely connected to the marijuana use.   These cases are familiar to families involved with Parents Opposed to Pot.

Some research suggests that those with the c/c variant of the AKT1 gene are more susceptible to schizophrenia if they use marijuana.  Those with the Val/Val or Val/Met variants of the COMT gene appear more likely to be susceptible than those with the Met/Met variant of COMT.   Other variables include age of starting to use pot, frequency of use and the strength of the marijuana.

Seriously, how many young people know their AKT1 and COMT gene variations before they start using marijuana?  And there are many additional genetic factors, yet to be isolated, that clearly contribute to susceptibility in others.

Why isn’t NORML, Marijuana Policy Project or Drug Policy Action educating youth about these hidden risk factors?  It can ruin someone’s life if they use marijuana and it turns out they are one of the unfortunate.    NORML has always known of this link to schizophrenia.  Drug Policy Action dismisses at current science with an evasive explanation on their website.

A comprehensive study from Finland suggests the risk with marijuana for a chronic schizophrenia spectrum disorder from marijuana use is far greater than with any other drug.

Anyways, genetics isn’t foolproof either.  Many women still get breast cancer even if they don’t have the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene variations known to raise susceptibility.    The best option for avoiding a mental health disorder related to marijuana is complete avoidance of marijuana.

Currently, the average strength of marijuana sold in Colorado and Washington is more than 20% THC.  This means it is 5-10 times stronger than the marijuana of the ’70s and ’80s.   One Washington hospital announced last April that it has 1-2 new psychosis patients every day.   Legal, regulated markets increase rather than decrease the risk.

Read our other articles on the marijuana-psychosis connection:           Is Marijuana a Safe Drug?

Marijuana-Psychosis

10 Myths Marijuana Advocates Want You to Believe

Marijuana is Connected to Psychosis and Schizophrenia

My Marijuana Psychosis Sent Me to the Hospital

Dr. McKeganey Warned of the Marijuana-Mental Illness Links

In January, the National Academy of Sciences released a comprehensive review of multiple studies on marijuana.    The report is available here.

 

Kennedy Forum Report Speaks Against Marijuana in Mental Health Report

Super Bowl Ad Makes the Message Clear and Relevant

The Kennedy Forum report on mental health and addiction was released to  the 115th Congress three weeks ago. In the report Patrick Kennedy clearly indicates that marijuana legalization is detrimental to public health. Parents Opposed to Pot maintains that by preventing the initiation of drug use, the United States could cut its mental health care needs by 30 percent.  Marijuana promotion is contributing to our current crisis.  The Kennedy Forum published the following in its report to the 115th Congress:

“In the absence of such a campaign, social media and other channels are inundated with dangerous and incorrect information about drugs of initiation, including alcohol and marijuana. A fact-based campaign reiterating the emerging science, and reinforcing other efforts in schools and communities, is imperative.”

“This is especially needed in the current environment which is legitimizing misuse of certain substances, particularly alcohol and marijuana. It is impossible to grapple with substance use and mental health disorders without tackling drugs of initiation, like alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana. Congress should resist efforts to legalize and further legitimize marijuana. Our nation cannot afford to make the same mistakes with marijuana that we made with legal opioids or tobacco in the past. Congress should put a stop to efforts to legitimize marijuana businesses (for example, by strictly regulating the capacity at which banks can have financial dealings with marijuana businesses), lest we inadvertently support and encourage another entity whose profit motivates conflict with the public health interest of preventing substance misuse and addiction.

“We also need increased accountability from the transnational corporations that generate over $200 billion in revenue each year from the sale of beer, wine and liquor in the United States. Alcohol marketing is ubiquitous in our society, seen everywhere from Super Bowl television commercials to 10-second vertical video ads on Snapchat Live stories………..”

Stop Marketing Addiction to Children

Patrick Kennedy’s observations were also true about marijuana during the recent Super Bowl featuring a T-Mobile commercial with Martha Stewart and Snoop Dog joking about marijuana.  Millions of children watched the program and saw this attempt to normalize and promote cannabis use.  Yet a Columbia University case study presents the fact that using marijuana only once or twice can precipitate mental illness.

Those who have lost loved ones to addiction and psychotic disorders are deeply offended by T-Mobile, Martha Stewart and Snoop Dog.   Such joking disguises the real dangers of using pot.  In Anatomy of an Epidemic, Robert Whitaker cites three studies indicating that bipolar disorder can be triggered by marijuana use.  Many psychiatrists even need re-training in addictive and psychotic disorders due to the popularity and increased potency of today’s marijuana.

Download the entire PDF here: Navigating The New Frontier of Mental Health and Addiction a guide for the 115th Congress