On April 7, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez vetoed a bill which would have made opioid addiction a qualifying condition for medical marijuana. Governor Martinez has consistency shown leadership in working to prevent drug addiction. Earlier this year, legislators in New Mexico wisely rejected a bill to legalize pot,.
Maryland legislators recently proposed using marijuana to treat heroin addiction. They removed the provision from the bill after researchers explained there’s no evidence that cannabis is effective in treating addiction.
The mass insanity surrounding cures from “medical” marijuana sometimes comes from the Press. As the number of newsprint subscribers dwindles, newspapers are looking to marijuana for new sources of advertising money. (The New York Times, Seattle Times, Los Angeles Times and Denver Post are pro-marijuana newspapers.) Another problem is that the marijuana industry’s paid lobbyists are pumping unscientific information to state legislators. Many of these lobbyists have advanced degrees in Social Policy, Law or Political Science, but not the biological sciences.
Marijuana , Opioid Addiction and Heroin
Tyler Martel, finally free of opioid addiction, was getting his life back on track when the state of Washington legalized marijuana. On December 5, 2012, marijuana became 100% legal for those ages 21 and over. A few days later, Martel refused to drink with his parents, but smoked marijuana before driving. His car crossed the center lane, and both he and his fiancé, also 27, died. Another man was badly injured in that crash. Martel died a victim of the “safer than alcohol” phrase that the marijuana lobby used to gain acceptance for legalization.
Generally speaking, marijuana is already in the mix of drugs used by those who abuse opiates. Those who use heroin invariably are using other drugs, including marijuana. In fact, a group of parents in Massachusetts recently made a video tribute to 79 of their children who died from drugs. In all cases, the deceased sons and daughters had started their drug use with cannabis.
When Governor Chris Christie convened a panel on the drug epidemic at the White House last week, a mother, spoke. Pam Garozzo, whose son Carlos died from drugs in December, said her son had started smoking marijuana at age 15-1/2. For him it was a gateway drug, and he’d be the first to tell you. He died of heroin that had been laced with fentanyl–after being clean for 10 months.
Massachusetts Moms Warn Legislators
Opioid Use Often Starts with Marijuana
After recreational marijuana legalization and commercialization passed in Massachusetts last November 2016, Cheryl was despondent. The Governor, Lt. Governor, and Mayor of Boston all were against it. Yet, the pro-industry spin held sway with the voters.
Cheryl’s son’s drug use began with marijuana. She couldn’t believe the voters wanted to legalize the drug that took her son down the path to addiction to heroin. At the time of his death, at the age of 23, he was in recovery yet struggling with depression. He left behind the mother of his child and a 4-1/2 month old daughter. Cheryl doesn’t want more teens to get caught in the downward spiral leading to early death.
Some moms from her grief support group were out in force trying to educate the public prior to the election. In Eastern Massachusetts, the ballot initiative was defeated by voters in 90 towns, due in large part to these moms and their grassroots campaigning. But, voters in Western Massachusetts didn’t have the benefit of such education due to lack of funding. And, the drug legalization effort had big money to advertise and convince the public to their side.
Recently, Cheryl met Jody Hensley, a lead activist and supporter of the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts which opposed Marijuana legalization and commercialization under Ballot Question 4, who also led a successful effort for her town of Westborough to opt out of hosting commercial marijuana businesses. Cheryl showed Jody her list of parents, and their child’s birth and death dates. Jody was shocked and in disbelief. The portraits of those lost children, held in their mother’s arms at an addiction prevention event in New Hampshire the previous week, resonated powerfully. The two women wondered how lawmakers and the public could be reached through the pictures and stories of these many families. Cheryl’s group of over 300 families included members who could collect the photographs and produce a video to send the members of the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Marijuana Policy before the first public hearing on the subject. The video showcases photos of 79 children and young adults who started their drug journey with marijuana and died either by suicide or drug overdose.
The video was shared by many in Facebook and Cheryl is now getting calls from drug prevention groups all over the country. You can help it go viral!
Watch Parents Sharing our Childs Loss from Substance Passing video
This video only represents a fraction of the annual drug related deaths in Massachusetts. Here are the sobering statistics: in 2014—1379 deaths, 2015- 1751 deaths, and 2016, 1979 died. Decriminalization of marijuana in the state of Massachusetts occurred in 2008, and medical marijuana became legal in 2012. To give some perspective, Massachusetts opioid related deaths in 2000 were only 318 for the entire state.
Recreational marijuana legalization in Massachusetts doesn’t become official until 2018. There is time for voters to get politically active to make sure that your community is educated and can arrange to opt out. Cities and towns will have that ability, but the critical effort now is to make it easy for jurisdictions to do so, as the marijuana industry lobbyists want to make it nigh on to impossible.
For parents who have lost a child to drug-related overdose or suicide, Cheryl recommends joining a grief support or recovery group. The risks for parents struggling with the loss of a child from substance use are isolation, depression and even suicide. Cheryl started a closed Facebook Group that gives comfort to hundreds of such parents in Massachusetts. She would like to see such groups all over the U.S. She has already helped one parent in New Hampshire start one.
Smart Approaches to Marijuana has the Answer for Senator Warren
Last year Sen. Elizabeth Warren asked the CDC if marijuana can be used to fight the opioid epidemic. There’s an answer in Smart Approaches to Marijuana’s recent publication, its educational toolkit for 2017. The publication refers to academic studies which suggest that marijuana primes the brain for other types of drug usage, alcohol and heroin. Here’s the summary on that subject from page 4, Marijuana and Other Drugs: A Link We Can’t Ignore :
MORE THAN FOUR in 10 people who ever use marijuana will go on to use other illicit drugs, per a large, nationally representative sample of U.S. adults.(1) The CDC also says that marijuana users are three times more likely to become addicted to heroin.(2)
And according to the seminal 2017 National Academy of Sciences report, “There is moderate evidence of a statistical association between cannabis use and the development of substance dependence and/or a substance abuse disorder for substances including alcohol, tobacco, and other illicit drugs.”(3)
RECENT STUDIES WITH animals also indicate that marijuana use is connected to use and abuse of other drugs. A 2007 Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology study found that rats given THC later self administered heroin as adults, and increased their heroin usage, while those rats that had not been treated with THC maintained a steady level of heroin intake.(4) Another 2014 study found that adolescent THC exposure in rats seemed to change the rodents’ brains, as they subsequently displayed “heroin-seeking” behavior. Youth marijuana use could thus lead to “increased vulnerability to drug relapse in adulthood.”(5)
The National Institutes of Health says that research in this area is “consistent with animal experiments showing THC’s ability to ‘prime’ the brain for enhanced responses to other drugs. For example, rats previously administered THC show heightened behavioral response not only when further exposed to THC, but also when exposed to other drugs such as morphine—a phenomenon called cross-sensitization.”(6)
ADDITIONALLY, THE MAJORITY of studies find that marijuana users are often polysubstance users, despite a few studies finding limited evidence that some people substitute marijuana for opiate medication. That is, people generally do not substitute marijuana for other drugs. Indeed, the National Academy of Sciences report found that “with regard to opioids, cannabis use predicted continued opioid prescriptions 1 year after injury. Finally, cannabis use was associated with reduced odds of achieving abstinence from alcohol, cocaine, or polysubstance use after inpatient hospitalization and treatment for substance use disorders” [emphasis added].(7)
Moreover, a three-year 2016 study of adults also found that marijuana compounds problems with alcohol. Those who reported marijuana use during the first wave of the survey were more likely than adults who did not use marijuana to develop an alcohol use disorder within three years.(8) Similarly, alcohol consumption in Colorado has increased slightly since legalization. (9)
Senator Warren, you’re deeply respected by youth. You could be a powerful spokesperson by advocating for them not to use drugs. The problem is that — for some young people — that critical first choice to use a drug turns into a game of Russian Roulette.
Parents who lost children to drugs overwhelmingly insist their children initiated drug use with marijuana and alcohol. Marijuana advocates insist marijuana is “not a gateway” drug, but studies show otherwise. Marijuana is a gateway to other drugs for 40+ percent of those who start using pot. It is never wise to substitute one drug of addiction for another drug of addiction. Please consider that not everyone who becomes addicted to opiates started because of pain. Many started for fun. According to a Jon Daily of Recovery Happens, most begin pain pill abuse because their relationship with intoxication began as a relationship with marijuana and/or alcohol.
There are many other ways to treat the opiate epidemic: better prevention programs, mandating education in the schools and clamping down on internet sellers of these drugs. Studies claiming fewer overdose deaths occur in marijuana states need to consider the availability of suboxone, other drugs to counter the overdose.
Senator Warren, please check out Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which advocates an alternative to legalization which does not include incarceration. In our next article, Senator Warren, we will discuss the marijuana-mental illness links………… once again.
Secades-Villa R, Garcia-Rodríguez O, Jin CJ, Wang S, Blanco C Probability and predictors of the cannabis gateway effect: a national study. Int J Drug Policy. 2015;26(2):135-142
2. Centers for Disease Control. Today’s heroin epidemic Infographics more people at risk, multiple drugs abused. CDC, 7 July 2015.
3. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and Medicine Division; Board on Population Health andPublic Health Practice; Committee on the Health Effects of Marijuana: An Evidence Review and Research Agenda (“2017 NAS Report”).
4. Ellgren, Maria et al. “Adolescent Cannabis Exposure Alters Opiate Intake and Opioid Limbic Neuronal Populations in Adult Rats.”Neuropsychopharmacology 32.3 (2006): 607–615.
5. Stropponi, Serena et al. Chronic THC during adolescence increases the vulnerability to stress-induced relapse to heroin seeking in adult rats. European Neuropsychopharmacology Volume 24 , Issue 7 (2014), 1037 – 1045.
6. “Is marijuana a gateway drug?” National Institute on Drug Abuse. Jan. 2017. See also Panlilio LV, Zanettini C, Barnes C, Solinas M, Goldberg SR. Prior exposure to THC increases the addictive effects of nicotine in rats. Neuropsychopharmacol Off Publ Am Coll Neuropsychopharmacol. 2013;38(7):1198-1208; Cadoni C, Pisanu A, Solinas M, Acquas E, Di Chiara G. Behavioural sensitization after repeated exposure to Delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cross-sensitization with morphine. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2001;158(3):259-266.
7. 2017 NAS report.
8. Weinberger AH, Platt J, Goodwin RD. Is cannabis use associated with an increased risk of onset and persistence of alcohol use disorders? A three-year prospective study among adults in the United States. Drug Alcohol Depend. February 2016.
9. Rocky Mountain HIDTA Investigative Support Center Strategic Intelligence Unit. The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado: The Impact, Volum
Student Asked Attorney General if Marijuana is a Gateway to Heroin
When Attorney General Loretta Lynch went to Kentucky last week to address the heroin epidemic, a high school student asked if marijuana is a gateway to heroin addiction. The Attorney General never denied that marijuana may have an influence, but she drew a closer connection to the overuse of pills. The marijuana lobby claimed she said ‘marijuana is not a gateway drug.’ Her implication was that opiate pain pills may have the most direct link and immediate link to heroin addiction. (Heroin is cheap right now and it’s harder to get opiate pain pills.)
Certain biologists, addiction specialists, ONDCP director Michael Botticelli and parents are most capable of answering this question. Traditionally marijuana, alcohol and tobacco are considered gateways to other drugs. Under many circumstances, teen marijuana experimentation leads to the usage of other harmful drugs, including those that cause toxic overdose. Scientific studies on the drug have shown its ability to damage brain circuitry. It numbs the reward system, sending users on a search for a stronger high. Peer influence or personality traits can spiral into the use of drugs beyond marijuana. Here are some reasons why marijuana tempts someone to open the gate and try other drugs.
Marijuana advocates dismiss the gateway “theory,” but they also deny that marijuana affects different people very differently. It is not part of their agenda to accept or acknowledge these differences.
1. Biological Evidence and Plateau Effect:
Studies showing the damaging effects marijuana has on dopamine receptors and our brain’s reward system suggest marijuana may lead to the use of many other different drugs. In one study done by the University of Michigan Medical School, researchers found a negative correlation between the amount of marijuana consumed over time and the amount of dopamine that was released in the brain in response. This study suggests a change in the reward system over time with a high-inducing drug like marijuana. This decrease in the amount of dopamine released creates a plateau effect. Smokers will then seek other drugs in order to achieve the high they used to experience with pot.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse says cannabinoids are able to decrease the reactivity of brain dopamine reward circuits over time, leaving frequent marijuana users vulnerable to other drug addiction. Additionally, THC promotes an enhanced response to other drugs in the same way that alcohol and nicotine do, which may lead to the progression of more drug addictions that may cause toxic overdose.
2. Social Environment:
It is important to consider the pot smoker’s social environment. Most high schoolers now say it’s easier to get marijuana than alcohol. Those who begin using pot and alcohol, usually the first two illicit substances of abuse, are likely surrounded by other frequent users. In no time some of these peers will have moved on to chasing other highs. If your teen is already high on pot or inebriated — even slightly — it’s hard to resist the invite from a friend to try another substance. A teen who has resolved to do “only pot” can quickly break down and try other drugs when he or she has lost inhibitions.
3. Craving the High:
Marijuana, alongside alcohol, is one of the most accessible high-inducing drugs on the market, making it a gateway drug to intoxication. Jon Daily, an adolescent and young adult addiction specialist in California explains that he and his colleagues treat drug addicts who were always first addicted to marijuana and/or alcohol. In his practice, over-prescribing by doctors did not cause the problem. Jon contends that it is not necessarily the substance that people get hooked on that is really important. (Please take note that the price of heroin is so low right now. ) “Addicts are hooked on intoxication,” so it makes sense that those who become opiate or heroin addicts began with marijuana because it was the most readily available drug which later lead to their pathological relationship to getting high. Daily does mention a very small portion who get addicted because they were given pain pills after surgery, but these people are the exception.
4. Childhood Trauma or Sexual abuse can lead to marijuana use to numb the pain, typically followed by stimulants:
Our children who grow up in poverty or who are victims of abuse can be most at the most risk. It is one reason that Parents Opposed to Pot always recommends counseling over drug usage for victims of trauma and asks that parents, schools and communities be supportive. Victims of trauma will initially use marijuana and alcohol to create a numbing effect, and to allow disassociation. When the numbing is too much and the victims need to feel energized and alive again, stimulants such as as speed, cocaine and opiates would be used. It’s a vicious cycle. (Of course this cycling is not limited to trauma victims; it is the type of cycling that Lady Gaga describes also.) Marijuana and heroin have the greatest numbing effect, according to one paper on the subject. Read Janina Fisher’s paper on Traumatic Abuse and Addiction.
Substance abusing parents can be violent and neglectful. It is in this way that many young people and people whose parents were substance abusers become addicted themselves. (There is much more to drug abuse than addictive genes.) Today multi-substance abuse or addiction is the norm.
5. Impoverished communities are preyed upon by gangs who will use multiple drugs:
Children of poverty are also at risk. One of the most prevalent subcultures in this country is that of drug dealing gangs. Gangs prey on poor and minority communities. (Marijuana stores seem to be following that example.) These gangs use intimidation and violence to enforce their rule and make their money. They often appear to be the leaders in their communities who have the most money and power. Check out the story of one man, Eddie Martinez, who grew up in the Chicago projects. He managed to overcome a life of drug dealing and crime. Today he advises young people to steer clear of the dangers of marijuana, drugs and its victims.
Other Gateway Drugs or Reasons for Addiction?
What about ADHD drug usage and Addictive personalities?
Another theory is what is known as an addictive personality. Especially males, who are often considered “risk-takers,” have a greater chance of becoming addicts when they are willing to engage in extreme behaviors. So while marijuana presents itself as a gateway drug to many, the risks to an individual depends their personal choices.
THE RELATIONSHIP to ADHD drugs and marijuana, opiate and heroin abuse, as well as the roll of addictive personalities in this epidemic needs to be studied further.
(Your child or teen is at risk for developing three other negative outcomes from marijuana experimentation: addiction to marijuana, loss of mental abilities and/or mental illness.)
NOTE: Teen tobacco use has gone way down, as fewer adults smoke. There is nothing fashionable about it at this time. However, adult marijuana use is growing and a corresponding growth in youth usage can be expected. It is just as the marijuana lobby hopes.