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5 Reasons Marijuana is a Gateway Drug

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.

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Source: NIDA

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?

For some people, marijuana use a one-time event, or something only used occasionally.  There are others who can’t seem to stop, for whom marijuana is an addiction.  Yet some writers and theorists discard the larger society’s expectations that teens will use drugs plays a roll in addiction.

Addiction counselors notice that a large number of young people who show up for treatment were diagnosed with ADHD.   Those who were given Ritalin, Adderall or other stimulant drugs also have a high potential to abuse marijuana.  However, we do not know if these young people become addicted because of the ADHD or because these youth have brains that had already been altered by the ADHD drugs at a young age.   Government and educators would be wise to come up with an alternative to using powerful mind-altering drugs for those who have difficulty concentrating.

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.

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US Created Drug Problem by Overdoing ADHD, Drugs

As we hear of more and more drug overdoses, kids in addiction treatment, marijuana psychosis and sudden deaths with designer drugs, we need to ask how did the United States get itself into such a mess? How did we send our youth down this dangerous path?

Between 1979 and 1992 marijuana usage among American teens went down. The Parents Movement and “Just Say No” campaign had an impact. What has gone wrong since that time?
We can look to a few big changes in the 1990s:

1) In 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act, a landmark piece of legislation that encouraged inclusiveness and has made life better for a large number of people with disabilities. CHADD, a group representing people with Attention Deficit Disorder lobbied successfully Continue reading US Created Drug Problem by Overdoing ADHD, Drugs

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Mental Health Care Fails at Addiction Treatment, Part 2

Part 1 (We’ve divided this blog into 2 parts)  Any psychiatrist who dismisses the effect of drugs on your child’s condition — when there are illicit drugs, marijuana, or legal drugs obtained illegally — should probably be dismissed.  Insurance companies aren’t qualified to make this decision.  If you don’t want your child set on a track of permanent psychiatric treatment or condition, it’s wise to find a psychiatrist who is Board Certified in Addiction Psychiatry and Addiction Treatment. Continue reading Mental Health Care Fails at Addiction Treatment, Part 2

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The Unraveling, Part 2: Denial, Denial, Even as Dog has Seizure

(Part 2 of 4, an anonymous testimony submitted by a reader.  Part 1)   For a person who had never shown the slightest mental instability and then goes into an altered reality—literally overnight–disregarding a drug classified as “hallucinogenic” as a trigger is outrageous. Mental health treatments fail when the root cause(s) are ignored. The culprit was the mind-altering chemical in marijuana, THC, which today’s pot has been genetically modified to produce in outrageously high amounts.

Psychiatry has morphed over the last 30 years, placing medical management (prescribing pharmaceutical drugs), ahead of getting to the bottom of things. The best way to minimize an encounter with the psychiatric system is to never use mind-altering substances including marijuana, and all its derivatives, as well as brain stimulants like Adderall, anti-depressants and anti-psychotics.

When I kept questioning the rush to diagnosis my son and the failure to recognize the THC connection, even my work colleagues (pharmacists, physicians, and nurses) would say: “This is about the right age when they break.” Or “Just accept what your son has — a mental illness.”

The out-patient psychiatrist was even worse.  He charged $250/session and took no insurance. At the only family session after Ryan was released, I questioned why would they diagnose him with bipolar depression since it has a high familial link? This doctor refused to answer me but eventually mumbled in response, “environmental,” which may mean he knew that THC can alter young brains.  (Bipolar 1 is the term used today, distinguished from Bipolar 2, if the mania is longer or more severe and/or the person has a manic episode before having depression.)

Nothing made any sense to me, and the nightmare continued. My daughter-in-law’s family was immersed in the belief of mental illness. “My whole family has bipolar problems,” her mother stated. No big deal, his wife said, though Ryan came back to normal after 10 weeks. My husband and I went to several psychiatric doctors trying to find a more reasonable physician who would look at the whole picture, but all followed the same philosophy. I even challenged them with the American Psychiatric Association’s classification system which qualified a bipolar I diagnosis as inaccurate when illicit substances are in evidence. (At the time, the DSM IV manual was the classification guide for psychiatry.) Mothers like me read everything and know when a diagnosis doesn’t hold. Denial was going on, but I don’t think the “experts” understood who was in denial.

No one ever suggested Ryan had addiction or dependence on pot or any drugs. I asked several times, as my thinking was that anyone who had basically had a brain break should go for rehab/counseling. These ‘experts’ reassured us,” Ryan is just a recreational user.” I kept researching and showed my son and his wife the volumes of research about the marijuana-psychosis link. I told them, “If Ryan ever goes near any mind-altering substance again, it could trigger schizophrenia.” At the time, I was unfamiliar with the “skunk” strains of pot, and didn’t know most of their friends were using it.

In mental health programs, if there is presence of THC or other drugs in the toxicology report, please give the patient the education to help them understand addiction and how the brain works. The attending physician should be certified for Addictions Treatment.  I’ve read there should be at least a six-month wait to fully evaluate a person’s mental health function after stopping the substance, but it didn’t happen for Ryan.

Back to Normal? How Long?

My son’s wife dutifully gave Ryan his medicine — not that I believe any of them helped him come out of psychosis faster). Ryan gained 55 lbs. in 5 months, leaving stretch marks all over his statuesque physique. Our son had gained so much weight, complained of “brain fog” and once out of psychosis weaned himself off the meds. In total, he spent five months on the anti-psychotics.

I never believed my own kid would ever go near another mind-altering substance again. Neither my husband nor I had ever touched an illicit substance in our lives. Sadly, parents who think they raised their kids sensibly, spent quality time with them and modeled a healthy lifestyle, can be woefully unaware of “today’s culture.” The drug is everywhere; one in six teens who use marijuana become addicted to it.

We found out later that some close friends were using pot so Ryan was persuaded to start using “recreationally” at age 19.  About that time, he began dating the girl he married, also a user, but not someone I’d expect to be into pot.

Sad for me, when I met individually with Ryan’s five close friends, each called him “best friend,” because he gave everything of himself to his friends. Some “fessed up” to using marijuana with Ryan. One said, “But he never did the really bad drugs like I’ve done.”

Ryan’s dog had seizures about a month before our son’s second “episode” of psychosis.  Long story short–I helped my daughter-in-law get their dog to the family vet. She told the veterinarian their dog had eaten snail bait, but he disagreed. I had no knowledge my son had returned to pot, and his wife didn’t share that fact. Indeed, now I realize that their dog had found their bag of pot. The vet told us it was not epilepsy, as I thought. He was unsure if he would be able to save this dog. Following an expensive intravenous (IV) hydration, the dog survived.

After Ryan experienced his next breakdown, he confessed, “Jodie had eaten pot before his seizures began.” Later, the vet assured me “Pot doesn’t cause seizure, but makes dogs lethargic, sleepy.” Several months ago, a Colorado veterinarian wrote an article in the LA Times about the escalating number of dogs having seizures from contact with pot edibles. I marched the article to our vet, grabbed his arm and implored him to educate himself and spread this information to his colleagues.

If our family vet had recognized the symptoms of today’s pot which causes seizures, and if I had been sharp enough to have asked the vet to do a drug screen, we could have made a difference.  But, we didn’t realize that Ryan had gone back to using pot, thinking he had beaten the addiction.  (Parts 3 and Parts 4 will follow.  Part 5, to be published in December, will explain how the author has helped others with her knowledge.)

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