Hundreds of businesses in cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York closed due to the coronavirus outbreak. However, “medical” marijuana stores remain open as officials revise public health orders to include cannabis as an essential medicine.
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Is keeping marijuana stores open a good policy? The science shows that it is not.
Anthony Bourdain. Kate Spade. You know their names and you know the unfortunate circumstances surrounding their untimely passing. Bourdain, 61, and Spade, 55, took their lives in suicides by hanging. Their deaths marked an immediate response from mental health advocates while pushing mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety to the forefront of the news cycle.
Prior to their deaths the CDC’s (Center for Disease Control), Vital Signs report found that suicide rates have been rising in nearly every state. In 2016, nearly 45,000 Americans age ten or older died by suicide. Even more alarming, suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death and is one of three leading causes that are on the rise. But what does this mean for states where drug use runs rampant? Colorado saw a 34.1 percent increase in suicides while Washington and Oregon saw increases by 18.8 percent and 28.2 percent. Take into consideration that these states have legalized marijuana for recreational and/or medicinal use and it’s clear that mind-altering drugs can aggravate those with and without mental health conditions.
Bourdain was a long time pot smoker and made countless marijuana jokes, often alluding to smoking weed in the restaurants he visited. The “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” Twitter account once tweeted an elaborate illustration detailing “how to roll a joint.”
Did copious amounts of THC play a part in Bourdain’s death? At this point we don’t know for sure, but we do know that his weed addiction began in his younger years right before the publication of his best-selling book, “Kitchen Confidential,” in 2000. “Weed was a major expense. Before I reached the point where weed made me paranoid and agoraphobic, it was costing me a few hundred dollars a week,” the chef recalled. Fast forward to becoming a successful star, and Bourdain was using cocaine to offset the effects of weed. It’s important to note that cannabis is playing a role in many suicides by causing mental health disorders, including depression and psychosis. One has to wonder if a cocktail of drugs played a part in his untimely death.
Kate Spade suffered from mental illnesses for several years. She was seeking help during the last five years, “seeing a doctor on a regular basis and taking medication for both depression and anxiety,” widower Andy Spade said in a statement. It’s worth nothing that we don’t know if any drug use triggered her problems. The CDC’s Vital Signs report found many factors contributing to the various suicide cases across the country. It’s eye-opening that more than half of people who died by suicide did not have a known diagnosed mental health condition at the time of death.
What a shame it is that thousands of Americans are advocating to legalize a drug with the potential to severely damage the brain? There’s absolutely no sense in burdening our country with a mental health crisis.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is reporting that between 30,000 and 40,000 Americans are dying each year from opioid overdoses. Most of these are not suicides but, are the consequences of people using “stuff” which is profoundly more potent than they imagined. From our local communities, to the state, and federal government levels, we are alarmed and we should be.
Parallel to the “opioid epidemic” is the “cannabis epidemic” which is going unnoticed and unreported. We see weekly hype about so called “medical marijuana,” but, little about the tragic consequences of cannabis overdoses.
Why? One reason is that opioid overdoses kill and cannabis takes the lives of its victims in a less dramatic way. Cannabis-induced psychosis robs the victims of their meaningful life.
The proverb says, “There are many ways to lose one’s life and dying is just one of them.”
The parallel to opioids is that the “weed” of today has been hybridized (genetically engineered) to be 5 – 6 times more potent than the weed of 20 years ago (4% THC compared to 19% THC). In addition, the contemporary delivery systems (example- vaping) increase the amount of THC getting to the brain. These unexpectedly high “doses” of today may include manic psychosis and schizophrenia like symptoms. The victim didn’t understand what she/he was getting. What was expected to be a few hours of pleasure has become a life-changing psychosis.
I predict that our fascination with “medical marijuana” will only accelerate this tragic epidemic of THC-induced psychosis.
If there is to be a place for “medical marijuana,” give it to the FDA where it can be studied by legitimate scientists who are not funded by the producers, distributors and charlatan practitioners. Clearly, the profits are huge and the costs to human lives are huge.
There may be a few serious conditions in which a small amount of cannabis helps to relieve suffering. Example: End stage cancer. Responsible physicians will use it wisely and compassionately just as they do with opioids.
The tragic hidden problem is aided by a very small number of “charlatan physicians” who will sell their souls to the callous industry. For a fee and without being seen, cannabis users can receive a “certificate of need.” This document allows the user to go into a retail cannabis dispensary and purchase whatever he/she wants from a large inventory of cannabis products.
Said again, opioids kill by suppressing respiration. Cannabinoids ruin lives by inducing psychosis. Both are tragic.
Dr. Dossett is a pediatrician in Hershey, Pennsylvania
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