Part 1 of a 3 Part Series. This article first appeared on MomsStrong.org
K started getting high at a young age. He smoked just a little bit, almost every day, through junior high, high school, college and graduate school. To him, it seemed like harmless fun. But within a few years after completing his higher education, he became a homeless drug addict and dealer with schizophrenia. He went to jail eighteen times. Relative to so many others, K’s story ends well. He is alive, out of jail, off the streets, and is sober. He is receiving psychiatric care. He lives in a group home where his meals and transportation are provided, and his psychiatric medications are dispensed. He is alive to tell his harrowing story. To warn teenagers that what seems like harmless fun can actually ruin their lives, K and I wrote a book which is inspired by his experiences.
by SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) Smart Approaches to Marijuana’s 2017 publication references academic studies which suggest that marijuana primes the brain for other types of drug usage. 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)
National Institutes of Health Report
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)
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.
The Christmas carol is poignant – reminder of Christmas, and beyond. “What child is this, who, laid to rest …” the carol begins. “Whom angels greet with anthems sweet, while shepherds watch are keeping?” it continues. The stanza ends, “Haste, haste ….” Lovely, lilting, full of promise – like the birth of a child. Here, a special child – but also every child.
In a season of joy, it is a message is joy. But the mind wanders, also to our mortal world. New numbers on drug addiction and drugged driving death, so many lost souls – mitigate the joy. They caught me off guard this week. My brother, a high school teacher, shared with me the loss of another student, another fatal crash, as drugged driving numbers rise. What is the season for heartbroken parents – but a season of loss? Each year, upwards of 100,000 parents lose a child to drug abuse.
What child is this? It is America’s child, and America’s childhood. How is it that we have, collectively, forgotten to keep watch over those entrusted to our watch – especially from high office? Last year, 47,055 Americans, most of them young, were lost to drug abuse – just statistics now. Why?
In part, because so many Americans have heard a mixed message from their leaders – with devastating effects. Led to believe drugs are “recreation,” something not different from beer or wine, kids try and soon die. Synthetic opioids, heroin, cocaine, high potency marijuana – and then a trip to the ER, or not even, on the way to a mortuary. Numbers do not lie.
Drugged driving is now another epidemic. Drivers and helpless passengers are all at risk, along with everyone on the road. Near home, not long ago, several kids died in a terrible car crash. They missed a bend and hit a tree. The sister of a child known to my son was almost in that car – but courageously declined the ride. She knew the driver was compromised. That decision saved her life. Unfortunately, the searing truth caught others off guard. Drugged driving is death on wheels, period. Drug legalization is the unabashed promoter of that death. So, where are the shepherds? Where are the outspoken leaders, who know this – but are silent?
What child is this, who starts with marijuana, soon is addicted, ends overdosing on opiates or as a roadside cross? What child is this, who needed knowledge from someone they trust – but get misinformation? What child is this, who is force-fed popular lies, that drug abuse is “recreation?”
And what child is this, “greeted by angels,” who was forsaken here – by knowing leaders for political advantage? “Laid to rest” by parents’ inconsolable hands? Where were leaders, a thoughtful president, governor, congressman, legislator, mayor? How could we, in a blink, give up 50,000 souls – this year, again? Silence is not just holy – it can also be complicit. Permitting legal expansion of drug abuse, legalized money laundering, an insidious tax grab and a Federal blind eye – comes at the expense of young lives. That is the truth.
Needed in this season of change are new national and community leaders, who are unafraid to say: Do not compromise the future. Do not risk everything for nothing. Do not break faith with yourself, or those counting on you.
The mind wanders … from a Christmas carol to those not here to celebrate. To parents, siblings, friends and teachers sadly forced to ask “what if…” And bigger questions: What if the legalization pabulum and knowing disinformation were stopped? What if drugs that addict and kill were less available? What if policy indifference turned to saving young lives, not putting them at risk?
Said Henry David Thoreau, every child is an “empire.” But today, these empires are falling fast. The risk inherent in our indifference, disinformation, disregard for truth, and treating death as recreation. Addiction’s darkness comes on fast. Life soon narrows, ambitions die, dependence rises, users are boxed in, relationships and functions degraded, nightmares start and then the awful, big question – who cares?
These days, few seem to – not the president, Congress, many state “leaders.” They just go along. Meantime, more families are drained and left alone – victims of widening drug abuse, drugged driving, drug-related crime, and life-changing addictions. The Trump team has a chance to say: Enough, experiment over. That would help American families stop grieving, and save kids from this unparalleled dance with false information and societal indifference. That would be leadership – and long overdue. So, pull the Drug Czar back to Cabinet rank, put Federal resources and smart people on enforcing the law, and educate the country.
“What child is this?” It is America’s child. With new hope and real leadership – may we have no more compromises with evil, but truth spoken to power, and power to people. Let us stand watch, shepherds for young America. “Haste, haste …” in this and all seasons. There is a resolution for the new year.
Robert Charles is a columnist for Town Hall Magazine. He also wrote Return the Drug Czar to Cabinet. Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement under George W. Bush, former Naval Intelligence Officer and litigator, who served in the Reagan and Bush 41 White Houses. He wrote the book “Narcotics and Terrorism,” and writes widely on national security and law.
Kevin Sabet,Smart Approaches to Marijuana Hold Key to Solving Addiction Crisis
Most of the young people who overdose from drugs began their illicit drug usage with marijuana, according to government statistics which have quoted it at 71%. Parents Opposed to Pot receives anecdotal evidence suggesting this pattern over and over. Some teens develop marijuana addiction, but marijuana is also a gateway drug for many other people who become addicted to cocaine, heroin, opiates and other drugs.