The Current State of Marijuana: Signs of New Chemical Make-Up, Legislation

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close up of Doctors hands holding medical marijuanaWhile there is a clear distinction between marijuana crops grown for recreational use and medicinal purposes, new research in Colorado may debunk any chemical differences in the two, including claims of users getting a different type of high.

Recent consumer demands for more potent marijuana have come to fruition as marijuana strains currently being tested in Colorado’s research labs present triple the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC, marijuana’s active ingredient, has increased from less than 10 percent potency 30 years ago to nearly 30 percent potency in the said strains.

With the increase in THC in marijuana now being tested, researchers have also found a decrease in the Cannabidiol (CBD) content. CBD is one marijuana’s least active ingredient and does not contribute to its “high,” but researchers believe it appears to be the medicinal component that may possibly help treat schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington disease, depression and anxiety.

Researchers in Colorado are also finding a certain amount of contamination in the marijuana crops they have tested. While there is little chance of completely eliminating the organic fungal growth that is bound to occur in pot, further testing is being done to determine the levels of fungal growth on the buds of the plant that are used for production that may be considered contaminated. No safe levels of chemical contamination have been determined as of yet. The research has also shown varying levels of butane, which have not been legislatively determined as safe or unsafe.

Crafting New Legislations: Taking Lessons from the Past

As other states are looking at the legal processes of decriminalization and possible legalization of marijuana, and watching both Colorado and Washington State as they implement and iron out problems with their new laws regarding pot, the U.S. is expected to look to the processes of controlling and regulating both tobacco and alcohol for guidance in the coming years.

As legislative measures are taken to reduce criminal penalties for possession, the use and production of marijuana in each state may learn from the hard lessons of legal precedent set for both substances over the course of history.

These issues run the gamut from interstate transport of the products to taxation and legal age for use. Sales and development of the product are also contained within the legislative history of both substances. Lessons hard learned in regulating tobacco and alcohol may assist each state to develop their new laws.

The widespread use and abuse of medical marijuana may also assist lawmakers when writing new legislation. It is expected that public outcry for lowering of penalties regarding recreational use of marijuana will continue past the decriminalization stages and into the future for legalization.

Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work and a CATC IV in addictions counseling. She teaches meditation and mindfulness, specializing in addiction and trauma. She also leads workshops and seminars on treatment of addictive disorders and stress reduction.

Breathalyzer Test for Marijuana Soon Available

November 7, 2014 by  
Filed under Laws and Legalization

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police officer holding breathalyzerThe U.S. Office of National Control Policy has put drugged driving on its list of priorities and a breathalyzer test for marijuana may soon be on its way. Marijuana is considered one of the drugs that can negatively impact a person’s driving as its use affects motor skills, judgment and perception, all of which are necessary to safely operate a vehicle.

Annually, about 1.5 million drivers are arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI). However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 18 percent of fatal car accidents are attributed to drugs other than alcohol, including marijuana.

How It Works

The marijuana breathalyzer test will follow the same concept as the traditional alcohol breathalyzer test by detecting the substance in exhaled breath at the scene. In this case, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana and the main target to detect in the test.

The Pros and Cons

Pros to the marijuana breathalyzer test:

  • Screen drivers for marijuana use on-the-spot, at the side of the road
  • A Swedish study found the marijuana breathalyzer detects use in 87 percent of cases, which is the the same level of accuracy achieved through blood and urine testing

Cons to the marijuana breathalyzer test:

  • There is a short detection window of 30 minutes to two hours after drug use
  • Marijuana does not metabolize as predictably in the body as alcohol
  • 25 percent of chronic stoners can test positive after one week or more of abstinence, depending upon their body fat content–so a sober user may fail a breathalyzer test and be arrested for DUI, even though they haven’t been using
  • Drug detection time does not always coincide with impairment time, which may lead to innocent drivers being convicted of DUI

Testing the Effectiveness

The efficacy of marijuana breathalyzers remains in question. The pertinent statistics include:

  • 91 percent of users tested positive one hour after using; 64 percent after 1 ½ hours
  • One confirmed user never had detectable THC
  • One chronic user still showed positive results four hours later

To make a thorough assessment of the effectiveness of drug breathalyzer testing, the science of how drugs enter the breath and how long drugs stay in the breath still needs further study and evaluation.

The driving impairment window is longer than the 30 minutes to 2 hour breath detection window of time. This makes authorities question the validity of breathalyzer testing.

Recent Findings About DUI

The American Journal of Public Health recently reported:

  • More teens are driving high
  • Those who use marijuana within three hours of driving are twice as likely to cause a serious motor vehicle accident as those who did not use marijuana

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) developed a breath test that detects marijuana use within the previous 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending upon frequency of use. Studies done to test this method were conducted on chronic or >4 times/week users and occasional users.

Clinical Chemistry reports that 90 percent of users in these studies tested positive within one hour of getting high.Only everyday stoners tested positive after four hours. Ninety percent of occasional users tested positive one hour after smoking but none of these subjects tested positive after 1½ hours.

The Swedish study recommends the breathalyzer test be used at the scene as a preliminary test, and that the results be confirmed later with a blood test.

Interestingly, roadside saliva testing for cannabis has been done in Europe and Australia and detects the drug for up to 48 hours. This finding also raises a concern about whether or not detection actually coincides with impairment.

Current Laws for Marijuana-Related DUIs

Some states, especially those that have legalized recreational use of the drug, have marijuana blood limits:

  • Colorado and Washington: 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood is considered under the influence
  • Other states such as Arizona and Oklahoma have a zero tolerance law
  • New York has an effect-based law, which means that the driver must be visibly impaired while driving (no blood test)

THC-blood tests are the most popular choice in states with laws regulating marijuana use while driving.

Though more research must be done before finalizing the breathalyzer test, no one should ever get behind the wheel if there is any level of impairment.

Nancy Burgess is a graduate of Laboure College in Boston, MA, where she earned an Associate of Science degree in Nursing. She is a registered nurse with experience with direct patient care and nursing management. Nancy has worked in an acute care hospital setting and in an independent school environment.

What Is Synthetic Marijuana?

October 8, 2014 by  
Filed under General Topics

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TGDGmarijuanaThe average citizen in the U.S. is familiar with marijuana, at least anecdotally. Nearly half of the states in the country have legalized marijuana for medicinal use, and two states – Colorado and Washington – have legalized marijuana for recreational use. For many people living in the 48 U.S. states where marijuana is not legal for recreational use, a legal alternative has become popular over the last few years: synthetic marijuana. This mock cannabis is widely accessible and notably dangerous.

Understanding Synthetic Marijuana

Synthetic Marijuana is considered a “designer drug” with effects that are intended to mimic the effects of real marijuana. Two popular brand names for this drug are K2 and Spice. These two drugs contain synthetic cannabinoids that are similar to THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive component found in actual marijuana. The synthetic cannabinoids that are used in synthetic marijuana are considered unsafe, causing extreme anxiety or psychotic episodes in many instances, and have been banned in some European countries for years. The U.S. also banned these synthetic cannabinoids in July 2012. However, synthetic marijuana sales continue legally today because many brands have simply replaced the synthetic cannabinoids that had been banned with others that are not.

Despite the assumed similarities between synthetic marijuana and actual marijuana, the differences are stark. Synthetic marijuana is considerably more unpredictable and dangerous than real marijuana. The use of synthetic marijuana has been associated with acute psychosis, the worsening of mental illness (even if stable at the time of use), hypertension, accelerated heart rate, heart attack, seizures, hallucinations, convulsions, panic attacks, high blood pressure, nausea, blurred vision, agitation, and long-term psychotic disorder for those who were already at risk for mental illness.

There has been at least one death associated with the use of synthetic marijuana and several deaths that are being investigated in association with the use of this drug. A teenage girl who used synthetic marijuana daily for two weeks experienced several strokes, brain damage, blindness, and paralysis.

Because of a lack of oversight and regulation of this product, effects and ingredients seem to vary widely from batch to batch. A German lab that tested synthetic marijuana concluded that the ingredients listed on the packet were not an accurate representation of the ingredients contained within the product itself.

Effects of Synthetic Marijuana

There are many negative side effects from use of synthetic marijuana. The substance has been linked to serious health conditions and even death. The immediate effects of synthetic marijuana are said to be similar to those of real marijuana, but more short-lived. Many users of synthetic marijuana have claimed to experience a simple feeling of relaxation after using the drug.

Synthetic marijuana is especially popular among high school students. The drug is difficult to detect through drug testing. When compared to actual marijuana, synthetic marijuana is much more powerful. Marijuana activists have been outspoken about their disapproval of synthetic marijuana – especially its name. Many people believe that “synthetic marijuana” is a dangerous misnomer, leading users to assume that the drug is not as dangerous as actual marijuana when, in fact, the consensus is that this drug is highly dangerous.

Elizabeth Seward has written about health and wellness for Discovery Health, National Geographic, How Stuff Works Health, and many other online and print publications. As a former touring rock musician, Elizabeth has firsthand experience with the struggles of substance abuse and the loss of loved ones because of it. She believes in the restorative power of yoga, meditation, talk therapy, and plant-based diets and she is an advocate for progressive drug policy reform.

How the Legalization of Marijuana Affects Colorado Locals

August 20, 2014 by  
Filed under Laws and Legalization, People and Culture

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TGDGmarijuanaMarijuana (pot) sales in Colorado far exceeded what was expected in 2013. With sales reaching over $300 million in retail, the state really shocked the nation. There were reports on Fox News explaining that people were moving to Colorado just so that they could have legal access to marijuana. How will this affect the locals and the marijuana market in Colorado?

The Teen Perception of Pot

For many people, the ‘90s were a time when the number of people smoking cigarettes increased. In the new millenium, there was an increased effort to educate teens on the effects that cigarettes had on the body. Over the years, the number of teen smokers has dropped from more than 30 percent to roughly 11 percent, and the numbers are still declining. The result of this education about nicotine was that it changed teen perception of nicotine and its negative effects.

Now we need to tackle teen perception of marijuana and its effects. One big difference between marijuana and nicotine, however, is that cigarettes have never been illegal. Most teens know that marijuana was illegal, and still is illegal in many places, but that has never stopped them from getting their hands on it. Now, not only is pot legal in Colorado, but it can be found on nearly every street in the state. How does this fact affect teen perception of pot, and will there be an increase in marijuana addiction?

Not only has the legalization of marijuana in Colorado granted people permission to freely use a mind-altering substance, but the new law has, in a sense, sent teens the message that the drug is no longer as harmful as they had once thought.

Teens no longer have to worry about a drug charge if they are caught with marijuana in Colorado. In Colorado Springs, the new charge for possession of marijuana will be “minor in possession,” which is roughly equivalent to a curfew violation. Both citations are handled with fines up to $5,000 and up to six months in jail (as long as the amount in possession is less than one ounce) for the first offense.

Marijuana: Changing Business and Profits

According to an interview with a local marijuana seller who agreed to speak anonymously, he makes less profit now from his legal sales of marijuana than he did by selling it illegally in 1990. The tax rate for purchasing marijuana is 29 percent in Denver, and that does not include the amount that the store pays to the state.

It appears that many locals are beginning to rethink their voting decisions. Colorado police have continued cracking down on marijuana usage, even after the laws came into effect. Denver even went so far as to try to ban recreational marijuana usage at private residences if pedestrians passing by could smell it.

Another anonymous source stated, “Was I the only one deluded into supporting pot legalization because I thought legal pot would be less expensive and would put the cartels out of business in our state? Or were others led to believe that, too? Removing the ‘risk premium’ was supposed to be the appeal.” According to this source, the drug cartels will also be more inclined to sell their product in Colorado because the price for an ounce goes for about $400 (before taxes), and in other states it only sells for about $300. The cartels will be able to make a bigger profit, and all they have to do is stay under that $400 limit.

Cartels will also become more inclined to sell in Colorado because police have stated that it will be near impossible to police the borders now that “pot” has been legalized. There is simply not enough manpower to do border patrol.

 

Cryste Harvey has battled with addiction since the day she was born. From family issues to personal issues, she has seen many things, but she has taken the leap to be sober and to help inform others of the hardships, trials and tribulations associated with addiction. She is now a mother and wife, and she has vowed to help others on their road to recovery. With little to no help from her parents and siblings, she was the first person in her family to graduate high school and then continue on to college. She is currently working towards an English degree, and she hopes to become a published author.

 

When Coping Mechanisms Become Addictions

July 29, 2014 by  
Filed under General Topics, Treatment and Recovery News

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Exercising can help you fight addiction and cope with problems

Exercising can help you fight addiction and cope with problems

Life is stressful, and everyone needs something to help them decompress. While some people manage to find healthy ways of relaxing, everyone is tempted by vices: junk food, reality TV, video games, alcohol, tobacco, marijuana…you know, outlets which offer immediate gratification and don’t require any real physical or mental exertion. Everyone gives in to vices from time to time, but some indulgences are much riskier than others.

No One Starts with the Intention of Forming a Habit

People use drugs and alcohol to relax. They use them to diminish their inhibitions so they can socialize with people more easily. They use them to unwind after a stressful day at work. In other words, drugs and alcohol become a coping mechanism for many people. For most people, the inclination to use drugs and alcohol stems less from a desire to cause pain than a desire to reduce pain. The problem though, is that this form of “self-medication” commonly begets addiction–the coping mechanism becomes an even greater problem unto itself.

The True Cost of Addiction

Chronic use of any drug will deplete you financially, impair your ability to make decisions, damage your health, and color your perception of reality. Becoming addicted to something means that you no longer use to get high–you use to sustain a consistent low. What was once a source of joy and a vehicle for escape becomes part of a boring, expensive, and generally destructive pattern of abuse.

As you develop a higher tolerance, or a chemical dependency, it becomes increasingly difficult to achieve the sort of buzz which got you hooked in the first place–which is the ultimate irony with drugs and alcohol. Certain substances will have you forever pursuing an idealized high which you may never truly experience again.

Finding Healthier Alternatives

There are other, more sustainable coping mechanisms and lifestyle choices that you might consider trying. What makes the healthier choices less desirable for some people, however, is that they won’t provide you with gratification without requiring you to put forth a little effort. Lighting up a joint and going for a jog are measurably different activities. But, just as drug and alcohol abuse commonly damages your self-perception, you might find that the activities which challenge you will likely enhance your feelings of self-worth. And, ideally speaking, you might find that building up your confidence and self-respect decreases your desire to consume drugs and alcohol.

Devising a consistent fitness regimen is one potential solution. Vigorous physical activity causes your body to release endorphins which provide you with their own unique–and completely natural–euphoria. What’s more, regular exercise lowers your blood pressure, increases your confidence, and has been found to generally decrease anxiety and depression over time.

Some people adapt a personal artistic practice. There are many creative activities which can bolster one’s sense of self-worth, and provide a constructive outlet for otherwise destructive emotional tendencies. There are many activities you might consider picking up: sewing, baking, drawing, creative writing, dance, or even playing a musical instrument.

You might also try bubble baths, reading classic literature, listening to records…there are many, many healthy ways of decreasing stress. One danger to be aware of, however, is when a healthy habit turns into an addiction itself.

Put One Foot in Front of the Other

The first and most crucial step towards overcoming your addiction is recognizing that you have a problem. Self-deception and inadequate excuses only further perpetuate the cycle of abuse. Take a good, long, honest look at your life. Determine what your sources of happiness are, and maximize them. Determine what your sources of unhappiness are, and minimize their presence in your life as best as you can.

Brandon Engel is a Chicago-based author who writes about a variety of topics — everything from vintage horror films to energy legislation to drugs. Drugs are of particular interest to Brandon, partially because of the politics surrounding them and partially also because he has experimented with them and has struggled with certain substances in the past–particularly with alcohol. Brandon is sober now and eager to help others overcome their addictions.

Pot and the Teen Brain

July 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Health, People and Culture

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Marijuana May Affect the Developing Brain

Marijuana May Affect the Developing Brain

Adolescents and Teenagers: Pot Use and the Developing Brain

The brain is a fabulous instrument. Even its development is a wonder. As science discovers more about the brain and its beautiful symphony of operation, knowledge of the ways drugs and alcohol affect the developing brain are being discovered as well.

Development of the brain takes place from birth through the age of twenty or so. In a teenage brain, certain brain regions are still forming, and the brain has yet to master the complex functions found in the pre-frontal cortex of the adult brain. This is the processing center; where decisions and judgment are made in an adult brain. This is not yet developed in a teen. Adolescents and teens use another brain process when assessing danger and deciding things that may become life-changing. Judgement in young people may not always be sound.

The synapses (relays) in the brain are not yet protected, as they will be at adulthood. The use of drugs in the developing years can cause permanent damage in the formation of the protective coating (called the myelin sheath) on the synapses. For this reason, and others not yet fully understood, use of marijuana in adolescents and teens can pose a more serious risk than it does for adult users.

Early Pot Use Related to Impaired Decision-Making

Adults have fully formed sheathing on these synapses, protecting the process of communication in the brain responsible for processing thoughts and making decisions. If teenage damage occurs, this type of brain function is possibly never fully formed. As use continues or escalates, more damage to the synapses is done and processing of the pre-frontal cortex is forever impaired. This allows for more impulsivity and less reasoning to be done by the user. In regards to making critical decisions, incomplete processing creates higher risk.

Research over the years has shown that high impulsivity in teens is a marker of alcohol abuse and substance abuse. When a teen is genetically pre-disposed to substance addiction, early drug use poses a problem. Marijuana (pot, cannabis) use during the teen years creates a greater likelihood of problems with decision making and cognitive functions. Advancing to heavier drugs during this time of life may be due to a lack of reasoning capability. Further, continued use of pot can affect the reasoning capability in the long term. Lacking ability to reason well prevents a teen from determining what is and is not safe, making them more prone to take risks without realizing the real danger. This is a compelling reason against teenage marijuana use.

There is great debate among health professionals about the negative short- and long-term effects of marijuana use among adolescents and teens, including whether or not those effects are permanent. The one factor that seems to be agreed on by professionals on both sides of the debate is the lack of protection of vital synapses in the pre-frontal cortex of all teens, which makes them vulnerable to the effects of marijuana.

 

Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work and a CATC IV in addictions counseling. She teaches meditation and mindfulness, specializing in addiction and trauma. She also leads workshops and seminars on treatment of addictive disorders and stress reduction.

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