For most teenagers and young adults smoking marijuana is hardly a novel concept, but a new study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs has found that the reasons for doing so are not as obvious.
Researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital found that many adolescents and young adults are smoking marijuana as a coping mechanism for upsetting or traumatic events in their lives. Using 40 regular pot smokers as participants, subjects were given a handheld computer that signaled them four to six times per day with questions about their mood, who they were with, and whether they used or were about to use marijuana. They also checked into the computer system just before or after they smoked pot.
After assessing the data from over 3,600 reports filed by the participants, the scientists found that negative emotions were higher in the 24 hours leading up to marijuana use. However, positive emotions didn’t increase after they smoked, and researchers found that using marijuana as a coping tool for these emotions could lead to an increased dependence on the drug.
“One of the challenges is that people often may use marijuana to feel better but may feel worse afterward,” said lead researcher Dr. Lydia A. Shrier. “Marijuana use can be associated with anxiety and other negative states. People feel bad, they use, and they might momentarily feel better, but then they feel worse. They don’t necessarily link feeling bad after using with the use itself, so it can become a vicious circle.”
Despite the potential downsides of marijuana, more states are also beginning to consider the potential upsides of legalizing it. A bill recently introduced in New York by Democratic State Senator Liz Krueger could make the drug legal for recreational use as early as next year.
Molly seemed to be popping up everywhere from college parties to Miley Cyrus lyrics, but the U.S. Justice Department has reported that use of the synthetic drug is beginning to slow down.
Statistics from the 2013 National Drug Threat Assessment have reported that the number of teenagers using Molly dropped from 3.6% in 2011 to 3.1% in 2012. Law enforcement officials also seized 1.9 million doses of this particular form of MDMA in 2011, compared to around 173,000 doses in 2012. More anecdotally, a local college poll of 25 students at Idaho State University found that only three had seen the drug before and just two could get access to it from someone they knew.
However, the drug has continued to wreck havoc at concerts across the country and during the summer festival circuit. Thirty-six people attending an electronic dance music (EDM) concert in Boston were hospitalized and the culprit in most cases was a bad batch of Molly. It was also cited as the cause of death for two people at last year’s Electronic Zoo Festival in New York City and a woman attending a performance by DJ Zed at Boston’s House of Blues.
And while use of the drug may have gone down overall, it still remains a major problem ion college campuses and has left school officials debating what the best counseling approach is for Molly.
“You don’t know what you’re getting,” said Cassandra Nichols, director of Counseling and Testing Services at Washington State University (WSU). “(People think) that somehow because it’s in pill form, and it looks like a prescription pill, that it’s something that’s regulated, which it’s not. Or that somehow it being a more pure form of Ecstasy means something; it doesn’t.”
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According to a study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology last week, psychedelic mushrooms helped 12 long-time cigarette smokers quit the habit and showed a unique promise that may lead to new approaches to treat other types of addictions.
Study volunteers—including a teacher, lawyer, and a museum worker—took a 20 milligram pill containing psilocybin, the active hallucinogenic agent in psychedelic mushrooms, in a comfortable, homelike setting. During the session, which lasted six to seven hours, volunteers covered their eyes and listened to music as they were closely monitored by researchers, and were encouraged to relax and focus on their inner experiences.
After six months, 12 of the 15 volunteers had stopped smoking. Volunteers who described having a “transcendent experience,” which is described as going into a mystical state that helped them feel unity with themselves and the universe, saw more success.
“The rates of quitting were so high, twice as high as what you typically see with the gold standard medication,” said Matthew Johnson, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University and a corresponding author on the study. “It is a very small study, but it’s an indication that something very strong is going on here. It answers the question of whether this is worth pursuing.”
The volunteers smoked on average 19 cigarettes a day for 31 years. All of the volunteers returned for a second session two weeks after the first session— this time, with a higher dose of psilocybin. Several of the volunteers declined when offered a third experience.
The researchers emphasize that their findings are not an endorsement of a do-it-yourself psychedelic mushroom session for people who want to quit smoking. Maintaining a carefully controlled and comfortable environment helped the researchers minimize the potential for the volunteers to experience the acute anxiety that can occur in “bad trips.”
“Quitting smoking isn’t a simple biological reaction to psilocybin, as with other medications that directly affect nicotine receptors,” said Johnson. “When administered after careful preparation and in a therapeutic context, psilocybin can lead to deep reflection about one’s life and spark motivation to change.”
Next on Johnson’s agenda is comparing smoking success rates for people who take psilocybin versus those who use nicotine patches.
“This is outside the box. When a typical drug goes in the body it has an effect, and when it leaves the body the effect is gone,” Johnson said. “The fascinating thing is that the experiences with these hallucinogenic compounds can change people.”
A new bill passed by New Jersey legislature defines drug addiction as mental illness, providing judges with the legal power to involuntarily admit certain addicts.
Bill A3227, drafted by Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-Hudson), was passed by the Assembly Human Services Committee Thursday and allows judges to send diagnosed addicts with the potential to hurt themselves or others to the state’s involuntary outpatient treatment program.
Mukherji said the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defined “substance use disorder” as a mental illness, and reasoned that the state of New Jersey should as well.
“We need to approach addictions the same way we do any other disease or illness,” Mukherji said. “We’ve heard of far too many parents grieving the loss of a child because there was only so much they could do for them within our existing laws. It’s time to give family members greater power to save their loved ones.”
The bill was strongly supported by parents who lost their children to overdoses. Alba Herrera, who lost her 24-year-old son from a heroin overdose, spoke at the committee hearing.
“These young men and women suffer from a disease called addiction. This disease cannot be cured by willpower,” Herrera said. “Saying that it’s an addict’s decision to use or not is akin to saying that it’s a schizophrenic’s decision to hear or not hear voices...they need help and support, even if it means going to rehab against their will.”
Bill A3227 requires that facility managers of the outpatient program contact a spouse, parent, guardian, or some other person after the resident is released, as long as the resident consents.
In an effort to ensure proper regulation, the bill would also shift the power of licensing sober living homes to the Department of Human Services.
California-based pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences struck a deal on September 15 to offer a generic version of its $1,000-a-pill hepatitis C treatment which will be available in poorer countries. The scandal over Sovaldi since its release on the open market in the United States has not been over its effectiveness, but rather its outrageous cost. As one of the costliest drugs in the world, Sovaldi has been criticized as an answer only for the rich, excluding the vast majority of people in the world infected with the hepatitis C virus.
Pushing back against the tide of negative opinion, Gilead Sciences announced a generic version of the drug that will be sold in India and other developing countries at a fraction of the price charged in the United States. With nearly 180 million people infected worldwide with hepatitis C who do not live in rich countries, the goal is to stop a potential storm of negative press by saving lives when death can be prevented through accessible treatment options.
In its first year on the market after gaining approval in the United States in December of 2013, Sovaldi is expected to exceed $10 billion in sales in 2014. Such profit easily covers the research investment in the drug by Gilead Sciences. Still, the intensity of the criticism in terms of the cost remains as Sovaldi continues to be a financial drag on insurers and Medicare alike.
Even though Gilead spends 19% of its revenue on research, the company will still profit from sales of Sovaldi. The new outrage in the United States is that such profit can be maintained even after the company cuts the drug’s price by 99% in Third World countries. A secondary goal of the company is to protect their patents in Third World countries by offering breaks before the price structuring is attacked by governments and in courts.
In the United States, Sovaldi costs $1,000 a pill, or $84,000 for a typical 12-week course of treatment. According to Gregg H. Alton, Gilead’s executive vice president, Gilead plans to introduce the drug in India for about $10 a pill, or 1% of the price in the United States.
“Really what we’re trying to do here through the partnerships we’ve established is expand availability of chronic hepatitis C therapy, particularly in the developing world," Alton explained.
Seven Indian generic drug makers will pay royalties to Gilead to manufacture the drug for 91 developing countries. More than half of the world’s infected HCV population lives in those countries. The cost of manufacturing Sovaldi in India will be a miniscule fraction of the price charged in the United States. The lingering question is whether such price breaks are fair to the down and out population in the United States infected with the HCV virus.