Category Archives: Substance Abuse

Medical Marijuana Substance Abuse

Study: ‘Skunk’ Cannabis Affects Brain Structure, Increases Risk of Psychosis

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Medical marijuana may have risen in recent years as a wonder drug for many diseases, but using the wrong kind of cannabis strain — and especially in abnormally high dosages — may result to awry health effects.

This was revealed by a team of researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at UK’s King’s College London, as they studied the effects of using the cannabis strain “skunk” on the human body. The research team, led by Dr. Paola Dazzan, scanned the brains of 54 people diagnosed with first-episode psychosis, as well as 43 people with healthy dispositions. The brain scans were conducted using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and the results were cross-checked with the study participants’ history on cannabis use.

Results showed that people who used skunk in the past had a higher level of damage in the corpus callosum, a portion of the brain between the left and right hemispheres. The level of damage in these brain regions was evident in skunk-using individuals, regardless of psychotic behavior. “We found that frequent use of high-potency cannabis significantly affects the structure of white matter fibers in the brain, whether you have psychosis or not. This reflects a sliding scale where the more cannabis you smoke and the higher the potency, the worse the damage will be,” Dazzan said in a news release.

A typical skunk cannabis strain contains 14-15 percent THC, much higher than other commonly used marijuana varieties.


Substance Abuse

Elders Face Higher Risk of Prescription Drug Abuse

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old adults prescription drug abuse

The rate of prescription drug abuse has gradually decreased from 1996 to 2012, but a study discovered a rising trend in a unique demographic: the elderly.

Researchers from New York University revealed in a news article that people in their 50s have a high tendency to abuse opioids and narcotic painkillers. Study lead author Dr. Benjamin Han explained how their study on monitoring opioid treatment programs have led to the startling discovery. He mentioned a “pronounced age trend in those utilizing opioid treatment programs from 1996 to 2012, with adults aged 50 and older becoming the majority treatment population.” In 1996, adults between 50 and 59 years old represented 8 percent of the patients treated for painkiller abuse. However, the number has since ballooned to almost 36 percent by 2012. In contrast, people younger than 40 years of age represented 56 percent of substance abuse patients in 1996, but decreased to only 20 percent after 16 years.

“These increases are especially striking, considering there was about a 7.6 percent decrease in the total patient population over that period of time, and suggests that we are facing a never before seen epidemic of older adults with substance use disorders and increasing numbers of older adults in substance abuse treatment,” Han stated.

The researchers believe that their study could be used to address the needs of the above-50 demographic, so that they can follow the decreasing rate of painkiller abuse across other age groups.


Substance Abuse

CDC: Smoking Rate in the U.S. Drops Significantly in 2015

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smoking lung cancer

The U.S. government’s initiatives to help people quit smoking seem to be working, based on a recent report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The report, published by the agency’s National Center for Health Statistics, revealed that 14.9 percent of U.S. adults engage in cigarette smoking, based on smoking rate data until June 2015. This figure is lower than the initial 16.8 percent smoking rate declared by CDC last week. “Interventions like increasing the price of tobacco and the passage of comprehensive smoke-free laws at both the state and local levels have made a difference,” said Brian King of the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health in Atlanta.

Moreover, the latest smoking rate is a far cry from the 25 percent back in 1997, proving that the measures to address cigarette use and nicotine abuse are effective. “This is indeed encouraging news that suggests that investment in public health and education initiatives to reduce smoking rates among adults are paying off,” according to Mount Sinai National Jewish Health Respiratory Institute director Dr. Charles Powell in a news item.

Despite the promising news, the agency emphasized that cigarette smoking remains to be one of the leading causes of death in the world. “To get rates even lower, we need to put more resources and attention to our youth, for whom smoking rates are increasing and for whom the effects of cigarette smoke exposure can be particularly damaging,” Powell added.


Health & Wellness Substance Abuse

Study: Daily Alcohol Consumption May Increase Risk of Breast Cancer

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women drinking breast cancer risk

A large-scale research confirmed earlier studies that say drinking alcohol regularly is associated with a higher risk of developing breast cancer in women.

The findings were based on data on more than 334,000 females between the ages of 35 and 70 living in ten countries within Europe. The researchers, who come from five universities in Spain, discovered that every glass of alcoholic drink corresponds to a fourfold increase in breast cancer risk. “A daily intake of one glass of wine or beer — or less — would correspond to a risk value of 1. However, if we increase our intake to two daily glasses of wine or beer, our risk would rise by 4 percent,” said study co-author Maria Dolores Chirlaque in a news item.

In addition, women who started drinking alcohol on a daily basis before being pregnant for the first time are found to have a much greater breast cancer risk.

Despite this risk, the researchers find a glimmer of hope in the sense that the risk factor is preventable. “Alcohol intake is a breast cancer risk factor that can be changed by a personal decision to form healthy habits,” Chirlaque added.

The study was published in the International Journal of Cancer.


Substance Abuse

U.S. Pediatrics Group Recommends Stricter Regulations For Tobacco and E-Cigarettes

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smoking risks woman

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the foremost professional association of pediatricians in the U.S., wants the government to strengthen measures in regulating use of tobacco products and electronic cigarettes. In fact, its latest recommendation is to increase the minimum allowable age of use to 21 years old.

AAP Tobacco Control chair Karen Wilson emphasized the adverse effect of nicotine — found in both tobacco cigarettes and their electronic equivalents — on the physiological development of the younger generation. “The developing brains of children and teens are particularly vulnerable to nicotine, which is why the growing popularity of e-cigarettes among adolescents is so alarming and dangerous to their long-term health,” Wilson said in a news item.

The AAP released its list of recommendations through its National Conference & Exhibition on October 26, and also through the journal Pediatrics. Apart from the higher minimum age requirement for tobacco and e-cigarettes, the AAP also recommends the following points:

  • With the approval of the U.S. Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), e-cigarettes should be regulated in the same fashion as traditional tobacco cigarettes.
  • Manufacturing companies must incorporate child-resistant packaging in their products.
  • Laws that cover secondhand smoke must also be extended to e-cigarettes.
  • Tobacco product prices need to be increased, so as to discourage teenagers from smoking.
  • Smoking regulations must include banning of cigarette smoking in workplaces, restaurants and bars, health care institutions, and places where children are expected to roam freely.

“Tobacco use continues to be a major health threat to children, adolescents and adults,” Wilson added. “Protecting children from tobacco products is one of the most important things that a society can do to protect children’s health.”


Medical Marijuana Substance Abuse

Marijuana Trends: Usage Doubled in 11 Years

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From 4.1 percent of Americans admitting to marijuana use in 2001-2002, the number has more than doubled after 11 years.

This was revealed by a study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, based on personal interviews with respondents in two national surveys in the U.S. The percentage of people who use marijuana has since ballooned to 9.5 percent by 2012-2013. In addition, those who admitted to engage in marijuana abuse or dependence has also risen in number, from 1.5 percent in 2001-2002 to 2.9 percent by 2012-2013.

The research team led by Dr. Bridget F. Grant believe that regulations and continual education should be implemented. “While many in the US think prohibition of recreational marijuana should be ended, this study and others suggest caution and the need for public education about the potential harms in marijuana use, including the risk for addiction,” the researchers stated via a news item.

One potential reason behind this rise in use is the public’s updated perspective on marijuana, saying that cannabis is not risky to use. Another reason is that more U.S. states — now pegged at 23 and still growing — are legalizing medical marijuana, with four of them also legalizing recreational pot use.

Researchers emphasized the importance of regulating marijuana, saying that it does not come without health hazards. “As is the case with alcohol, many individuals can use marijuana without becoming addicted. However, the clear risk for marijuana use disorders among users (approximately 30%) suggests that as the number of US users grows, so will the numbers of those experiencing problems related to such use,” they added.


Health & Wellness Substance Abuse

Infant Exposure To Secondhand Smoke Increases Risk of Dental Problems in Children

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child teeth secondhand smoke

A team of researchers from Kyoto University in Japan discovered one possible factor that increases the likelihood of cavities in the teeth of children: exposure to secondhand smoke.

This breakthrough discovery was based on data on close to 77,000 kids who were born within 2004 to 2010. The study followed the children in terms of their health stats, as well as their exposure to secondhand smoke through a survey conducted on the parents. Results showed that 55 percent of parents admitted that they smoked at home, and about 7 percent of the children may be exposed to secondhand smoke. “In our study, more than half of children had family members who smoked, and most smokers were their fathers,” said study lead author Dr. Koji Kawakami in a news release.

Out of this small percentage, kids who live with smoking parents were up to twice more likely to develop dental cavities as early as 3 years old. Dr. Rosie Roldan, who works at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami as pediatric dental center director, said that secondhand smoke may cause biological changes in the kids’ saliva to the extent of damaging teeth. “Secondhand smoke puts children at risk for heart disease, breathing difficulties, and possibly for cavities,” Roldan said.

Details of the research were published in the journal BMJ.


Substance Abuse

Childhood Concussion Linked To Higher Risk of Alcohol Abuse in Women

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drinking alcohol abuse

A recent study published in the Journal of Neurotrauma revealed something unique but thought-provoking: Women who suffered some form of concussion when they were children had a higher likelihood of alcohol abuse during adulthood.

This was revealed by a group of scientists from Ohio State University, who performed experiments on lab mice to investigate the effect of a concussion on a potential tendency to abuse alcohol in the adult stage. This was carried out by inflicting a concussive head injury on test mice on its 21st day of life, which translates to roughly 6-12 years in human life. From this, the rats were made to choose between water or ethanol solution.

Results revealed that female mice that received a head injury early on in their life showed higher affinity to alcohol during their adulthood as compared to those without a concussion. Although the tests were administered on both genders, the results were not evident in male mice, according to this news report.

In addition, the head injury did not affect the way mice perceived alcohol. Because of this, the researchers inferred that the tendency of female mice to prefer alcohol over water is because they thought of it as a reward.

Study lead author Zachary Weil, who also works in the university as neuroscience assistant professor, said that their study could pave the way for better intervention measures in preventing alcohol abuse. “People with juvenile head injuries are already at risk for memory problems, difficulty concentrating, poor learning and reduced impulse control. If we can prevent alcohol misuse, chances for a good life are much better,” Weil said.


Real Drug Stories Substance Abuse

Could Changing Dry Counties to Wet Counties Cut Down on Meth Labs?

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Counties that ban the sale of alcohol (dry counties) tend to have higher numbers of meth labs, a new study by a group of economists from the University of Louisville suggests.

Kentucky in particular attracted the attention of the economists, as the state has a lot of dry counties, and also has a rising number of meth labs. A White House report says that the number of “meth lab incidents” jumped from 297 in 2007 to 696 in 2009.

Researcher Jose Fernandez and his colleagues discovered when they looked at the data that “dry” counties, where alcohol sales are banned, had twice as many meth-lab seizures (when accounted for population) when compared to “wet” counties, which allow alcohol sales.

Based on this analysis, the research team estimated that if all dry or “moist” counties (where only limited areas within a county are allowed to sell alcohol) were converted to wet counties, the number of meth labs in those areas could fall by more than a third.

Although the economists only draw a correlation between dry counties and meth labs, the team speculated why this correlation exists and came up with the following reasoning:

  1. Bans on alcohol sales makes booze relatively expensive and makes meth a more affordable alternative.
  2. Drinkers who get alcohol from illegal sources are more likely to hear about other illicit products, like meth, than they would if they bought alcohol legally from a supermarket or other alcohol retailer.
  3. In dry counties, the punishment for getting caught with drugs is not that much more severe than getting caught with illegal alcohol.

While the data is limited to Kentucky, previous studies show that the spread of meth labs appears similar in other states with dry countries.


Health & Wellness Pregnancy & Fertility Substance Abuse

Smoking While Pregnant Increases Asthma Risk of Grandchildren

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grandmother smoking while pregnant

Previous studies have emphasized the adverse effects of smoking while pregnant on the health of children, but a new study goes further — by two generations.

A Swedish study discovered that a woman who smokes while she is pregnant may increase the risk of asthma on her grandchildren (i.e. the child of her child). This study is the first of its kind to investigate the effects of smoking two generations after. “We found that smoking in previous generations can influence the risk of asthma in subsequent generations,” said study co-author Dr. Caroline Lodge in a news release.

The researchers conducted a survey on close to 45,000 grandmothers whose names are listed in the Swedish Registry between 1982 and 1986. Meanwhile, the study also checked for use of asthma treatment and medication in more than 66,000 grandchildren. Results showed that kids had up to 22 percent higher risk of developing asthma if their grandmothers smoked during pregnancy. The data was applicable even though the children’s respective mothers did not engage in cigarette smoking.

The study proponents believe that smoking changes the genetic makeup of offspring, which may be carried over to subsequent generations.

The number of asthma cases has escalated quickly in the last 50 years according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), affecting 6.8 million children in the U.S. alone.