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Don’t Downplay the Risks of Rising Teen Marijuana Use – by Dr. Kevin Sabet

This article is written by Dr. Kevin Sabet. He is a former senior drug policy advisor to the Obama administration and currently serves as president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana. His latest book, Smokescreen: What the Marijuana Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know, was published on April 20 by Simon & Schuster.

Don’t Downplay the Risks of Rising Teen Marijuana Use

Late last month, the Biden-Harris administration released its National Drug Control Strategy (NDCS). As a former senior drug policy adviser in the Obama administration who helped write the NDCS in 2009, I know how much work this document requires. This year’s strategy addresses untreated addiction and the rise in marijuana use by teens and young adults, and advocates for the expansion of youth-focused drug education campaigns, among other things.

Ironically, the president’s strategy is being introduced just as talk of federal marijuana legalization is ramping up in the halls of Capitol Hill, and as states like New Jersey and New York are preparing to launch retail sales.

Kids are getting mixed messages. While teen alcohol use and smoking rates have steadily declined, marijuana use rates have increased––and there’s no doubt that legalization has played a part. Despite claims to the contrary from pro-pot activists, youth marijuana use has been going up following legalization. A 2021 study found legalization in California was associated with higher youth use; researchers noted that “increases observed in California may portend continued increases in adolescent marijuana use in future years.” A study of Seattle youth found that “nonmedical marijuana legalization predicted a higher likelihood of self-reported past-year marijuana and alcohol use among youth.” Oregon, a state that legalized marijuana eight years ago, now has the highest rate of monthly marijuana use by 12-to-17-year-olds in the country. A study comparing Alaska, a state with legal marijuana, with Hawaii, a state without such a policy, found Alaska’s rate of marijuana use went up after legalization, while Hawaii’s rate actually decreased.

Researchers have further found that youth aged 12 to 17 in states with legalized marijuana were 25 percent more likely to have Cannabis Use Disorder than youth in states without legalized marijuana. And a study that found youth use declining in legal states—which garnered dozens of headlines and was touted by legalization advocates—was retracted last month.

Marijuana use has also skyrocketed among young adults. College-aged youth in particular are seeing historic levels of use, with almost half having used marijuana in the past year—the highest levels recorded since the 1980s. Even the pro-legalization Cato Institute recently acknowledged that, “All states that have legalized marijuana fall below the average U.S. risk perception,” which has resulted in more youth in those states using the drug. Today more than 15 million Americans report using marijuana daily, up from 6 million in 2009 and 900,000 in 1992.

Marijuana is playing a big part in today’s teen mental health crisis. Young people today face astronomical rates of psychological distress, only made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to increased feelings of persistent sadness, hopelessness and suicidal thoughts. A study of young people with mood disorders by researchers at Ohio State University found that “the presence of cannabis use disorder was significantly associated with an increased risk of nonfatal self-harm, all-cause mortality, and death by unintentional overdose and homicide.”

In February 2022, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, who issued an advisory in late 2021 on the youth mental health crisis, testified during a Senate Finance Committee hearing. “When kids also have underlying mental health conditions, the impact of marijuana use can also be more significant,” he told the committee. “I worry…about the messages we may send that say this is ‘utterly harmless’ and ‘there’s no problem here.'”

Dr. Murthy is right. Today’s high-potency marijuana is not Woodstock weed—it has been genetically engineered to have a much higher potency. More potency means more harm. Not only is potency increasing, but so are rates of daily use, and daily marijuana use is associated with an increased likelihood of developing psychosis. Researchers reported daily users of high-potency marijuana were more than four times as likely to develop psychosis. And the link to suicide is, unfortunately, becoming far too common.

Amid America’s opioid overdose epidemic, it is common to disregard the harms of marijuana—but we cannot ignore them.

A study published last week in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics found that teen opioid overdose deaths nearly doubled in 2020. The opioid epidemic is no doubt having a catastrophic impact on this generation, but legal weed is not the solution. States with legal weed don’t have better rates of opioid overdoses; in fact, research shows that those states fare worse, as another study confirmed in April.

What does all of this mean for parents and policy makers?

We can’t overlook or downplay the risks of today’s highly potent marijuana. We must educate kids on the risks and harms of marijuana use. And as we discuss federal legalization and state rollouts like the ones happening in New York and New Jersey, we must proceed with caution and skepticism.

Dr. Kevin Sabet is a former senior drug policy advisor to the Obama administration and currently serves as president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana. His latest book, Smokescreen: What the Marijuana Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know, was published on April 20 by Simon & Schuster and is available everywhere books are sold.

‘Abysmally low’ – Few drug users engaging with Government’s helpline

Our present Government prefers a “health approach” to drug use in New Zealand, yet this approach does not appear to be favoured by many drug users. In fact, the number of drug users engaging with the Government’s recommended health referral service is ‘abysmally low’, from data released to the NZ Herald under the Official Information Act. Only six to seven drug users a month are engaging with a substance helpline after being given a health referral from police. This number is being described as “abysmally low”, and there’s been no sign of increased uptake five months after Health Minister Andrew Little stressed the importance of increasing uptake.

The Government and pro-drug advocates say that we shouldn’t charge drug offenders because it’s really a health issue. But if many drug users don’t appear to want health treatments, then perhaps drug-use is actually a lifestyle choice for many. Therefore they should be given a clear choice between health treatment or criminal charges – they choose which outcome. A sensible drug policy should be multi-faceted, rather than a one-dimensional health-only approach.

According to the NZ Herald report …

The referral – to Whakarongorau Aotearoa’s Alcohol Drug Helpline – was set up following changes to the Misuse of Drugs Act, which came into force in August 2019 and was hailed at the time as a turning point towards harm minimisation if someone’s most serious offence was using or possessing illegal substances. The Ministry of Health reviewed the impact of the law change last year, and one of the key findings was the extremely low rate of engagement with the referral pathway. In the 22 months since the law change, police data shows 8586 people faced the possibility of a drug use charge as their most serious offence, but only 959 health referrals were made – or about 44 of about 390 people a month. The referrals are made via an app, and the user is then sent a text message by an alcohol and drug helpline. Only 147 of the 959 people responded to the text message.

If you say you want a ‘health’ approach, the coercion of the law is necessary to force that drug addiction support. National Party health spokesman Shane Reti said a health response centred on an automated text message “strains credibility”. “A text message is not a health response, and certainly not an otherwise alternative to a conviction for use or possession of drugs. The minimum for an adequate health response as an alternative to conviction for drugs should be a requirement to at least meet with a health professional.”

A sensible drug policy should recognise three pillars – similar to the successful approach towards SmokeFree NZ:

  • Supply Reduction – target the dealers and suppliers
  • Demand Reduction – promote a drug-free culture
  • Harm Reduction – ensure addiction services & support are available for those who genuinely want to quit. The primary purpose is not to keep users using, but reduce and help them exit drug use.

A smart arrest policy can both provide an important societal stamp of disapproval and provide an opportunity to intervene and stop the progression of use. Keeping marijuana illegal through an appropriate application of the laws that cater for ‘youthful indiscretions’ and which focus on supply and dealers is as much a public safety policy as it is a public health policy – maintaining its illegality but using a smart arrest policy combined with the coercion of the law is the correct response to drug use.


Read the full NZ Herald article here.

UK: Surge in psychosis after Scots decriminalise cannabis

Scotland is showing the world what happens when cannabis is decriminalised – mental health illness soars, with admissions to psychiatric hospitals increasing by 74 percent. Last year, a record number of patients in Scotland sought hospital treatment for psychiatric disorders blamed on cannabis, including schizophrenia (source: NHS data)

A previous Public Health Scotland report also stated psychiatric admissions for cannabis users doubled between 2014 and 2020.

“There has been a notable increase in the percentage of [psychiatric hospital] stays attributed to cannabinoids in recent years, increasing from 9% in 2014/15 to 18% in 2019/20.”

Source: The Sunday Post.

So the trend is obvious – decriminalise (or legalise) cannabis, and mental health problems skyrocket. One US study found that cannabis-linked psychosis admissions are 2.5 times higher in areas where the drug has been legalised. Harvard Medical School studied 246 new psychosis patients aged 16 to 35 and found 78 per cent had used cannabis.

Professor Jonathan Chick, of Castle Craig Hospital, a private rehabilitation centre in Peeblesshire, says:

’We do need to worry about the numbers of young people presenting with psychosis and schizophrenia because of it.

‘We’re dealing with both dependence and psychosis. Often, where there has been a second or third psychotic breakdown, there has been hospital or police involvement because of incidents of self-harm or harm to others.

‘These patients have terrifying thoughts. It is a paranoid psychosis where they can’t even go into the street without misinterpreting thoroughly innocuous cues as malevolent. It is a horrible experience.’

He added: ‘In some cases, people have used cannabis for 20 years and got by up till that point – but typically psychosis will occur within the first three to four years.

‘Sometimes the damage is permanent, in which case the treatment for schizophrenia involves living and working in safer environments and medication.’

Many studies have shown a strong link between cannabis and mental illness. Yet there are still calls to legalise cannabis across all of the UK. Surely this is madness? Fortunately New Zealand voted NO to legalising cannabis in the 2020 referendum. Let’s keep it that way.

Read more here.

McBLOG: Promised benefits of legalising cannabis are hot air

How harmful is cannabis? Does legalisation actually work?
The LA Times newspaper endorsed the referendum ‘Prop 64’ in 2016 which resulted in cannabis being legalised for recreational use in California. Five years later, they have to admit that very little about the proposition is actually working as promised.
And new research has continued to highlight the harms of cannabis use – including acute cognitive impairments and psychosis.

Research: TikTok Serves up ‘Humorous’ Cannabis Videos to Teens

It’s very concerning that teens are at risk of illicit drug use after being exposed to TikTok videos that portray cannabis-use as “humorous or entertaining” rather than risky, according to University of Queensland (UQ) research.
Lead author and PhD student Brienna Rutherford from UQ’s National Centre for Youth Substance Use Research said:
“We know this exposure can influence an adolescent’s attitudes and potentially lead to problematic cannabis use, posing the risk of mental health issues or neuropsychological decline.”
Social Media platforms appear quick to stamp out misinformation on other subjects, so why not stamp out misinformation about drugs?
Read the full story here.

Research – Significant Association Between Cannabis Use and Psychotic Disorders

Researchers find that recreational use of cannabis was significantly associated with a diagnosis of psychotic disorder. Their findings have been published in The American Journal of Psychiatry.

Here’s what they conclude:

“Nonmedical cannabis use and cannabis use disorder were consistently associated with self-reported psychotic disorders over time, while frequent and daily/near-daily use was also associated with self-reported psychotic disorders in the more recent survey. The increasing perception of cannabis as a harmless substance may deter the general public as well as health care providers from recognizing that nonmedical cannabis use may play a role in exacerbating the risk for psychotic disorders.

Therefore, improving public knowledge and educating providers about this risk may serve a useful function. In particular, identifying cannabis use disorder may help indicate individuals at increased risk of psychotic disorders. This information can inform addiction specialists and other clinicians about the need for evaluation and appropriate interventions and therapeutic modalities for individuals at risk.”

Read full article here:

Significant Association Between Cannabis Use and Psychotic Disorders

Rise of vaping-addicted teens in NZ

One in five New Zealand secondary school students are now addicted to vaping according to research by the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation, which surveyed more than 19,000 students in Years 9 to 13.

This is a shocking statistic but is not surprising considering the proliferation of vaping stores in local neighbourhoods, plus online stores. NZ Herald conducted research, using Ministry of Health data showing the locations of specialist vaping stores. Their analysis revealed vaping stores have become more common than many fast-food chains, with many popping up in sight of schools. Despite new regulations aiming to limit youth exposure to vaping, at least one in four schools are within 1km of a specialist store and around 80 are just 250 metres away.

Vaping with nicotine has been shown to impact learning and memory, and is associated with a range of serious mental health illnesses; including depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and ADHD. There is also an increased risk of respiratory illness, heart disease and cancer.

This is exactly how the cannabis industry would have acted if we’d voted to legalise the drug, and we’d have seen a rapid increase in cannabis use and addiction. We should learn from this and never reopen the debate on legalising cannabis.

Excerpt from NZ Heard article:

Asthma and Respiratory Foundation chief executive Letitia Harding said vaping products were often targeted at kids walking home from school. Harding raised concerns about youth vaping with the Ministry of Health in 2017. She was told repeatedly by officials that teens would not become addicted and it wouldn’t be a problem, she said.

Despite assurances by Government politicians and bureaucrats, history seems to be repeating itself with so many teens preferring nicotine-based vapes. The Asthma and Respiratory Foundation’s survey found 80 per cent of students who had taken up vaping were doing so with very high nicotine levels. Only 2.8 per cent of vapers reported using zero nicotine vapes.

Doctors warned the dangers of e-cigarettes to young people can’t be ignored either, with one saying nicotine vaping is addictive and suggested increased risk of heart disease and cancer. Paediatric respiratory physician Professor Philip Pattemore said: “Vaping with nicotine has been consistently associated with depression, ADHD and conduct disorders in adolescents, and nicotine exposure has been shown to impact learning and memory.”

Read the full article from NZ Herald:

USA: Think Legal Weed Cut Down On Crime? Think Again

Just like we’ve been saying – legalising dope does not reduce crime. In fact it looks like crime increases, with gangs moving in to scoop up the profits from increased weed consumption.

Watch this episode of America Uncovered for how the cartels are moving in where marijuana is legalised, the use of narco-slaves to grow the illegal weed, and how it’s wreaking havoc on the environment.

USA: Cannabis tax suspended to help compete with drug dealers

How’s that wonderful promise of a massive marijuana tax revenue doing?
Not very well, from what we can see in San Francisco. The city has now suspended cannabis tax to help dispensaries compete with drug dealers.

“the suspension is intended to help out legal cannabis retailers who are trying to compete with illegal drug dealers and a spike in theft.”

Remember that massive marijuana tax revenue was one of the promises of the NZ Drug Foundation, the Green Party, and pro-cannabis advocates in the 2020 referendum.

So, as we suspected all along, the legal dope market simply can’t compete with the illegal market – illegal drug dealers provide a stronger product at a cheaper price. Legal dope shops are also a target for left (another outcome that we predicted).

The claimed benefits of legalisation simply don’t match reality.

Read full story here:

Rise in use of marijuana to treat anxiety and depression. For better or worse?

Marijuana consumption is on the rise, and that includes increased use of medicinal cannabis. The most common use of cannabis is to treat anxiety, depression and insomnia. Yet the science on cannabis as a treatment for mental-health problems is still evolving and somewhat insufficient – in fact some evidence suggests that marijuana can actually make these problems much worse.

In 2019, the American Psychiatric Association issued this statement:

There is no current scientific evidence that cannabis is in any way beneficial for the treatment of any psychiatric disorder. In contrast, current evidence supports, at minimum, a strong association of cannabis use with the onset of psychiatric disordersAdolescents are particularly vulnerable to harm, given the effects of cannabis on neurological development. 

Smita Das, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H. is a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioural health sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine and a member of APA’s Council on Addiction Psychiatry. She references studies “that point to an association between high-potency cannabis and symptoms of psychosis in young people who may later develop a psychotic disorder. She added that cannabis use is associated with the emergence of mood disorders, particularly bipolar disorder, among people who have a family history of mood disorders, and that cannabis use is associated with an increased risk of suicidal ideation and attempts in people who have major depressive disorder.”

Das says “there is danger of developing cannabis use disorder, an addiction that can afflict more than 20% of regular cannabis users.”

We think families should seek expert help before turning to medical marijuana in order to treat mental health problems. 

Read the full position statement by the American Psychiatric Association: