E-cigarette use triples among middle and high school students, study says (Washington Post)

By Brady Dennis April 16
The number of middle and high school students using electronic cigarettes tripled from 2013 to 2014, according to government figures released Thursday, a startling increase that public health officials fear could reverse decades of efforts combating the scourge of smoking.

The popularity of e-cigarettes among teenagers now eclipses that of traditional cigarettes, the use of which has fallen to the lowest level in years.

Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called the spike in ­e-cigarette use “shocking.”

“It’s a really bad thing, and it is subjecting another generation of our children to an addictive substance,” he said in an interview, adding that any type of nicotine exposure can harm the teenage brain and that some e-cigarette smokers undoubtedly will go on to use traditional cigarettes.

Not everyone sees such cause for alarm in the new numbers.

“The CDC should really be jumping for joy at the fact that smoking rates are declining. This is a huge success,” said Michael Siegel, a professor and tobacco-control specialist at Boston University’s School of Public Health. “Instead, they are using this as another opportunity to demonize e-cigarettes.”

Siegel said he agrees that minors shouldn’t have access to any tobacco product. But he said the CDC numbers suggest that rather than serving as a gateway to cigarette smoking, e-cigarettes actually might be diverting teens from traditional cigarettes, which still account for nearly half a million tobacco-related deaths in the United States each year.

Thursday’s findings came as little surprise to many educators around the country, who have increasingly wrestled with how to handle the swift rise in e-cigarette use among students.

Patricia Sheffer, superintendent of the Union County school system in Kentucky, grew so frustrated this year over the dozens of incidents of students being caught with e-cigarettes that last month she sent a recorded message to district parents and posted a plea on Facebook asking for help cracking down on the problem. The dogs that perform a sweep of the schools about once a month also are being trained to sniff out ­e-cigarettes, she said.

“It’s just growing at such a rapid pace,” said Sheffer, who worries about the various substances students might be smoking in the devices. “I thought, ‘We have to take a stand.’ ”

School districts around the country, such as in North Carolina’s Haywood County, are classifying e-
cigarettes as drug paraphernalia
, rather than as normal cigarettes, in hope that the more severe penalties will discourage students from bringing the devices to campus.

“It was to send a message that we don’t want it,” said Associate Superintendent Bill Nolte.

Anti-smoking advocates insist the rise in the popularity of ­e-cigarettes stems in part from aggressive marketing campaigns that Frieden called “straight out of the playbook” of ads that targeted young people in earlier generations.

E-cigarettes remain unregulated by the federal government, ­although numerous cities and states have passed laws restricting sales to minors and banning the devices in public places. But e-cigarettes do not face the same federal restrictions on television and radio advertising that apply to traditional cigarettes.

“These are the same images, the same themes and the same role models that the cigarette industry used 50 years ago,” said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “It’s the Marlboro Man reborn. It’s the Virginia Slims woman re-created, with the exact same effect. . . . This is not an accident.”

Cynthia Cabrera, executive director of the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association, an industry group, said her organization supports banning sales to minors and disputed that e-cigarette companies are deliberately marketing to teens. She said that while tobacco giants with huge advertising budgets such as Lorillard and Altria have purchased e-cigarette companies in recent years, most e-cig marketing is still done by hundreds of small companies whose target audience is smokers looking for less-toxic options.

“If you’re thinking this is Big Tobacco redux, that’s the wrong thinking,” she said.

At the heart of the public health debate lies a series of unanswered questions: Are ­e-cigarettes unequivocally less harmful than tar-laden, chemical-filled tobacco cigarettes, as many people assume? Will they prove to be a healthier alternative that helps people avoid cigarette smoking and reduce tobacco-
related deaths, or simply devices that could undermine decades of public health efforts?

Siegel, the Boston University professor, said it “shouldn’t take a rocket scientist” to figure out that “vaping” is safer than smoking, given that the liquids used in e-
cigarettes involve no combustion and very few chemicals. Likewise, Cabrera said regulators shouldn’t “lose perspective about the potential” for e-cigarettes to eliminate harm caused by smoking cigarettes.

But plenty of uncertainty remains. A study published this week in the journal Tobacco Control, for instance, found that the chemicals used to flavor e-cigarettes could prove unsafe when inhaled over time. Public health officials say far more research is needed given how little data exists on the long-term effects of e-cigarettes.

This much seems certain from Thursday’s results, based on an annual survey of 22,000 students around the country: Teens are experimenting as much as ever. Roughly a quarter of high school students and nearly 8 percent of middle school students still report having used a tobacco product at least once in the past 30 days.

But from 2013 to 2014, the findings say, e-cigarette use among high school students had increased from 4.5 percent to 13.4 percent. Usage also more than tripled among middle school students, from 1.1 percent to 3.9 percent. Only among black students was another tobacco product — cigars — more popular than ­e-cigarettes, the CDC said.

During that same period, the use of hookahs — water pipes used to smoke specially made tobacco — roughly doubled for middle and high school students, equaling and eclipsing the use of regular cigarettes, respectively.

Meanwhile, the use of conventional cigarettes sank to the lowest levels in years. According to the CDC, 9.2 percent of high school students reported smoking a cigarette over the past month, compared with 12.7 percent a year earlier. Middle school students’ cigarette use dropped to 2.5 percent from 2.9 percent. While some people might see that as good news, anti-tobacco advocates and public health officials remain wary.

“The drop in cigarette use is historic, with enormous public-health significance,” Myers said. But, he quickly added, “the explosion of ­e-cigarette use among kids means these products are being taken up in record numbers with totally unknown long-term consequences that could potentially undermine all the progress we’ve made.”

Last April, the Food and Drug Administration announced plans to begin regulating e-cigarettes, now a multibillion-dollar industry in the United States. The agency said it wants to force manufacturers to curb sales to minors, place health warning labels on the products and disclose their ingredients. The FDA’s initial proposals stopped short of halting online e-cigarette sales, restricting television advertising, or banning candy and fruit flavorings — chocolate, cotton candy, passion fruit, piña colada and hundreds of others — that critics say appeal to young users.

A year later, the FDA has yet to finalize any new regulations involving e-cigarettes, though its top tobacco official said in an interview Thursday that doing so remains “our highest priority.”

“The numbers are astounding,” said Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, calling the recent jump in youth e-cigarette use a “clarion call” to bring the products under federal oversight. “What this tells us is that with all the progress we’ve made in reducing youth cigarette smoking, that progress is in jeopardy.”

Myers said Thursday’s figures make clear that such action is long overdue, and that it can’t come soon enough.

“The failure of the FDA to move more quickly means we have an urgent crisis that needs to be addressed,” he said. “In the absence of strong governmental action, these numbers will only keep going up.”

Brady Dennis is a national reporter for The Washington Post, focusing on food and drug issues.
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Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of American-National Youth Leadership Initiative


Engaging Kids Fights Substance Abuse, Organizations Say

By Joe GuszkowskiView as “Clean Read”


Dejohn TaylorDejohn Taylor


Three years ago, Dejohn Taylor’s life was in turmoil.

Substance abuse had sent him spiraling toward self-destruction. He was finding himself in violent situations. He lost a loved one as a result of drug activity in Washington.

So he left the metro area for Chesterfield, Virginia, where a guidance counselor turned him on to mentoring, and he volunteered to teach elementary-aged school kids about the dangers of drug abuse.

Now, Taylor, 19, is back in Washington and a member of the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America’s National Youth Leadership Initiative, a nationwide, youth-led effort to train community coalitions focused on substance abuse prevention.

“I wanted to make sure that I continuously was able to use what I had been through —  my message and my life story — to try to show others how staying away from drugs can assist them in their journey,” Taylor said of his involvement with CADCA and NYLI.

Substance abuse at a young age can have negative effects on the developing adolescent brain. Research has shown that the earlier a person begins to use drugs, the more likely it is that serious problems such as addiction will occur later.

Organizations such as CADCA and the Mentor Foundation are working to prevent young people from using drugs in the first place. In recent interviews, Taylor and others from the two groups shared strategies for changing the conversation about drugs and engaging youth in prevention.

Tackling stigmas

Joseph Green

Joseph Green

“Stigma is [the top enemy] to people who are trying to do this kind of work,” said Joseph Green, program director for the Mentor Foundation.

Recovery is hard, he said. But facing students, administration and parents shouldn’t be.

One way to begin breaking down stigmas is by talking about substance abuse as a mental health and public health issue, said Melanee Piskai, 20, a trainer for CADCA.

“And we can understand that because it is a mental health issue, that means that it can be treated, it can be prevented,” she said.

Substance abuse should not be treated as an evil thing that happens to bad people, Green said.

“When you attach shame to it, then you are also scaring as opposed to informing.”

Telling kids the truth

Speaking candidly to kids about drugs is the number one thing organizations can do to prevent substance abuse, Taylor said.

“You have to be truthful with them,” he said. “You have to really shine light on not just the negative effects, but let them know the effects that these drugs have.”

Melanee Piskai

Melanee Piskai

That means letting kids know that drugs will make you high. They might make you feel good. But they also have destructive effects.

Stephanie Akoumany, director of mentoring at the Mentor Foundation, said that kids are inevitably going to encounter drugs. But arming them with facts will help them make the right decisions in those situations.

“The goal is that if you have enough facts, no matter what you do in life … that you won’t abuse that behavior,” she said.

One way the Mentor Foundation supplies those facts is through an interactive show called “Shattering the Myths.”

The show, which takes place in schools and features speakers on substance abuse and recovery along with testimony and creative writing from students, is meant to take the “amorphous idea that ‘drugs are bad’” and show kids the specific effects drugs have, Green said.

One portion of the show features stories about famous people who have struggled with drug abuse.

There is a “misconception that people who have everything don’t suffer from drug abuse,” Green said. Breaking down that perception and showing kids that it’s “uncool” is important.

“They’re their heroes. And … just like with their parents, once they take that Superman off their chest that you have when they’re little kids, it becomes real,” Green said. “And if they accept that realness, and are vulnerable, then you have a better chance of making a genuine connection.”

Engaging kids

Getting young people involved with prevention can be a challenge, Green said.

Dejohn Taylor

Dejohn Taylor

“We are a very small cricket chirp in a cacophony of sounds these kids are exposed to every day,” he said. “It’s really hard to make doing the right thing cool.”

The writing workshop portion of the program has been most effective at engaging kids, he said. It’s a chance for them to express how they’re feeling and what’s going on in their life in a creative way.

Kids then have the opportunity to share their work during the show.

“It’s a really good way for kids to see that you’re not smarter than addiction, and that your pain is not unique,” he said. “There are other people who are going through the same thing.”

For CADCA, which represents community coalitions across the country working to bring about systemic, population-level prevention, engaging kids starts with using data to identify a community’s problem areas.

In West Chester, Pennsylvania, where Melanee Piskai got started in coalition work as a teenager, underage drinking was the problem that needed addressing. In Washington, she said, it’s synthetic marijuana.

Each issue requires a different prevention strategy based on the cultural values and special populations that exist in that community.

“We provide lots of coalitions with strategies for reaching out, whether it be going through schools … a lot of times it’s going through families,” Piskai said. “A lot of times it’s reaching out through people who are involved in the rehabilitation process and working backwards.”

At the individual level, engaging kids in prevention is about building relationships first, Dejohn Taylor said. When he was mentoring in Chesterfield, he helped kids with homework and played sports after school before talking to them about drugs.

“We were able to really build a strong bond with the kids that we were mentoring,” he said. “And I find that that was essential in us being able to sincerely give information to them related to substance abuse.”


Melanee Piskai

Making an impact

For Green, the question of impact has to do with what happens after “Shattering the Myths,” when the show is over and the Mentor Foundation has left the school.

Students surveyed immediately after the performance indicated a bump in substance abuse prevention awareness, Green said. But in order to maintain that awareness long-term, the foundation established the Youth Ambassador Network.

The program identifies and trains a select group of students within each school who “want to make a difference,” Green said. The ambassadors are then in charge of planning activities such as open mics and pizza parties that include discussions about substance abuse.

“So you’re engaging [students], not talking to them,” Green said. “And [the youth ambassadors] are in charge of making those projects themselves.”

Surveys three or six months later will continue to measure impact, Green said. But sometimes, seeing the program’s effect first-hand beats the data.

“Sometimes you can just see it in their faces,” he said. “There’s a buzz.”

Longitudinal evaluations have shown that CADCA’s coalition approach to substance abuse prevention has been effective at lowering rates of substance abuse in communities, sometimes in as little as three months, said Kareemah Abdullah, CADCA’s vice president of training operations.

In addition, NYLI trainers like Taylor and Piskai have demonstrated increases in their leadership skills and civic activism and engagement.

“Their whole social consciousness has shifted,” Abdullah said.

Taylor said coalitions work because they involve people actually living in the community who have been touched by the problem.

“When you have individuals in a specific community tackling problems pertaining to substance abuse, it makes them more passionate about it,” he said. “It actually gives them the drive and the willpower to make sure that this problem is eliminated.”


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Here’s an Article About Marijuana and Society by James Arlandson

October 23, 2015

Five myths about marijuana and society

Read more: http://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2015/10/five_myths_about_marijuana_and_society.html#ixzz3rIrsINpj
Follow us: @AmericanThinker on Twitter | AmericanThinker on Facebook


These myths show up in a variety of channels in media and elsewhere, notably the pro-marijuana websites, which are eager to draw in more customers so they can make more money.

Here are their myths and the counterarguments.

Myth 1: Tax revenues from marijuana sales will benefit government budgets

Let’s do a comparison. Alcohol creates costs to society through criminal conduct, treatment, unemployment, and healthcare. In Arizona, for every dollar that the government collects through taxes, society pays out $10.00 in those costs (Bennett and White 104).

Nationally, by taxing tobacco and alcohol, we collect $40 billion annually, but we about lose $400 billion annually from lost productivity, premature illness, accidents and death (104-05).

So it is true that Colorado has collected an estimated $12 million to $21 million from January to July 2014, from marijuana sales (the figures vary). But it is not difficult to predict, from the numbers for alcohol and tobacco, that the social monetary costs will far exceed the taxes. Pew Charitable Trust predicts taxes will fall short by 46 percent (107).

Myth 2: Holland is unqualified success stories

Holland doesn’t use the word legalization, since it violates international law. But they decriminalized it in 1976.

Holland has also discovered some problems with decriminalizing marijuana. From 1976 to the early 1980s there was little change in its consumption. Then the “coffee shops” found out they can increase customer usage by advertizing and allowing foreigners and tourists to buy their product. In 1996, seeing the results, five hundred local communities were given the choice to allow such coffee shops within their jurisdictions or not, and three-quarters said no.

As normalization of marijuana worked its way through Dutch society, marijuana usage across the population more than doubled from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. For users between eighteen- to twenty-year-olds, use went from 15 percent in 1984 to 44 percent in 1996, or nearly 300 percent.

Finally, observing this deterioration, the Dutch had had enough. In 2011, they scaled back lenient laws, banned tourists from going to coffee shops selling marijuana, and reclassified marijuana as a hard drug along with cocaine (Sabet 142-43).

Thus, Holland is the shining “city on a hill” that the weed advocates would have us believe –unless the city and hill are shrouded in a certain kind of smoke.

Myth 3: the War on Drugs is a failure

To back up that myth, a commonly used historical comparison is cited: Prohibition of Alcohol (1921-1933). Many believe it also was a failure, so the War on Drugs has to be a similar failure.

However, Mark H. Moore, a professor of criminal justice at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, concludes from his study that Prohibition worked in several areas of society. First, alcohol consumption declined significantly, as seen in the decline in deaths from alcohol-related cirrhosis of the liver: from 29.5 per 100,000 in men before Prohibition to 10.7 deaths per 100,000 during the ban. Second, mental hospital admission for alcoholic psychosis went down from 10.1 per 1000,000 persons to less than 5 at the peak of prohibition. Third, arrests for drunk and disorderly conduct fell by half. Fourth, homicide rates rose from 1900-1910 (before Prohibition), but remain roughly constant during Prohibition (Sabet 118; Bennett and White 108). It’s not hard to predict that incidents of alcohol-related domestic violence similarly declined.

Further, a small example of prohibition succeeding can be seen in Barrow, Alaska, which outlawed alcohol in 1994. The city saw crime decrease by 70 percent; alcohol-related emergency room visits went from 123 to only 23, from the first month before the ban to the month after it. Once the ban was lifted, due to the pro-alcohol push, local detoxification centers filled with patients, and alcohol-related murders rose (Sabet 119).

What about drug use generally after we began the War on Drugs? In 1979, there were over 25 million drug users — over 23 million of them marijuana users — in a population of about 225 million. By 1992 went down to 12 million. In other words, 14 percent abused drugs in 1979; by 1992, it declined to 3.4 percent, with a population of 248 million Americans (Bennett and White 112).

A reasonable person should call the War on Drugs a success by any measure.

But then come the web and the weed advocate websites telling us how miraculous legalization would be for society.

Myth 4: Prisons and jails are overcrowded with marijuana offenders

On these websites one reads figures that legalizing marijuana would save the criminal justice system billions of dollars, but these data do not break down offenders by drugs and multiply marijuana’s share of arrests for drug sale and manufacture (Caulkins et al. 130).

The best estimates are that all drug violations account for about one-fifth of incarcerations, and marijuana-only incarcerations account for less than 10 percent of the one-fifth, less than two percent (130).

Myth 5: Drug cartels would disappear after marijuana legalization

This myth is related to the one about the War on Drugs.

In Colorado, Mexican cartels are eager to get involved in legalized marijuana. There has been zero decline in black market marijuana growth and production, as the drug trafficking organizations control about 65 percent of operations in Colorado forests. Crime around dispensaries, such as outright robbery, has gone up (Bennett and White 137).

Black markets and sumptuary laws work together. The Tax Foundation reports that smuggled cigarettes cut into the retail markets by 55 percent in New York, 50 percent in Arizona, New Mexico, and Washington. The black marketers are trying to beat the high tax on and the high price of cigarettes (105). The same profit motive for legal marijuana will create a similar black market, to beat the “sin” tax.

The truth is that cartels have strong motives to stay involved with marijuana (and other drugs, along with prostitution, gambling, and other vices), so the cartels and black markets will never disappear, and law enforcement will always have to stay in the fight.

Let’s wrap this up.

The human and monetary social cost of legalizing marijuana is too high. It normalizes and commercializes the product, thus lowering the barrier that the law erects. Impressionable youths will see nothing wrong with smoking or eating it. “It’s legal, man!”

Legalization won’t cure state and local budgets by taxing the product, when they have to spend a lot more money in other areas of society that marijuana degrades and damages.

Related crimes and black markets will still persist.

It is best if we keep the status quo of illegality, but reduce sentencing for simple possession of a small amount and impose a large fine or jail time for selling it or for possessing a huge amount.

States that have legalized it by the ballot initiative have acted unwisely because the medical community says the product is unsafe.

And no reputable private or governmental institute – certainly not the FDA – recommends smoking or eating marijuana in self-administered, unstandardized doses to cure or treat diseases and pain.

Therefore the states that have legalized it for recreational or medical purposes must educate themselves and vote to repeal the law.

And states that are thinking about doing so must not go down this path.

James Arlandson, Ph.D. (1994), has taught college and university for years. His website is Live as Free People.

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Prevention Teams from San Juan County Head to Seattle for National Prevention Conference!

Youth leadership is the key to positive change for a better tomorrow…

Here’s a snap from 3 years ago now, when San Juan, Lopez and Orcas Islands prevention teams travelled to Yakima for the WA. State Prevention Summit. This year, it’s time for a National Prevention Conference and it’s in Seattle!

We are headed there to learn new leadership skills, work on the strategic prevention framework model and then return to our communities to help create positive change in the world of prevention. Very proud of these youth that keep plugging along wanting to choose health, even when the media is pushing messages of substance use among minors. It’s a constant fight, but one worth standing up for. Great job!

San Juan Island Prevention Coalition's photo.
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What’s your Drug IQ?

How Science Has Revolutionized the Understanding of Drug Addiction

For much of the past century, scientists studying drug abuse labored in the shadows of powerful myths and misconceptions about the nature of addiction. When scientists began to study addictive behavior in the 1930s, people addicted to drugs were thought to be morally flawed and lacking in willpower. Those views shaped society’s responses to drug abuse, treating it as a moral failing rather than a health problem, which led to an emphasis on punishment rather than prevention and treatment. Today, thanks to science, our views and our responses to addiction and other substance use disorders have changed dramatically. Groundbreaking discoveries about the brain have revolutionized our understanding of compulsive drug use, enabling us to respond effectively to the problem.

As a result of scientific research, we know that addiction is a disease that affects both the brain and behavior. We have identified many of the biological and environmental factors and are beginning to search for the genetic variations that contribute to the development and progression of the disease. Scientists use this knowledge to develop effective prevention and treatment approaches that reduce the toll drug abuse takes on individuals, families, and communities.

Drug User Brain Activity image

Despite these advances, many people today do not understand why people become addicted to drugs or how drugs change the brain to foster compulsive drug use. This booklet aims to fill that knowledge gap by providing scientific information about the disease of drug addiction, including the many harmful consequences of drug abuse and the basic approaches that have been developed to prevent and treat substance use disorders. At the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), we believe that increased understanding of the basics of addiction will empower people to make informed choices in their own lives, adopt science-based policies and programs that reduce drug abuse and addiction in their communities, and support scientific research that improves the Nation’s well-being.

Nora D. Volkow, M.D.
National Institute on Drug Abuse

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Did you know? Marijuana Facts

Have you read Reefer Sanity Seven Great Myths about Marijuana by Kevin Sabet PhD.? Did you know? Less than 5% of people in medical marijuana programs around the country have cancer, HIV or glaucoma.

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Happy Veteran’s Day! Here’s another service from a veteran: Tips From Former Smokers

Michael’s Biography

Michael started smoking when he was 9 years old and his younger sister offered him a cigarette. Years later, Michael, a U.S. Army veteran, an Alaska Native, and member of the Tlingit tribe, would develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD—a condition caused by smoking that makes it harder and harder to breathe and can cause death. It wasn’t until he nearly suffocated that he decided to quit smoking for good.

“Smoking was something I did to fit in,” he says, remembering why he started smoking. “At first it was unpleasant, but the more I smoked, the more I became addicted to cigarettes.” In the early days, he would hide the fact that he smoked and even smoked other people’s cigarette butts. Even though Michael lost his father, sister, and many other people in his community to smoking-related diseases, he continued to smoke.

Michael served in the U.S. Army from 1977–1979. He smoked throughout that period. Even though he made attempts to quit, he always came up with an excuse to start smoking again. At age 44, Michael was diagnosed with COPD. “I would wake up with ‘smoker’s cough.’ That was a warning sign that I ignored,” he says.

The day Michael made the decision to quit smoking for good was a day he won’t forget. He was 52 years old and woke up struggling to breathe. “It was 4 hours of stark raving terror. I was suffocating to death. Every cell in my body was screaming for oxygen!” He remembers riding in the ambulance, wondering if he was going to die. He never smoked another cigarette. “Losing your breath is losing your life force.”

Today, Michael continues to fight for his life. To help improve his breathing, he had lung volume reduction surgery. Diseased parts of his lungs were removed so healthier lung tissue could work better. After he quit smoking, his condition improved slightly, but his doctor says Michael needs a lung transplant. In his weakened state, Michael doesn’t know if he would survive the surgery.

Michael enjoys the company of his daughter and two grandchildren but struggles with the thought of having to say good-bye. “I can’t bear the thought of not watching them grow up,” he says. “I don’t know how to tell them.” He wishes he had more energy to play with them. “I used to play volleyball and hike in the mountains, but I don’t do that anymore,” he says. “I avoid anything that involves running and carrying things. I stay away from smoke and exhaust. Now, it’s all about friends, good memories, and living a little bit longer.”

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Animal Study Suggests Marijuana May Affect Future Offspring’s Susceptibility to Heroin

February 03, 2015

By Sarah Webb, Ph.D., NIDA Notes Contributing Writer

Can marijuana use put offspring at heightened risk for opiate addiction, even if the use stops before the offspring are conceived? Recent animal research by NIDA-supported scientists suggests that the answer may be yes.

Dr. Yasmin L. Hurd and colleagues at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City showed that rats whose parents had been exposed as adolescents to the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana sought heroin more vigorously than the offspring of unexposed animals. Although more research is needed to confirm and explain the findings, they are consistent with other studies suggesting that a parent’s history of drug use, even preconception, may affect a child’s brain function and behavior.

Lasting Imprint

Scientists have known for a while that drugs of abuse produce some of their effects epigenetically—that is, by increasing or decreasing the rates at which the body’s genetic machinery produces certain proteins. Researchers recently reported that some epigenetic changes produced by cocaine appear to be inherited and affect the behavior of subsequent generations. In that experiment, rats whose parents had been exposed to cocaine responded differently when introduced to the drug than did rats whose parents had not been exposed.

Dr. Hurd and colleagues hypothesized that rats whose parents were exposed as adolescents to the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC) would inherit epigenetic changes that would alter their responses to heroin. To test the hypothesis, the researchers injected adolescent male and female rats with THC for 3 weeks on an intermittent schedule (1.5 milligram per kilogram of body weight every 3 days) that corresponds to the amounts consumed by a typical recreational marijuana user. They waited 2 to 4 weeks for the drug to wash out of the rats’ bodies, then paired and mated them.

Figure 1. Offspring of THC-Exposed Parents Work Harder To Get Heroin  When only a single press of a lever was required to obtain a dose of heroin, the offspring of THC-exposed and unexposed rats self-administered similar amounts of the drug. However, when the researchers raised the work requirement to 5 lever presses for a single dose, the rats whose parents had been exposed to THC pressed almost 3 times as often as the offspring of unexposed rats.
Text Description of Graphic

When the offspring of these matings reached adulthood, the researchers presented them with a lever that, when pressed, delivered heroin (30 micrograms per kilogram of body weight). At first, the animals self-administered the drug at roughly the same rates as a group of control animals whose parents had not been exposed to THC. However, when the researchers made the animals work harder for the drug—requiring them to press the active lever at least 5 times to receive a dose—those whose parents had been exposed to the drug pressed on average nearly 3 times as often as the control rats (see Figure 1).

When the researchers removed the animals’ access to heroin, the THC-exposed rats’ offspring exhibited more pronounced withdrawal symptoms, such as increased locomotion and repetitive behaviors. Also during withdrawal, the two groups of rats differed in their readiness to approach a novel stimulus in their environment.

Figure 2. Offspring of THC-Exposed Rats Show Long-Term Depression of Synaptic Activity in the Striatum Medium spiny neurons in the dorsal striatum of rats whose parents had been exposed to THC responded less to electrophysiological stimulation than the neurons in rats whose parents had not been exposed to THC.
Text Description of Graphic

Using electrophysiology, the researchers also demonstrated that the offspring of the THC-exposed rats had altered neuronal functioning (see Figure 2). The specific alteration that they observed—enhanced long-term synaptic depression of medium spiny neurons in the dorsal striatum—has been associated with addiction in previous studies. The neurons are less responsive to stimulation, which inhibits an individual’s ability to adjust to experience and results in habitual and compulsive behaviors rather than adaptive ones.

To identify the epigenetic factors that might underlie the differences they had observed in the offspring of the THC-exposed animals, the researchers assayed concentrations of messenger RNA (mRNA) for key proteins in the brain. The formation of mRNA is the first step in the process of protein production, and mRNA levels indicate how much protein is being produced at a given time. The researchers’ analysis showed that, during adolescence, the THC-exposed animals’ offspring had higher levels of mRNA for glutamate receptors and for the cannabinoid 1 receptor in the ventral striatum. During adulthood, the offspring of the THC-exposed rats had less mRNA for N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA)-type glutamate receptors in the dorsal striatum (see Figure 3). Reduced production of glutamate receptors could underlie the reduced responsiveness to stimulation researchers observed in that brain region.

Figure 3. Offspring of THC-Exposed Parents Show Decreased Expression of Genes for Key Receptor Genes in the Brain Expression of genes for the glutamate-responsive receptors NMDA (Grin1 and Grin2A) and α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazole propionate (AMPA) (Gria1) and for the endocannabinoid receptor CB1 (CNR1) was lower in the dorsal striatum of adult rats whose parents had been exposed to THC. These changes in gene expression suggest an epigenetic effect of THC on glutamate and endocannabinoid signaling in the brain.
Text Description of Graphic

Is It Real?

The Mount Sinai researchers took pains to rule out potential nonepigenetic explanations for the differences they observed between their groups of rats. One concern was that the THC-exposed rats’ pups might themselves be exposed to the drug during gestation, resulting in altered brain development. To preclude this possibility, the researchers postponed mating their THC-exposed animals until sensitive gas chromatography and mass spectrometry confirmed that no drug remained in the animals’ blood or brain tissue. Another concern was that the THC-exposed animals might parent differently than the unexposed animals, potentially altering their offspring’s responses to heroin. To prevent this, the researchers removed the THC-exposed animals’ pups from their parents immediately after birth and had unexposed dams raise both groups of offspring in mixed litters.

Despite these careful controls, Dr. Hurd and colleagues say that they cannot completely rule out nonepigenetic explanations for the alterations they observed in their THC-exposed rats’ offspring until they see what happens in the next two generations of their germ line. The researchers are proceeding with this work.

“The idea of cross-generational transmission of complex traits such as drug responses without alterations to the genome is contentious,” says Dr. John Satterlee, Project Officer at NIDA’s Genetics and Molecular Neurobiology Research Branch. “Is it real? And if it’s real, how is it transmitted?” he asks.

Dr. Satterlee agrees with Dr. Hurd that studies on future generations are needed to definitively rule out the possibility that nonepigenetic factors led to the observed effects in the offspring. Previous exposure to THC theoretically could affect the womb or placental formation, he says, or lead to changes in the parents’ microbiome—the assemblage of microorganisms in the gut controlling a variety of conditions and behaviors—that were then transmitted to their offspring.

“If the effect is real, it’s important,” Dr. Satterlee says. “If studies show that marijuana use also shows cross-generational effects in people, those results would add to the known dangers of the drug and amplify the importance of prevention efforts, especially those aimed at youth,” he adds.

This study was supported by NIH grants DA030359 and DA033660.


Szutorisz, H.DiNieri, J.A.Sweet, E. et al. Parental THC exposure leads to compulsive heroin-seeking and altered striatal synaptic plasticity in the subsequent generation. Neuropsychopharmacology. 39(6):1315-1323, 2014. Abstract

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Drug Facts: Marijuana

What is marijuana?

Marijuana refers to the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds from the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa. The plant contains the mind-altering chemical delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other related compounds. Extracts with high amounts of THC can also be made from the cannabis plant (see “Marijuana Extracts“).

Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States (SAMHSA, 2014). Its use is widespread among young people. According to a yearly survey of middle and high school students, rates of marijuana use have steadied in the past few years after several years of increase. However, the number of young people who believe marijuana use is risky is decreasing (Johnston, 2014).

Legalization of marijuana for medical use or adult recreational use in a growing number of states may affect these views. Read more about marijuana as medicine in DrugFacts: Is Marijuana Medicine? at www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/marijuana-medicine.

Photo of dried marijuana and joints.

How do people use marijuana?

People smoke marijuana in hand-rolled cigarettes (joints) or in pipes or water pipes (bongs). They also smoke it in blunts—emptied cigars that have been partly or completely refilled with marijuana. To avoid inhaling smoke, more people are using vaporizers. These devices pull the active ingredients (including THC) from the marijuana and collect their vapor in a storage unit. A person then inhales the vapor, not the smoke.

Users can mix marijuana in food (edibles), such as brownies, cookies, or candy, or brew it as a tea. A newly popular method of use is smoking or eating different forms of THC-rich resins (see “Marijuana Extracts“).

Marijuana Extracts

Smoking THC-rich resins extracted from the marijuana plant is on the rise. Users call this practice dabbing. People are using various forms of these extracts, such as:

  • hash oil or honey oil—a gooey liquid
  • wax or budder—a soft solid with a texture like lip balm
  • shatter—a hard, amber-colored solid

These extracts can deliver extremely large amounts of THC to users, and their use has sent some people to the emergency room. Another danger is in preparing these extracts, which usually involves butane (lighter fluid). A number of people who have used butane to make extracts at home have caused fires and explosions and have been seriously burned.

How does marijuana affect the brain?

Marijuana has both short- and long-term effects on the brain.

Image of a cross section of the brain with marked areas that are affected by THC.THC acts on numerous areas (in yellow) in the brain.

Short-term effects

When a person smokes marijuana, THC quickly passes from the lungs into the bloodstream. The blood carries the chemical to the brain and other organs throughout the body. The body absorbs THC more slowly when the person eats or drinks it. In that case, the user generally feels the effects after 30 minutes to 1 hour.

THC acts on specific brain cell receptors that ordinarily react to natural THC-like chemicals in the brain. These natural chemicals play a role in normal brain development and function.

Marijuana overactivates parts of the brain that contain the highest number of these receptors. This causes the “high” that users feel. Other effects include:

  • altered senses (for example, seeing brighter colors)
  • altered sense of time
  • changes in mood
  • impaired body movement
  • difficulty with thinking and problem-solving
  • impaired memory
Silhouette of a seated young male, hunched over with his head resting in his hand.

Long-term effects

Marijuana also affects brain development. When marijuana users begin using as teenagers, the drug may reduce thinking, memory, and learning functions and affect how the brain builds connections between the areas necessary for these functions.

Marijuana’s effects on these abilities may last a long time or even be permanent.

For example, a study showed that people who started smoking marijuana heavily in their teens and had an ongoing cannabis use disorder lost an average of eight IQ points between ages 13 and 38. The lost mental abilities did not fully return in those who quit marijuana as adults. Those who started smoking marijuana as adults did not show notable IQ declines (Meier, 2012).

A Rise in Marijuana’s THC Levels

The amount of THC in marijuana has been increasing steadily over the past few decades (Mehmedic, 2010). For a new user, this may mean exposure to higher THC levels with a greater chance of a harmful reaction. Higher THC levels may explain the rise in emergency room visits involving marijuana use.

The popularity of edibles also increases the chance of users having harmful reactions. Edibles take longer to digest and produce a high. Therefore, people may consume more to feel the effects faster, leading to dangerous results.

Dabbing is yet another growing trend. More people are using marijuana extracts that provide stronger doses, and therefore stronger effects, of THC (see “Marijuana Extracts“).

Higher THC levels may mean a greater risk for addiction if users are regularly exposing themselves to high doses.

What are the other health effects of marijuana?

Marijuana use may have a wide range of effects, both physical and mental.

Physical effects

  • Breathing problems.Marijuana smoke irritates the lungs, and frequent marijuana smokers can have the same breathing problems that tobacco smokers have. These problems include daily cough and phlegm, more frequent lung illness, and a higher risk of lung infections. Researchers still do not know whether marijuana smokers have a higher risk for lung cancer.
  • Increased heart rate.Marijuana raises heart rate for up to 3 hours after smoking. This effect may increase the chance of heart attack. Older people and those with heart problems may be at higher risk
  • Problems with child development during and after pregnancy.Marijuana use during pregnancy is linked to increased risk of both brain and behavioral problems in babies. If a pregnant woman uses marijuana, the drug may affect certain developing parts of the fetus’s brain. Resulting challenges for the child may include problems with attention, memory, and problem-solving. Additionally, some research suggests that moderate amounts of THC are excreted into the breast milk of nursing mothers. The effects on a baby’s developing brain are still unknown.

Mental effects

Long-term marijuana use has been linked to mental illness in some users, such as:

  • temporary hallucinations—sensations and images that seem real though they are not
  • temporary paranoia—extreme and unreasonable distrust of others
  • worsening symptoms in patients with schizophrenia (a severe mental disorder with symptoms such as hallucinations, paranoia, and disorganized thinking)

Marijuana use has also been linked to other mental health problems, such as:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • suicidal thoughts among teens

Is marijuana addictive?

Contrary to common belief, marijuana can be addictive. Research suggests that about 1 in 11 users becomes addicted to marijuana (Anthony, 1994; Lopez-Quintero 2011).This number increases among those who start as teens (to about 17 percent, or 1 in 6) (Anthony, 2006) and among people who use marijuana daily (to 25-50 percent) (Hall & Pacula, 2003).

How Does Marijuana Affect a User’s Life?

Compared to nonusers, heavy marijuana users more often report the following:

  • lower life satisfaction
  • poorer mental health
  • poorer physical health
  • more relationship problems

Users also report less academic and career success. For example, marijuana use is linked to a higher likelihood of dropping out of school (McCaffrey, 2010). It is also linked to more job absences, accidents, and injuries (Zwerling, 1990).

How can people get treatment for marijuana addiction?

Long-term marijuana users trying to quit report withdrawal symptoms that make quitting difficult. These include:

  • grouchiness
  • sleeplessness
  • decreased appetite
  • anxiety
  • cravings

Behavioral support has been effective in treating marijuana addiction. Examples include therapy and motivational incentives (providing rewards to patients who remain substance free). No medications are currently available to treat marijuana addiction. However, continuing research may lead to new medications that help ease withdrawal symptoms, block the effects of marijuana, and prevent relapse.

Points to Remember

  • Marijuana refers to the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds from the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa.
  • The plant contains the mind-altering chemical delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other related compounds.
  • People use marijuana by smoking, eating, drinking, and inhaling it.
  • Smoking THC-rich extracts from the marijuana plant (a practice called dabbing) is on the rise.
  • THC overactivates certain brain cell receptors, resulting in effects such as:
    • altered senses
    • changes in mood
    • impaired body movement
    • difficulty with thinking and problem-solving
    • impaired memory and learning
  • Marijuana use may have a wide range of effects, both physical and mental, which include:
    • breathing illnesses
    • possible harm to a fetus’s brain in pregnant users
    • hallucinations and paranoia
  • The amount of THC in marijuana has been increasing steadily, creating more harmful effects for users.
  • Marijuana can be addictive.
  • Treatment for marijuana addiction includes forms of behavioral therapy. No medications currently exist for treatment.

Learn More

For more information on marijuana and marijuana use, visit:

For more information on marijuana as medicine and on state laws related to marijuana, visit:

Monitoring the Future

Learn more about the Monitoring the Future survey, which annually measures drug, alcohol, and tobacco use and related attitudes among teenage students nationwide:

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Cop Busts Drunk Driving Halloween Partiers…

It’s no treat to drive under the influence… Have fun, but don’t drive buzzed or under the influence of any kind. Watch out for those little ghouls and goblins running around the neighborhoods, in search of candy! Happy Halloween!

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