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Blowing Up The Big Marijuana IQ Myth

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

 

“Marijuana makes people retarded, especially when they’re young.” So claimed conservative commentator Ann Coulter while speaking at Politicon last week.

But while such inflammatory claims by culture warriors like Coulter are to be expected – and may readily be dismissed – the notion that smoking pot will have lasting negative impacts on intelligence is a longstanding one, and a claim that is all too often made by those on both sides of the political spectrum. Yet the latest science finds little to no factual basis for this contention.

Longitudinal data just recently published online in the journal Addiction reports that pot smoking is not independently associated with adverse effects on the developing brain. A team of investigators from the United States and the United Kingdom evaluated whether marijuana use is directly associated with changes over time in neuropsychological performance in a nationally representative cohort of adolescent twins. Authors reported that “family background factors,” but not the use of cannabis negatively impacted adolescents’ cognitive performance.

They wrote: “[W]e found that youth who used cannabis … had lower IQ at age 18, but there was little evidence that cannabis use was associated with IQ decline from age 12 to 18. Moreover, although cannabis use was associated with lower IQ and poorer executive functions at age 18, these associations were generally not apparent within pairs of twins from the same family, suggesting that family background factors explain why adolescents who use cannabis perform worse on IQ and executive function tests.”

Investigators concluded, “Short-term cannabis use in adolescence does not appear to cause IQ decline or impair executive functions, even when cannabis use reaches the level of dependence.”

They’re not alone in their conclusions. In 2016, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of Minnesota performed a similar longitudinal analysis regarding marijuana’s potential impact on intelligence quotient in a separate cohort of adolescent twins. They reported no dose-response relationship between pot exposure and IQ decline at age 20, and observed no significant differences in performance among those who used marijuana and their non-using twins.

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Investigators concluded: “In the largest longitudinal examination of marijuana use and IQ change, … we find little evidence to suggest that adolescent marijuana use has a direct effect on intellectual decline. … [T]he lack of a dose–response relationship, and an absence of meaningful differences between discordant siblings lead us to conclude that the deficits observed in marijuana users are attributable to confounding factors that influence both substance initiation and IQ rather than a neurotoxic effect of marijuana.”

The UCLA findings mimicked those of separate longitudinal data published earlier that year in the Journal of Psychopharmacology. Investigators in that study assessed IQ and educational performance in a cohort of 2,235 adolescent twins. They too reported that after adjusting for potential confounds (such as the use of tobacco and alcohol), teens who used cannabis “did not differ from never-users on either IQ or educational performance.”

Florida State researchers similarly examined the issue earlier this year. Writing in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, they reported on the impact of marijuana exposure on intelligence scores in subjects over a 14-year period (ages 12 to 26). They concluded, “[O]ur findings did not reveal a significant association between cumulative marijuana use and changes in intelligence scores.”

Nonetheless, political opponents of cannabis policy reform continue to opinethat pot smoking “reduces IQ by 6-8 points.” This claim is derived from a widely publicized 2012 New Zealand study published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It reported that the persistent use of cannabis from early adolescence to adulthood was associated with slightly lower IQ by age 38.

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However, a followup review of the data published later in the same journal suggested that the observed changes were the result of investigators’ failure to properly control for confounding variables, primarily the socioeconomic differences between users and non-users, and were not unduly influenced by subjects’ cannabis use history.

A later paper by the lead investigator of the New Zealand study similarly reported that the presence of confounders make it difficult to impossible to attribute changes in teens’ academic performance on pot use alone, finding that the effects of persistent adolescent cannabis use on academic performance are “non-significant after controlling for persistent alcohol and tobacco use.”

Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and serves as a senior policy advisor for Freedom Leaf, Inc. He is the co-author of the book, Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? (Chelsea Green, 2013).

 

Blowing The Lid Off Of The ‘Marijuana Treatment’ Racket

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

According to a comprehensive review by the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine, “few marijuana users become dependent” upon pot. By contrast, those who drink alcohol are nearly twice as likely to do so problematically. Nonetheless, over half of all young people admitted to drug treatment programs are there for their involvement with marijuana, and this percentage is steadily rising. So what’s going on?

A just-published analysis of federal drug treatment admissions data – knows as TEDS-A (Treatment Episode Data Set – Admissions) – by researchers at Binghamton University and the University of Iowa sheds some light on this issue, and it’s disturbing.

According to the study, which analyzed youth (ages 12 to 20) marijuana treatment admissions during the years 1995 to 2012, both the total number of drug treatment admissions and the number of admissions exclusively for marijuana increased over this 18-year period. Specifically, the number of youth admitted for weed rose from 52,894 in 1995 to 87,528 in 2012 – an increase of 65 percent. (Overall, just under 1.5 million teens were admitted to treatment for alleged cannabis dependence this period.)

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Yet, well publicized data from the US Centers for Disease Control, Monitoring the Future, and others reports that daily, monthly, and yearly marijuana use by young people declined sharply during much of this same period. Perhaps even more importantly, studies further report that rates of problematic marijuana – so-called “cannabis use disorder” (CUD) – also fell significantly. For example, data published last week by investigators at the US National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) finds that the prevalence of past year CUD in young people fell 25 percent in the years between 2002 and 2014. Their findings mimicked those of a 2016 NIDA-funded study which similarly reported a 24 percent decline in problematic pot use by young people.

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So, if fewer young people are using pot – and even fewer are doing so problematically – why are more teens than ever before winding up in substance abuse treatment programs? The answer lies with the criminal justice system.

Between 1995 and 2012, the percentage of young people referred to drug treatment as a result of a criminal arrest rose 70 percent, researchers reported. As a result, as of 2012, 53 percent of all youth drug treatment admissions came directly from criminal justice referrals. (Among adults, this percentage has historically been even higher.)

Predictably, as the percentage of criminal justice referrals has increased, so too has the percentage of minority youth being coerced into drug treatment programs. (Studies consistently find that African Americans and Hispanics are arrested for drug law violations, and marijuana possession specifically, at rates far greater than whites – even though their drug use rates are little different.) Since 1995, Black youth admitted to drug treatment for marijuana increased 86 percent. The percentage of Latino admissions grew by 256 percent. By contrast, white youth admissions increased only 11 percent during this same time period.

Perhaps most importantly, the authors of this new study acknowledge that many of the teens now being mandated to attend drug treatment don’t appear to belong there because they exhibit little evidence of having suffered from any deleterious mental or physical health problems specific to their cannabis use. In fact, since 2008, 30 percent of all young people in treatment for alleged marijuana dependence had no record of having even used pot in the 30 days prior to their admittance – much less exhibiting signs of being dependent upon the herb. Another 20 percent of the teens admitted had used pot fewer than three times in the past month. “Our findings indicate that the severity of drug use involved in those admissions has decreased,” authors concluded. “This study highlights the importance of identifying youth in actual need of treatment services.”

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Indeed. At a time when our nation is in the grip of rising opioid abuse, America’s limited drug treatment services are primarily being used to warehouse those who occasionally use – or, more likely – have been arrested for pot.

Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and serves as a senior policy advisor for Freedom Leaf, Inc. He is the co-author of the book, Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? (Chelsea Green, 2013).

Three New Studies Bust Marijuana Myths

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

 

Allegations surrounding the supposed dangers of pot are frequently reported and repeated without criticism. But these new studies cast serious doubts on three of the more prominent marijuana myths.

Cannabis dispensaries aren’t crime magnets

Claims that marijuana retailers attract crime are unsupported by the available evidence. In fact, studies show just the opposite result.

Most recently, data published in The Journal of Urban Economics reports that dispensary operators deter neighborhood crime. Researchers at the University of Southern California assessed the impact of dispensary closures on crime rates in the city of Los Angeles. Investigators identified an immediate increase in criminal activity – particularly property crime, larceny, and auto break ins – in the areas where dispensary operations were forced to close as compared to crime rates in those neighborhoods where marijuana retailers remained open for business.

“Open dispensaries provide over $30,000 per year in social benefit in terms of larcenies prevented,” researchers concluded.

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Federally funded research published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs reported a similar trend in Sacramento, concluding: “There were no observed cross-sectional associations between the density of medical marijuana dispensaries and either violent or property crime rates in this study. These results suggest that the density of medical marijuana dispensaries may not be associated with crime rates or that other factors, such as measures dispensaries take to reduce crime (i.e., doormen, video cameras), may increase guardianship such that it deters possible motivated offenders.”

Legal pot is not associated with increased traffic fatalities

Federal traffic safety data refutes allegations that changes in marijuana’s legal status has led to increased carnage on the roads.

Investigators from the University of Texas-Austin recently evaluated crash fatality rates in Colorado and Washington pre- and post-legalization. They compared these rates to those of eight control states that had not enacted any significant changes in their marijuana laws. Their findings appeared last month in The American Journal of Public Health.

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“We found no significant association between recreational marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado and subsequent changes in motor vehicle fatality rates in the first three years after recreational marijuana legalization,” they concluded.

Authors also reported no association between adult use marijuana legalization laws and the total number of non-fatal crashes.

To those familiar with the available evidence, the findings were not surprising. In fact, a prior study published in the same journal in 2016 reported that the enactment of medical marijuana legalization laws was associated with a reduction in traffic fatalities compared to other states, particularly among drivers ages 25 to 44 years old.

Overall, traffic fatalities have fallen significantly over the past two decades – during the same time that a majority of US states have legalized marijuana for either medical or social use. In 1996, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that there were an estimated 37,500 fatal car crashes on US roadways. This total fell to under 30,000 by 2014.

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., speaks with The Cannabist's Alicia Wallace on Wednesday, April 19, 2017, about marijuana business issues, including concerns raised by anti-legalization groups such as Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) regarding

There’s been no rise in problematic pot use post-legalization

Claims that the passage of marijuana regulatory laws has been associated with an increase in rates of marijuana abuse – sometimes described as ‘cannabis abuse disorder’ – remain largely unsubstantiated. In fact, the majority of studies addressing the issue find no significant changes in the number of young people or adults using cannabis in a problematic manner.

Specifically, Columbia University researchers writing last month in the journal Addiction reported “no associated increase in the prevalence of cannabis use disorder” among either adolescents or adults in the years following the enactment of medical cannabis laws. They also reported “no significant change in the prevalence of past-month marijuana use among adolescents or young adults (those ages 18 to 25)” following legalization – a finding that is consistent with numerous prior studies.

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In fact, separate studies have reported that fewer young people overall are using marijuana today than were a decade ago. Perhaps even more notably, there has been a significant drop in recent years in the percentage of adolescents nationwide who say they consume pot habitually. According to data published last year in The Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, “Past-year prevalence of marijuana use disorders among US adolescents declined by an estimated 24 percent over the 2002 to 2013 period.”

Separate data published in March 2016 in JAMA Psychiatry similarly reported a “net decrease” in the prevalence of marijuana-related disorders since 2002. Commenting on the study’s findings, the lead author concluded: “[O]ur survey didn’t notice any increase in marijuana-related problems. Certainly, some people are having problems so we should remain vigilant, but the sky is not falling.”

Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and serves as a senior policy advisor for Freedom Leaf, Inc. He is the co-author of the book, Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? (Chelsea Green, 2013).

 
This article was made possible by the readers and supporters of AlterNet.

Cannabis May Help, Not Harm, Narcotics Addicts

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

It is time for politicians to put to rest the myth that cannabis is a gateway to the use of other controlled substances — a theory that is neither supported by modern science or empirical data.

Over 60 percent of American adults acknowledge having tried cannabis, but the overwhelming majority of these individuals never go on to try another illicit substance. Further, nothing in marijuana’s chemical composition alters the brain in a manner that makes users more susceptible to experimenting with other drugs. That’s why both the esteemed Institute of Medicine and the Rand Corporation’s Drug Policy Research Center conclude that “[M]arijuana has no causal influence over hard drug initiation.”

In contrast, a growing body of evidence now exists to support the counter notion that for many people, pot serves as a path away from the use of more dangerous substances, including opioids, alcohol, prescription drugs, cocaine, and tobacco.

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For example, in jurisdictions where marijuana use is legally regulated, researchers have reported year-over-year declines in opioid-related abuse and mortality. According to data published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, deaths attributable to both prescription opiates and heroin fell by 20 percent shortly after marijuana legalization and by 33 percent within six years. Overall, the study’s investigators concluded, “States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8 percent lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws.” Data published this past April in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence also reports a dramatic decline in opioid pain reliever related hospitalizations following legalization.

Patients’ use of other prescription drugs has also been shown to fall in states where marijuana is legally accessible. Newly published data from both the United States and Canada finds that patients curb their use of anti-depressantsanti-anxiety drugs and sleep aids after initiating cannabis use—a reality that is quantified in their spending habits. According to researchers at the University of Georgia’s Department of Public Policy, Medicare recipients residing in medical marijuana states spent millions less on prescription drugs as compared to patients with similar ailments in non-legal states. Patients’ spending on Medicaid related services is also significantly lower in cannabis-friendly states.

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Emerging data also indicates that pot use is associated with reduced cravings for cocaine. Writing last month in the journal Addictive Behaviors, investigators at the University of Montreal and the University of British Columbia reported that subjects dependent on crack cocaine subsequently reduce their drug use following the intentional use of cannabis. They concluded: “In this longitudinal study, we observed that a period of self-reported intentional use of cannabis … was associated with subsequent periods of reduced use of crack [cocaine]. … Given the substantial global burden of morbidity and mortality attributable to crack cocaine use disorders alongside a lack of effective pharmacotherapies, we echo calla for rigorous experimental research on cannabinoids as a potential treatment for crack cocaine use disorders.” The findings replicate those of a prior Brazilian study which also determined that the therapeutic use of cannabis mitigates crack cocaine cravings and consumption.

Empirical data also reinforces this contention. Specifically, Americans’ use of cocaine has fallen dramatically in recent years, during which time the percentage of adults acknowledging using cannabis has risen.

Scientific data also suggests that cannabis may reduce some people’s cravings for alcohol and tobacco. For example, clinical trial data from the United Kingdom finds that subjects administered cannabidiol, an organic cannabinoid, reduces their cigarette smoking by 40 percent compared to participants provided a placebo. Data published earlier this year in the International Journal of Drug Policy reported that over ten percent of Canadian medical cannabis patients acknowledge using pot in lieu of tobacco.

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Survey data from the United States reports even larger declines in cannabis users’ consumption of alcohol. According to a May 2017 study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, over 40 percent of medical cannabis dispensary members acknowledge reducing their alcohol intake. A 2014 literature review published in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism adds, “While more research and improved study designs are needed to better identify the extent and impact of cannabis substitution on those affected by AUD (alcohol use disorders), cannabis does appear to be a potential substitute for alcohol.”

Finally, for those seeking treatment for drug dependency, cannabis may also play a positive role. In fact, studies report that pot use is predictive of greater adherence to abstinence among heroin dependent subjects, and those who consume it occasionally are more likely to complete their treatment regimen as compared to those who not.

In light of this scientific evidence, combined with a growing number of Americans’ first-hand experience with cannabis, it is hardly surprising that public confidence in the ‘gateway theory’ is waning. According to survey data compiled in 2016 by YouGov.com, fewer than one in three US citizens agree with the statement, “[T]he use of marijuana leads to the use of hard drugs.” Among those respondents under the age of 65, fewer than one in four agree. Public opinion data provided earlier this week by Yahoo News finds even less support, with only 14 percent of adults expressing “significant concern” that cannabis “leads to the use of other drugs.”

In short, both scientific and public opinion reject the contention that marijuana use promotes the use of other drugs. It’s past time for public officials to renounce this rhetoric as well.

Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and serves as a senior policy advisor for Freedom Leaf, Inc. He is the co-author of the book, Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? (Chelsea Green, 2013).

 

This article was made possible by the readers and supporters of AlterNet.