Study: Marijuana More A Habit For College Students Than Cigarettes

The study's lead investigator says the findings suggest that teenagers and young adults have absorbed public health warnings about the dangers of cigarettes but increasingly regard marijuana as benign or carrying few risks. (Jeff Chiu/AP, File)

The study’s lead investigator says the findings suggest that teenagers and young adults have absorbed public health warnings about the dangers of cigarettes but increasingly regard marijuana as benign or carrying few risks. (Jeff Chiu/AP, File)

More U.S. college students are making a habit of using marijuana, which has supplanted cigarettes as the smoke-able substance of choice among undergraduates who light up regularly, a study released Tuesday found.

Just under 6 percent of the full-time students surveyed by University of Michigan researchers for the annual “Monitoring the Future” study reported using pot either every day or at least 20 times in the previous 30 days.

By contrast, 5 percent of respondents identified themselves as heavy cigarette smokers, a steep decline from the 19 percent who said they smoked daily in 1999.

The findings suggest that teenagers and young adults have absorbed public health warnings about the dangers of cigarettes but increasingly regard marijuana as benign or carrying few risks, lead investigator Lloyd Johnston said.

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Medical Marijuana 101: What It’s Like Inside A Colorado Dispensary

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Jars labeled butterscotch, chocolate mint and caramel macchiato tea glisten inside the lit refrigerator. The shelf above is stacked with pizza, flatbreads and butter. The one below has lemon bars, brownies and cookies.

The fridge could be in any higher-end grab-and-go lunch stop. But to shop here, you must present a medical marijuana patient card. And the ingredient list includes the type of pot, along with flour, sugar, milk, etc.

This is Trichome Health Consultants, a medical marijuana dispensary tucked into a line of glass storefronts on a semi-commercial strip in Colorado Springs, Colorado. As Massachusetts prepares to open its first dispensary, possibly in April, this is a glimpse into the future. Continue reading

View From Europe: ‘Appraising The Risks Of Reefer Madness’



I was leafing through my Cerebrum the other day.

That is to say, as a longtime follower of the Dana Foundation — a philanthropy that supports brain research and issues helpful updates on the brain in the news — I was electronically leafing through the foundation’s journal, Cerebrum, when an alarming piece stopped me: Appraising the Risks of Reefer Madness, by Sir Robin Murray, M.D.

It cites a growing scientific consensus that in a small minority of users, particularly younger users, cannabis use raises the risk of psychosis, and it suggests that newer, higher-potency strains of pot may pose particular risks. It opens:

Beginning in the mid-1980s, European psychiatrists like me started seeing an increasing number of previously well-functioning teenagers who had developed hallucinations and delusions: the characteristic picture of schizophrenia. These troubled patients puzzled us because most had been bright and sociable and had no ties to the usual risk factors such as a family history of the disorder or developmental insult to the brain. Family and friends would often say, “Maybe it was all the cannabis they have been smoking,” and we would confidently reassure them that they were mistaken and tell them that cannabis was known to be a safe drug.

My view began to shift when a colleague, Peter Allebeck from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, launched his own investigation. He had been struck similarly by seeing well-adjusted young people develop schizophrenia for no apparent reason. The wonderful Swedish national records system enabled him to trace the outcome of 45,750 young men who had been asked about their drug use when they were conscripted into the Swedish army. From analysis of these data, Allebeck and his colleagues1 reported in 1987 that conscripts who had used cannabis more than fifty times were six times more likely to develop schizophrenia over the next fifteen years than those who had never used it.

Read the full piece here. Sir Robin (he was knighted in 2011) notes that marijuana remains highly controversial in Europe, with a political pendulum swinging between liberalization and restriction. Do you see value in his views?

Medical Marijuana 101: Doctors, Regulators Brace For ‘Big Marijuana’

The argument that marijuana is poised to become Big — as in Big Tobacco — begins more than a hundred years ago, argues Dr. Sharon Levy, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Changes in curing made tobacco easier to inhale, additives made it more addictive, and machines began to churn out inexpensive, readily available cigarettes, she says. With these “innovations” and lots of market savvy ads, tobacco use and addiction rose dramatically.

“Is there anything to prevent innovative products with marijuana that will do the exact same thing?” asked Levy, who runs the adolescent substance abuse program at Children’s.

Levy described her concerns about Big Marijuana in the New England Journal of Medicine last month. She acknowledges that marijuana is nowhere near as harmful as is tobacco, and that marijuana has some health benefits. But Levy worries that marijuana addiction rates, now around 9 percent of users, could climb to those seen among tobacco users (32 percent) without strict controls on growers and manufacturers. Growers are already producing strains of marijuana with stronger and stronger concentrations of THC, the ingredient that makes people high. It’s also the ingredient that seems to trigger depression, anxiety and sometimes psychosis in Levy’s adolescent patients.

“At the heart of it,” Levy said, “the drive to make a profitable market out of marijuana is at odds with protecting the public health because the way to make marijuana profitable is to sell more and more of it.” Continue reading

Medical Marijuana 101: Mass. Doctors Head To The Classroom

“I’d like to start helping people get their mind wrapped around what are we talking about today with a case,” Dr. Alan Ehrlich said, looking out over an auditorium packed with doctors, lobbyists and advocates for medical marijuana. They’d gathered for the Massachusetts Medical Society’s first continuing education course on the use of marijuana to treat medical issues.

What should a doctor consider when a patient asks for a medical marijuana certificate?

Dr. Alan Ehrlich, assistant professor of family medicine at UMass Medical School, offered these recommendations based on reviewing available scientific evidence.

  • Marijuana is not first‐line treatment for any medical condition
  • Best evidence for efficacy is for HIV, Crohns disease,
    MS, neuropathic pain and Hepatitis C
  • May be helpful with some other painful conditions such
    as fibromyalgia
  • Little benefit for glaucoma, ALS, Parkinson’s disease
  • All else is anecdotal

“Marilyn is a 68-year-old woman with breast cancer,” said Ehrlich, the senior deputy editor at DynaMed, a website that reviews medical research for doctors.

Marilyn’s cancer had spread and she was undergoing chemotherapy. She did not have any energy, she’d lost her appetite and she was having a lot of back pain.

“So she comes in to a visit with you as a primary care physician,” Ehrlich continued, and “wants to talk about the possibility of using marijuana to alleviate the symptoms of nausea, pain and fatigue. How many people think this is a good woman to certify for the use of marijuana?”

About three-quarters of the audience raised a hand. Well, Ehrlich said, let’s look at the evidence.

For this course, Ehrlich gathered studies on the benefits and risks of marijuana for medical treatment. The U.S. government controls the use of medical marijuana for medical research. There are more studies on the risks than on the benefits.

For Marilyn, who wants to relieve nausea and vomiting, two effects of chemotherapy, there are “no randomized trials of smoked cannabis versus placebo,” Ehrlich said. “So everything I’m going to present from now on, if you’re thinking about using smoked marijuana for this, you’re talking about extrapolations.”

In other words, tests the FDA would require before approving a drug to treat Marilyn’s nausea have not been done for marijuana. Doctors may hear stories from patients who find that marijuana helps, Ehrlich said, but there is almost no scientific proof.

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Study: Young Adults’ Casual Marijuana Use Causes Brain Changes



A new study by Boston researchers is believed to be the first that shows that young adults who even occasionally smoke marijuana could be damaging their brains.

The study, just published in The Journal of Neuroscience, found abnormalities in areas of the brain related to emotion, motivation and decision-making.

The researchers say the degree of brain changes appeared to be directly related to how frequently the study’s participants smoked pot.

The authors write in their paper:

The results of this study indicate that in young, recreational marijuana users, structural abnormalities in gray matter density, volume, and shape of the nucleus accumbens and amygdala can be observed. Pending confirmation in other cohorts of marijuana users, the present findings suggest that further study of marijuana effects are needed to help inform discussion about the legalization of marijuana.

The study comes with a plurality of Massachusetts residents supporting the legalization of marijuana for recreational use, and as the state is in the process of opening medical marijuana dispensaries.

Here & Now has more on the study this afternoon.

And hat-tip to The Boston Globe, which has more on the findings.

Stoners Dumber If They Start On Pot Younger, Small Study Finds

Or as Harvard’s McLean Hospital puts it, marijuana users show greater cognitive deficits if they start smoking at a younger age. McLean researcher Staci A. Gruber is presenting those findings today at the huge Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in San Diego — and she’ll be featured today on Radio Boston’s 3 p.m. show. (Call in! If you can focus long enough to remember your question, that is…)

Dr. Gruber and her team found that on tests of “executive function” — higher-order brain skills that include planning and carrying out mental tasks — pot-users who started smoking before age 16 made twice as many mistakes as those who started later.

They also found that users who started younger tended to smoke far more than the later starters — three times as much pot, and twice as often — and that their brains “lit up” differently in the scanner, suggesting significant neural change.

This from McLean:

“We have to be clear about getting the message out that marijuana isn’t really a benign substance,” [Dr. Gruber] said. “It has a direct effect on executive function. The earlier you begin using it, and the more you use of it, the more significant that effect.”

The study included 33 chronic marijuana smokers and 26 control subjects who did not smoke marijuana. They were given a battery of neurocognitive tests assessing executive function, including the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test, which involves sorting different cards based on a set of rules given. During the test, the rules are changed without warning and subjects must adjust their responses to the new rules. Continue reading

Daily Rounds: Medicare Fraud; Hope For Hauser?; Legalizing Pot; Heavy Smoking And Alzheimer’s; Thyroid Radiation Threat

Medicare Database Offers Window Into Doctor Fraud and Abuse – One New York City-area family-practice doctor "pocketed more than $2 million in 2008 from Medicare, the federal insurance program for the elderly, government records suggest. That made her one of the best-paid family-medicine physicians in the Medicare system. But more noteworthy than the sum is her pattern of billing, which strongly suggests abuse or even outright fraud, according to experts who have examined her records. This doctor didn't do typical family medicine. Instead, she administered a wide array of sophisticated tests, including polysomnography sleep analyses, nerve conduction probes and needle electromyography procedures—some of which have been flagged by federal antifraud authorities for special scrutiny.” (Wall Street Journal)

Harvard Case Against Marc Hauser Is Hard to Define –“The still unresolved case of Marc Hauser, the researcher accused by Harvard of scientific misconduct, points to the painful slowness of the government-university procedure for resolving such charges. It also underscores the difficulty of defining error in a field like animal cognition where inconsistent results are common.” (The New York Times)

Pot Legalization Divides California's Black Voters : NPR “Voters across California are divided on the issue of legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, but the division is especially true for black voters throughout the state. The California NAACP is endorsing Proposition 19. But some black religious leaders fear that passing the ballot measure would only hurt already struggling communities.” (

Heavy smoking in midlife may be associated with dementia in later years “Heavy smoking in midlife is associated with a 157 percent increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and a 172 percent increased risk of developing vascular dementia, according to a Kaiser Permanente study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.” (EurekAlert)

Thyroid Cancer Patients Shield Others From Radiation – “One person alarmed about the situation is Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, whose office has been studying the issue. He accuses the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of turning a blind eye to the problem. ‘My investigation has led me to conclude that the levels of unintentional radiation received by members of the public who have been exposed to patients that have received ‘drive through’ radiation treatments may well exceed international safe levels established for pregnant women and children,’ Mr. Markey said in a statement.” (The New York Times)

Report: Smoking Pot Helps Relieve Chronic Pain

Note to chronic pain sufferers: Please Inhale.

Canadian researchers, overcoming significant political and regulatory hurdles, found that when patients smoked marijuana, their chronic pain diminished (their moods improved too, but we probably didn’t need a study for that.)

The groundbreaking clinical trial, with results published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, determined that:

“Low doses of inhaled cannabis containing approximately 10% THC (the active ingredient in cannabis), smoked as a single inhalation using a pipe three times daily over a period of five days, offered modest pain reduction in patients suffering from chronic neuropathic pain (pain associated with nerve injury) within the first few days. The results also suggest that cannabis improved moods and helped patients sleep better. The effects were less pronounced in cannabis strains containing less than 10% THC.”

In an editorial accompanying the study, Henry McQuay, an emeritus fellow from Bailliol College, Oxford writes: “If patients are not achieving a good response with conventional treatment of their pain, then they may, reasonably, wish to try cannabis. If medical cannabis is not available where a patient lives, then obtaining it will take the patient outside of the law, often for the first time in his or her life. Good evidence would at least buttress that decision.”

This may be easier said than done. A report in The New York Times this week says that even people with prescriptions for medical marijuana are confronting hostile employers. In some cases, they’re getting fired for failing drugs tests even with a legitimate medical reason to smoke pot.