January 26, 2018 10.17am AEDT Updated January 31, 2018 5.11pm AEDT
One of the enduring myths about marijuana is that it is “harmless” and can be safely used by teens.
Many high school teachers would beg to disagree, and consider the legalization of marijuana to be the biggest upcoming challenge in and around schools. And the evidence is on their side
As an education researcher, I have visited hundreds of schools over four decades, conducting research into both education policy and teen mental health. I’ve come to recognize when policy changes are going awry and bound to have unintended effects.
As Canadian provinces scramble to establish their implementation policies before the promised marijuana legalization date of July 2018, I believe three major education policy concerns remain unaddressed.
These are that marijuana use by children and youth is harmful to brain development, that it impacts negatively upon academic success and that legalization is likely to increase the number of teen users.
‘Much safer than alcohol’
Across Canada, province after province has been announcing its marijuana implementation policy, focusing almost exclusively on the control and regulation of the previously illegal substance. This has provoked fierce debates over who will reap most of the excise tax windfall and whether cannabis will be sold in government stores or delegated to heavily regulated private vendors.
All of the provincial pronouncements claim that their policy will be designed to protect “public health and safety” and safeguard “children and youth” from “harmful effects.”
However, a 2015 report from the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse cites rates of past-year cannabis use ranging from 23 per cent to 30 per cent among students in grades seven to 12 in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador during 2012-2013. And notes that, “of those Canadian youth who used cannabis in the past three months, 23 per cent reported using it on a daily or near daily basis.”
The report also describes youth perceptions of marijuana as “relatively harmless” and “not as dangerous as drinking and driving.”
Early-onset paranoid psychosis
In the rush to legalize marijuana in Canada, medical experts are warning about weed’s alarming side, particularly for younger users. January 15, 2018
Sean Savoie first smoked marijuana around the age of 14 when, behind a gas station, a friend handed him a pop can fashioned into a bong. He doesn’t remember if he got high or even enjoyed the experience, but he did start smoking two or three times a week. Marijuana became a way for Savoie to create an identity for himself during those tumultuous high school years, and a way to make friends. His parents disapproved and urged him to quit, but he never abandoned the habit for long. Eventually, his parents stopped trying, contenting themselves with the fact that at least their son wasn’t using harder drugs. “That kind of told me that it’s okay,” says Savoie, who lives in Winnipeg. “So I started using every day.”
By the time he was in university, Savoie was smoking multiple times a day. He’d spark up as soon as he rolled out of bed, as well as before hanging out with friends, before a video game session, before family dinners and before sleep. No matter what he was about to do, Savoie wanted to be high for it. It never occurred to him that he might have a problem. “It was like, ‘You can’t get addicted to weed. It’s the harmless drug,’ ” he recalls.
But after five years of heavy use, Savoie noticed his short-term memory was starting to fray. He avoided talking to people. Worse, festering feelings of anxiety and depression were growing. He tried to mask them with weed, deepening his dependency. He upended his life, quitting his job and breaking up with his girlfriend, trying to find the source of his depression. Nothing worked. “Maybe it’s the drug use,” he recalls thinking, “because I’m constantly relying on it.”
Mark Gold MD
As experts at NIH and NIDA are calling for research and breakthrough treatments for SUDs, rTMS has been suggested to help with cravings for drugs, drug withdrawal and drug withdrawal-related sleep and depression symptoms. The long-term neurophysiological changes induced by rTMS have the potential to affect behaviors relating to drug taking, craving and relapse. In addition, rTMS is currently undergoing trials in pain management.
No reasonable or meaningful discussion can take place on drug policy unless all parties understand the three levels of prevention in public health principles when dealing with epidemics - be they for example influenza, measles, smallpox, zika virus, cholera, dengue fever, Ebola etc. or drugs. The three levels of prevention are Primary, Secondary and Tertiary. Arguably the greatest failure of Primary prevention occurred during the 1918 influenza pandemic when an estimated 20-50 million people died from influenza, more than from the Black Death Bubonic Plague from 1347 to 1351.
PRIMARY prevention applies measures to prevent a disorder from occurring e.g. tetanus or flu vaccinations and health education/messages. In the case of illicit drug use, or abuse of legal drugs, areas of law enforcement can act as primary prevention - arguably the most prominent being the multiple tonnes of drugs seized by border control forces which stop hundreds of millions of street hits reaching us, especially our children. SECONDARY prevention applies to treatment measures of a disorder in its early/middle stages of development, and then preventing any further relapse (s) or recurrence. TERTIARY prevention is management of a case (s) at a later stage - to apply measures to slow down progression or reduce the number of relapses (often these are extreme cases of drug-related morbidity). In all 3 preventions, the overriding aim must be to maintain or restore normal lives - i.e. free of drugs. Observers will quickly link, analogously, any illicit drug policy with clearly unsuccessful primary prevention to a message to sailors in northern hemisphere seas that icebergs are uncommon and not really dangerous.
What decides essentially the progression or regression of a drug epidemic ? If the number of first-time users does not fall substantially the epidemic cannot be contained or diminished. Take opiates as an example. According to C/W Health figures issued in 1991, there were 9,100 persons on methadone in Australia. Leading health bodies now estimate this number has risen to 51,000 ! A rise in the numbers on methadone points to a rise in the number of opioid users (often heroin) and dependency.
In 2014 a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime found Australia had " the highest proportion of per capita recreational drug users in the world……… with the number of drug users continuing to rise steadily". The sad truth of course is that the Australian model referred to is Harm minimisation/Harm reduction, still in force. Treatment (secondary prevention) is essential but efficiently applied primary prevention will always reduce substantially and disproportionately resources needed for treatment, unless the treatment is laissez-faire (drug maintenance) and not successful in returning the drug afflicted to normal (drug-free) lives. So let's change the model. Sweden is recognised internationally as having one of the most successful drug policies in the world. Why do I say that ? In 2008the UN Office on Drugs and Crime conducted a study of 180 countries using serious drug problems as the principal benchmark - 180 being the best, and 1 the worst. Australia came in the first 12. Sweden came in at 162.
Sweden rationalises and justifies its drug policy by declaring it is common, nationally and internationally, to formulate aims which express a basic standpoint and indicate a direction, even if the aim can hardly be achieved in the short term. The UN conventions on human rights are one such example. They represent the international community's consensus view on the rights which are to apply to people the world over. Knowledge of the occurrence of worldly violations of human rights and of the aims being far beyond many countries' horizons makes it more important than ever to safeguard the vision of universal human rights. Acceptance of human rights violations relating to the situation in certain parts of the world would amount to capitulation.
By the same token, limiting the aims of drug policy to basically "reducing the harmful effects of drugs" is to capitulate to illegal drug trafficking and to accept that drugs have come to stay in our societies. A limited aim of this kind is in practice a lowering of society's ambitions, and sanctions the marginalization of certain groups in society. Limiting the harmful effects of drugs is one part of the efforts made in drug use care on behalf of persons who have become addicted to drugs, but if a strategy is formulated essentially in terms of alleviating the situation of those who have already become dependent/addicted, the role and effectiveness of primary prevention is severely hindered resulting in greater numbers of first-time users - a situation which if allowed to continue must derail the principles of public health governing epidemics which include the dimension of the numbers involved and the concept of prevention - primary (prioritised), secondary, and tertiary.
Recommendation 8 of the 2007 Commonwealth House of Representatives Standing Committee report "The impact of illicit drugs on families" recognised the above by saying that "The Commonwealth Government develop and bring to the Council of Australian Governments a national illicit drug policy that replaces the current focus of the National Drug Strategy on harm minimisation with a focus on harm prevention and treatment that has the aim of achieving permanent drug-free status for individuals with the goal of enabling drug users to be drug free"
Mr. Colliss Parrett
Member, Drug Advisory Council Australia
Australian youth are drinking and smoking less than before. AAP
School-aged Aussie kids are drinking less alcohol and smoking less tobacco and cannabis, The study is the work of researchers at Deakin University, the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, and the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, and has been published in the Drug and Alcohol Review journal.
Better parental attitudes about the dangers have been linked to the trend, identified by an analysis of more than 40,000 student surveys completed in Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia between 1999 and 2015.
But so, too, has the fact it’s become harder for kids to get their hands on harmful substances.
“Alcohol, tobacco and cannabis use all fell significantly from 1999 to 2015,” Australian researchers found, but noted higher levels of use in Victoria compared to the other two states.
Parental supply of alcohol has dropped from a high of 22 per cent in 2007, to 12 per cent.
The sale of alcohol to minors also has plunged from 12 per cent in 1999, to just one per cent.
“It is plausible that a reduced tendency for parents and other adults to supply adolescent alcohol are implicated in the reductions in adolescent alcohol use observed across Australia,” the study found.
“This is a game changer; we can see that parents are taking on the advice from our national health guidelines that even a small amount of alcohol is harmful to teenagers, And we believe this is what has seen Australia go from having one of the highest rates of alcohol use by high school students in the world, to one of the lowest…findings also point to the value of school drug education programs, restrictive underage purchase laws and market regulations.” Lead researcher Professor John Toumbourou, from Deakin University
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Presentations, Statements & Conference Resources from WFAD 2018 Forum