Marijuana, Addiction Hot Topics on Smith Hill

Feb 26, 2013

There's lots going on, legislatively speaking, in the world of addiction and especially marijuana (including the fake kind). At stake: whether marijuana will be legalized (it's already approved for medical use in the state) and whether fake marijuana will be banned.

1. This afternoon, legislators are hearing about the addictive potential of marijuana. The legislative briefing is sponsored by a new group called the Ocean State Prevention Alliance, made up of representatives of Rhode Island communities that have received "Drug Free Community" grants (sponsored in part by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). A statement the group released in advance of the briefing focused on research that shows young people don't perceive marijuana as risky. Here's what their chair, Nancy Devaney, said in the statement:

"Evidence clearly shows that when there is more marijuana available on the streets, adolescent use of the drug increases. We also know that there is a clear correlation between perceived risk of harm and use. Simply, if kids don’t perceive marijuana use as risky, they are more likely to use marijuana.  So, we are advocating for a two-pronged, statewide prevention strategy: reduce access and increase perception of harm.  If legislation and policies do not include specific provisions and adequate funding for preventing youth access and educating youth and families about the science-based harms associated with adolescent marijuana use, they must be rejected."

So, it seems as though they want to see the most recent proposal to legalize marijuana fail.

2. Wednesday, members of the House Judiciary committee hold a hearing on legislation proposed by RI Attorney General Peter Kilmartin to ban synthetic drugs like "fake weed" and bath salts.

Here's the issue: these drugs, which are sold in gas stations and convenience stores, and even online, under names like Spice, K2, or labeled as herbal incense, can be dangerous. And kids are the most common users.

We don't know entirely how these drugs affect the body. But we do know that they accounted for more than 11,000 emergency room visits in 2010. Their labels often claim they're made with all natural ingredients. But tests have shown that they're laced with synthetic chemicals that mimic the effect of marijuana's main compound on the brain or, in the case of bath salts, with chemicals that resemble amphetamines. Numerous health agencies have issued warnings about these compounds. And there are all kinds of reports of people who've taken them experiencing everything from high blood pressure to seizures.

Here's a great overview of what we know about these drugs and the public health risk from the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

These two legislative hearings seem to illustrate the philosophical divide in our country right now over how to handle potentially dangerous drugs: banning them versus legalizing them. The toughest cases, I think, involve drugs that have a medical use but also carry a high risk for addiction. On the one hand, we must all want the best treatment available for what ails us. On the other, sometimes the cure is worse than the ailment.