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Drug use is higher than

in nearly a decade, report finds

Use of meth, marijuana and ecstasy rose

sharply since last year, government survey finds

The rate of drug use rose last year to the highest level in nearly a decade, fueled by a sharp increase in marijuana use and a surge in ecstasy and methamphetamine abuse, the government reported Wednesday.

Gil Kerlikowske, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, called the 9 percent increase in drug use disappointing but said he was not surprised given “eroding attitudes” about the perception of harm from illegal drugs and the growing number of states approving medicinal marijuana.

“I think all of the attention and the focus of calling marijuana medicine has sent the absolute wrong message to our young people,” Kerlikowske said in an interview.

The annual report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found marijuana use rose by 8 percent and remained the most commonly used drug.

Mike Meno, a spokesman for the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project, said the survey is more proof that the government’s war on marijuana has failed in spite of decades of enforcement efforts and arrests.

“It’s time we stop this charade and implement sensible laws that would tax and regulate marijuana the same way we do more harmful — but legal — drugs like alcohol and tobacco,” Meno said.

On a positive note, cocaine abuse continues to decline, with use of the drug down 32 percent from its peak in 2006.

About 21.8 million Americans, or 8.7 percent of the population age 12 and older, reported using illegal drugs in 2009. That’s the highest level since the survey began in 2002. The previous high was just over 20 million in 2006.

The survey, which was being released Thursday, is based on interviews with about 67,500 people. It is considered the most comprehensive annual snapshot of drug use in the United States.

Other results show a 37 percent increase in ecstasy use and a 60 percent jump in the number of methamphetamine users. In the early 2000s, there was a widespread public safety campaign to warn young people about the dangers of ecstasy as a party drug, but that effort declined as use dropped off.

“The last few years, I think we’ve taken our eye off the ball on ecstasy,” Kerlikowske said.

Meth rates had been declining
Meth use had been dropping after a passage of a 2006 federal law that put cold tablets containing pseudoephedrine behind pharmacy counters. But law enforcement officials have seen a rise in “smurfing,” or traveling from store to store to purchase the medicines, which can be used to produce homemade meth in kitchen labs.

Kerlikowske attributed the rise in meth abuse to more people getting around the law and an increase in meth coming across the border with Mexico.

The rise in marijuana use comes as California voters prepare to decide in November whether to legalize the drug. An Associated Press-CNBC poll earlier this year found that most Americans still oppose legalizing marijuana, but larger majorities believe it has medical benefits and want the government to allow its use for that purpose.

Medical marijuana sales in the 14 states that allow it have also taken off since the federal government signaled last year that it wouldn’t prosecute marijuana sellers who follow state rules. The survey does not distinguish between medicinal and non-medicinal marijuana use.

The survey found the number of youths aged 12-17 who perceived a great risk of harm from smoking marijuana once or twice a week dropped from 54.7 percent in 2007 to 49.3 percent in 2009.

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Study Contends Pot Isn’t a Major ‘Gateway Drug’

Researchers say ethnicity, stress, unemployment

are stronger predictors of hard drug use.

by Randy Dotinga

FRIDAY, Sept. 3 (HealthDay News) — A new report casts doubt on the argument that marijuana is a “gateway drug” that plays a major role in leading people to try other illegal drugs.

Researchers found that other factors, such as ethnicity and stress levels, are more likely to predict whether young adults will use other illegal drugs.

Even unemployment appears to be more closely linked to harder illicit drug use than marijuana use, the study authors noted.

“Employment in young adulthood can protect people by ‘closing’ the marijuana gateway, so over-criminalizing youth marijuana use might create more serious problems if it interferes with later employment opportunities,” study co-author Karen Van Gundy, an associate professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire, said in a university news release.

The researchers based their findings on surveys of 1,286 young adults who attended Miami-area public schools in the 1990s.

Ethnicity was the best predictor of future illegal drug use, the study findings indicated, with whites the most likely to use the drugs, followed by Hispanics and then blacks.

The study findings are published in the September issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

So does early use of marijuana play a role in boosting the likelihood of later drug use? It’s unclear.

“This study really doesn’t answer the question,” said Dr. Richard D. Blondell, director of addictions research at the University at Buffalo (UB), who was not involved in the new study. “As the authors point out, there are a lot of factors at play here. There is no one single answer to why somebody develops addiction.”

In a study published recently in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, Blondell and colleagues at UB reported that new research suggests that many people first get addicted to drugs while using prescription painkillers.


Silverdome goes green:

Pontiac stadium to host ‘International Cannabis Convention’

Published: Wednesday, July 28, 2010, 7:51 AM     Updated: Wednesday, July 28, 2010, 8:30 AM

The former home of the Detroit Lions is going to pot this Halloween.

Pontiac Silverdome spokesman John Mozena says a medical marijuana trade show will be held Oct. 29-31 at the recently reopened stadium.

The Detroit International Cannabis Convention” will feature entertainers, exhibits, vendors, guest speakers, and edibles for qualifying patients with current medical marijuana cards. Attendees must be at least 18.

An ad promoting the event features a giant marijuana plant bursting through the Silverdome roof, and includes a smiling jack-o-lantern smoking what appears to be a reefer.

Pontiac Police Chief Val Gross tells The Detroit News city approval is not required, but marijuana is illegal in the Detroit suburb and smoking inside a privately owned building is illegal statewide.

The 80,300-seat Silverdome was home of the Detroit Lions until 2002 and was sold last year for $583,000 to Triple Properties Inc. of Toronto.

Synthetic marijuana is legal in Pennsylvania,

but potent and dangerous, experts say

Published: Tuesday, August 03, 2010, 7:00 AM     Updated: Tuesday, August 03, 2010, 12:39 PM

A sandwich bag filled with oregano has long served as the punchline for practical jokes on unsuspecting parents or gullible roommates.

Fake marijuana has certainly come a long way.

Sold as herbal incense under names such as K2, Spice, Genie and Wicked, a synthetic marijuana has legions of smokers around the country rolling it or putting it in their pipes.

Banned in eight states, it’s legal in Pennsylvania — for now — and sold in head shops, at some gas stations and on the Internet. Yet this synthetic and chemically treated substance is potent and potentially dangerous.

“Most people aren’t expecting it to be that potent. It’s overpowering,” said Roger Weaver, who works at Hemp’s Above, a Mechanicsburg shop that carries mostly smoking accoutrements.

Since the shop started carrying herbal incense a few months ago, sales have been brisk, drawing a cadre of return customers, many lured by the fact that the incense leaves no chemical trace in the bloodstream.

“There’s a lot of people who work in sensitive jobs,” said Hemp’s Above owner Brian Edmondson.

‘I don’t sell junk’
On a recent afternoon, a woman accompanied by two men entered the shop to buy herbal incense.

“It’s legal. If we get caught with it, we won’t go to jail,” she said. Regardless, she would not give her name.

“I don’t want my mom to know I’m smoking this [stuff],” she said, settling on a $20 vial.

She said it’s worth the money: “If you get caught with pot, you get fined and all sorts of crap.”

Edmondson finalized the sale and resumed his place behind the glass case that carries his products. “I don’t sell junk. What’s in there is the best,” said Edmondson, who has tried the stuff.

Tending to a first-time buyer, he suggested the man try the less-potent variety.

The effects vary by brand from a “meditative” state to something a little stronger.

“It has higher plateau and a bigger drop,” Edmondson said. “Once it starts to go — it starts fairly quickly and ends fairly quickly. The duration is not quick.”

Edmondson won’t sell to anyone under 18. He checks customer’s identification and doesn’t even allow parents to bring their children into the shop.

Flavored and potent
K2 is the common reference for herbal incense. Edmondson’s shop doesn’t carry the brand K2, however, because distributors have high minimum orders.

He carries mostly Wicked, a brand distributed by King Krypto in Florida, and averages 100 grams in sales a week.

Edmondson sells the vials by the gram, ranging in price from $20 to $100, and in flavors such as strawberry, mint and blueberry. That means that when smoked, the herbal incense emits a fruity aroma. Still, Edmondson thinks it’s a bad idea to smoke it in public.

He pulled one of the vials out of the glass case and read the label: “We are not liable for anything.”

The synthetic cannabinoids found in herbal incense are reported to be four to five times more potent than THC, the psychoactive substance in cannabis.

“Technically, it’s incense,” Edmondson said. “It’s not supposed to be rolled or smoked in a pipe. But what anyone does with it, it’s up to them.”

Edmondson said the last trend that brought business like this to his store was salvia divinorum, an herb once used by Mazatec Indians in Mexico to treat diarrhea and headache.

Users smoke the plant’s dried leaves to get a high reportedly similar to that of LSD. Edmondson’s shop still carries it, but it’s on the wall behind the featured glass case of Wicked products.

Salvia gained national attention in 2006 when it was said to be a contributing factor in the suicide of a 17-year-old Delaware boy. Just after Brett Chidester’s death, the Delaware Legislature banned salvia.

Ahead of the police
There seems to be a disconnect between the popularity of herbal incense and the knowledge about it by state police, hospitals, and drug and alcohol service programs in Pennsylvania.

Most said they haven’t encountered K2 or Wicked, while neighbors Ohio, New York and New Jersey are considering banning it.

On Friday, state Rep. Jennifer L. Mann, D-Lehigh, introduced legislation to ban the sale or use of synthetic marijuana in Pennsylvania.

She said the drug is so new that no federal or Pennsylvania law exists to give police the right to arrest those who possess the substance.

“By setting clear guidelines on the use and consumption of synthetic marijuana, we empower our law enforcement personnel to stop the spread of this new threat to our children and communities,” Mann said.

Some bans around the country are based on reports of people being sent to hospitals after smoking the substance. Authorities in Iowa are investigating whether an 18-year-old committed suicide after smoking synthetic marijuana with friends.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers reports minor to moderate reactions to synthetic marijuana, including fast heart rates, confusion and nausea. None of the 698 poison reports related to synthetic marijuana in 2010 is from Pennsylvania.

The woman in Edmondson’s shop said the substance doesn’t generate a uniform effect.

“It’s different for everybody,” she said.

The unknown factor
Synthetic marijuana isn’t new. Newsweek reported that the active ingredients were developed by John W. Huffman, a Clemson University chemist, in the mid-1990s for therapeutic purposes.

Bryan Doherty, a spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said the problem is the way the substance is being created, distributed and consumed.

The DEA’s website lists five chemicals that are known to be sprayed onto mixes of herbs and then sold to people looking for the synthetic high.

“Anytime you put an unknown chemical with unknown effects into your body, you are taking a great risk,” Doherty said.

Because of the various ways the products are produced, it’s practically impossible for users to know which they have picked up.

One brand of the psychoactive potpourri’s label lists its ingredients as “organic botanicals: marshmallow leaf, damiana, clove, catnip, aromatic essences.”

One smoker in a Camp Hill shop, who asked to remain anonymous because of the stigma of smoking, said that he is epileptic and that smoking marijuana triggered his seizures.

Now, he said, he is able to smoke a variety of synthetic marijuana products without side effects. He said the many brands and packages use different ingredients, producing various highs, just as different strains of marijuana plants do.

To him, the high lasts as long, but never longer than the real thing. And the risk is worth it, he said.

A low profile
Despite the substance’s availability in the Harrisburg area, Holy Spirit Hospital in East Pennsboro Township, PinnacleHealth System in Harrisburg and Penn State Hershey Medical Center said they have not seen patients with negative reactions to the drug.

Matthew Bennett, a prevention specialist at the Cumberland Perry Drug and Alcohol Commission, said his organization has heard of the drug but has yet to see it.

“Often what we see when something new comes out in the drug and alcohol scene, it gets a lot of attention,” Bennett said. “It’s a buzz word, no pun intended. Alcohol, tobacco and marijuana remain the main three in the area.”

Mavis Nimoh, the director of Drug and Alcohol Services for Dauphin County, said juvenile probation officers reported just two kids using synthetic marijuana.

“I’m sure the presence is here,” Nimoh said, but she said she thinks people might not differentiate the synthetic marijuana from the real thing when they have encountered it.

The problem that Nimoh expects to encounter is how her program and similar programs should treat the substance because it is sold legally.

Nimoh said she was considering treating it like salvia, emphasizing that it’s still a drug with negative effects.

Deb Beck, the president of the Drug and Alcohol Service Providers Organization of Pennsylvania, said that fads come and go, but alcohol and prescription drugs remain the biggest problem for those with substance-abuse problems.

Bennett said that increasing awareness of synthetic marijuana is the best bet for controlling it.

“It’s about due diligence. We try to stay on top of all current drug trends and keep it on people’s radars,” he said.

Wicked X, a brand of synthetic marijuana.

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