Regular marijuana users may have impaired brain reward centers

New research shows that regular marijuana users show impairments in the brain’s ability to respond to dopamine – a brain chemical that is involved in reward, among other functions.
Although this research can’t determine if regular marijuana use causes deficits in brain reward centers – or if users…


Commentary: More research needed into marijuana’s effects on brain development and function

A journal commentary by Harvard researcher and NIDA grantee Bertha K. Madras stresses the importance of a large scale longitudinal study to better assess the effects of marijuana use on human brain development and function. Dr. Madras notes research that suggests regular marijuana use that begins…


Social media can influence teens with pro-drug messages

A new NIDA-funded study analyzed the content and demographic reach of a popular pro-marijuana Twitter handle in 2013 and found that only ten percent of the messages mentioned any risky behaviors associated with marijuana use.
Given that over 70 percent of followers were 19 years of age or…


Colorado Lawmakers Scrutinize Marijuana Edibles

Lawmakers in Colorado are considering stricter regulations for marijuana edibles, in the wake of two deaths connected with the products. Experts warn consuming the edibles can lead to bizarre behavior, USA Today reports.

State legislators agreed to spend $10 million to require better labeling of edibles and to ban them from being made into products primarily marketed to children. The funds will also be used to study the effects of marijuana use. They also approved a measure lowering the amount of marijuana-infused oil or butter than can be sold to consumers. These products contain concentrated marijuana at levels far higher than found in the plant itself, the article notes.

The legislators are also considering mandating portion sizes for marijuana edibles, in order to help standardize the amount of the drug in products.

Edible marijuana products have become a popular alternative to smoking marijuana in Colorado this year, since retail sales of the products became legal on January 1. Adults 21 and over can legally purchase marijuana edibles at state-licensed stores. Marijuana is now available in products ranging from candy to soda and granola.

Last month, health officials reported legal marijuana edible products were linked to two deaths and an increase in emergency room visits in Colorado. The amount of marijuana in edible products varies widely. In some cases, products contain levels so high that people experience extreme paranoia and anxiety. Genifer Murray of CannLabs, a Colorado-approved marijuana potency testing lab, noted an inexperienced user can easily overdose on marijuana edibles, because the effects begin more slowly than the smoked version of the drug.

One of the deaths related to edibles involved a college student who had never tried marijuana before. He ate the recommended dose of one-sixth of a marijuana-laced cookie last month. He felt no effects, and then ate the whole cookie—six times the recommended dose. He later jumped off a hotel balcony and died.


Kids, Marijuana and Mad Men

Love it or hate it – advertising works. Proof comes in the form of the annual $70 billion U.S. advertising industry. Everything from potato chips to cell phones to banking and even cancer care is bolstered by a healthy marketing budget.

The truth is that we are all influenced by advertising. Even when we don’t realize it or are unwilling to admit it, effective advertising seeps into our thoughts and influences our behavior as consumers. Advertising drives sales and grows businesses. Especially susceptible to advertising’s wills are the young, open and less cynical minds of kids.

They, along with their moms and dads, are arguably America’s most sought-after consumer base. Young people are both directly targeted and unintentionally exposed to the whirlwind of ads that surround their daily existence. Too often, they sit too closely on the periphery of messages not intended for them, like those for beer, distilled spirits, tobacco and unhealthy food choices. These now include advertising designed to increase sales of medical and recreational marijuana.

Ads for marijuana have already surfaced in states that have passed these initiatives. What we see – as a public health nonprofit with roots in the advertising industry – is the potential for significant childhood exposure to marketing of an alluring, newly legal drug. Advertising that will have the net communication that it’s okay to use marijuana.

And some might argue that the future pool of customers for the legal marijuana industry will be kids and teens since past-month marijuana use – particularly heavy use – has increased significantly among U.S. high school students since 2008. Kids are still more likely to smoke marijuana than adults and even twentysomethings, presenting a real marketing conundrum for marijuana retailers who seek to increase their business and expand their markets, while also claiming they are only targeting consenting adults. The ongoing roll-out of marijuana-infused candies, sodas, and edible products that appeal to younger cohorts is just one example of quickly increasing marketing and merchandising to make this product more appealing and accessible.

In the complicated debates around marijuana legalization, many are talking about new tax revenues and adults’ ability to choose, but precious few of us are talking with families about what this means for them – or considering how all this affects the healthy development of their kids.

Our recent research reports that roughly 50 percent of all parents have used marijuana and that 40 percent of adults believe marijuana should be legal. However, parents have serious expectations that legal marijuana will be heavily regulated to protect kids.

More than 80 percent of parents surveyed in Colorado and Washington, two states where recreational marijuana is now legal, believe “marijuana advertising should still be banned.” When forced to choose, a majority of parents identify the number one place where it should be permissible to advertise marijuana as “nowhere.” But those expectations from parents far exceed how legal marijuana is actually being implemented. The advertising limitations that are in place in these states will be subject to future court challenges over first amendment protected speech.

While there’s an urgency to discuss taxing marijuana, how to deal with banking the profits of retailers and in what ways a lucrative new industry will grow its sales, there’s also a contradictory “we’ll think about it tomorrow” attitude on how to go about effectively communicating the health risks of use to families and kids. Our nation’s past experiences with alcohol and tobacco regulation suggests we’re destined to fail at banning the mass marketing of a growing, profitable and legal industry, contradicting parents’ desires to protect their kids from such ads.

So, what are we to do? For starters, let’s keep talking with parents and families specifically about the health risks of pre-teens and teenagers using marijuana. Let’s guide them to have effective conversations with their kids about why marijuana is not a good choice for their developing brains – even if mom or dad used it back in the days when they were teenagers.

We certainly don’t have all of the answers, but we do know from calls to our parents toll-free helpline and from posts on our website and in social media that families want sensible, health-based guidance on how to navigate this new, legalized landscape on behalf of their kids. While we can and do provide that, much more is needed across society.

There is inherent power in advertising and delivering persuasive messages. Messages that help young consumers form personal opinions and beliefs about a product ultimately drive their individual behavior. Yet the most important messengers – the most powerful influencers – in the lives of kids are their parents.

The time is now to start talking about this new world of marijuana and children’s health at home before our kids get the wrong messages somewhere else.