by Richard Boyd, Body Mind Psychotherapist, Energetics Institute, Perth, West Australia
The press has been full of drug news lately. The Western Australian newspaper has run a two week series of related articles around the "Meth City" theme. The article has touched on many aspects of Perth's drug sub-culture but the focus has primarily been around Methamphetamines and its related "Ice" cousin.
Another separate but related issue is that of Marijuana. Marijuana is also referred to as dope and cannabis in some articles. Its use is as widespread in society as Methamphetamines but it has its own issues and demographic of users that makes it worthy of separate discussion.
The Marijuana debate is an emotional one that spans multi-generational critics and users. Despite the entrenched views that each camp tends to remain stuck in, there has over the years emerged a body of knowledge which brings some objectivity to the debate.
One of the first aspects of the debate is the context of Marijuana potency in what gets consumed today versus what may have been indulged in by the baby boomers when they were teenagers and young adults in the 1960's and 1970's. It is not an apples versus apples debate as the newer strains of Marijuana are typically hydroponically grown with fertilizers and there are new cannabis plant strains which demonstrate some degree of genetic engineering to increase potency.
The net result if that the active drug component(THC) levels are far higher in Marijuana being consumed by today's teenagers and adults and has a stronger effect due to this reason alone. The impact of the toxicity and potency of the chemicals within Marijuana that give it its "high" are a new combination that has a faster and deeper effect on users.
The effects of the various drug components found in the cannabis base have been shown to last longer in users and to affect those users in ways that previous types did not seem to so readily generate as an effect. Little early evidence exists but the anecdotal feedback globally is that the "stoned" effect is happening quicker, for longer, and is quickly addictive.
Another difference generationally is the availability of cannabis as compared to previous times when it was a fringe behaviour and you tended to have to know the dealer or supplier in order to score it. As such its usage was more weekend or event based rather than routine based and so the worst effects did not play out on what became social users.
Now cannabis is readily available in large quantities from a multiple of sources. Its pervasive nature in society makes it accessible as a routine lifestyle option rather than just an odd event or for restricted weekend use.
Another factor was that the ability to access the cannabis drug was previously mainly confined to young adult and older adult circles. The infiltration to young teenagers is a new trend which neuroscience has shown has a potentially negative and lasting effect on the still developing brains of young users.
The developing brain can be impacted in ways by cannabis such that teenage onset schizophrenia can result from a single or sustained use. There are limited treatment options for any such affected teenager and it often condemns them to a compromised life of mental illness and impaired lifestyle outcomes from that point onwards.
The use of cannabis by younger and younger users has been confirmed by statistics such as those in Ireland where cannabis has now overtaken alcohol as the dominant problem drug for young people. Leading Irish addiction treatment centre Aiseiri found that baby boomers entered rehab for alcohol issues up to 73 per cent of the time whilst teenager admissions were 62% for cannabis abuse and addiction.
One of the other differences between the sixties and today is that the ability to mix a cocktail of drugs and have a binge session was largely restricted to the wealthy and famous adult party set. The various modern drugs such as ice, ecstasy, cocaine, methyl amphetamines and other synthetics either did not exist or were inaccessible to most people.
The sixties was about alcohol and then dope but it was only the minority who pushed on into the psychedelics and into heroin. Those who did often came out damaged at the other side.
The Aiseiri drug treatment centre has reported that there are more teenagers reporting for treatment for cocktail drug addictions than for alcohol. These teenagers commonly presented with cocaine, heroin and benzodiazepine multiple drug abuse problems.
The situational issue with cannabis is that it can be indulged by some users in the short term and it is only in the longer term that mental health issues exist. In the USA there has been a dramatic rise in the admittance to hospital facilities and care facilities for long term cannabis drug users who have sudden declining mental and physical health issues in the 50 and 60 age bracket.
There has been no declaration of any drug related causes but just look at ACDC's 61 year old rock legend Malcom Young. Recently it has been revealed he suffers from a form of dementia and is now confined in a twilight state of mind in the Lulworth House nursing home in Sydney under high care.
The official announcement did not attribute his condition to drugs and alcohol. However ACDC are legends in well documented hell raising days of the entertainment industry that has drug and drink sub-culture right through it.
As a reminder of that sub-culture we have just now heard that fellow ACDC band member Phil Rudd had briefly been arrested and charged with attempting to hire a hitman to kill two people. Phil is innocent and the charges were dropped but it was interesting to note he was also charged with possession of methamphetamine and cannabis and these charges are still pending.
Drug researchers have noted in the last decade that the adults who have led a drug and alcohol fuelled lifestyle over many years have started to show up as an increasing demographic for early onset dementia or adult onset schizophrenia. The baby boomers are now reaching an age where drug related decline such as some forms of dementia is emerging as predicted by mental health authorities.
Social media has casual comments nodding acknowledgement to the cost of such a rock 'n' roll lifestyle as probably being behind the mental health condition of dementia that Malcolm Young now must live out for the rest of his life. There is no official medical comment attributing Malcom's condition to any factor and given dementia has several causes or origins then it must remain pure speculation that drug or alcohol use played any part in his case.
What is true in wider society is that many of us has met a "stoner" or someone so entrenched in their cannabis, alcohol and possibly other drug addictions that they no longer function as adults in the way sober people tend to do. You can tell how their lifestyle choice or addictions have changed their ability to function and relate.
In the "Meth City" series of articles there is an illustrative story of an Ice addict called Travis Wright. His story as told by surviving family members reveals the wider cost to family and loved ones of an addict's hellish life.
The Meth or Ice addict is often so totally consumed by their addiction that they become chaotic out of control persons who seek only to find ways to continue to fund their habit. Travis Wright was one of these and became unstable and dangerous to family and friends and eventually setup meth labs in houses where he "cooked" the drug for consumption.
He was badly burnt in one explosion, survived, and gave the false promise to quit that every addict who is not yet ready to quit tends to make from time to time. He ended up cooking meth again and was killed this time in an explosion.
He had made his and everyone else's life around him hell. The cost and trauma was worn by his family and friends who tried to live with his aggression, crime, chaos and dysfunction. This is normally true of those who have any addict in their life.
You do not need to be on meth or Ice to inflict this damaged outcome on yourself and others around you. Smoking dope can impair a person and affect others around them in a more subtle way than what you get from the frantic and hyper-aroused behaviours that many meth and ice users experience.
The Lancet Journal is a globally respected medical and mental health publication. It recently published the results of a major Australian study into the long term effects of cannabis use. The study results need publicising as it will help to shatter the myth around cannabis being a harmless social drug no worse than alcohol.
The problem in our debate on cannabis smoking has always been "well you drink and I choose to smoke and neither is bad so get off my back!!". If only alcohol and dope usage was an apples versus apples argument.
What the Lancet Journal found in the long term Australian study was that if there was frequent or daily use of cannabis before the age of 17, then when mapped to 7 developmental outcomes that are reasonably attainable by the age of years, that:
- Cannabis users were 60 percent less likely to complete secondary school or to complete a degree compared to those who had never used the drug;
- They are 7 times more likely to attempt suicide;
- They are 8 times as likely to use other illicit drugs in later life;
- Are 18 times more likely to become dependent on the drug;
- 3 times more likely to suffer from depression later on or soon after in life;
- There is a risk of experiencing psychosis that can result in conditions such as schizophrenia;
- Brain development is impaired and that cognitive functions such as goal setting, the will to achieve, motivation to act, and initiative are compromised;
- There is a risk of low energy or hypo-arousal which causes a shutting down and withdrawal from life and others;
Despite this medical evidence European surveys show the trend in GEN X, Y and Millennial age clusters is that over 50% believe cannabis use should be legalised. For instance a European Commission poll of all 28 member states found that 56% of 15-24 year olds said that the cannabis market should be regulated and 43% said it should be banned. Over 50% believe that cannabis use is not harmful so there is a real need for clear targeted education into these demographics.
The same report found marijuana usage had decreased but found that it was being replaced or supplemented with new synthetic drugs or harder replacement drugs. Just over 63% of the EU study respondents also agreed that regular use of cannabis was "high risk".
It is believed that 4-5% of 11 to 15 year olds in Australia have used cannabis in the last month, and roughly 7% of US high school seniors are daily or near daily users. Another 2007 study was able to conclude that the risk of cannabis use increased the risk of the onset of psychosis by 40% in users.
This risk increased the more they used the drug, and if they continued to use the drug after their first psychotic episode. So the old frazzled and withered stoner from the sixties who goes on and on about how smoking dope is harmless and how they could give it up anytime, and it never affected them in life, is a dangerous fool.
Their idealisation of their lifestyle is normally one that if you look deeper you find outcomes listed above written into their life story. The sad part of this sort of issue is that users are in denial.
One of the hallmarks of any addiction is the state of denial that users cling to so they do not have to face up to their problems. They cling to nonsense as fact, they ignore their own maladjustments and issues as not existing or just being part of bad luck in life.
The only problem is they are influencing new generations of cannabis users who simply may end up without a quality of life left for them, but not at age 61, but maybe at 21 or 31. I have personally seen the damage done and endlessly repeated in my client's lives year in and year out.
You can see them starting in their teens or early 20's but entrenched in a lifestyle by their 's. They are drifting through life and passing the days away without direction or meaning or purpose and start to lose jobs and the motivation and ability to get a job.
They instead find like-minded souls and start to live in a drug normalised sub-culture of welfare, crime, dysfunctional relationships, abuse, and often struggling with depression and undiagnosed mental health issues and disorders. They do group think behaviours where they tell each other they are all OK and that they are hurting no one.
They often over time become poly-addicted to several drugs and alcohol and so their health and youth fall away. In another category I also have had numerous professionals whose dope smoking lifestyle slowly eroded away their professional capabilities, their relationships and functional adult responsibilities.
Dope smoking is insidious as it shows a subtle effect on a day to day basis but a slow trend of pulling down users into sub-optimal lifestyles and choices. When compared to meth and ice it looks comparatively harmless but this is deceptive in terms of what is actually going on.
Another problem with recreational drug use is the origin and purity of supply. Cannabis may be diluted somewhat but is hard to fake. The other synthetic drugs can have compromised origins and purity with toxicity via pollutants and dangerous replacement ingredients.
Some get a bad dose that kills them or affects their health in damaging ways. Recently a W.A. mine worker called Christopher Kirkman died a sudden death in a Ugandan hotel room.
It turned out this high income earning mining professional took fake drugs sourced within the local Ugandan community. These drugs killed him and devastated his family and friends.
The outcome for the social suburban users of the cannabis/alcohol combination set is often a slow decline. One notable symptom is the dependency that makes them crave their smoke or bong at the end of the day which they dismiss as just being no different to a glass of red wine by average folk at the end of the day.
The normalised state of a drug lifestyle means that to themselves they see that they are no different to others as they appear to largely function the same as adults. However you notice they can often develop a withdrawn negativity and even paranoia about life which remains a blind spot to themselves.
The sliding decline can be slow so is not noticeable by any one event or symptom. Some appear to have a resilience and cope at some level where there is no discernible change for years and maybe decades. Others decline quickly at some point and start to show the damage in severe ways that often is not reversible.
The long term users may end up OK and cope with their drug usage at different levels of adjustment. Some social users may go through life with just the odd indulgence at social activities and show no lifestyle or health impact at all.
However there is a risk that the person may become more dependent over time on cannabis and become a heavy user with all those inherent risks. The other key risk is that they become poly addicted to a number of different drugs and that cannabis is a gateway into the destructive world of meth and ice usage.
When I say that I do not minimise heroin, ecstasy, cocaine or other drugs. These other drugs are equally harmful in their own way but each drug has its own effects.
Some users who decline over time to lower forms of functioning and social ability start to remind me of the poor souls of the popular show "The Walking Dead". They often turn out to be heavy meth, ice and dope users in the community are noticeable as they wander aimlessly around during the day seeking to feed on whatever they can find next in terms of what drugs or money to buy drugs.
They are living and dead at the same time as they get older and their bodymind starts to break down and life tends to get messier and more day to day oriented and survival based. Their physical form often starts to deteriorate as well with ice users often having scars from picking at imaginary bugs crawling under their skin.
It is nearly impossible to help these sort of people as they can no longer motivate themselves to want to help themselves. They are at this stage unable to break the grip of their addiction or commit to recovery.
We owe it to our children to warn them and to try and stop them going down this devastating path in life. It will break their dreams and it may break their life.
Show them this article.