Gen Z becomes stoner generation with record-high pot and hallucinogen use

smokingjoint-150x150Generation Z and young millennials have become the nation’s leading group of stoners, setting record highs for their use of marijuana, hallucinogenic drugs, nicotine, and booze.

This has occurred even as federal regulators have gotten called out for failing to crack down, after chest-thumping promises to do so, on the noxious but popular practice among the young of vaping.

The National Institutes of Health has conducted its annual “Monitoring the Future” survey of behaviors and attitudes of young adults since 1975, providing a much-watched, longitudinal snapshot of the lives and health of Americans ages 19 to 30. Its results this go-round are unsettling to those who monitor substance use and abuse in this critical age group, as the Washington Post reported:

“Young people used marijuana and some hallucinogens at record levels last year… as recreational cannabis became legal in more states and as attitudes toward other drugs continue to shift. Nearly 43% of young people said they had used marijuana in the past 12 months, up from 29% in 2011 and nearly 34% in 2016, according to the … study by the University of Michigan, which surveyed nearly 5,000 young adults between 19 and 30 years old. More than 28% of young people said they had used marijuana in the past month, and more than 1 in 10 were ‘daily’ consumers, using marijuana 20 times or more in the past 30 days … Although the rates were not a ‘significant’ jump from 2020, the report said, they were the ‘highest levels ever recorded since the indices were first available in 1988.’”

The New York Times reported this of the NIH study:

“The [research] …  also found that nicotine vaping and excessive alcohol consumption continued to climb in 2021 after a brief pause. Another worrying trend among young people, ages 19 to 30: mounting consumption of alcoholic beverages suffused with THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. But there were some bright spots in the survey. Cigarette smoking and opioid abuse among young adults dropped last year, a continuing trend that has heartened public health experts. Taken in its entirety, the report provides a mixed picture of substance use in the United States that experts say reflects a number of disparate trends affecting young Americans: the devastating mental health effects of the [coronavirus] pandemic; the increased availability of legal marijuana; and the emerging therapeutic embrace of psychedelics to treat depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological problems.”

Experts told the New York Times that young adults are responding, in part, to heightened media and social media reports on the rising availability and seeming lack of harms — and even benefits — in the use of marijuana and hallucinogens like ketamine, psilocybin mushrooms, and ecstasy. The hallucinogens have not become as common as grass, which has a downside to its ever-increasing acceptance and popularity, experts told the newspaper:

“Although the risks associated with psychedelics tend to be short-lived — overdoses are rare, and most compounds are not addictive — experts stress the importance of using them with professional guidance. Some states have decriminalized psilocybin, but it and other popular psychedelics remain prohibited under federal law, though the Food and Drug Administration is expected to grant approvals for some therapeutic uses in the coming years.

“With marijuana use, the dangers include the risks of impaired driving, the potential for addiction and the effects on mental health such as heightened anxiety, depression, and temporary psychosis. Many of those risks have increased alongside the potency of THC levels in cannabis, and more so with vaping products, said Sion Kim Harris, co-director of the Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse Research at Boston Children’s Hospital. Some vaping concentrates contain THC levels of 90% or higher and the increased potency, she said, has contributed to a spike in cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, a condition that causes recurrent vomiting in heavy marijuana users. ‘Overall, the results are very concerning,’ said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which publishes the annual Monitoring the Future survey. ‘What they tell us is that the problem of substance abuse among young people has gotten worse in this country, and that the pandemic, with all its mental stressors and turmoil, has likely contributed to the rise.’”

Federal regulators may have thundered about e-cigarettes, vaping, and vape products, insisting that they would curb their use by the young and crack down on sales of these trendy ways for younger folks to consume nicotine and the substance in marijuana that causes users’ “high.” But Stat, the science and medical news site, has investigated the current state of regulatory oversight by the FDA of vaping, finding it a shabby sham:

 “The [FDA] has spent more than four years trying to decide whether retailers should be able to sell products like cotton candy-flavored liquids, vapes made to look like fidget spinners, and disposables filled with more nicotine than 200 cigarettes. And so far, the agency has explicitly ordered hundreds of them off the market. But a STAT investigation found that vape companies are regularly flouting the FDA’s orders. They’re making, stocking, and selling the illicit goods. And the agency is just letting it happen. The defiance is on display at thousands of smoke shops around the country, and at countless more online retailers …

“STAT’s investigation examined the main way the FDA has tried to crack down on vape companies selling illegal products. It’s ordered more than 100 vape manufacturers to stop making more than 250 specific flavors and vapes — but we found scores of companies, across the country, that are defying the FDA’s demands. The reporting reveals, too, just how reluctant the FDA is to use its power to rein in bad actors. The agency has sweeping legal authorities to crack down on vape companies that ignore its bans, ranging from levying seven-figure fines to physically pulling products off shelves. But the FDA has never used those powers, according to its own data. In several cases, it’s even dropped cases against companies that it knows are still selling illegal products.

“The agency’s approach has been so conservative in certain cases that one legal expert compared it to a cop pulling someone over for running a red light while drunk — and then writing them a ticket for the traffic violation and sending them on their way. The ‘FDA has been a toothless tiger that the industry isn’t afraid to ignore,’ said Matt Myers, the president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. (The Campaign, like STAT, receives funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies.) The FDA declined STAT’s request for an interview with either FDA Commissioner Robert Califf or the head of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, Brian King. But a spokesperson implied the agency may soon get tougher against companies that ignore its orders.”

Hmmmm.

In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the damages that can be inflicted on them by dangerous drugs, notably opioid painkillers, as well as more common intoxicants, notably alcohol and marijuana.

The opioid crisis — fostered for years by Big Pharma, doctors, nurses, hospitals, insurers, and others in the U.S. health care system — has entered its latest and notably bad stage with easily and cheaply made, exceedingly powerful synthetic painkillers like fentanyl flooding the country. Public health and law enforcement officials have warned that criminals are tainting an array of illicit street products, now including marijuana, with fentanyl, promising a higher high to buyers. They may not realize, though, that dosage of so potent a drug can be tough to control. It can be lethal, especially to the unsuspecting. Just a reminder that the opioid crisis claimed 100,000 lives last year alone, and experts say it has killed 500,000 Americans over a decade.

No one, of course, imagines that bluenose approaches to alcohol, marijuana, or prescription drugs make sense in helping to reduce substance abuse. But experts have warned for a while now that people put themselves and others around them at risk by taking far too lightly their use, overuse, and abuse of alcohol, pot, and prescription medicines. The line can be fine and crossed fast between fun, social drinking, or pleasant grass smoking and, frankly, turning into a drunk or serious abuser of substances. And as for mixing intoxicants and then driving — please: No, no, no.

We’ve got a lot of work to do to ensure that, if we do, we drink sensibly and that we are clear-eyed about the use of ever more potent marijuana as an intoxicant. We need to put major efforts into putting down the opioid crisis. We’ve got to make our roads safer.

If our health experts and political leaders tell us it is important to take vigorous action against tobacco, e-cigarettes, highly addictive nicotine, and vaping and its products — with evidence and good reason — let us not make a mockery of the promised crackdown by failing to follow through.

If we can’t deal with vaping, how do we quell the worsening opioid abuse and drug overdose crisis?

Are mental health professionals, in responding to a crisis in care for the young, fueling the nation’s pharmaceutical and addiction nightmares by over prescribing powerful psychiatric medications for troubled teens?

Can politicians take the heat when evidence points them to the effectiveness of hotly contested ways of attacking drug abuse, so-called harm reduction approaches such as California’s proposed, supervised injection sites? Maybe not.

We have huge needs to address, so the crushing demand gets answered for mental health, addiction treatment, and other health challenges that too many people deal with by abusing alcohol, prescription, and illicit drugs.

Patrick Malone & Associates, P.C. listed in Best Lawyers Rated by Super Lawyers Patrick A. Malone
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