Kids perceive regular marijuana use less risky – Some tips.

The pendulum swings again. After years of decreases in use and in perceptions about use, a recent report indicates that high-school kids are once again beginning to use , and consider less risky the use of, marijuana.

The movement is no doubt part of a semi-regular cycle. After lack of awareness about prescription drugs and a significant increase in their abuse among children, this most recent trend shouldn’t be so surprising as the focus on marijuana has waned.

I think we need quite a bit of research to see if such increases do correlate with significant increases in individuals seeking help for marijuana-use-related problems. Yes marijuana advocates, those people exist whether you like it or not. For some proof, check out this link for a site put together by a recovering marijuana addict.

My quick, short, tips:

  1. If you use weed, use a vaporizer to avoid the toxic fumes that can cause cancer in much the same way cigarette smoke does.
  2. If your use becomes regular, whether daily or multiple times a week, consider talking to someone to help you figure out if you might be developing a problem use pattern. Those are much easier to stop early in their development.
  3. Pay close attention to the interference between your marijuana use and other life-commitments. This is a tale-tale sign of problems.

Nicotine addiction and genetics – It’s the little things that matter in smoking addiction

We’ve known for a while that genes play a role in addiction in general and that nicotine is addictive at least in part because it activates receptors for a chemical called Acetylcholine (ACh) that are found all over the brain and body. Nevertheless, finding the specific mechanism for the genetic predisposition has been difficult.

Some recent large-scale studies undertaken at the University of Colorado and other institutions  around the country have made some very exciting discoveries in this area.  It seems that up to now, researchers were focusing on the most common type of ACh receptor, but that several other types play very important roles in determining how people will respond to nicotine the first time they use it, and how much they’ll be likely to use in that early period. It should be pretty obvious that both there factors can play a huge role in nicotine addiction, and indeed, it seems they do.

So here’s a little breakdown of the findings:

  • Initially, research examining the influence of ACh receptor proteins on nicotine addiction focused on the α4 and β2 subunits. These are the most common ACh subunit proteins in the brain. Animal and human imaging studies have shown that ACh receptors consisting of two α4 and three β2 subunits are critical for the rewarding effects of nicotine.
  • The new studies focused on genes that code for less common ACh receptor proteins. Researchers have implicated the genes for the α3, α5, and β4 proteins in early initiation of smoking, the transition to dependence, and two smoking-related diseases: lung cancer and peripheral arterial disease.
  • Investigators also found that whether or not a person becomes dizzy the first time he tries smoking, as well as his or her risk of addiction, depends in part on the genes for the α6 and β3 proteins.

Taken together, the results suggest that genes for several ACh receptor proteins drive different aspects of the multi-step process of nicotine addiction.

The importance of the first time

Interestingly, the findings regarding first smoking experience seem to suggest that the intensity of it, rather than simply how pleasurable it was, are associated with the likelihood of becoming dependent later on, according to Dr. Ehringer, one of the studies’ lead author. For example, the same people that reported feeling extremely dizzy their first time were more likely to report that they became addicted to nicotine. The genetics analysis supported this same finding.

From trying to becoming addicted

Other studies revealed that additional genetic variations, including those in the the gene for the α3 ACh subunit, the β3 subunit, and the α5 subunit seem to code for the likelihood of being able to quit smoking. The α5 protein, which is present in the brain’s reward area, seems to influence the risk of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day as compared with smoking fewer than 5 cigarettes a day.

Conclusions for smoking addiction

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again – no matter how much we try to ignore it, genetics play a huge role in every aspect of our being, including the likelihood that we will become addicted to a substance. By learning more about the role of specific genes and specific types of receptors, researchers can attempt to uncover possible medications that will help us in treating addiction. Still, I think that the bigger take-home message is this: There are reasons behind the development of addiction that are beyond anyone’s control. Thinking of genetic causes and relating them to morality simply makes no sense.


Lori Whitten (2009). Studies Link Family of Genes to Nicotine Addiction – Genes for protein constituents of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors influence early smoking responses and the likelihood of nicotine dependence. NIDA Notes, 22.

Cigarettes, smoking, and drinking alcohol – The connection that may help you quit smoking

Contributing co-author: Andrew Chen

It’s no secret that alcohol and cigarettes go hand in hand, but for most drinker-smokers, the reasons are probably a mystery. Does alcohol simply make people less able to control urges or is there something more direct about the connection between the two?

Alcohol reduces control over cravings

Smoking and drinking

A recent field study published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors examined exactly this question using 74 smokers who recorded their daily experience in a journal. Researchers found that alcohol consumption was associated with more frequent urges to smoke, signaling that indeed, drinking may increase the “want” while lowering the ability to control the cravings. However, the study also found that smokers reported greater satisfaction after smoking while they were drunk. Alcohol consumption predicted higher ratings of cigarette buzz, taste, and urge reduction after smoking.

Timing and context are important

Interestingly, the effects reported were only observed within the first hour after drinking, a period when alcohol content (BAC) is rising. (2)

Last but not least, situational factors seem to account for some of the effects of alcohol on smoking. Settings like bars and restaurants, where smoking and drinking were permitted, were associated with more frequent urges to smoke and greater satisfaction after smoking. Social settings, like being around drinkers and smokers, are also associated with increased urge and satisfaction.

How to quit smoking? Reduce, or stop, drinking

So, if you’re trying to quit smoking, cutting down on drinking, at least in the initial phases of your quitting attempts, might be a good idea. It may reduce your cravings, and it may make you like the smoking a bit less while you’re quitting. If nothing else, it’ll get you out of situations where smoking occurs most often which will, by itself reduce your smoking.


1. Henningfield, J. E., Chait, L. D., & Griffiths R. R. (1984) Effects of Ethanol on cigarette smoking by volunteers without histories of alcoholism, Psychopharmacology, 82, 1-5

2. Piasecki T.M., McCarthy D.E., Fiore M.C., & Baker T.B. (2008) Alcohol consumption, smoking urge, and the reinforcing effects of cigarettes: An ecological study. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 22(2):230-9.

About addiction treatment – Genetics, the new recovery frontier

Genetics are making their way into every facet of research nowadays, and addiction treatment is no slouch in that area.

What is pharmacogenomics?

If you haven’t heard of pharmacogenomics yet, you are sure to soon. The idea that medications affect individuals differently based on their unique genetic makeup has picked up a lot of steam in the last few years.

Well, the same way of thinking is beginning to emerge in addiction treatment.Genes are making their way into addiction treatment

What can we expect?

Just as pharmacogenomics is said to greatly increase the usability of certain prescription drugs while reducing the worse side effects, so is the use of genetics in addiction treatment purported to bring more personalized, effective treatment to patients.

For instance, pharmacogenomics could inform us as to who is more likely to respond well to treatment using buprenorphine for craving reductions. It could possibly even tell us who would benefit more from specific behavioral interventions. Eventually, it may allow us to build a customized treatment program for addicts based on their genomic profile.

The importance of genetics!

And no one should underestimate the importance of genetics in addiction. In a recent congressional hearing, Dr. Nora Volkow, the head of the federal agency entrusted with advancing addiction research, NIDA, told congress that about 75% of a person’s inclination to begin smoking, 60% of one’s tendency to become addicted, and about 54% of a person’s ability to quit were genetically determined.

As we learn more about addiction treatment and the importance of specific genetic markers, I’m sure that individual addicts’ genes will play a pretty big role in what course of treatment people are given. Genetics might soon be the newest, most groundbreaking advancement in rehabs and recovery. But we’re not there yet so don’t let anyone fool you that they’ve figured out the formula for this!!!

The context of my addiction – Environmental effect on drug use???

When most people think about addiction, they imagine a person completely unable to control their cravings, always wanting the thing they’re addicted to. That was certainly my experience throughout most of my addiction.

So what happens when you just can’t have it? What happens when drug use is just not allowed? What happens if your life depended on it?

In a way, this question was at least partially answered recently in an article by a number of psychologists at the University of Tel Aviv. What the authors did was simple: They asked a group of heavy Orthodox smokersQuitting is smoking is difficult, at least in some contexts. about their cravings, irritability, and difficulty avoiding smoking on a regular workday, and random day in which they were not allowed to smoke, and the Sabbath (the Jewish day of rest), during which they’re not allowed to smoke for religious reasons. The simple finding was that the participants craved smoking a lot less, were less irritable, and found it a lot easier to avoid smoking on the Sabbath than on any of the other two day.

The moral of the story? Smoking may be really addictive, but when the choice is a cigarette or eternal damnation, it’s a pretty easy one to make…

In the future, I’ll talk about how this idea of addiction within specific contexts has been shown to also exist for the effect of the drug (or behavior) itself!

And the survey says…

Well then, it seems that the drug-use survey I created is telling me that my blog readers’ drug use falls right in line with the use patterns common in the country.

Most of the readers smoke cigarettes, with marijuana, alcohol, and cocaine close in tow. I didn’t expect the meth, ecstasy, and other drug counts to be so low (less than 10 for each of those), but I guess that’s why I created the survey!

So, I’ll be trying to write the posts with your use in mind, and I’ll be continuously monitoring the survey to see if anything changes…