Findings from a new government-funded analysis of U.S. Army recruits suggest that past cannabis use has relatively little impact on overall performance. Recruits with documented histories of marijuana use were just as likely as their peers to make sergeant, for example, and while they were more likely to leave the Army over drug use, they were less likely to separate as the result of health or performance concerns.
Further, there’s no strong evidence that the continuing trend of legalization across the country has significantly affected recruit outcomes.
“Contrary to expectations, waivered recruits and recruits with a documented history of marijuana or behavioral health conditions are not uniformly riskier across all dimensions,” says the analysis, from the RAND Corporation. “In some cases, they are historically more likely to perform better.”
The nearly 200-page report centers on waivers, which allow the Army to reconsider applicants who are initially disqualified for various reasons. Among those reasons is cannabis use. Applicants who test positive for marijuana or with a documented history of use—including court records and self-disclosure—require waivers to enlist. The same goes for people diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety disorders or depression, who in some cases may not even qualify for a waiver.
“Without waivers, a failed drug test for marijuana would block the one-third of American 18-year-olds who say they have used marijuana at least once in the past year,” a RAND official wrote in a blog post about results. “Recruits who make it into the U.S. Army despite low-level histories of marijuana use perform no worse, overall, than other soldiers. That should be welcome news in recruiting offices nationwide.”
“Recruits with a history of marijuana were just as likely as other recruits to complete their first term and make sergeant, and they were less likely to leave the Army for health or performance reasons.”
The Army asked RAND’s Arroyo Center, its sole federally funded research and development center, to analyze the performance of the recruits who receive waivers. “The Army was also interested in the extent to which increasing the share of recruits who receive waivers (or who have a documented history of marijuana, ADHD, or depression/anxiety) affects the overall performance of that accession cohort,” the report notes.
We looked at thousands of U.S. soldiers who enlisted despite past marijuana use and other disqualifying marks on their records, such as depression or anxiety disorders.
We found no evidence that they were riskier across the board than any other recruits. https://t.co/YfM1Yt675b
— RAND Corporation (@RANDCorporation) October 31, 2021
The analysis collected records on every recruit who entered the Army from fiscal year 2001 to fiscal 2012, tracking them through 2018. Researchers looked at “the application waiver screening process through enlistment until either separation…or reenlistment.”
Overall, the performance of a cohort of recruits “would change relatively little if waivers were increased,” researchers found. Aggregate effects would be “relatively small for the accession cohort as a whole, and, in some cases, the effects are improvements, not reductions, in performance.”
RAND authors acknowledged those findings ran “contrary to expectations,” while other conclusions reinforced their existing views.
“The result that most closely conforms to our expectations are in cases of recidivism,” the report says. Recruits with weight- or health-related waivers, including those with behavioral health conditions, were more likely to leave the Army for health-related reasons, for example. Recruits with a documented history of using marijuana or other drugs were more likely to separate due to drug use.
A high-school diploma or equivalent “often mitigates, at least partially,” those adverse outcomes, the analysis found.
The report should quell concerns that state-level moves to legalize cannabis has hurt the quality of incoming recruits. “The legalization of marijuana has not resulted in worse recruit outcomes,” it says succinctly. The trend might actually be helping, though it’s still hard to say.
“Although we find some indications that legalization could be associated with an improvement of outcomes, these results are not robust,” says one finding. “The key conclusion, then, is that there is no strong evidence that changes in marijuana legalization have substantially changed recruit outcomes.”
Currently, applicants can request waivers for positive tests for marijuana during their physical exam, in which case they must wait 90 days and then test negative. Waivers can also be requested for misdemeanor convictions for possession of cannabis or paraphernalia (provided they pass the drug test at the exam) and misdemeanor convictions for driving while under the influence of marijuana or while impaired.
With regard to cannabis specifically, the analysis found no statistically significant relationship between a documented history of use and a recruit’s performance in most cases. “However, in the cases where we do estimate a substantive and statistically significant effect, the estimates generally show that these recruits are more likely to have adverse outcomes.”
Recruits with a documented history of using cannabis and a non-traffic offense waiver, for example, are 32.7 percent more likely to separate from the Army due to misconduct regarding something other than drug abuse and 72.9 percent more likely for drug abuse specifically. They’re also 81 percent more likely to receive a demotion and 16.1 percent more likely to receive a favorable person status.
On the other hand, those with a documented history of marijuana and a non-traffic offense waiver who did separate were 47 percent less likely to leave due to health-related reasons and 40.8 percent less likely to do so for performance reasons.
Marijuana use is still a disqualifying offense for anyone hoping to join the U.S. Army. But those who've left it in the past can ask for a waiver.
RAND researchers wanted to know: How do those waivered recruits actually perform once they get into uniform? https://t.co/BjYOt6qhDJ
— RAND Corporation (@RANDCorporation) October 30, 2021
The RAND report suggests the Army adopt some changes to how it handles waivers. Among them, analysts suggest the branch “distinguish between recruits with only a documented history of marijuana and those who also have misconduct offenses,” noting that outcomes are meaningfully different between the two groups.
“For example, separation for drug abuse is less likely for recruits with only a documented history of marijuana without any misconduct offenses,” the report says, “and (unlike those who also have misconduct offenses) they are no more likely to have a suspension of favorable person status than any other recruit.”
“The implication,” authors conclude, “is that the Army should continue to carefully screen recruits with a documented history of marijuana but should be less concerned with these recruits if they have no misconduct offenses.”
The report attributes some of the mixed findings, including the negligible impact on overall recruit outcomes, to the waiver process itself. The Army by rule is supposed to “apply the ‘whole person’ concept,” RAND notes. The concept centers on whether a person “has overcome his or her disqualifications,” it observes, although “no formal definition of the whole person concept is provided.” In practice the decision is made by individuals with authority to approve the waiver, who decide based on personal judgement.
It would take a much, much greater proportion of recruits with documented histories of cannabis use to make a meaningful impact on military performance, the report notes. But in what the report calls “extreme” cases—for example the rate of documented cannabis use among recruits rising from the historical rate of 0.2 percent between 2001 and 2012 to a whopping 20 percent (which RAND selected arbitrarily)—there might be at least some cause for concern.
“The share of recruits who are projected to separate for drug-related misconduct reasons would increase (from a baseline of 3.6 percent to 5.3 percent), as would the percentage of recruits who are projected to be demoted (from 14.1 percent to 16.1 percent). We also find that the percentage of recruits who would reenlist is projected to fall (from 36.6 percent to 35.8 percent).”
Another recommendation aims at a better understanding—as well as less stigma—around what a waiver means. “The term waiver is not well understood by policymakers and the press, and the term is often confused to mean that the Army is lowering standards and enlisting unqualified soldiers,” the report says. In fact, the allowance for a waiver is part of the enlistment process itself. “The Army should create, disseminate, and use a clear definition that highlights that all waivered recruits are qualified and eligible to enlist, even if they do not meet every enlistment standard.”
Meanwhile at the federal level, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) under the Biden administration last month continued its opposition to a bill that would require VA to conduct clinical trials into the therapeutic potential of marijuana for military veterans. The department said that while it isn’t ideologically opposed to the measure, it views it as “redundant” and excessively prescriptive.
“The proposed legislation is not consistent with VA’s practice of ensuring scientific merit as the basis for a randomized clinical trial,” VA’s David Carroll said in testimony before a House subcommittee.
In September, meanwhile, a U.S. House committee passed a defense-spending bill that includes a report voicing concern about racial disparities in military drug testing, ordering the Pentagon to review the issue.
Unlike in past sessions, however, committee lawmakers did not file an amendment requiring the secretary of defense to issue regulations clarifying that military branches can grant reenlistment waivers to service members who have committed a single low-level marijuana offense.
The House passed a version of last year’s National Defense Authorization Act with a provision that urged leaders to exercise discretion in penalizing service members for marijuana use.
The changing state-level legal status of marijuana—and nationally, hemp (defined by federal law as cannabis that contains less than 0.3% THC)—has sometimes led to tension between lawmakers and military leaders. In July 2020, the House approved a measure to allow service members to use products containing hemp and its derivatives, including CBD. But the Navy replied by, just four days later, expanding its ban on CBD and hemp products for sailors to cover topicals like shampoos and soaps.
The Navy offered an explanation for the policy change: “The move was done to protect Sailors from potential tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) exposure that could negatively impact mission readiness and disqualify a Sailor from continued service,” it said. “It is impossible for consumers to determine how much THC a product actually contains in the current environment where label claims are not trustworthy.”
The House-passed protection was not brought up in the Senate and did not make it into law.
Dogs Are Being Exposed To Marijuana Through Human Poop And Pet Owners Should Beware, Study Finds
A word of caution to dog owners: apparently some canines are getting intoxicated off marijuana by eating the feces of people who’ve consumed cannabis, according to a new study.
Dogs are natural scavengers, and so the instinct to eat poop—while gross—is just a fact of life. But a team of Australian researchers found that, in some cases, that instinct can become dangerous, warranting the attention of puppy parents.
The study, published in the Australian Veterinary Journal, looked at 15 cases of confirmed THC toxicosis in dogs who were suspected of, or observed to have, ingested human feces in Melbourne from 2011-2020.
The dogs presented symptoms of incoordination, dilated pupils, urinary incontinence and stupor. Urine tests from eight of the dogs showed THC metabolites in their system.
However, study author Clara Lauinger told Marijuana Moment that this shouldn’t necessarily be taken to mean that any level of THC is toxic in dogs.
“The animals in my study had ingested an unknown quantity of feces that contained an unknown concentration of THC and so one would assume this concentration would be at a level that clearly caused toxicity,” she wrote in an email. “However this does not mean that all THC ingestions can lead to toxicity.”
In fact, there are other studies where animals were administered a controlled dosage of THC and “not a single one of them displayed any adverse effects that we might see with toxicity,” she said.
“There are so so many anecdotal reports of the huge benefits that THC administration has on animals, albeit reports are from owners perception rather than peer reviewed research, but this does not mean the industry should disparage THC as a therapeutic agent,” Lauinger said.
Most of the dogs in her new study apparently ate the poop at local parks, while others ingested it at the beach, camp sites and walking trails.
“All dogs survived to discharge. Ingestion of human feces containing THC may lead to marijuana toxicosis in dogs,” the study states. “Veterinary staff and owners should be attentive in regard to using appropriate hygiene measures when managing these dogs.”
The authors said that there are a number of reasons that a dog might eat poop—or, put scientifically, engage in coprophagy. But they floated one possibility for the marijuana-specific feces-eating trend: “It is possible that the presence of marijuana in feces increases its attractiveness for ingestion by altering its scent, texture and/or taste.”
Also, while this study is limited to data on about two dozen dogs in one city of Australia, the authors also said that the habit “might be more common than what owners report,” pointing to Google search results from people reporting a dog ate feces and exhibited signs of lethargy.
The idea of dogs getting high off THC-containing human waste might seem like a stretch on its own, but the study also explains that canines have more cannabinoid receptors than humans, “making dogs more sensitive to the effects of THC.”
“In conclusion, this case series suggests that ingestion of feces produced by a human marijuana user may lead to signs of marijuana toxicosis,” the researchers said. “Clinical signs of toxicosis were similar to those previously reported for dogs with conrmed marijuana toxicosis though gastrointestinal signs were not the most common feature despite coprophagy.”
“Veterinary staff and owners should be mindful of this exposure source to ensure appropriate hygiene measures are taken when managing these dogs,” the study says.
Lauinger said that there “needs to be an industrywide understanding of the fact that there are so many different strains of cannabis and each of these strains has different cannabinoid profiles that have possible potential for beneficial therapeutic effects.”
“These strains could be researched with a focus on what ones are suitable for animals and at what dose rather than blanketing all strains as being toxic,” she said. “I hope the public can be patient and also get behind us researching the dosing more.”
While there are clear concerns about dogs ingesting excess levels of THC, studies have found promising results when it comes to the therapeutic potential of other cannabinoids like CBD for pets.
For example, dogs with epilepsy experience considerably fewer seizures when treated with CBD oil, a study published in the journal Pet Behaviour Science in 2019 found.
The prior year, a separate study determined that CBD can alleviate the symptoms of osteoarthritis in dogs.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), for its part, has repeatedly warned pet owners about using CBD to treat firework-related anxiety in pets around the July 4 holiday.
“You should be aware that FDA has NOT evaluated these products and can’t say whether they are safe or effective, how they are manufactured, or whether they contain CBD,” the agency said this year.
Photo courtesy of Pexels.
Psychedelics Use Associated With 55 Percent Decrease In Daily Opioid Consumption, Study Finds
The use of psychedelics like LSD, psilocybin, mescaline and DMT is associated with a significant decrease in illicit opioid consumption, according to a new study.
Researchers looked at data from “three harmonized prospective cohorts of community-recruited” people with substance misuse disorders. A total of 3,813 individuals were involved, including 1,093 who reported illicit opioid consumption and 229 who said they’d used psychedelics in the past six months.
“Recent psychedelic use was associated with 55% reduced odds of daily opioid use,” the Vancouver-based study, published last week in the Journal of International Drug Policy, found.
While there have been numerous studies connecting legal marijuana access to reduced opioid use and fewer overdose deaths, this is “the first longitudinal study to link psychedelic use with lower daily opioid use,” the paper says.
“Over study follow-up after adjusting for a range of potential confounders, psychedelic use remained independently associated with a significantly reduced odds of subsequent daily opioid use,” the study states. “While confirmation in other settings is required, these findings align with growing evidence that psychedelic use may be associated with detectable reductions in subsequent substance use including illicit opioid use.”
While there’s not a clear explanation for the trend—and the researchers urged additional studies—psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA have been touted as potentially powerful tools in mental health treatment, effectively treating conditions like severe depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction.
“These findings align with growing evidence demonstrating that psychedelic use may be associated with detectable reductions in subsequent opioid use, and warrant further research on psychedelics for opioid and other substance use disorders,” the study’s lead author, Elena Argento of the University of British Columbia, told Marijuana Moment.
“This study found naturalistic psychedelic use to be independently associated with a significantly reduced odds of subsequent daily illicit opioid use among a community-based sample of [people who use drugs],” the study concluded. “More research with controlled trials and longer-term follow-up is required to elucidate the therapeutic potential of psychedelics to augment existing interventions for substance use disorders, including among more diverse populations. Additional qualitative studies would also provide opportunities to improve understanding of the possible psycho-social mechanisms underpinning psychedelic experiences.”
Another recent study found that when people use cannabis together with psychedelics, it was “associated with higher scores of mystical-type experience, ego-dissolution and visual alterations.”
With respect to marijuana alone, a study published earlier this year found that cannabis use is associated with significant reductions in dependence on opioids and other prescription drugs, as well as an increase in quality of life
Another study released last year determined that states with active medical marijuana laws saw certain opioid prescription rates drop nearly 20 percent compared to prohibition states.
Marijuana Legalization In Canada Did Not Result In Increased Traffic Injuries, Study Finds
Canada’s move to legalize marijuana did not result in increased traffic injuries, a new study has found.
In a paper published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers said they sought to investigate claims that establishing the cannabis legalization law, which took effect in October 2018, would make roads less safe, as prohibitionists frequently argue.
But after analyzing Ontario and Alberta emergency department data from April 2015 to December 2019, however, they couldn’t find any evidence to support that hypothesis.
“Implementation of the Cannabis Act was not associated with evidence of significant post-legalization changes in traffic-injury [emergency department] visits in Ontario or Alberta among all drivers or youth drivers, in particular,” the study states.
“Legalization not associated with changes in traffic injuries in all drivers or youth drivers.”
That’s despite the fact that “worldwide momentum toward legalization of recreational cannabis use has raised a common concern that such policies might increase cannabis-impaired driving and consequent traffic-related harms, especially among youth.”
The study’s lead author, Russ Callaghan, said in a press release that his team’s results “show no evidence that legalization was associated with significant changes in emergency department traffic-injury presentations.”
The researcher admitted that the outcome of the study is “somewhat surprising,” adding that he “predicted that legalization would increase cannabis use and cannabis-impaired driving in the population, and that this pattern would lead to increases in traffic-injury presentations to emergency departments.”
“It is possible that our results may be due to the deterrent effects of stricter federal legislation, such as Bill C-46, coming into force shortly after cannabis legalization,” he said, referring to a separate impaired driving bill. “These new traffic-safety laws imposed more severe penalties for impaired driving due to cannabis, alcohol, and combined cannabis and alcohol use.”
While Callaghan said he wasn’t expecting the results that his team ended up with, there is a body of existing research that’s also challenged the idea that legalization leads to increased traffic risks.
A U.S. congressional research body said in a 2019 report that concerns expressed by lawmakers that cannabis legalization will make the roads more dangerous might not be totally founded. In fact, the experts tasked by the House and Senate with looking into the issue found that evidence about cannabis’s ability to impair driving is currently inconclusive.
Other researchers have found on several occasions that traffic fatalities do not increase after a state legalizes marijuana.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association late last year found that small doses of CBD appear to have no significant impact on driving, whereas comparable doses of THC were associated with short-term impairment “modest in magnitude and similar to that seen in drivers with a 0.05%” blood alcohol concentration.
In any case, House-approved report language related to funding for the Departments of Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development addresses drug-impaired driving from substances such as marijuana and urges the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to take steps to address the issue.