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The World’s Biggest Online Drug Survey Wants To Help You Get High More Safely

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Time is quickly running out for you to participate in the world’s biggest online survey of people who consume drugs.

Through January 5, you can fill out the Global Drug Survey, which assesses your use of everything from cannabis to alcohol to ayahuasca to cocaine to bath salts to…well, pretty much any drug you can think of. Researchers behind the study are examining how (un)safely you drink when you go out, if CBD and microdosing have real therapeutic benefits and how people use psychedelic therapy. The survey is available in 10 languages in 20 different countries, and your responses help researchers develop tools to help people use drugs more safely.

This year’s version of the annual survey started collecting data in November. Global Drug Survey (GDS), the organization based in London that administers the questionnaire, conducted the first version of survey in 2013.

“We’re very interested in making drug use safer regardless of its legal status,” Larissa Maier, PhD, a GDS researcher, told Marijuana Moment. “Every year we add new topics that we’re interested in observing—like microdosing—and can collect data about them with fairly large sample sizes. Unlike national household drug surveys, we’re not studying prevalence of use, rather we’re studying the experiences of people who use drugs.”

Participants access the survey anonymously through an online, encrypted portal, and GDS says it doesn’t collect any personally identifying information. Participants are prompted to answer multiple-response questions about the types of drugs they have used in the past year, how often and in what amounts they used and their preferred routes of administration. They are also asked how much money they spend on their drugs and where they source them.

Some survey questions include:

Please tell us which of the following best describes your reasons for using cannabis:

  • I use cannabis exclusively for recreational (pleasure) purposes.
  • I use cannabis sometimes for medical reasons and most of the time for recreational purposes.
  • I use cannabis most of the time for medical reasons and sometimes for recreational purposes.
  • I use cannabis exclusively for medical reasons.

Have you:

  • Personally purchased drugs through a darknet market for your own consumption?
  • Arranged for someone else to purchase drugs through a darknet market for you?
  • Purchased drugs through a darknet market on behalf of somebody else or with the intention to supply someone else?

The survey also collects information about how drug use affects participants’ lives, such as:

In the last 12 months have you sought emergency medical treatment following the use of cannabis?

  • Yes
  • No

Have you ever lost your driver’s license as a result of cannabis possession?

  • Yes, but not in the last 12 months
  • Yes, in the last 12 months
  • No

Some questions focus on participants’ interactions with police, how they feel the morning after a night of drug use and if they use substances like cannabis or psychedelics to treat a diagnosed health condition. Further questions ask if participants tried using drugs to improve their work performance, and ask about general mental and emotional well-being outside of drug consumption:

Have you ever used LSD, Magic Mushrooms, Ketamine, MDMA, Peyote, Kambo, DMT, 5-MEO DMT (toad venom), Ayahuasca, or Ibogaine with the specific intention of improving your:

  • General mental health and well-being when feeling basically OK with life or for personal development?
  • Managing a diagnosed psychiatric condition?
  • To address a specific worry / concern in your life e.g. relationship issue, bereavement, addiction, trauma?

The survey shows respondents how their drug use compares to other participants in past years. It asks if knowing this information will impact their drug use in any way, and gauges participants’ interest in receiving harm reduction education or resources. Some questions ask participants if they have used harm reduction techniques like drug checking and testing:

In the last 12 months have you used any services or technologies that identify the content and/or purity of illegal or other psychoactive drugs in your country of residence? These include:

  • Reagent test kits (used by you or others on your drugs)
  • Drug checking or pill/powder testing services at festivals/events,
  • Drug checking or pill/powder testing services at offices/fixed sites
  • Drug checking or pill/powder testing services where you post drugs to laboratories for testing.

GDS has collected over 140,000 responses thus far for the current survey. In its first year, the researchers collected about 80,000 responses. By 2016 that increased to 101,000 responses, and last year’s survey collected 123,000.

This year, the researchers are focused on better understanding specific patterns of drug use, including problematic drinking, the therapeutic potential of cannabis and CBD and how people are using psychedelics to treat different medical conditions.

“The evidence for cannabis as being effective as a treatment for common psychiatric conditions such as depression, anxiety or PTSD are to date limited,” Adam R. Winstock, GDS CEO, wrote in a blog post. “To those who use cannabis to improve their health and well-being, the outcomes of studies that don’t support their lived experience is frustrating.”

“But we can also compile what we know already from the experiences of thousands of people who use cannabis products to help with their emotional and physical health,” he said. “GDS 2020 aims to become one of the biggest ever studies of medical cannabis. We can learn so much from the lived experience of people.”

In an interview, Maier acknowledged some limitations of the survey, primarily that it is not necessarily representative of all drug users. The reliance on self-reporting may skew some of the data, based on different evaluations of people’s own experiences. The survey becomes longer and more time-consuming if participants report using more drug types, which may cause some responses to be incomplete or false.

And media outlets or organizations that generate responses could also skew the results. If you’re learning about this survey from Marijuana Moment, for example, you might be more likely to be a cannabis consumer than would be the case for a typical CNN viewer, and that may be overrepresented in the survey’s participant responses.

Despite some of these limitations, GDS has developed through its research tools like the Drugs Meter and the Drinks Meter, which are online apps to help people monitor their drug use. The team hopes that this year, with their largest sample size ever, they will discover even deeper insights into people’s different use patterns.

“The key findings can be used as a tool for harm reduction by pointing out safer use strategies,” said Maier. “After you take the survey, you can compare your drug use patterns to people in your same country and age group. The message we hope our data supports is, generally, safer drug use is more pleasurable drug use.”

Those findings would dovetail well with political momentum at the national stage for drug harm reduction measures like safe consumption sites, which 2020 Democratic Presidential candidates like Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Andrew Yang and Julián Castro have all endorsed.

The Global Drug Survey will continue collecting responses until January 5, and GDS will publish their key findings with charts in May. You can find the survey here.

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Image of courtesy of Pretty Drugthings.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Alexander Lekhtman is a journalist and musician based in New York City. He hopes to change the world through the power of ledger lines and legislation. Follow more of his work at www.alexanderlekhtman.com

Politics

FDA Clears Researchers To Study MDMA Use By Therapists Being Trained In Psychedelic Medicine

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already authorized clinical trials into the therapeutic potential of MDMA for patients with post-traumatic stress disorders—but now it’s given the green light to a psychedelics research institute to expand its studies by administering the substance to certain therapists.

Volunteer therapists who are being trained to treat people with PTSD will be able to participate in the Phase 1 trials to gain personal experience with the treatment option. This is a complementary research project that comes as the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is in the process of conducting Phase 3 trials involving people with the disorder.

The development comes months after Canadian regulators announced that certain therapists would be allowed to take psilocybin in order to gain a better understanding of the psychedelic when treating patients.

MAPS sought permission to proceed with the therapist-specific trials in 2019, but FDA placed them on a 20-month hold because of concerns about the merits, risks and credentials of investigators. MAPS appealed that hold, providing evidence about the study’s scientific value and ability of its staff, and FDA cleared them on Tuesday.

The organization “chose to dispute” FDA’s hold not just because of the impact it had on the planned studies, “but in an attempt to resolve an ongoing issue with the FDA regarding investigator qualifications across studies,” it said in a press release on Wednesday.

“While the term ‘dispute’ may seem adversarial, this process can actually strengthen the relationship and trust between us and our review Division and ensures the Division has support on this project from the [FDA] Office of Neuroscience,” MAPS Public Benefit Corporation (PBC) CEO Amy Emerson said. “This decision demonstrates how our strategic, data-driven strategy in challenging the FDA rulings can be successful.”

Now MAPS is able to launch the Phase 1 clinical trials into MDMA-assisted therapy for therapists.

It will be designed to “measure development of self-compassion, professional quality of life, and professional burnout among clinicians delivering the treatment to patients,” the association said.

Getting personal experience with the substance “is widely considered to be an important element in preparation and training to deliver psychedelic-assisted therapies.”

This will “support the goals of the MDMA Therapy Training Program to provide comprehensive training to future providers,” and it “builds capacity to deliver quality, accessible care to patients, pending approval of MDMA-assisted therapy as a legal prescription treatment,” MAPS PBC Director and Head of Training and Supervision Shannon Carlin said.

FDA first granted MAPS’s request for an emergency use authorization for MDMA in PTSD in 2017. The organization expects to complete its Phase 3 trails in 2022.

The scientific expansion move also comes as the psychedelics decriminalization movement continues to build in the U.S.

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Science & Health

Frequent Marijuana Consumers Are Actually More Physically Active Than Non-Users, Study Finds, Smashing Stereotypes

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In a stereotype-busting new study, researchers found that frequent marijuana consumers are actually more likely to be physically active compared to their non-using counterparts.

For decades, anti-cannabis propaganda has cast marijuana consumers as unmotivated couch potatoes. This government-funded ad is a perfect example:

But a study published in the Harm Reduction Journal on Thursday found the opposite to be true. A nationally representative analysis of accelerometer-measured sedentary behavior showed that people who frequently use marijuana—particularly those aged 40 and older—spend more time engaging in physical activity than non-users do.

“Our findings do not support the mainstream perception of cannabis users as living sedentary lifestyles,” the researchers concluded.

In general, they found that “there’s no significant differences between non-current cannabis users and light, moderate, or frequent cannabis users in minutes per day spent in [sedentary behavior].” The difference came down to the average minutes that each group spent in physical activity.

“After controlling for all covariates, frequent cannabis users engaged in significantly greater amounts of light [physical activity] and [moderate-to-vigorous physical activity] compared to non-current users,” the study states. “In the unadjusted model, moderate cannabis use predicted more minutes spent in [moderate-to-vigorous physical activity] compared to non-current use, but this association was not significant upon controlling for all covariates. Light cannabis users did not significantly differ from non-current users in time engaged in [physical activity.”

“The results suggest that frequent cannabis users engaged in more [physical activity] than non-current users, but spent similar amounts of time in [sedentary behavior],” the researchers said.

While the study indicated that light marijuana use is not associated with a statistically significant difference in time being physically active, those who infrequently use cannabis were more likely to self-report more moderate physical activity compared to non-users.

“In a national, population-based US sample, current cannabis use was significantly associated with accelerometer-measured [physical activity], such that frequent cannabis users engaged in greater minutes of light PA and [moderate-to-vigorous physical activity] compared to non-current users.”

The researchers also looked at the relationship between marijuana use, activity and age, finding that people over 40 who consumed cannabis moderately spent an average of 16 more minutes engaged in moderate physical activity each day than non-users.

To explain that trend, the study suggests that cannabis “is being used for exercise-induced pain recovery, since [physical activity] brings about pain and muscle soreness, and a decreased pain threshold and muscle hypersensitivity have been documented with increasing age.”

These findings “add to the cannabis and physical behavior literature by incorporating objective accelerometer measures,” the researchers concluded. “Further understanding of the association between cannabis use and health behaviors is essential to fully addressing the public health concerns associated with cannabis use.”

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Business

Legal Marijuana States See Reduced Workers’ Compensation Claims, New Study Finds

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Legalizing marijuana for adult use is associated with an increase in workforce productivity and decrease in workplace injuries, according to a new study partly funded by the federal government.

In a working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, researchers looked at the impact of recreational cannabis legalization on workers’ compensation claims among older adults. They found declines in such filings “both in terms of the propensity to receive benefits and benefit amount” in states that have enacted the policy change.

Further, they identified “complementary declines in non-traumatic workplace injury rates and the incidence of work-limiting disabilities” in legal states.

These findings run counter to arguments commonly made by prohibitionists, who have claimed that legalizing marijuana would lead to lower productivity and more occupational hazards and associated costs to businesses. In fact, the study indicates that regulating cannabis sales for adults is a workplace benefit by enabling older employees (40-62 years old) to access an alternative treatment option.

“We offer evidence that the primary driver of these reductions [in workers’ compensation] is an improvement in work capacity, likely due to access to an additional form of pain management therapy,” the study, which received funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, states.

The implementation of adult-use legalization seems to “improve access to an additional channel for managing pain and other health conditions, suggesting potential benefits on populations at risk of workplace injuries,” it continues.

The study is based on an analysis of data on workers’ compensation benefit receipt and workers’ compensation income from
2010 to 2018 as reported in the Annual Social and Economic Supplement of the Current Population Survey.

“Our results show a decline in workers’ compensation benefit propensity of 0.18 percentage points, which corresponds to a 20 percent reduction in any workers’ compensation income, after states legalize marijuana for recreational use. Similarly, we find that annual income received from workers’ compensation declines by $21.98 (or 20.5%) post-[recreational marijuana legalization]. These results are not driven by pre-existing trends, and falsification exercises suggest that observing estimates of this magnitude is statistically rare.”

Researchers said that they’ve found evidence that cannabis use increases post-legalization among the age cohort they studied, but no such spike in misuse. Further, they found a decline in post-legalization prescriptions for medications used to treat chronic pain, indicating that some people are using marijuana as a substitute for traditional painkillers.

“We hypothesize that access to marijuana through [recreational marijuana laws] increases its medical use and, in turn, allows better management of symptoms that impede work capacity—e.g., chronic pain, insomnia, mental health problems, nausea, and so forth,” the study says. “Chronic pain management is likely to be particularly important in our context as this is the health condition most commonly reported among medical marijuana users.”

Beyond decreasing workers’ compensation claims and costs, legalization also is a boon to the economy by adding jobs in legal states.

The cannabis industry added more than 77,000 jobs over the past year—a 32 percent increase that makes the sector the fastest in job creation compared to any other American industry, according to a report released by the cannabis company Leafly last week.

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