More side effects of synthetic Marijuana

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

THC in synthetic marijuana.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Synthetic Marijuana has side effects? Who knew!

Add another outbreak of mystery illness to the credit of synthetic marijuana.

Colorado’s tally of sick and dead as a result of synthetic marijuana has risen to 15 according to NPR. Previous reports had the total at 3 dead and 75 sick.

One problem with these outbreaks is that the chemicals involved keep changing. As fast as one chemical is banned the manufacturers of these products switch to another chemical.

Estimates I have seen of possible synthetic cannabinoids range up to 400 or more chemicals.

Symptoms of toxic effects of synthetic marijuana so far include:

Death

Kidney Failure

Loss of control

Inability to feel pain

Increased agitation

Seizures,

Vomiting

Spastic body movements

High blood pressure, palpitations and increased heart rate

Past episodes of hospital admissions from synthetic marijuana smoking have been the result of new and novel chemicals making it difficult to detect and treat these overdoses.

The race continues between the manufacturers trying to find a product to sell for the next new high and the medical facilities that have to detect and treat these chemicals.

So far public health and well-being is the loser.

Synthetic marijuana’s sounded appealing to their users, a “legal” high and something that the drug test would not detect. Those qualities have turned out to be an illusion.

Death or permanent damage to your system are pretty serious side effects. The drug tests keep getting better, detecting things that the user thought they could get away with.

On balance synthetic marijuana’s, manufactured cannabinoids have turned out to be that friend who turns into a serial killer. Synthetic Marijuana has side effects? Who knew!

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Drugs increase false memories

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Memory pieces.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

They may not be lying;

They remember things that never happened.

Drugs suppress true memories but also increase false memories. We have heard a lot about false memories over the last few years. Most of it around questioning techniques that suggested to children they had been abused. As a result, they began to believe these things had happened and then thought they remembered things which turned out to be false memories.

Recent research suggests that drugs and alcohol, as well as certain emotional states, may increase the risk that what people in recovery are remembering did not actually happen despite their memories.

People with certain mental or emotional problems are at increased risk to have false memories even if they never abused substances. Something about the chemistry of the brain regulates not only true memories but also creates false memories. We can get ourselves into trouble when we start believing memories that never happened.

There is a common belief in recovery circles that substance abusers have told stories, lies, so often they begin to believe their own dishonesties. I have seen enough examples of this phenomenon to believe it does happen. But the creation of false memories goes beyond simple lies and the person who told that lie beginning to believe the falsehood.

One group of researchers conducted a study using two commonly used and abused substances and came up with some surprising results (Ballard et al 2012) surprising to me anyway.

The test they used, called the DRM, gives people a list of words, such as bed, rest, awake, tired, dream. What is missing from the list is a word that would be commonly associated with the word list but which was never shown to the research participants. In this case, the word they are looking for was “sleep.”

If you remember the list correctly or are very observant you know that sleep was not on the list. The trick here is to see how many people will swear that the missing word, in this case, sleep, was shown to them. Using a procedure like this the researcher can see if a specific drug or emotional condition will increase the risk of a false memory. In this experiment, they wanted to see how many people would say that the word sleep was shown to them when it had not been a part of the experience.

This simple experiment may not make much difference. Does it matter if I think sleep was on the list of words I read? But if a drug or emotion increases my errors on this test it suggests that I may remember other things that did not happen. Did I remember someone being at the party that was never there? Do you remember being touched inappropriately when what really happened was a handshake or a pat on the back? Those things matter.

Some drugs reduce your ability to remember things that did happen. Alcohol is at the head of the list. Benzodiazepines also impair memory. Some drugs have been called date rape drugs and banned or tightly controlled for the same reason. The big question has been what effect do these drugs have on the creation of false memories? Ballard and group looked at that question.

It would be easy to conclude that depressant drugs like Alcohol and benzodiazepines would reduce memory and therefore give room for more false memories to fill in the gap. There is a related concept called “Confabulation” in which alcoholics brains fill in the gaps in memory that are the result of not having stored memories in the first place. Confabulation plus blackouts leave the memory of Alcoholics suspect.

We would expect that stimulants like caffeine and amphetamines would increase true memories and reduce the chance of false memories. That is not what happens. In Ballard’s study Amphetamines, of the type prescribed for ADHD, increased true memories but also increased false memories. An earlier study by Capek and Guenther (2009) cited by Ballard found the same effects for Caffeine.

It would appear that depressants reduce true memories and allow for false memories and stimulant increase memory formation of both true and false memories.

So what about “All Arounder’s.” (See Inaba & Cohen book Uppers, Downers, and All Arounder’s, 2004.)  Ballard and friends also looked at the effects of Marijuana on memory. While I try to stay out of the whole medical marijuana debate some of you may remember my previous post on the effects of Marijuana on memory. That post was about the effects on storage and retrieval of true memories, what about marijuana’s effect on false memories?

The drug used in Ballard’s study was THC, the most studied active ingredient in Marijuana, given in pill form. While this is not exactly the same as smoking Marijuana it is likely to be very similar and much more specific that studies using drugs of unknown potency. There are other chemicals in smoked Marijuana and the research on those other compounds is very lacking.

They found that Amphetamines had a larger effect in creating false memories than THC and while THC may affect both memory storage and memory retrieval, this study at least did not find a significant increase in false memories for THC users.

There are lots of problems with taking studies done in the lab and translating them to the experiences of people who take drugs in their daily life.

It is worth noting that there was significant individual variation in the effects of both drugs on true and false memory. So the conclusions are for all the people in the study as a group and individual results did vary. This raises questions about what individual differences account for these variations.

In Ballard’s study, as in so many other studies, people with diagnosed mental illnesses or those with a current substance abuse problem are not included in the study. Those are exactly the people for whom the effects of drugs and mood states on false memory may be the most critical.

There are some studies of people with various mental health diagnoses examining the effects of having an emotional issue and the creation of false memories. In a future post, I want to talk about the effects of Depression, Anxiety, and OCD on true and false memories.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Three David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

SasquatchWandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive? The guests had come to Meditation Mountain to find themselves. Trapped in the Menhirs during a sudden desert storm, two guests move through a porthole in time and encounter long extinct monsters. They want to get back to their own time, but the Sasquatch intends to kill them.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Books are now available on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and many other online stores.

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

How does Marijuana affect memory?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Marijuana’s effect on memory.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Does Marijuana use result in State Dependent Learning?

In a previous post, I wrote about the concept of State Dependent Learning (SDL), how things learned while you have a drug in your bloodstream may be better remembered when you have that same drug in your body. Readers have asked if Marijuana use results in SDL and what other effects does marijuana have on memory?

If Marijuana causes state Dependent Learning then we should advise people who learn things while smoking Weed to also smoke weed while or shortly before needing to use that information.

Will smoking marijuana just before a test help students who smoke while studying remember the facts better for the test?

Clearly, a great many things, mood states, drugs in the system, even the general health of the individual can affect memory. Unbiased information about the precise effects of Marijuana on memory and learning has been difficult to find.

There are a number of reasons for the contradictory reports of health benefits and harms of Marijuana we read in the media. I have been reading the research since my last post on SDL and here are some of the things that I have found.

Marijuana is more like a stew than a vegetable.

Marijuana contains over 600 chemicals including 60 to 70 Cannabinoids (another article listed 116). Two of the Cannabinoids have some research data but a lot of the other chemicals are poorly understood and have little research. All of the possible combinations of these 600 chemicals create unlimited possibilities for effects. That is not the only reason we know so very little about the effects of marijuana on memory.

How does it work?

For a long time, we knew that marijuana was doing something, we just could not find any receptors for the Cannabinoids in the nervous system so we did not know exactly what Marijuana was doing to the nervous system. Starting in the late 1980s and the early 1990’s receptors for Cannabinoids were found. But there are multiple kinds of receptors and they are located in some parts of the body and not others.

Many of the nerve cells that make up our “brain” are not in the head. When you are hungry the nerve cells in your stomach tell your brain that the stomach wants food. The same thing happens with Cannabinoids. Many of the Cannabinoid receptors are located in places like the spleen and the tonsils. So marijuana might affect memory for pain in the throat differently than memory for the history test.

Worse yet as we study the various Cannabinoids they don’t all do the same things. The two most widely studied Cannabinoids delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD) appear to do opposite things. THC seems to produce thinking distortions. The younger you start using THC the more likely you are to develop psychosis. CBD, however, has been proposed and tested as a treatment for psychosis.

One theory, on this contradiction, postulates that young marijuana plants have more CBD and less THC. As the plants mature they form more THC and the CBD is reduced. So if there is high THC, which is the Cannabinoid that gets you high, then it has low medicinal properties. Plants with lots of CBD and that might be more medicinal don’t get you high. But most medical marijuana users want the kind that gets them high. What the other Cannabinoids are doing we are not really sure.

It depends on who makes the stew and how long you cook it.

One other problem with the research on Marijuana is that the concentrations of all the chemicals change depending on how the Marijuana is grown and how it is processed or dried after harvest. Various studies on Marijuana may really be studies of all sort of different chemicals, not just the Cannabinoid.

Recent research has tackled this problem by using pure synthetic Cannabinoids so when testing THC or CBD that is the only chemical being tested.

There are different types of memory and memory operations.

Short-term memory is info that is held in memory for a minute or less. Drugs, emotions even attention can interfere with the ability to take in information. Ever read something in a book and a second later realize you don’t remember what you read? This is a failure to encode information into short-term memory.

Marijuana, particularly THC, has been implicated in the failure to encode the information.

Working memory is information being processed. Some information can be distorted while in processing by the drugs in the system. Alcohol especially can make the drunken person think things are happening that in fact did not happen.

I have not found studies that suggest that marijuana (THC) is altering information processing but it is altering some other memory events.

Long-term memory is information held in storage.

Inability to find, access and retrieve information is what State Dependent Learning is all about. With SDL it is easier to retrieve previously stored information when the drug that was present during storage is again present.

Marijuana use has not been shown to affect memories formed prior to the use of Marijuana. It is not likely to help reduce PTSD symptoms or unpleasant memories of the past for more than a short time period.

So far no studies I have found indicate that THC improves the ability to locate material that was previously stored.

Retrieval is the ability to find and pull up information.

If the information that you retrieve is inaccurate or incomplete this is a retrieval error.

THC appears to reduce the encoding of information so less gets into short-term memory and less is stored away.

THC is also reported to interfere with retrieval of information.

Smoking marijuana while studying results in learning less. Smoking marijuana just before taking the test interferes with remembering what was learned.

Marijuana use (THC) does not create State Dependent Learning and further use will not help recover memories of information learned while under the influence of marijuana.

There are plenty of people who smoke a lot of Marijuana and remember things just fine and there are people who do not smoke weed and have a poor memory, clearly smoking or not is not the whole answer.  But smoking weed has not been shown to improve memory or help retrieve previously learned information. It has been shown to interfere with encoding and decoding of information.

Under the influence of THC, you will learn and remember less than you would without the weed.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Three David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

SasquatchWandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive? The guests had come to Meditation Mountain to find themselves. Trapped in the Menhirs during a sudden desert storm, two guests move through a porthole in time and encounter long extinct monsters. They want to get back to their own time, but the Sasquatch intends to kill them.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Books are now available on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and many other online stores.

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Stoned driving

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Hands with pills

Addiction.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Stoned Driving on Marijuana.

You are more likely to be involved in a fatal car crash if you drive while under the influence of marijuana. Being stoned behind the wheel increases the risk of an accident even when there is no alcohol present in the driver’s system. We found this out not with one small study but with nine studies which together included over 50,000 people.

Driving under the influence of marijuana about doubled the risk that you will be involved in a motor vehicle crash. This analysis didn’t come from the DEA or a “law and order group” but is from a study recently published in the British Medical Journal.

This isn’t the first time studies have shown this result. In a 2009 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, they reported that almost ten percent of drivers were under the influence of marijuana. They also concluded that over sixteen percent of drivers had drugs of all kinds in their system. Till now it has been easy to doubt that it was the Marijuana that was causing the impairment because older studies did not separate out people who were impaired by other and by multiple drugs. The British study solved that problem by looking at the risks of people under the influence of marijuana only, as opposed to those who were not impaired by any drug at all.

Why did they find that marijuana impaired a person’s ability to drive? We know that alcohol impairment is a serious problem. Alcohol interferes with driver’s awareness of speed and it reduces their reaction time. I tell students that a simple way of understanding alcohol Impairment is that alcohol shuts down the part of the brain that tells us “Hey stupid don’t do that.” What does the marijuana do?

Marijuana alters people’s perceptions of space and time. Marijuana affects “special location.”  Stoned drivers follow too close, misjudge how close they are to the car in the other lane and tend to swerve in and out of traffic often cutting the distance too close. Additionally, drunk drivers tend to know they are impaired and they often slow down. Sometimes they slow down way too much. Stoned drivers don’t do that. They can’t tell how fast they are going or how far away they are and they don’t feel that impaired.

The problem of stoned drivers is not a small thing. We have begun to recognize just how often serious automobile accidents are the result of impaired drivers. Just because a drug is prescribed does not make it safe. People are getting arrested for driving under the influence even when they have prescriptions for the drug. The fact that some people have prescriptions for Medical Marijuana, has lulled many into a false sense that this drug has no downside and is safe.

I continue to have conflicts about the use of Medical Marijuana. There are those who swear by it and report great medicinal befits. I am all for reducing human suffering and increasing happiness. But the idea that you medicine might kill me or someone I love makes me skeptical. I think people on both sides of the Medical Marijuana debate have left out things that we should know. I plan to write more on this in the future. But for now, I would conclude that if you need to use Medical Marijuana please don’t drive.

Till Next time, hope your life is happy, David Joel Miller, LMFT, LPCC.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.