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Higher Education Center offers Free Webinar and More

The recently relaunched Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Drug Misuse Prevention and Recovery has announced that those campuses that complete a brief online survey can get FREE registration for their upcoming Webinar, "Nonmedical use of prescription stimulants - What colleges need to know."  Nationally recognized researcher Dr. Amelia Arria will be the presenter.  In addition to getting access to this Webinar, the HECAOD will randomly draw one from the completed surveys to receive 20 hours of free technical assistance.  So consider completing their survey and get ready for some learning opportunities.

Also released last week was the HECAOD's first podcast: Part 1 of a conversation with Jim Lange about marijuana.  The podcasts are free and we're told they're part of a growing archive of information for the field.

Finally, the HECAOD is hosting a National Meeting August 4-6, 2015 in Columbus, Ohio.  Registration is open now.

Top two posts for 2014

Looking at the "hits" for the articles posted on this site during 2014 two stand out as most read: 

  1. Commentary: Saying "When" not "If": Prevention of marijuana harms
  2. The Scoop on Powdered Alcohol

Two hot-button issues to be sure.  There can be little doubt that 2015 will continue to be a fascinating time to be in the field as historic battles, worthy of future study and academic tomes, unfolds before our eyes.


Commentary: Marijuana legalization remains relevant

With Oregon and Alaska joining Washington and Colorado as states legalizing use and sale of marijuana, what I wrote at the beginning of the year seems to remain relevant.  Marijuana legalization continues its march and will likely claim California, and perhaps a handful of other states, in 2016. 

For those of us not in the actual trenches of this fight, it’s important to remain objective and have in mind practical solutions to public and campus health concerns.  For instance, as commercialization of marijuana takes hold, an expected outcome will be more processed products. In fact we’re seeing this already within the medical marijuana market. The actual plant has profit potential, but eatables and concentrates allow for businesses to market products not as easily reproduced.  However eatables are turning out to have a risk profile that should be raising alarm bells that prompt much stricter regulation. 

Eatables often contain extremely high doses of THC and their slow absorption mean effects can last for 8-16 hours.  Further, their onset is delayed by as much as an hour.  Therefore, the likelihood of someone engaging in behaviors that pose risk (such as driving) while impaired is much higher.  We are also seeing that accidental ingestion of eatables is a serious hazard for children.  Obvious solutions would be to either ban the sale of these, or substantially limit the THC dose permitted (with concomitant childproof packaging and labeling).  Further, on-premise service of eatables should be prohibited because it is impossible to serve a future driver one of these without creating an impaired driver for the public to contend with.

But knowing the risks and even some regulatory concerns may not be enough to change the course of this legalization march.  We continue to see the process played out on the initiative ballots instead of within the legislatures.  Therefore, widely disparate state laws are emerging due to activists’ whims and their cool calculus of what they believe to be minimally restrictive yet publicly palatable laws.  It’s a shame because given the blank slate that commercially regulated marijuana starts with, public health could have taken center stage if we were at the table.

So this means… From today’s perspective it appears marijuana will be a legal and regulated product for those over 21 in many more states (including California) by the end of 2016.  Further, the pressure on the Federal government to de-schedule marijuana will only increase.  Colleges and universities will likely be permitted to ban use on campus, however with likely de-scheduling, California schools may be required to accommodate constitutionally protected medical use even by those who are under 21 and within the residential buildings.


The Scoop on Powdered Alcohol

The Internet is buzzing with news about powdered alcohol.  The company Lipsmark, has apparently applied for approval to market a product they're calling Palcohol, a packet of powder that when mixed with water will create an alcoholic beverage.  Lipsmark is applying for a patent for their manufacturing processes, but we're also learning that the process for making such powders is not actually new, or even that difficult.

A simple Google search will yield articles describing the manufacturing process, and also informs us that such products are already being sold in various countries.  Essentially the process to make this involves using a highly absorbent powder, adding liquid alcohol, and then sifting it to break it back up into powder.  Perhaps the most important marketing element that Lipsmark is offering is a sealed pouch so that the alcohol does not evaporate back out while it sits on the store shelf.


Even though Palcohol is not currently available, media hoopla may cause powdered alcohol to be used by students.  How is that possible? Articles in established magazines like Popular Science not only tell how to make it, they even have links to purchase the supplies.  Is it a surprise that the suppliers report that the base powder is now on back order?

So this means… keep powdered alcohol on your RADAR, and understand that regardless of regulation, with every "new" alcoholic product, a homemade version is almost always just a few keystrokes away. 




Commentary: Saying "When" not "If": Prevention of marijuana harms

In 2010, Proposition 19 was making headlines and prompted me to start a series of presentations on the implications marijuana legalization had on campus prevention efforts.  At the time, the thought of widespread legalization still seemed remote to most in my audiences.  Times have changed.  In only four years, the number of states with medical use has risen by 50% and two states have legalized non-medical use. 

The Federal government policy has changed as well.  In 2010, Attorney General Harold Holder sent a very specific threat to legalization supporters in California stating that their efforts would violate federal law.  In 2012, not only did Holder not send a similar letter to Colorado and Washington, his office has instead now released “guidance” that the Federal government would watch, but not interfere with their commercial regulation of marijuana.  And today we learn that he is working to smooth the way for the banking industry to participate in the marijuana marketplace.

Other changes may happen just as quickly.  Being considered in Congress are laws that would move marijuana regulation out of the Federal schedule system and into state law.  This effort is receiving bipartisan support.

It is now reasonable to predict that somewhere within the next 1-3 years, full legalization will occur at both the Federal and perhaps many or most states. Even a cursory look at the history of alcohol prohibition repeal makes clear a change like this can sweep across the country very fast.

College campuses must think through their relationship with marijuana.  Most, if not all campuses in states with legalization (medical or otherwise) have relied on the Federal Drug Free Schools and Community Act to continue their prohibition of any marijuana use on their campuses.  But if the Federal government de-schedules marijuana, the DFSCA will not apply any more; issues like medical-use accommodation will come to the fore. 

I’ve heard some campus folks say they’d rely on their campus smoke-free policies to continue their marijuana prohibition.  But there are implications for that as well.  For instance, eatable and drinkable forms of THC consumption are becoming much more prevalent and will likely increase even more rapidly in a commercialized environment.  Those pose unique and perhaps even more serious risks than smoked/vaporized forms. 

Campuses need to start the discussions now.  Explicit harms should be identified that are worthy of preventing.  For instance, many believe we are likely to see a substantial increase in numbers of frequent/heavy consumers, with the concomitant issues of Cannabis Use Disorders.  Given the recent research that continues to point to concerns about heavy use on adolescent brain development, campuses may rightly wish to limit underage and heavy use.  Impaired driving is also likely to result in direct harm to both marijuana consumers and the general public.  Many of those issues will only be solved through campus/community partnerships to assure regulation and enforcement are sufficient.

So this means...Strategies to accomplish prevention of these harms are only starting to emerge.  What is heartening is that in contrast to the uphill efforts to speak about this issue 4 years ago, we are seeing a much more broadly engaged prevention community. At the NASPA AOD conference just completed, there were no fewer than 5 presentations specifically addressing marijuana, and many more that tangentially included it. We may not be able to stop the change, but we can be positioned to shape some policies and prepare for the easily predicted consequences that will come when it happens.  However, we can do our work only if we plan strategically and that may only happen if we are willing to say "when" instead of "if"; and I believe it's time to do just that.  Watch for a series of articles that I'll put on this site that highlight promising approaches to prevention of marijuana harms within a legalized context.