Archive for June, 2017

Marijuana Use Up Among Oregon College Students

College students attending an Oregon university are using more marijuana now that the drug is legal for recreational use, but the increase is largely among students who also report recent heavy use of alcohol, a new study has found.

Oregon State University researchers compared marijuana usage among college students before and after legalization and found that usage increased at several colleges and universities across the nation but it increased more at the Oregon university. None of the universities were identified in the study.

“It does appear that legalization is having an effect on usage, but there is some nuance to the findings that warrant further investigation,” said the study’s lead author, David Kerr, an associate professor in the School of Psychological Science in OSU’s College of Liberal Arts.

Increase Not Due to Legalization Alone

“We found that overall, at schools in different parts of the country, there’s been an increase in marijuana use among college students, so we can’t attribute that increase to legalization alone.”

The results were published today in the journal Addiction. Co-authors are Harold Bae and Sandi Phibbs of OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences and Adam Kern of the University of Michigan.

The study is believed to be the first to examine marijuana usage patterns following legalization of recreational marijuana in Oregon and the first to examine the effects of any state’s legalization on college students. Voters in Oregon approved legalization in 2014 and the law took effect in 2015.

Legalization Raises More Questions

Oregon’s legalization of marijuana is part of a larger trend among U.S. states, but little research has been done so far to understand the impact. In their study, Kerr and his colleagues set out to begin addressing some of those questions.

“It’s an important current issue and even the most basic effects have not been studied yet, especially in Oregon,” he said. “There are a lot of open questions about how legalization might affect new users, existing users and use of other substances.”

Researchers used information collected in the Healthy Minds Study, a national survey of college students’ mental health and well-being – including substance use – conducted by the University of Michigan. The study is designed to give colleges and universities information to help them understand the needs of their student populations.

Binge Drinking Rates About the Same

As part of the survey, participants are asked about marijuana and cigarette use in the previous 30 days, as well as frequency of heavy alcohol use within the previous two weeks.

Using data from a large public university in Oregon and six other four-year universities around the country where recreational marijuana is not legal, researchers compared rates of marijuana use before and after the drug was legalized in Oregon. They also examined frequency of heavy alcohol use and cigarette use at those points.

The researchers found that the overall rates of marijuana use rose across the seven schools. Rates of binge drinking – where a person consumes four to five or more drinks in a period of about two hours – stayed the same and cigarette use declined in that period.

Widespread Changing Attitudes

“It’s likely that the rise in marijuana use across the country is tied in part to liberalization of attitudes about the drug as more states legalize it, for recreational or medical purposes or both,” Kerr said. “So legalization both reflects changing attitudes and may influence them even outside of states where the drug is legal.”

Researchers also found that marijuana use rates were generally higher, overall, among male students; those living in Greek or off-campus housing; those not identifying as heterosexual; and those attending smaller, private institutions.

One area where legalization had a marked impact was among college students who indicated recent binge drinking; students at the Oregon university who reported binge drinking were 73 percent more likely to also report marijuana use compared to similar peers at schools in states where marijuana remains illegal.

Underage Marijuana Use Rates Even Higher

“We think this tells us more about the people who binge drink than about the effects of alcohol itself,” Kerr said. “Those who binge drink may be more open to marijuana use if it is easy to access, whereas those who avoid alcohol for cultural or lifestyle reasons might avoid marijuana regardless of its legal status.”

The researchers also found that Oregon students under age 21 – the minimum legal age for purchasing and using marijuana – showed higher rates of marijuana use than those over 21.

“This was a big surprise to us, because legalization of use is actually having an impact on illegal use,” said Bae, the study’s primary statistician.

These initial findings about marijuana use among college students help form a picture of how legalization may be affecting people, Kerr said, but more study is needed before researchers can quantify the harms or net benefits of legalization for young people.

“Americans are conducting a big experiment with marijuana,” Kerr said. “We need science to tell us what the results of it are.”

June 17th, 2017  in Substance Abuse No Comments »

Binge Drinking Linked to Higher Blood Glucose Levels in Women

Regular high alcohol consumption and binge drinking from age 16 is associated with higher glucose concentrations in women’s blood – an important risk factor for type 2 diabetes – later in life, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Public Health.

This study is the first to assess alcohol consumption data, starting in adolescence, over a 27 year period in relation to their blood glucose levels taken when they were 43 years of age. In women, total alcohol consumption and binge drinking behavior throughout the 27 year period was significantly associated with higher blood glucose levels independent of BMI, hypertension and smoking status at age 43.

Men Affected in Other Ways

This association was not true for men, for whom only BMI and hypertension remained associated with increased blood glucose levels.

Dr Karina Nygren, lead author from Umea University, Sweden said: “Our findings show that high alcohol consumption from ages 16 to 43 is associated with higher blood glucose levels in women but not in men. Because higher blood glucose is a risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes, our data suggest that informing people about the risk of high alcohol consumption at a young age could have positive health impacts further down the line.”

Despite the association between alcohol, binge drinking and blood glucose only being significant in women, men still had higher blood glucose levels than women and consumed nearly 3 times as much alcohol between ages 16 and 43.

Alcohol Increases Insulin Resistance

Previous studies suggest possible mechanisms for the association between alcohol and elevated blood glucose. For example, human studies have shown that ethanol can increase insulin resistance, which in turn leads to accumulation of glucose in the blood. Studies in rats have also shown that binge drinking behavior alters the rat’s metabolism in a way that negatively affects insulin.

Dr Nygren commented: “Although there are some biological explanations behind why alcohol can directly lead to increased levels of glucose in the blood, the difference between men and women in our study is more difficult to explain.”

Data included in this study come from the Northern Swedish Cohort study which began in 1981. A total of 897 people from this study answered a questionnaire about alcohol consumption when they were 16, 18, 21, 30 and 43 years old. At age 43 a blood sample was taken from each person to assess blood glucose levels.

Long-Term Insight Into Drinking Behavior

The questionnaire involved eight questions about alcohol consumption including questions such as “how often do you drink alcohol?” and how much do you drink at each occasion?”. Binge drinking was defined as drinking four or more standard drinks of beer, wine or spirits per occasion for women, and five or more for men, at least once per month. One standard drink was specified to contain 12g of ethanol, which is equivalent to 330ml of a 5-6% beer.

The study shows an association between alcohol consumption and higher blood glucose but cannot show cause and effect. The data is limited by the fact that information on alcohol consumption comes from self-reported questionnaires and could be subject to bias. However, the long term nature of the study, which includes multiple follow ups, offers a unique insight into the drinking behaviors of people throughout their life.

June 13th, 2017  in Alcohol No Comments »

Alcohol’s health benefits overstated?

The benefits of light alcohol consumption, as well as the risks associated with not drinking at all, might not be as great as previously thought, according to Penn State researchers who examined the drinking habits of middle-aged adults.

The researchers analyzed information about more than 9,000 people across England, Scotland and Wales born in 1958 who are participating in the longitudinal National Child Development Study. The study, based at the University College London Centre for Longitudinal Studies, tracked changes in people’s drinking and cigarette smoking habits from age 23 to 55, and linked these changes to mental and physical health.

About one third of men and women who reported drinking at the light-to-moderate level were very unlikely to smoke. While this group of light drinkers and non-smokers enjoyed the best health and quality of life in middle age, three other groups experienced more health problems. These groups were those who drank lightly to moderately but also smoked; those who both drank more heavily and smoked; and those who refrained from drinking alcohol or reduced their drinking over time.

Other Risk Factors Not Considered

Light-to-moderate drinkers were defined as adults who consumed no more than 14 units of alcohol, which is equivalent to roughly six pints of beer or six medium-sized glasses of wine, per week. This is the current maximum recommended for men and women by the United Kingdom’s Department of Health, according to Jeremy Staff, professor of criminology and sociology at Penn State and the study’s lead author.

While the supposed benefits of moderate drinking have been widely reported in the media, many reports have failed to take into account other risk factors. For example, light-to-moderate drinkers suffered poor health in midlife if they were former smokers or still had the occasional cigarette. This may be due to a direct effect of smoking or because of other lifestyle-related risks, such as lack of exercise or obesity. Many midlife abstainers also began their adult life in poorer physical or mental health than peers who had completely abstained from alcohol.

Is There Harm in Abstaining?

“Alcohol abstainers are a diverse group. They include former heavy drinkers who quit due to problems with alcohol, as well as those who quit drinking due to poor health, and not just lifetime abstainers,” said Staff. “Medical professionals and public health officials should be wary of drawing conclusions about the so-called ‘dangers’ of never drinking without more robust evidence.”

About 1-in-5 members of 55-year-olds who said they had never drunk alcohol in their lives had previously reported drinking when they were younger. This suggests that those who drink very little may tend to misremember or under-report previous drinking habits. When studies include this group as lifetime abstainers, apparent ‘harms’ of abstaining may be overestimated, said the researchers.

Alcohol Has Many Health Risks

While modest drinking habits also have been linked with higher levels of education, those with few or no educational qualifications were also among those who did not drink or drank modestly. On the other hand, men and women with the highest educational qualifications at age 23 were more likely than their peers to drink at light-to-moderate rates throughout their adult lives, and were unlikely to smoke.

Jennifer Maggs, professor of human development and family studies at Penn State and another of the study’s authors, added, “Evidence continues to grow that alcohol has many health risks, including for cancer. Therefore, it is dangerous to report only benefits of moderate alcohol consumption. Drinking habits are also shaped by our education, health earlier in life, and related lifestyle factors including smoking. These other influences may be the real factors underlying the connection between drinking and midlife health.”

According to Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance in the UK, “This study provides yet more evidence that any benefits associated with drinking alcohol are smaller than previously thought. The most effective ways to reduce harms associated with alcohol consumption are to introduce pricing measures linked to alcohol sales, and enable more informed choices through public education efforts and mandatory labeling of alcohol products.”

June 4th, 2017  in Alcohol No Comments »