Media wrap up - January 2016

Cannabis was a popular media story in January, with coverage on drug driving, how cannabis affects women and drug trials.

Surprisingly, after a quiet end to 2015, January saw 2016 start with a bang when it comes to cannabis. From NSW cannabis campaigns to international studies, words on weed were hitting the pages of papers around the globe.

How can we start with anything but the Sloth?

In December, just as many Aussies ended the countdown and happily skipped off for a much-deserved Christmas break, NSW Government was hard at work, readying to launch a new public service campaign centred around informing young people of the harms of cannabis.

Hitting computer screens the week before Christmas, the Stoner Sloth campaign featured pot-smoking teenagers, in the form of over-sized, hairy, grunting sloths who embodied the not-so-pleasant side-effects of weed. Emphasising lack of motivation, impact on social relationships and focus, the campaign was well-received by many, but caused negative Twitter uproar in other circles. The campaign continued to run and will be evaluated by NSW Government in early 2016.

While not in line with NCPIC s approaches to campaigns, it s still good to see the Government putting emphasis on prevention of use in young people whose brains are still developing.

Drug driving put to the test

Regional areas continued their outcry for a review of drug driving testing practices across NSW and the rest of Australia in the closing weeks of January. Protestors, particularly in northern NSW, claimed that roadside THC tests were simply a way for police to target recreational drug users. The belief that oral fluid (saliva) tests picks up the metabolites that hang around the body of heavy users for many weeks (like urine tests used for workplace tests) as opposed to the active THC in the blood that impairs driving is widespread and hard to shift, even amongst the media!

Interestingly, many media groups took a medicinal angle, interviewing people who report using cannabis for medicinal purposes, who fear being caught driving following use. Of note, there are many medicines currently used by patients in Australia that cannot be taken while driving so the question arises, why would cannabis be treated any differently if it does indeed become legalised for medicinal use? Ultimately, while there may be misunderstanding about how long cannabis remains in the body and how long it affects skills, use does result in at least short-term effects like slower reaction time, decreased depth perception, decreased coordination and decreased focus. Do we really need drivers with those side effects on the road regardless of what it is that caused the side effect?

Drug trial leaves man dead

In very sad news, media outlets around the world reported in January that a man had died after taking part in first phase drug trial in France. The trial did not test a cannabis product, but a synthesised drug called a FAAH inhibitor which acts on the body s endocannabinoid system (the same system THC and other cannabinoids act on), which among other things, is involved in pain perception. Though cannabis wasn t involved, the tragic outcome of the study does point to the fact that there is still so much we don t know about the brain, and its specific systems, so ongoing research will be crucial to gaining a stronger understanding of how drugs, both natural and synthesised, might affect it. The phase one trial was undertaken to evaluate safety and tolerance, not efficacy.

Women and weed

This month, our very own Professor Copeland helped out with an SMH article syndicated across Australian media outlets. Exploring the effects of cannabis on women, the article interviewed two high-functioning cannabis users who have recently decided to quit.

In the article, Professor Copeland noted women develop tolerance to cannabis much faster than men, and as a result, require more of the drug to get the same effect. Other research listed noted weekly or more often cannabis use is a predictor of mental distress in women, and that women, in contrast to men, often use for negative, emotional reasons, as opposed to just wanting to feel good or for social reasons.

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