WHATS NEW? - January 2018

Youth workers warn of rise in drugs purchases through social media

Cannabis compound is harmless and should be available, World Health Organisation says

Homelessness in England rises by 75% among vulnerable groups

Average Briton consumes 3.5m calories of alcohol in lifetime, says study

New Ketamine Findings Give Hope To People Seeking Relief From Suicidal Thoughts

Steroid abuse 'raising health risk for thousands'

New fingerprint drug test now available to support drug rehabilitation services

Drug use more likely than smoking among secondary school pupils

Cannabis users have more sex, scientists find, and drug may increase arousal

Psychosis risk higher in cannabis users with AKT1 gene

Online market 'is turning drug dealers from goons to geeks'

Middle class pensioners risking health by drinking a bottle of whisky a week

Youth workers warn of rise in drugs purchases through social media

Growing numbers of teenagers are buying illegal drugs on social media sites such as Instagram and Snapchat, according to professionals supporting young people.

Youth workers have raised concern about the trend, which they say has accelerated in the last year and a half. One said he had spoken to children as young as 12 who had bought Class A drugs through such sites.

“In the last 18 months we have gone from this way of getting drugs not being mentioned at all among the young people we work with to now nearly every young person talking about it. It is disturbing,” said Nick Hickmott, the early intervention lead for Young Addaction, the youth arm of the largest drug and alcohol charity.

Social Media sellers use hashtags and emojis to indicate what they stock, and share images of the substances. They provide alternative contact details, and most deals then take place on other platforms such as the encrypted messenger application Wickr.

Hickmott said: “We work with 10- to 24-year-olds but most of the work we do is with 13- to 17-year-olds. They are the ones talking about this and the reason we are seeing this rise is because of the growth of social media. Young people are just becoming more dependent on these platforms now as they are heavily integrated into all aspects of their life and so they are being used for more risk-taking behaviour.”

He said Instagram and Snapchat tended to be the platforms most used. One of his biggest concerns was teenagers buying drugs from strangers on these platforms.

“Essentially, if a dealer knows you, they are far less likely to want to see you ripped off or end up in hospital … If you are buying drugs on Instagram, for example, you are getting them from a stranger and the deals might involve meeting up in person.”

The youth worker said knowledge of dealers spread by word of mouth. “The majority of drugs on sale at the moment are cannabis but you can get any street substance through these sites. Particularly prevalent currently are party drugs like MDMA and ecstasy but we’re also seeing benzodiazepines such as Xanax being sold. What we’re concerned about is that there are clearly no age restrictions for dealers and a lot of young people use these sites,” he said.

Fiona Spargo-Mabbs, who founded the Daniel Spargo-Mabbs Foundation, a drugs education charity, after her son died from taking a lethal dose of MDMA, said the phenomenon would continue to grow “because it is such an easy way to reach lots of young people”.

She said: “It is a great gift for the supply chain and it is adult suppliers using the resources of young people and exploiting their savvy-ness in social media. It is particularly worrying because drugs are around young people in a way now that they were not maybe 10 years ago. Having them on social media like that makes them so much more available, and delivery to the door means you don’t need to be in a dark street corner or hang around with a drug dealer to buy them.”

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Cannabis compound is harmless and should be available, World Health Organisation says

A compound derived from cannabis has health benefits and should not be subject to government restrictions, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said.

“Recent evidence from animal and human studies shows that its use could have some therapeutic value for seizures due to epilepsy and related conditions and that it “is not likely to be abused or create dependence as for other cannabinoids,” it added.

The decision was not an endorsement of medical cannabis. Instead the global body’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence specifically examined the potential risks and benefits cannabidiol (CBD), a compound that is found in cannabis plant.

It is distinct from Tetra Hydro Cannabinol (THC). Unlike THC, CBD does not have intoxicating effects — in other words, it does not produce a high.

Medical marijuana advocates point to that difference in arguing CBD should be available to patients who suffer from various ailments that include pain, anxiety and seizures. But the US Drug Enforcement Administration treats CBD extracts as a Schedule 1 drug, like other marijuana products, meaning the American government deems it to have the highest potential for abuse and no medical benefits.

That position has drawn resistance from cannabis advocates at a time when CBD oils and other products are on shelves in dozens of states.

In a letter stating its opposition, the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws wrote that “CBD lacks the consciousness-altering properties and abuse potential” of THC and argued there was evidence of “numerous medically beneficial properties” for people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, bipolar disorder and other conditions.

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Homelessness in England rises by 75% among vulnerable groups

Homelessness among people with mental and physical health problems has increased by around 75% since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, and there has been a similar rise in the number of families with dependent children who are classed as homeless.

According to official figures collated by the Department for Communities ,the number of homeless households in England identified by councils as priority cases because they contain someone who is classed as vulnerable because of their mental illness, has risen from 3,200 in 2010 to 5,470 in 2017.

Over the same period, the number of families with dependent children – another priority homeless group identified by councils – has increased from 22,950 to 40,130. The number of homeless households with a family member who has a physical disability has increased from 2,480 to 4,370.

Housing charities have called on the government to urgently build more affordable housing and reverse a squeeze on benefits which has left vulnerable people unable to pay their rents.

“With homelessness soaring, it is no surprise that the number of vulnerable groups – including families with children – who are having to turn to their council for help is on the rise,” said Polly Neate, chief executive of charity Shelter. “As wages stagnate, rents continue to rise and welfare is cut, many people are struggling to keep a roof over their head. Eviction is now the number one cause of homelessness.

“Our services across the country are seeing an increase in the number of people with multiple and complex needs, and we think this may be because other services are failing to provide the help that people need. The solution to our housing crisis must be to urgently build more affordable homes and, in the short term, end the freeze on housing benefit that is increasingly pushing people over the precipice into homelessness.”

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Average Briton consumes 3.5m calories of alcohol in lifetime, says study

Research shows drinkers consume equivalent of 12 roast dinners or nine McDonald's Big Macs in fat from beers, wines and spirits each month.

The average Briton will consume 3.5 million calories over a lifetime – in alcohol, a study by Onepoll has found. Research revealed in a typical month, they will consume eight pints of lager or beer, nine glasses of wine and three glasses of champagne, racking up 4,918 calories in the process.

That means they will consume the equivalent of 12 full Christmas dinners or nine Big Macs in alcohol alone.

The study also revealed four in ten men don’t believe they could give up alcohol for good compared to three in ten women. Over half of men admitted they couldn’t stop drinking because they “love the taste” too much with 57 per cent saying they can’t imagine socialising without using alcohol.

The research, conducted via OnePoll.com, also revealed 85 per cent admit to being unaware of the calories they consume from booze, with millions of Brits thinking a pint has less than half the calories it actually contains.

On average, adults believe a pint has 17 calories fewer than it does and think a glass of wine has 28 fewer than the actual number. This underestimation is the equivalent of 4,656 calories a year – the same as eating 35 bags of crisps.

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New Ketamine Findings Give Hope To People Seeking Relief From Suicidal Thoughts

New research published in the American Journal of Psychiatry showed that ketamine can help relieve depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation in just a 24 hour period.

Pending further research, study author Michael Grunebaum said these findings bring us closer to “the development of new antidepressant medications that are faster acting” that can help people who do not respond to traditional antidepressants.

The study, from the Columbia University Medical Center and the New York Psychiatric Institute, observed 80 participants with clinical depression and clinical suicidal ideation. Half of participants was given ketamine, while the other half was given midazolam, a sedative.

The ketamine group reported “significant changes in symptoms (suicidal thoughts, depressive symptoms and fatigue) compared to those receiving midalozam”—and in very little time: within 24 hours. Certain negative side effects of ketamine (e.g. a sense of detachment or higher blood pressure) wore off “within minutes or hours,” according to the study.

Meanwhile, the study team observed, participants felt the benefits of ketamine for up to six weeks.

This isn’t the first time ketamine has been found to provide fast relief for depressive symptoms, but it’s now apparent that its effect on alleviating suicidal ideation functions in addition to depression relief.

“Adjunctive ketamine demonstrated a greater reduction in clinically significant suicidal ideation in depressed patients within 24 hours compared with midazolam, partially independently of antidepressant effect,” concluded the researchers.

The quick response to the ketamine treatment, when given in the proper dosage, offers hope to people who suffer from suicidal ideation. “There is a critical window in which depressed patients who are suicidal need rapid relief to prevent self-harm,” said study author Grunebaum.

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Steroid abuse 'raising health risk for thousands'

Tens of thousands of people may be at increased risk of dying early from heart attacks and strokes by misusing anabolic steroids, according to doctors. The British Cardiovascular Society gave the warning amid concern steroids are now being taken by hundreds of thousands of people.

Public health experts say men in their teens and 20s are behind the rise. Steroids are legal to use but illegal to supply, unless you're a doctor.

As well as heart attacks and strokes, NHS guidelines show people who misuse anabolic steroids also risk health problems like infertility and mood swings.

Gareth Jenkins, 29, who lives just outside Cardiff says he's been using them for nearly five years.

"Everything that we do in life now carries the risk of heart attack, cancer whatever it is - so I'm going to get those risks anyway," he says. Gareth says he doesn't smoke or drink - and that's why he feels it is ok to take steroids. "It's still probably stupid from a medical point of view. But that's the way I choose to live my life."

Anabolic steroids cause an imbalance of hormones which can damage many different organs, but in particular the heart. The BBC documentary Steroid Nation can be viewed on the iPlayer here:


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New fingerprint drug test now available to support drug rehabilitation services

UK-based Intelligent Fingerprinting has recently launched a new fingerprint-based drug screening system to drug rehabilitation service providers.

The company’s new technology detects drug use by analysing fingerprint sweat, screening for multiple illicit substances in under 10 minutes.

The Intelligent Fingerprinting Drug Screening System consists of a sample collection cartridge and the portable Reader 1000, and works by analysing the tiny traces of sweat contained in a fingerprint to detect signs of drug use. Collecting a fingerprint sweat sample onto an Intelligent Fingerprinting cartridge takes just five seconds, and the Reader 1000 provides a positive or negative result for each drug in the test within just 10 minutes.

Dr Jerry Walker, Chief Executive Officer, Intelligent Fingerprinting said:

“Its dignified, non-invasive approach makes it an ideal choice to support drug recovery programmes that currently rely on oral-fluid or urine-based drug tests to track clients’ progress. The new fingerprint-based drug test is portable, offering a convenient drug screening approach for use by drug rehabilitation services in both clinics and community-based centres. The system makes it simple to set up screening sessions, collect samples, administer tests and get results quickly on location. Fingerprint drug testing is also particularly easy to use and non-invasive, sidestepping potential hygiene concerns associated with traditional screening methods that involve the collection and disposal of body fluid samples such as saliva or urine.”

CGL, a national social care and drug addiction charity, has been trialling the new fingerprint drug test. Dr Prun Bijral, Medical Director at CGL said: “Having visibility of a client’s progress – and whether they have used drugs recently – is critical in determining how we tailor our drug rehabilitation programmes to support each individual. During our early tests we’ve had positive feedback from both our counsellors and service users.”

To find out more about the new device then visit www.intelligentfingerprinting.com

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Drug use more likely than smoking among secondary school pupils

Secondary school children in England are now more likely to have tried drugs than cigarettes, according to a national survey.

The statistics, from NHS Digital, found 24% of 11-15-year-olds saying they had tried recreational drugs at least once in their lives, a nine percentage point rise on the last survey, in 2014. The survey also found 19% of respondents saying they had smoked cigarettes at least once, a proportion roughly level with 2014 but well below the figure for 1996 when almost half of pupils questioned had tried smoking. And, in 2016, only 6% of pupils were classified as current smokers.

Drug use among youngsters was shown to have been declining over the past 15 years. Paul Niblett, the statistician responsible for the report, said another survey would be needed to establish whether the figures constituted a change in trend.

Niblett said the rise could be partly explained by new questions on the survey asking youngsters about their use of laughing gas (nitrous oxide) and novel psychoactive substances, which were banned last year under sweeping new legislation.

However, even after stripping out the results from these questions, the survey of 12,000 school children carried out under exam conditions in 177 English schools in 2016, still registered a rise in the proportion admitting using drugs, to 21% – a six percentage point increase on the previous survey.

The survey also found that 44% of secondary school pupils said they had drunk alcohol at some point. There had been a steady decline in the proportion admitting to ever having had an alcoholic drink, since the early 2000s until 2014, when 38% said they had tried alcohol. However, those responsible for the survey said the new figure was not comparable to previous years due to a change in the survey question.

In 2016 the survey found consumption of alcohol related to the age of the children questioned; it ranged from 15% of the 11-year-olds having had a drink, to 73% of those aged 15. Girls were slightly more likely to have ever had a drink than boys, at 46% to 43%.

The headline figure of drug use also disguises differences in age. While only about one in 10 of the 11-year-olds reported ever having taken drugs, 37% of respondents aged 15 said they had.

Black pupils were the most likely to have taken drugs, followed by those of mixed ethnicity, followed by Asians, then white pupils, then others. The picture for drinking prevalence varied; white pupils were the most likely to have ever had an alcoholic drink, followed by mixed, then black, “other” and Asian.

Black girls were far more likely to have tried drugs than black boys, and mixed ethnicity girls were slightly more likely to have taken drugs than boys of that group. Among white children, Asians and others, boys were more likely to have tried drugs.

About half of the pupils questioned had acquired their drugs from a friend on the most recent occasion, with most of those being a friend of the same age. Just over a quarter said they had bought their drugs from a dealer, a proportion that increased with age.

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Cannabis users have more sex, scientists find, and drug may increase arousal

Regular cannabis users have more sex, a new study has shown, and scientists think the drug may be stimulating sexual arousal.

A study by investigators at the Stanford University School of Medicine shows that despite concerns that frequent marijuana use may impair sexual desire or performance, the opposite it actually more likely.

Around one in 12 (8.4 per cent) of British adults aged between 16 and 59 have used cannabis in the last year, according to Drugwise.

For the research, academics quizzed 50,000 Americans aged between 25 and 45 about their sex lives and cannabis use. They found that women who regularly used cannabis had sex on average 7.1 times a month, compared with abstainers who had six encounters over 30 days. Male cannabis users had sex 6.9 times in a month compared to 5.6 times for non-users.

In summary, pot users are having about 20 percent more sex than abstainers, and scientists say the study is the first hint that the effect may be causal.

“Marijuana use is very common, but its large-scale use and association with sexual frequency hasn’t been studied much in a scientific way,” said the study’s senior author, Dr Michael Eisenberg, assistant professor of urology.

“Frequent marijuana use doesn’t seem to impair sexual motivation or performance. If anything, it’s associated with increased coital frequency.

“The overall trend we saw applied to people of both sexes and all races, ages, education levels, income groups and religions, every health status, whether they were married or single and whether or not they had kids.”

The study is the first to examine the relationship between marijuana use and frequency of sexual intercourse.

Previous research has linked cannabis abuse to erectile dysfunction in heavy users, and studies have found reduced sperm counts in men who smoke it. However experiments conducted in animal models and humans have also suggested that marijuana stimulates activity in brain regions involved in sexual arousal and activity.

The positive association between marijuana use and sexual frequency was independent of demographic, health, marital or parental status.

The trend remained even after accounting for subjects’ use of other drugs, such as cocaine or alcohol.

Dr Eisenberg said the results suggest that marijuana’s positive correlation with sexual activity does not just reflect the tendency for less inhibited people to use the drug.

The team found that the amount of sex rose steadily with increasing marijuana use, a dose-dependent relationship supporting a possible active role for marijuana in fostering sexual activity.

The research was published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine.

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Psychosis risk higher in cannabis users with AKT1 gene

A single gene has been identified that can show how susceptible a person is to developing psychosis after using cannabis. The discovery will help doctors and scientists identify individuals at most risk from developing serious mental health implications from use of the drug.

The study, reported in the journal Translational Psychiatry, describes the gene AKT1, which is prevalent in patients that have developed psychosis following the use of marijuana. This gene is found in almost half of the entire population - regardless of their health, or whether they use cannabis.

The research also shows that the health of the individual bears no reflection on their risk of mental illness, as this is the first study to assess the risk of psychosis on healthy patients.

Psychosis is a mental health illness that causes individuals to experience different things from those around them, including hallucinations and delusions. It is diagnosed in around one in 2,000 people.

"These findings are the first to demonstrate that people with this AKT1 genotype are far more likely to experience strong effects from smoking cannabis, even if they are otherwise healthy," said Celia Morgan, a researcher working on the study. "To find that having this gene variant means that you are more prone to mind-altering effects of cannabis when you don't have psychosis gives us a clue as to how it increases risk in healthy people.

"Putting yourself repeatedly in a psychotic or paranoid state might be one reason why these people could go on to develop psychosis when they might not have done otherwise. Although cannabis-induced psychosis is very rare, when it happens it can have a terrible impact on the lives of young people. This research could help pave the way towards the prevention and treatment of cannabis psychosis."

In order to find the discovery, the researchers from the University of Exeter, carried out a study comprised of 442 healthy participants who admitted using cannabis. The participants were invited to use the drug in laboratory conditions, and then scientists analysed them to test for the symptoms associated with psychosis – including memory loss and hallucinations.

Seven days later, the same individuals were tested again when completely sober. It was discovered that those expressing the AKT1 gene showed a higher risk of developing psychotic symptoms permanently.

"Our finding that psychotic-like symptoms when young people are 'stoned' are predicted by AKT1 variants is an exciting breakthrough," said Val Curran, co-author of the research. "This acute reaction is thought to be a marker of a person's risk of developing psychosis from smoking the drug."

Research has also shown that drugs like cocaine, amphetamine and ecstasy can act as a precursor to psychosis.

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Online market 'is turning drug dealers from goons to geeks'

Customer service skills and a way with words are replacing muscles and a tough reputation, says European drugs agency. Drug dealers are turning from goons to geeks in a trade that is increasingly being conducted online, says a report by the European drugs agency.

Research into internet drug markets by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) suggested the self-regulation of online markets such as Dream Market provide a safer environment for users and dealers of illicit substances.

Feedback mechanisms similar to eBay mean customers are able to hold dealers to account for the service they provide, the report said, while remote access to the market almost eliminates the risk of violence that has long been an integral part of the black economy.

As a result, online drug dealers are more likely to need good customer service skills and a persuasive way with words than muscles and a tough reputation.

The report draws together the most recent evidence from experts on the darknet markets phenomenon that first came to public attention with the rise of Silk Road, which opened in 2011 and operated until it was seized by the FBI in 2013.

Researchers argued that Silk Road and its successors, known as cryptomarkets or darknet markets, became successful after bringing together four technologies: the bitcoin virtual currency and encrypted internet protocols such as The Onion Router (TOR), which allowed anonymity, as well as Escrow and customer feedback systems, which gave buyers and sellers confidence in their transactions.

Products are most often sent through the post, eliminating personal encounters between dealers and their customers.

These market innovations have led to a shift in the kinds of people involved in selling drugs. “Because of the virtual location of online drug markets, in addition to the presence of conflict-reducing features such as Escrow and bitcoin, violence and theft are likely to be reduced. It is probable that these changes will have a deep impact on the skills needed to succeed in criminal markets,” the report says.

“In the drug cryptomarket era, having good customer service and writing skills, and a good reputation, via feedback, as a vendor or buyer may be more important than muscles and face-to-face connections.”

Judith Aldridge, a criminologist at Manchester University and one of the report’s 30 co-authors, said the use of darknet markets for drug buying seemed to be on the rise, and had the potential for changing the structure of the global drug market.

However, she said, they have their limitations. Given their reliance on postal systems for delivery, darknet markets are unlikely to be useful for large-scale drug supply and importation. She added: “Despite the growth and popularity of these markets, they tend to be short-lived, and their success substantially hampered by the growth of mistrust amongst market participants due to scams and, to a more limited extent, law enforcement activities.”

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Middle class pensioners risking health by drinking a bottle of whisky a week

Middle class pensioners are risking their health by drinking the equivalent of a bottle of whisky a week, with white, well-educated men consuming the most alcohol, a study has shown.

Despite knowing the dangers of too much alcohol, it seems that the stress of holding down high-powered jobs and social responsibilities is leading many older men to hit the bottle.

Health experts at Kings College London say that doctors should be aware that it is often professionals, many of who have put off retiring, or who still have important commitments, who are likely to have drinking problems.

As well as leading to problems such as cirrhosis of the liver and increased risk of cancer, older people are more sensitive to the effects of alcohol because the body cannot break it down as quickly.

Drinking in later life is also known to increase the likelihood of falls which can lead to serious head injuries.

“As the Baby Boomer generation become seniors, they represent an ever increasing population of older people drinking at levels that pose a risk to their health,” said Dr Tony Rao, lead author from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King's College London.

“This study shows the need for greater awareness of the potential for alcohol related harm in older people, particularly those of higher socio-economic status, who may suffer the consequences of ill health from alcohol at an earlier age than those in previous generations.”

One in five older people who drink alcohol are now consuming it at unsafe levels – over 21 units of alcohol for men and 14 units for women each week.

The researchers used anonymised electronic GP health records for 27,991 people aged 65 and over in the Borough of Lambeth in London.

They identified 9,248 older people who regularly consumed alcohol and of these 1,980 people drank at unsafe levels.

They found unsafe drinkers were more likely to be male, younger and have higher socioeconomic status. Men were more likely to be unsafe drinkers than women.

The average alcohol consumption was six units per week – the equivalent of three glasses of whisky. However, the top five per cent of alcohol drinkers reported consuming more than 49 units per week for men and more than 23 units per week for women, the equivalent of at least three-and-a-half pints a day for men or three-and-a-half glasses of wine for women.

Dr Mark Ashworth, study author from the Division of Health and Social Care Research at King's College London said: ‘This research highlights that as GPs we need be more aware of the risk of older people, especially men, drinking excessively.

“Reducing alcohol misuse is important to prevent premature death and serious negative health effects, such as alcoholic liver disease, which are big burden on our health system. Alcohol excess carries additional risks in the older population such as falls and confusion.’

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