Is Synthetic Marijuana safe?

8 Sep



Synthetic Marijuana, also called K2, Spice, Green Giant, Yucatan Fire, Skunk and Fake Weed is an unregulated herbal mixture sold  as potpourri, created by spraying psychoactive chemical additives over dried plant material. Although this packaged product is labelled ‘not for human consumption’ it is widely smoked as an alternative to organic ‘real’ marijuana. This product, when smoked or ingested, creates mind altering effects (elevated mood, a feeling of relaxation, altered perception, paranoia, anxiety and hallucinations).

Until recently, these products were sold legally in gas stations and head shops across the U.S. but the DEA has now listed the 5 most common synthetic cannabinoids found within them as Schedule I controlled substances, making them illegal to buy, sell or purchase. The manufacturers of these synthetic cannabinoids continually change the chemicals they use in an attempt to escape the new legal restrictions which, in turn, create an ever changing product with no set standards on quality or composition.

One might ask, “Why does anyone use these substances and not just regular marijuana?” The ease of purchase, the labeling as ‘natural’ and the fact that the synthetic chemicals used have not (until recently) been easily detectable using normal drug testing methods have led to their high popularity especially among male, high-school age children. The national numbers from 2012 of illicit drug use by high school kids are troubling; Marijuana 36.4%, Synthetic Marijuana 11.3%, Hallucinogens 4.8%, Salvia 4.4% and MDMA 3.8%.

At this point in time there have not been any studies of how these synthetic cannabinoids effect the brain. We do know that they interact with the same receptors as THC and due to their chemical composition may be much more powerful and unpredictable in their actual effects. Over the past few years users who have been taken to Poison Control Centers and ERs have symptoms ranging from vomiting, nausea, confusion, agitation, rapid pulse and breathing as well as vivid hallucinations. There have been reported heart attacks induced by consumption of synthetic marijuana as well as elevated blood pressure.

So far, there have been no scientific studies of Spice’s effects on the human brain, but we do know that the cannabinoid compounds found in Spice products act on the same cell receptors as THC, the primary psychoactive component of marijuana. Some of the compounds found in Spice, however, bind more strongly to those receptors, which could lead to a much more powerful and unpredictable effects. Because the chemical composition of many products sold as Spice is unknown, it is likely that some varieties also contain substances that could cause dramatically different effects than the user might expect.

Although it is still unclear how bad these substances are for us the initial results of use seen in this country should cause alarm in the public health arena.


Anti-Craving Medications – REAL or FAKE?

2 Sep

Anti-Craving MedsThere are many differing ideas on how to best help addicts obtain and maintain sobriety from drugs and alcohol. There is even a father and son combo out there who say that if you read their book you will be cured of all your addictions! This is some really amazing, groundbreaking stuff (and if you believe it I have a bridge to sell you).

So, are there any REAL Anti-Craving Medications or therapies out there that truly help addicts stay clean? The REAL answer is – YES, yes there are!

Cornerstone of Southern California has been helping addicts to get clean for 31 years focusing on RELAPSE PREVENTION and was the one of the first treatment centers to begin using anti-addiction/craving medications even when the rest of the treatment community were still up in arms over new medications like suboxone and naltrexone (Revia, Vivitrol). The addiction treatment community saw these medications in a very negative light and felt that in using these medications a treatment provider was, in effect, giving drugs to their clients.

Since these dark days in the drug treatment world these legitimate anti-addiction/craving medications have become the standard in the field and more and more treatment seekers are admitting into programs like Cornerstone of Southern California that can provide these medications to ease the painful symptoms of detoxification off of drugs and alcohol, reduce the time spent in Detox (the most expensive level of care in residential drug treatment) and even to curb the cravings for drugs and alcohol when they rear their ugly heads.


Click here to read all about the different anti-craving medications!

People to Avoid on the Road to Recovery

27 Aug

On the Road to Recovery it’s best to avoid certain people

Triggers. People, places, situations, smells, music, past and future events; all can be triggers to the mind of drug addicts. These ‘things’ can cause anxiety and stress which leads people to feelings of anger, depression and grief which in turn lead even addicts in recovery to feel the intense pull of drugs and alcohol.

Quality substance abuse treatment facilities like Cornerstone of Southern California focus on relapse prevention and in identifying the triggers  which can lead to relapse. Cornerstone staff and Case Managers create a plan for each individual post discharge to minimize and deal with these triggers in an effective and controlled manner. One of the main causes for relapse after treatment for many clients are old friends and people who may make them want to use drugs. When an addict can identify those people from their past and either avoid them or minimize the contact that they have with them their chances at continued sobriety increase.

Dealers and Users

Obviously the first and most important group of ‘people to avoid’ are those individuals who either supplied the addict with drugs and/or used drugs with them in the past. It does not matter if these ‘people to avoid’ have stopped using drugs themselves or even swear that they will not offer drugs to the recovering addict ever again. These people will always bring back feelings and memories of using drugs and the constant, looming possibility of obtaining drugs from them at any time.

Old Using Friends

Any relationship that is based on getting high or using licit or illicit drugs is not healthy for  anyone involved. Even old using friends who are in recovery themselves can lead an individual back to drugs and alcohol. These friends in recovery relationships should be handled with care and built up slowly over time ensuring that both parties have a solid foundation in their personal recovery programs before spending too much time together.


There are those who enable the  addictive behavior in their friend or loved one. This occurrs when someone:

  • Obtains alcohol or drugs for the addicted person
  • Gives the addicted person money or pays their bills. This behavior frees up the addict’s cash flow enabling them to pay for drugs
  • Helps the addicted individual in making excuses for time off work due to drug use or any other helpful lies which support drug use over responsible life choices
  • Helps to create boundaries around the addicted individual’s drug related actions and softening the consequences when they continue those negative behaviors

Most often, this ‘enabler’ is a family member, spouse/partner or a close relative, making it difficult to create a healthy space between individuals. At Cornerstone of Southern California our relapse education for the enabling person, and guidance from our certified addiction counselors with their years of addiction treatment and recovery experience, can help to repair these relationships.


Senior Citizen Drug and Alcohol Abuse Epidemic

24 Aug


The Epidemic
It was shocking to read a recent article based upon the growing epidemic of senior citizens with drug and alcohol addictions. I have always thought of the elderly as content, upstanding people heavily focused on their families and grandchildren. In my mind they all sit in comfortable pajamas watching reruns of old black and white TV shows while drinking warm milk or hot tea. It seems that this warm fuzzy picture of the elderly community is the opposite of what is truly happening to large numbers of senior citizens in this country.

It has been estimated by SAMHSA that by the year 2020, the amount of senior citizens in need of drug and alcohol abuse treatment will skyrocket from 1.7 million in 2003 to 4.4 million across the country.

James Neumann, CEO of Cornerstone of Southern California stated, “Approximately 17% of senior citizens have alcohol or drug related problems and are in need of treatment.”

This increase in numbers is due in part from the Baby Boomer generation born between 1946 and 1964 who are entering into their retirement years carrying with them their own ideas and feelings towards drugs. These people experimented with drugs and alcohol in their 20’s and 30’s more than previous generations and seem to have become more at ease with drugs and alcohol than their parents were.

What types of substances are the elderly using? There seems to be a high rate of prescription drug use, especially vicodin and oxycontin, while they also still enjoy beer, wine and cocktails. There are many who partake in ‘street drugs’ like marijuana and heroin.

One problem concerning this elderly group of addicted people is that their bodies do not process the drugs and alcohol as efficiently as they did when they were younger. While 2 stiff drinks elicited a light buzz when the individual was 25, now at 65 those same 2 drinks can have a much more profound effect.

Another large issue is that seniors are often on a large number of prescription drugs – which may interact negatively with drugs and alcohol.

The more pointed question is why are seniors getting high and drunk more in their twilight years? The answer: boredom, loneliness and depression in most cases are the culprits. Loss of their spouse or other family members, loss of their employment and the new monotony of elderly life can contribute to these feelings. Using drugs and alcohol is an escape mechanism for these senior citizens.

Drug addiction issues in the elderly population can be hidden from the public eye quite easily. As retired individuals they don’t miss work and many of them live alone without a partner to notice the abuse of drugs and alcohol.

Even health care professionals regularly misdiagnose substance abuse problems in the elderly. One of the primary symptoms of addiction is memory loss and health care professionals routinely miss the root cause of the memory loss and attribute it to ‘old age’. Slip and fall accidents are also common in the elderly and can be a result of substance abuse issues but are also commonly attributed to ‘old age’.

To top is all off it is very difficult to get senior citizens into voluntary drug treatment.


The heroin epidemic: Family shares tragic story of their loss

17 Aug

Heroin Epidemic Header Photo


Heroin use in the United States is reaching epidemic levels, increasing a staggering 63% in just 11 years. With the skyrocketing usage, comes a dramatic rise in heroin-related deaths — overdoses nearly quadrupled between 2002 and 2013. David McCarthy’s story reveals the harsh realities of the heroin epidemic facing America today.

His death was unexpected. He was clean after years of battling addiction, and his parents said he was moving forward. “He finally seemed like a man,” said his mother Anne Ireland, “So alert, so in the world.” His father Kevin McCarthy added that he thought David was finally passed his “shaky point” and headed in the right direction.

To his friends, his addiction was somewhat surprising as well. Longtime childhood friend Jonathan Palman said David was a very smart person, and “he didn’t fit the stereotype of what a drug addict would be.” Described as both funny and warm by his mother, she agreed that David “wasn’t a picture of any hard drug use.”

But regardless of what a ‘typical’ drug-addict ‘looks like’, the rise in heroin use has occurred in nearly every demographic group. According to a CDC report, among non-Hispanic white people like David, heroin use has nearly doubled since 2002.

David was home in Maine for a short visit, and was planning to spend the winter at his family’s ski home. One evening, he and his father Kevin spent the evening watching football together, before David went up to his room for the night. The following morning, Kevin went off to work for the day, not knowing of the tragedy that occurred in his own house.

“Heroin is just the end of the road, and very few people can turn around from it,” Anne Ireland David McCarthy’s mother.

When Kevin returned from work that evening, he heard a noise coming from upstairs. It was Kima — David’s black labrador retriever — whining and scratching at David’s door. Kevin opened the door to find his son cold on his bed, beside a needle and a spoon covered in a crystalline substance.

David’s death devastated his family, and tragedy continued to pour in for the McCarthys.

The day following their son’s death, the family was dealt another shocking blow. According to The Washington Post, David’s step brother Michael said to a friend: “Wouldn’t it just be easier to die young and not have to see your loved ones die?” Michael overdosed the next night, and was found by his mother Nancy.

“We never dreamed that they were doing this. We never dreamed that it was a problem and all of the sudden we’re finding that it’s an epidemic,” Nancy McCarthy, David McCarthy’s stepmother.

Michael was rushed to the hospital by ambulance, and spent the day in the intensive care unit. While the McCarthy family made David’s funeral arrangements, they awaited the news from Michael’s doctors. Luckily, he survived, and agreed to go to rehab to overcome his addiction. The Washington Post reports that Michael’s recovery has been successful — so far.

Nonetheless, the McCarthy family was left to grieve the loss of 29-year-old David. “I think how short his life was, and how long my life is, and I’m only sorry that he misses out,” his mother Anne said.

David’s parents didn’t want to hide anything. Instead, his obituary read honestly: “David Paul McCarthy, 29, died of a drug overdose on Oct.17, losing a long-fought battle with addiction, a challenge faced by many families today.”
The family established the David McCarthy Memorial Fund to honor the memory of their son.