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Pill testing: My response to an article in The Australian

Dr Ross Walker
Thursday, January 31, 2019

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Over the Christmas break, the subject of pill testing has been paramount because of the increasing deaths occurring during the numerous dance festivals happening over this period. I mentioned in my last article on the subject a few weeks ago that I had no issues with pill testing, as long as it has been shown to save lives (which does appear to be the case from preliminary evidence from Europe) but there is no doubt that the use of illegal drugs, even if they have been tested for impurities, still have the capability of leading to death in predisposed individuals.

It is also obvious that the vast majority of people do not die acutely from the use of illegal drugs, so what’s the issue? Why not let human beings experiment with any drugs, legal or illegal, without placing such harsh restrictions and risk of the occasional adverse health event and rare death?

An article in The Australian, Monday 28 January 2019 titled “Dancing with the Devil” examined this issue. It made the very disturbing observation (in my view) when interviewing Australians who used ecstasy and other stimulants that 40% have used cannabis in the past month, 30% alcohol and just under 20% Ecstasy with less than 5% cocaine.

With this extremely frequent use of these variety of substances, it is very important to ask the question (which was not mentioned once in this article): what are these substances doing to people’s health in the long term?

We clearly know the statistics for the long-term use of cigarette smoking and alcohol because of the legality and the fact that they have been around for hundreds of years. But the evidence is now accumulating about the deleterious effects of the chronic use of illegal drugs.

There is already widespread knowledge about the devastating effects of heroin and crystal meth addiction i.e. ice, but there is less publicity given to the chronic effects of cannabis, ecstasy and cocaine. As seen from this article in The Australian, regular users of drugs are not occasional users and there are a number of studies that are our emerging suggesting chronic changes in brain structure, mental health issues, along with increasing risk for chronic medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease.

A recent very disturbing study looked at the link between very occasional use of marijuana by age 14 and its associated effect on teen brain volume. The study performed brain scans on 46 children who reported marijuana use on only one or two occasions by age 14, showing significant differences in parts of the brain associated with fear, anger and other negative emotions, along with areas of the brain important for memory development and spatial abilities.

The young brain is obviously developing to be able to cope and deal with adult responsibilities and life. It is my strong feeling from all the evidence that with increasing use of all the illegal substances I have mentioned, even falling short of heroin & ice, we will be seeing a large population of people, as they age, developing a variety of mental illnesses and premature dementia as a consequence of some of the bad habits developed earlier on in life. Human beings have been using mind altering substances for as long as they have been available, either legal or illegal, but that does not justify normalising this behaviour or condoning it. As I often state, the best treatment of any condition is prevention. Unfortunately you can’t put an old head on young shoulders.

Published: Thursday, January 31, 2019

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