Research News Roundup: February 24, 2022

    "I Got a Bunch of Weed to Help me Through the Withdrawals": Naturalistic Cannabis Use Reported in Online Opioid and Opioid Recovery Community Discussion Forums

    Journal: PLOS ONE, 2022, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0263583

    Authors: Meredith C. Meacham, Alicia L. Nobles, D. Andrew Tompkins & Johannes Thrul


    A growing body of research has reported on the potential opioid-sparing effects of cannabis and cannabinoids, but less is known about specific mechanisms. The present research examines cannabis-related posts in two large online communities on the Reddit platform (“subreddits”) to compare mentions of naturalistic cannabis use by persons self-identifying as actively using opioids versus persons in recovery. We extracted all posts mentioning cannabis-related keywords (e.g., “weed”, “cannabis”, “marijuana”) from December 2015 through August 2019 from an opioid use subreddit and an opioid recovery subreddit. To investigate how cannabis is discussed at-scale, we identified and compared the most frequent phrases in cannabis-related posts in each subreddit using term-frequency-inverse document frequency (TF-IDF) weighting. To contextualize these findings, we also conducted a qualitative content analysis of 200 random posts (100 from each subreddit). Cannabis-related posts were about twice as prevalent in the recovery subreddit (n = 908; 5.4% of 16,791 posts) than in the active opioid use subreddit (n = 4,224; 2.6% of 159,994 posts, p < .001). The most frequent phrases from the recovery subreddit referred to time without using opioids and the possibility of using cannabis as a “treatment.” The most frequent phrases from the opioid subreddit referred to concurrent use of cannabis and opioids. The most common motivations for using cannabis were to manage opioid withdrawal symptoms in the recovery subreddit, often in conjunction with anti-anxiety and GI-distress “comfort meds,” and to enhance the “high” when used in combination with opioids in the opioid subreddit. Despite limitations in generalizability from pseudonymous online posts, this examination of reports of naturalistic cannabis use in relation to opioid use identified withdrawal symptom management as a common motivation. Future research is warranted with more structured assessments that examines the role of cannabis and cannabinoids in addressing both somatic and affective symptoms of opioid withdrawal.

    To read the full text of the article, please visit the publisher’s website.

    E-cigarette Use Among Middle and High School Students in New York City Before and After Passage of Tobacco 21

    Journal: Tobacco Use Insights, 2022, doi: 10.1177/1179173X211065997

    Authors: Indira Debchoudhury, Shannon M Farley, Kristi Roods, Achala Talati & John Jasek


    Introduction: Despite declines in cigarette smoking in the US, electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) use has increased among middle and high school students. In 2014, New York City (NYC) implemented Tobacco 21 (T21) to prohibit sales to anyone under age 21. Our study goal was to measure the effectiveness of T21 on e-cigarette use.

    Methods: We used the New York State (NYS) Youth Tobacco Survey—a biennial, school-based, self-administered survey. We explored middle (N = 5249) and high (N = 7296) school NYC students’ (male and female) current (past 30 days’) e-cigarette use from 2014 (pre-T21) to 2018 (post-T21). Results were compared with students in the rest of NYS (ROS). Bivariate and multivariable logistic regression analyses assessed correlates of e-cigarette use, beliefs about harmfulness, addictiveness, and susceptibility.

    Results: NYC high school students’ current e-cigarette use increased from 2014 to 2018 (8.1% vs 23.5%, P < .001). Middle school students’ use increased between 2014 (4.8%) and 2016 (9.0%) yet reversed by 2018 (5.7%) (2014 vs 2018, P = .576). ROS middle school (2.2% vs 7.4%, P < .001) and high school (12.0% vs 29.3%, (P < .001) use increased from 2014 to 2018. Willingness to try e-cigarettes among those who had never tried an e-cigarette was twice as high (AOR = 2.19, 95% CI = 1.15-3.17) among NYC high school students in 2018 compared with 2014.

    Conclusions: E-cigarette use increased among NYC high school students despite T21. T21 may have reduced use among middle school students over time. Programs that denormalize e-cigarettes and policies that further restrict access are needed to decrease youth e-cigarette use.

    To read the full text of the article, please visit the publisher’s website.

    Utilizing Telemedicine during COVID-19 Pandemic for a Low-Threshold, Street-Based Buprenorphine Program

    Journal: Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 2022, doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2021.109187

    Authors: Robert Harris, Amanda Rosecrans, Meredith Zoltick, Catherine Willman, Ronald Saxton, Margaret Cotterell, Joy Bell, Ingrid Blackwell & Kathleen R. Page


    Background: Changes in federal policy during the COVID-19 pandemic allowing for the use of telemedicine to treat opioid use disorder (OUD) have facilitated innovative strategies to engage and retain people in treatment. Since 2018, the Baltimore City Health Department has operated a mobile street medicine program called Healthcare on The Spot (The Spot) that provides treatment for OUD and infectious diseases. This study describes the transition of The Spot’s buprenorphine service to telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic and one year treatment retention.

    Methods: Patients actively engaged in care at the time of transition to telemedicine and patients newly engaged in buprenorphine services through telemedicine were included in this descriptive analysis and assessed at one year for retention.

    Results: From March 16, 2020 to March 15, 2021, The Spot provided voice-only buprenorphine treatment services to 150 patients, 70.7% (n = 106) male and 80.0% (n = 120) Black; 131 were patients who transitioned from in person services and 19 were newly engaged via telemedicine. 80.7% (n = 121) of patients remained engaged in treatment at one year, 16.0% (n = 24) were lost to follow-up, and 3.3% (n = 5) were deceased. Patients newly engaged via telemedicine were more likely to be female and white than those retained from in person services.

    Conclusion: The Spot’s transition of patients from a street medicine program to telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic has implications for future practice. Increased flexibility of service delivery, extended prescription length, and decreased UDT likely contributed to high retention rates and should inform the future structure of low-threshold buprenorphine programs.

    To read the full text of the article, please visit the publisher’s website.

    Reducing the Stigma Surrounding Opioid Use Disorder: Evaluating an Opioid Overdose Prevention Training Program Applied to a Diverse Population

    Journal: Harm Reduction Journal, 2022, doi: 10.1186/s12954-022-00589-6

    Authors: Nicholas Alexander Bascou, Benjamin Haslund-Gourley, Katrina Amber-Monta, Kyle Samson, Nathaniel Goss, Dakota Meredith, Andrew Friedman, Andrew Needleman, Vishnu K. Kumar & Bradford D. Fischer


    Background: The opioid epidemic is a rapidly growing public health concern in the USA, as the number of overdose deaths continues to increase each year. One strategy for combating the rising number of overdoses is through opioid overdose prevention programs (OOPPs).

    Objective: To evaluate the effectiveness of an innovative OOPP, with changes in knowledge and attitudes serving as the primary outcome measures.

    Methods: The OOPP was developed by a group of medical students under guidance from faculty advisors. Training sessions focused on understanding stigmatizing factors of opioid use disorder (OUD), as well as protocols for opioid overdose reversal through naloxone administration. Pre- and post-surveys were partially adapted from the opioid overdose attitudes and knowledge scales and administered to all participants. Paired t-tests were conducted to assess differences between pre- and post-surveys.

    Results: A total of 440 individuals participated in the training; 381 completed all or the majority of the survey. Participants came from a diverse set of backgrounds, ages, and experiences. All three knowledge questions showed significant improvements. For attitude questions, significant improvements were found in all three questions evaluating confidence, two of three questions assessing attitudes towards overdose reversal, and four of five questions evaluating stigma and attitudes towards individuals with OUD.

    Conclusions: Our innovative OOPP was effective not only in increasing knowledge but also in improving attitudes towards overdose reversal and reducing stigma towards individuals with OUD. Given the strong improvements in attitudes towards those with OUD, efforts should be made to incorporate the unique focus on biopsychosocial and sociohistorical components into future OOPPs.

    To read the full text of the article, please visit the publisher’s website.

    Neurodevelopmental Trajectories Following Prenatal Alcohol Exposure

    Journal: Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2022, doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2021.695855

    Authors: Eileen M. Moore & Yingjing Xia


    Prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) interferes with neurodevelopment. The brain is particularly susceptible to the adverse consequences of prenatal alcohol exposure, and numerous studies have documented changes to brain anatomy and function, as well as consequences for cognition, behavior, and mental health. Studies in typically developing individuals have shown that the brain undergoes dynamic developmental processes over an individual’s lifespan. Furthermore, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies in other neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders have shown that their developmental trajectories differ from the typical pattern. Therefore, to understand long-term clinical outcomes of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), it is necessary to investigate changes in neurodevelopmental trajectories in this population. Here we review studies that have used MRI to evaluate changes in brain structure and function over time via cross-sectional or longitudinal methods in individuals with PAE. Research demonstrates that individuals with PAE have atypical cortical and white matter microstructural developmental trajectories through childhood and adolescence. More research is needed to understand how factors such as sex and postnatal experiences may further mediate these trajectories. Furthermore, nothing is known about the trajectories beyond young adulthood.

    To read the full text of the article, please visit the publisher’s website.


    February 2022