Historically, the research community has looked at questions around use and abuse of one substance at a time, but that’s not how it happens in the real world. We need to understand how multiple addictions go hand-in-hand.
This has real relevance for policy decisions. Policies related to tobacco products and to marijuana are changing throughout the U.S. How might policies that limit access to tobacco products – and policies that increase access to legalized medical or recreational marijuana – affect use of other substances? We really don’t know. Battelle is working to answer some of these unknowns.
Tobacco Cigarettes & Electronic Cigarettes
Smokers of traditional tobacco cigarettes typically experience withdrawal symptoms – difficulty sleeping, irritability, decreased appetite – when they quit smoking. But no one knows if the same is true with people who stop using electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes). A current study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) aims to find out. Users of e-cigarettes will be asked to stop vaping for one week, and will report withdrawal symptoms and how they feel every day. The results of this study will show whether e-cigarettes are addictive and may suggest whether their potential addictiveness needs to be considered in tobacco regulatory policy decisions.
Nicotine & Alcohol
A second current NIH-funded project looks at the relationship between smoking tobacco cigarettes and alcohol use. Participants in this study will smoke “research study cigarettes.” One week they will smoke cigarettes with a “normal” amount of nicotine, and then another week they will smoke cigarettes with a much lower amount of nicotine. This will help mimic a potential real-world decrease in nicotine content in tobacco cigarettes.
If there is a decrease in the amount of nicotine in tobacco cigarettes, what potential impacts could be seen? Will participants in the study drink more – or less – alcohol during the week they smoke the cigarettes with less nicotine? The results of this study can be used to inform potential tobacco regulatory strategies.
Marijuana use is an important topic to understand right now, as more states move towards legalization for medical or recreational use. It will be critical to understand how marijuana use behaviors are changing and how use of marijuana impacts use patterns of other substances.
Battelle recently was awarded a Schedule I Researcher license by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), paving the way for the leading research and development organization to conduct marijuana research with human subjects.
Battelle is one of only a few organizations with a Schedule I Researcher license in the United States that is not a university. The license enables the Battelle Center for Substance Use Research, located on the East Coast, to expand its research program to include marijuana, building on more than 50 years of experience studying the effects of tobacco product use.
According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 70 percent of adults who said they’ve used marijuana in the past month have also said they’ve used tobacco in the past month. A planned study will look at how marijuana use influences tobacco smoking. A related study will focus on how people smoke marijuana blunts (tobacco cigars that contain marijuana).
Understanding the complex interactions that happen when people use multiple substances concurrently is a difficult challenge to address, but one that is necessary.
About the Author
Erica Peters is the Director of Marijuana Research with the Battelle Public Health Center for Substance Use Research. She has devoted her research career to understanding addiction and substance use behaviors in adults. She has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Vermont. Erica has authored or co-authored more than 30 papers on tobacco, alcohol and marijuana use, abuse, and cessation, and has presented at numerous national and international conferences.