Science Policy For All

Because science policy affects everyone.

Science Policy Around the Web – June 19, 2015

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By: Sylvina Raver, Ph.D.

Drug Policy

Medical marijuana laws don’t lead to more teen toking

A recent study published in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry evaluated the association between states’ legalization of medical marijuana and marijuana use by teenagers. Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in the US, with approximately 19.8 million Americans reporting use within the past month. Although cannabis remains illegal under Federal law, 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana use for medical purposes under the supervision of a medical professional. A primary concern for opponents of marijuana legalization – for either medical or recreational use – is that these laws will increase marijuana use in adolescents, among whom the perception of the risks associated with marijuana has steeply declined since the mid 2000’s. Marijuana use in adolescence coincides with a period of substantial brain maturation and can lead to negative consequences in adulthood, such as persistent cognitive impairments, an increased risk for severe psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia, and abnormal neurological activity. These serious risks underscore concerns that any effort that makes marijuana seem less dangerous to teenagers, such as medical legalization, would lead to an increased prevalence of use within this population. Indeed, Hasin and colleagues, the authors of The Lancet study, initially predicted that marijuana use among teenagers would increase in states that enacted medical marijuana laws. However, this was not the case. The authors used data from the Monitoring the Future survey, which included information from more than 1 million US teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 over the past 24 years in 48 US states. After controlling for potentially mitigating factors, the scientists found that marijuana use among teenagers did not significantly change before and after states passed medical marijuana laws. In fact, a significant and robust post-law decrease in marijuana use was found among 8th graders, the youngest age surveyed. Adolescent marijuana use was more prevalent in states that subsequently enacted medical marijuana laws, but, contrary to the authors’ predictions, those laws did not increase marijuana use in teens. These findings argue against a widely held notion that passage of state laws that legalize medical marijuana use conveys a public message to teenagers that marijuana is relatively harmless, and therefore prompts more teenagers to use the drug, even if the new law explicitly prohibits underage use. Hasin and colleagues advocate for a shift away from the concern that medical marijuana laws will increase teenage marijuana use and favor allocating more resources to identify those factors that do influence marijuana use in this vulnerable population. (Mike Stobbe, The Associated Press)

Health Policy

Trans fats to be illegal

On Tuesday, June 16th, the FDA issued a final determination stating that partially hydrogenated oils (PTOs), the primary dietary sources for trans fats, are no longer “generally recognized as safe” for use in food products. The decision requires food manufacturers to completely remove synthetic trans fats from processed foods by June 2018. The FDA has required that trans fat content be clearly labeled on food packaging since 2006, and issued a proposal for an eventual ban on adding artificial trans fats to food in 2013. However, the food industry still includes partially hydrogenated oils in products ranging from microwave popcorn to cake frosting, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association – the food industry’s largest trade association – has been continually petitioning the government to allow “very limited” use of PTOs in the future. Food manufacturers turned to PTO’s starting in the 1950’s as an alternative to saturated fats that could improve food texture while simultaneously increasing shelf stability. PTOs have held the “generally recognized as safe” distinction since then, which means that the oils do not require FDA’s approval. The recent FDA decision is in line with the organization’s “…goal…to minimize trans fat intake as much as possible,” according to Susan Mayne, Director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, and the organization estimates that a total ban on these substances could prevent up to 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 premature deaths each year. (James Hamblin, The Atlantic; Helena Bottemiller Evich, Politico)

Climate Change

Pope Francis: Climate Change A ‘Principal Challenge’ For Humanity

Pope Francis has issued a much-anticipated 184 page encyclical letter titled “Laudato Si,” or “Praise Be: On Care for Our Common Home,” in which he argues that the threat of global climate change is a moral and ethical concern, rather than being exclusively a matter of politics, science, and economics. In the Catholic Church, encyclicals are considered to be formal teachings on Catholic doctrine, and have historically been intended for audiences of bishops and priests. However, as the pope recently stated, “This encyclical is aimed at everyone,” and in it he offers “…the world a moral vocabulary for talking about climate change, shifting global attention from the macro solutions of policy summits to the personal ethics of environmental stewardship.” Pope Francis calls on wealthy nations, the largest global producers of greenhouse gases, to shoulder the burden of limiting their consumption of non-renewable forms of energy and to assist poorer countries to develop policies and programs that support sustainable development. In his letter, the pope agrees with the overwhelming consensus of climate scientists that humans’ actions are largely responsible for the Earth’s changing climate, a stance that places him at odds with many conservative lawmakers and Republican presidential hopefuls who deny the effects of human actions on climate change. His language is clear: “ …yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases…released mainly as a result of human activity.” And while he acknowledges that efforts have been made to enact policies intended to combat climate change, Pope Francis is relatively critical of their efficacy and of humanity’s possible reliance upon new technological solutions to curb the effects of global warming. The timing of the letter may have strategic importance: The next United Nations Climate Change Conference is scheduled for November 2015, and the organizers have set the lofty objective of achieving, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, binding and universal agreements for reducing carbon emissions. (Scott Neuman, NPR; Laurie Goodstein & Justin Gillis, The New York Times; Emma Green, The Atlantic)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

June 19, 2015 at 9:00 am

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