A Elements Behavioral Health Guide to Drug Rehab
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After the investigation into Lance Armstrong’s drug use, every professional athlete who has taken a performance-enhancing substance may be looking over his shoulder. Major League Baseball seems to be the second most investigated sport after cycling, with its biggest players fighting for months on end against drug probes. The Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative case against slugger Barry Bonds is a good example of how aggressively a player can be pursued.

Records from the Biogenesis Clinic in Miami, which revealed the names of 90 baseball players, are a veritable who’s who of possible dopers in baseball. Investigators will likely start their interrogation of these players within the next few weeks, an insider told USA Today. The penalty for not complying with questions from investigators could mean suspension, so it is likely that these players with something to hide will  do what they can to keep themselves out of the hot seat.

MLBIn March, Major League Baseball sued Biogenesis and its operators, accusing them of scheming to provide banned PEDs to players in violation of their contracts.

But as with the penal system, without evidence that is solid, no player will face sanctions. When Armstrong went down, it was not because of positive drug tests, it was from testimony taken from his longtime teammates and coaches. While the merits of the investigation against Armstrong may not seem fair, the result is a lifetime ban from sanctioned sporting events. Given the rumors surrounding a recent investigation of a five-time all star, it looks as if the same tactics will be in play at the MLB level.

The player in question is Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers. The all-star out-fielder appealed a positive test and won, making him the only player to pull off such a feat. But not unlike the Armstrong affair, the league office is looking to testimony from other players to help nail Braun. It’s been rumored that some players will be granted immunity for their testimony against him.

The quest to outlaw legal highs has been described as both a “game of cat and mouse” and “whack-a-mole,” and these descriptions convey the issues faced by law enforcement perfectly. The tricks employed by the illicit chemists enable them to avoid authorities, and it seems that no matter what the government does, loopholes are found. Understanding the techniques used in the manufacture of  the drugs and how the chemists manage to avoid even the most recent legislation reveals why designer drugs can be as dangerous (if not more so) as their well-established illegal counterparts.

Altering the Chemical Structure

This is the most commonly used strategy for avoiding existing law. The process is pretty simple: the chemical structure of illegal drugs is what creates their effects, and similar structures are likely to have similar effects. Traditionally, the law bans specific substances, and this means that if the chemical structure is different, the substance isn’t technically illegal. If a law bans a specific substance, all the chemists would have to do is create an alternative formulation to make it legal. This is how the cat-and-mouse chase continues, and, inevitably, the law is a step or two behind the chemists. Until recently, this was the only method the federal government had to combat the constant influx of drugs; a little like trying to stop a swarm of ants by spearing them one by one with a single pin.


Two of the most famous designer drugs of recent years, “spice” and “bath salts” both used the label “Not for Human Consumption” to avoid legislation. This label allows the substances to legally enter the market without undergoing FDA testing to check for any similarity to illegal drugs. Hand sanitizer, for example, can be abused because it can be up to 60 percent alcohol. However, because it isn’t intended for human consumption, the fact that it contains alcohol isn’t really important. This loophole is commonly exploited by designer drug manufacturers.

New Legislation

In 2012, new rules were introduced that changed the method of combating the spread of designer drugs. Instead of outlawing only specific substances, the new rules include the Federal Analogue Act, which allows substances to be declared illegal if they are structurally similar or produce similar effects to known illegal substances. There is also a provision in the law that allows emergency bans, which can be very useful in reducing the risks associated with untested new chemicals.

Going to the Future

The Problems

Although the new laws allow for a much more flexible approach for determining which substances should be illegal, there are still issues with the strategy. For one, it is unrealistic to assume that no new compounds (without similarities to existing controlled substances) could possibly be created in the near future, but the bigger issue is that the definition of “similar” is not set in stone. With no benchmark against which to measure the similarity of substances, prosecuting the drug makers under the new legislation isn’t as simple as it sounds.

A report from the Tampa Bay Times indicates that lawyers aren’t confident in the new legislation because of this vague language. In Florida, the new act has never been used for that reason. The cases that do occur generally boil down to one attorney pointing out the various similarities between the substances, and the other attorney highlighting all of the differences between them.

There is also an additional problem: Under the law, in order to be prosecuted, manufacturers have to be aware that the substances they created were similar to something illegal. This clause is inserted to prevent innocent chemists from being victimized for chance chemical similarity, but it has the potential to be abused by illicit manufacturers. If they make the simple claim that they were unaware of the similarity to an illegal drug, punishing them is made exponentially more challenging.

The Future

Although the new legislation isn’t air-tight, it does represent a positive step forward in controlling designer drugs. It seems reasonable that there will always be manufacturers who exploit loopholes, but as more and more of them are closed, producing anything that is arguably legal will become more difficult.

Marijuana is now legal as a recreational drug in the states of Washington and Colorado and as a medical product in most other states. The shifting legality of this drug reflects changes in societal views. While pot was once considered to be the drug of young stoners and slackers, it is becoming more socially acceptable to use occasionally for recreation. Many people are starting to see it as something like alcohol that should be legalized, but restricted.

Marijuana - like alcohol, even though it is legal - it is still addictive.

In spite of changing views and attitudes toward marijuana, it is still an intoxicating substance that can cause harm. Several decades ago, the potency of pot was much less than it is today. Plants have been crossbred and developed to increase the amount of psychoactive compounds to the point that much of what you find today is incredibly strong compared to the weed of the ‘60s, ‘70s, and even ‘80s. As laws change to allow the use of marijuana with restrictions, you can expect to see even more variations in the cannabis plant, some better and some that may cause even more harm.

Cannabis and THC

The potency of marijuana refers to the level of chemical compounds in it called cannabinoids. The name of the plant from which the drug comes is cannabis and the hundreds of different compounds in it that produce psychoactive effects are called cannabinoids. The main component of this group of chemicals is called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. This and the other cannabinoids act on receptors in the brain and in the peripheral nervous system to produce an altered state of mind and to change the drug user’s feelings and thoughts. THC and other cannabinoids stay in the body for long periods of time because they accumulate in the walls of cells, but their effects wear off within a matter of hours.

There has long been controversy over the health effects of using marijuana recreationally. Certainly, the ill effects are less severe than with other illegal substances, but there are still consequences. Smoking pot can increase blood pressure, increase heart rate, irritate the eyes, slow reaction times, induce paranoia, distort the feeling of time and cause depression or anxiety. Over extended periods of use, smoking marijuana can raise the risk of having a heart attack and may lead to the development of lung cancer and lung infections.

Increased Potency

Much of the marijuana on the market today in the U.S. has a higher concentration of THC than it ever has in the past. Anyone who smoked pot in the ‘70s as a teen would be surprised to try it today. In many cases, a person can get high from one or two inhalations. The reason for this increase in potency is simple economics. Those who grow marijuana can maximize their profits by selling a product that is more potent.

Higher potency in marijuana is also associated with a higher quality product. Plants that have been cultivated to contain more THC are usually also grown to have a better flavor and aroma. Cheaper varieties of marijuana have not been crafted for high potency or for high quality.

It may seem like a good thing to have a higher quality product and high amounts of THC might even be positive. It could mean that users need not inhale as much to get high. The dark side of these high potency plants and the changing marijuana laws is that newcomers may not be ready for so much THC. With the new laws in Washington and Colorado, experts expect a new market will open up for casual users. These people will not be practiced at taking in such high potency weed and the consequences could be serious. While getting high, in itself, is not a huge health risk, trying to complete other tasks when high is. Imagine being unused to high potency pot and then trying to cross a road or even get down a flight of stairs. The outcome could be disastrous.

The Need for Low-THC Weed

While many experts are worried about the effects of high potency marijuana on the new clientele in the Washington and Colorado, they are also hopeful that the new market segment will lead to new types of plants. Specifically, they hope that there will be a demand for a mellower variety of the plant that contains less THC.

With high potency plants designed for hard-hitting users, the newcomers to recreational marijuana use could be in for a rude awakening. Hopefully, with new demand will come new varieties of plants that will give users a choice and a more positive outcome.


If you knew something was a risk for cancer would you avoid it? Known carcinogens are usually highly publicized and people frequently adjust their behavior accordingly. One thinks of red dye #2 that was once added to bacon. Sun block sales suggest that many take the risk of skin cancer from sun exposure seriously. And the current intolerance for tobacco use is at least partly driven by the public’s knowledge that smoking causes cancer. Yet, how many are aware that alcohol is also a dangerous carcinogen?

Hiding in Plain Sight

Alcohol is a clear cancer risk, but it gets little public attention as such. According to the World Health Organization, alcohol is responsible for 4 percent of the world’s cancers and is the third greatest risk for developing a host of other serious diseases as well. In the United States, a study published in mid-February in the American Journal of Public Health, states that alcohol is responsible for approximately 20,000 cancer deaths each year–equivalent to about 3.5 percent of all U.S. cancer deaths, according to a news release from the Boston University Medical Center. That translates to 20,000 cancer deaths connected to alcohol consumption.  Certainly, alcohol as a cancer risk deserves a bit more press.

In the first major analysis of alcohol and cancer in recent decades, the study looked at 220,000 U.S. adults and examined their alcohol use and mortality information.  The researchers found that seven cancers appeared to be particularly linked to alcohol use. Those cancers were: rectal, colon, liver, esophageal, breast (female), pharynx, larynx and oral cancer.

As many as 15 percent of women’s breast cancers were connected to drinking alcohol, a finding which is backed up by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).  This is probably because alcohol affects estrogen levels. In men, cancers linked to alcohol use were oral, larynx, pharynx and esophageal. The data showed that men and women who consumed three or more drinks each day increased their cancer risk by 48 to 60 percent. One-third of cancer deaths were linked to just one to two drinks per day.

The leading risks for cancer are a person’s weight, diet, activity level, tobacco and alcohol consumption. While some have touted drinking certain kinds of alcohol as beneficial to heart health, the facts show that alcohol leads to 10 times more fatalities than it prevents. In fact, those who contract cancer related to alcohol use lose an average of 18 years from their lives.

“The relationship between alcohol and cancer is strong, but is not widely appreciated by the public and remains under-emphasized even by physicians,” said Timothy Naimi, who served as the paper’s senior author. “Alcohol is a big preventable cancer risk factor that has been hiding in plain sight.”

The variety of substances misused by people at times seems staggering. It is especially alarming when teenagers come up with a different everyday substances to consume, smoke, or inhale for a high. When they cannot get access to alcohol or street drugs, kids often turn to household items. Using inhalants like aerosol cans, for instance, is nothing new. Popping up on the radar now, however, is abuse of mothballs. The smelly, moth-deterring balls that protect wool sweaters are giving some kids a high and sometimes leading to health consequences as well.

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In recent decades, researchers and mental health experts have made extensive progress in uncovering the basic nature of substance abuse and addiction. In part, their conclusions show that, over time, abuse and addiction affect the body in ways that are highly analogous to the effects of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. Still, despite these findings, people with abuse- or addiction-related issues are sometimes stereotyped in society as morally weak or somehow mentally deficient. Despite these stereotypes, current evidence shows that people with low IQs don’t have especially high risks for illicit drug use. In fact, high childhood IQ score-not low scores-appear to be associated with increased risks for illicit drug use in adulthood.

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Alcohol and all commonly abused drugs alter your experience of reality by altering the levels of chemicals in your brain known as neurotransmitters. Generally speaking, problems with alcoholism and drug addiction begin when your brain gradually adapts to the long-term changes in neurotransmitter levels. In the scientific community, much of the focus on abuse- and addiction-related brain changes has centered on dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in the normal function of the brain’s pleasure centers. However, altered levels of another neurotransmitter, called glutamate, also contribute to the onset of addiction by changing the ways in which you learn, make decisions and engage in other basic thought processes.

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The conversations surrounding safety on the road tend to focus on alcohol consumption and texting. Considerable resources have been poured into educational efforts to keep individuals safe, yet risks associated with less popular substances still exist.

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We Understand Your Confusion

What type of drug rehab is right for me? Will my loved one stay in treatment long enough to get the benefits of rehab? Will my insurance cover drug rehab?

You have questions. We have answers.

Take some time to review DrugRehab.us and learn about your treatment options. If at any time you feel overwhelmed, frustrated, or confused, please pick up the phone. Our expert advisers are here to help.

Whether you decide on an outpatient drug treatment program or an inpatient residential drug rehab, you are making a choice to move forward with your life. You are choosing to reclaim your life from drugs and alcohol.