On the same day Charlottetown police arrested people for dealing drugs at city high schools, Jag Khalsa was at a conference talking about the consequences of drug use.
Khalsa is a pharmacologist with the U.S.-based National Institute on Drug Abuse’s (NISA) and was at the Delta Prince Edward last week as a speaker for the Canadian Society of Addiction Medicine’s (CSAM) annual meeting.
There are more than 200 million drug addicts worldwide and addictions cost the U.S. billions of dollars every year, he said.
“Substance abuse is one of the major problems in the world.”
Through his work with NISA Khalsa manages the medical consequences of drug abuse and co-occuring infections branch, which conducts research into the effects of drug use. Khalsa said infections, such as HIV and hepatitis, can occur in drug abusers, but they aren’t the only types of illness that stem from drug abuse.
“Drug addiction is a brain disorder so we do a lot of research into how drugs affect the brain.”
While the costs of drug abuse are high in the U.S., Khalsa said they aren’t alone with drug addiction as a major problem in Canada as well, especially with marijuana.
“Marijuana is the most abused drug in the world.”
Khalsa said a lot of people think marijuana is safe but it can affect memory and the central nervous system.
“Marijuana is perceived to be harmless, but it’s not.”
He used the example of a study out of Ontario that followed women who smoked marijuana during pregnancy and kept track of their children as they got older.
It showed the marijuana use had a detrimental effect on the children.
“Central nervous effects were quite significant.”
But Khalsa said marijuana use is not the only drug problem and while drug use has plateaued in recent years, prescription drug use in young people has increased.
“That is troublesome to a lot of people.”
And despite all the work organizations like his do around the world, Khalsa knows they will never eliminate drug addiction.
“What we need to do is reduce the impact of it.”
To help reduce that impact his group, which has a budget of about $1 billion, supports research on treatment of infections related to drug addiction and also supports research into drug addiction vaccines.
“It’s a major program at the institute.”