(Apologies in advance, this is a VERY LONG AND THOROUGH post that I’ve been working on since Jan. 17.)
A while ago, one of my Facebook friends posted this article on why marijuana is THE MOST DANGEROUS DRUG. It’s a little known fact about me that I love to take articles with somewhat extreme viewpoints and bring in facts that were purposefully overlooked or outright falsified. (I did the same here and gosh it was great to have a respectful debate with someone for once.)
So, on the the article at hand.
First of all, there’s the ethos of the author. The broad subject is why marijuana is dangerous health-wise. The article is written by James Backstrom, a county attorney, not a medical professional of any kind. Logically, he must have gotten his information from other sources (which are likely biased, based on the stigma surrounding this topic). One must question the legitimacy of this article right from the get-go. -15 points.
The very first point made in the actual discourse is that harder drugs such as meth are more destructive and addictive, but somehow marijuana is more dangerous. Let’s look at some facts.
- According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, methamphetamine changes the way your brain functions long term (after the ‘high’ fades), and leads to “extreme weight loss, severe dental problems (“meth mouth”), anxiety, confusion, insomnia, mood disturbances, and violent behavior” as well as psychotic tendencies such as paranoia.
- The NIDA also states that cocaine has similar effects on the brain, and “constricts blood vessels, dilates pupils, and increases body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure.” It can also cause heart attacks, strokes, and death.
- Heroin causes a menagerie of problems, including “fatal overdose, spontaneous abortion, and infectious diseases like hepatitis and HIV…fatal overdose, spontaneous abortion, and infectious diseases like hepatitis and HIV”
Marijuana is more difficult to get accurate information on, again due to the stigma. One of the first, and most famous, tests of how it affects people was the Heath/Tulane study in 1974 (discussed in the documentary The Union). According to the study, the test subjects (monkeys) where forced to smoke the equivalent of 30 joints per day, which caused brain damage, atrophy, and death. The study attributed this to marijuana, but Heath was vague about the method used to administer the drug. Turns out he had the monkeys fitted with gas masks and pumped all 30 joints worth into them at once without additional oxygen. They monkeys weren’t killed by marijuana, they were exposed to carbon monoxide (which is released when ANYTHING burns) and suffocated. (And even if the marijuana was to blame, 30 joints per day is kind of a lot, and I doubt anyone other than Snoop Dogg smokes that much.)
But this was 40 years ago. More studies have been conducted. What are the known health risks today? That’s still a little fuzzy.
- According to the NIDA, marijuana affects a person’s learning and memory, raises heart rate, causes palpitations and arrhythmia, irritates the lungs, and causes temporary psychotic reactions. There’s also a link between marijuana and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. There is no evidence that cannabis can be used medicinally.
- Foundation for a Drug Free World states that in the short term marijuana can cause increased heart rate, panic and anxiety, poor coordination and reactions, lethargy, and depression. Many more long term effects are also listed.
- According to the BSU Student Handbook, health risks include “Damage to heart, lungs, and/or brain nerve cells lung cancer, bronchitis, infections , decreased motivation, depression, paranoia, impaired memory.” (They also list “pancreas addiction” as an effect of alcohol. That plus the MANY grammatical errors in a UNIVERSITY PUBLICATION makes me question their ethos.)
- There have been numerous studies on the medicinal capacity of cannabis to treat epilepsy, cancer, depression, anorexia, and a variety of other complaints. Upon thorough investigation, it’s found that the medicinal uses actually CONTRADICT the “health risks” such as depression and cancer.
But the health risks aren’t the only reason that author James Backstrom claims marijuana is more dangerous. he states that “marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in America.” …what? What does that have to do with whether or not it’s dangerous? You know what else is commonly used? Computers. Does that in and of itself make them dangerous? Nope. Invalid point, -15 more points.
“Treatment admissions for marijuana abuse have been higher than for any other illegal drug in our nation since 2002.” That’s because on marijuana charges, the defendant can choose jail (and a criminal record), or treatment. No brainer. For all other narcotics the choice is jail or… jail. This is a stacked statistic (don’t even get me started on statistics, I believe that they’re completely useless in most cases), -30 points.
The article goes on to explain the health risks, which I’ve already covered, and adds that marijuana has “50-70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than does tobacco smoke.” Tobacco contains 20 carcinogens. The number found in cannabis is apparently under heavy debate, since nearly every source I check says something different. The most credible I’ve found is an article by Robert Melamede of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, which states (I think, if I’m reading the science-speak correctly) that tobacco and cannabis have many of the same carcinogens, but other biological factors cause tobacco to be more effectively cancerous than marijuana. Also, the statistic (grr!) provided by the original article contradicts the information on cancer that I’ve provided above.
Another point brought up is that the potency of today’s cannabis is much higher than it was in the 70s. This is a malleable “fact” due to the actual fact that the potency depends on the strain. Is it likely that the general potency is higher? Yes, but the media has greatly exaggerated the increase. -20 points for hyperbolic scare-tactics.
“Even more troubling is that marijuana serves as a gateway to the use of other illegal drugs.” Ah, the gateway drug argument. Though heavily used, it is simply an example of how the stigma created the culture. Marijuana is illegal, so where can users get it? Only from drug dealers, who usually solicit a variety of narcotics to maximize profits. Said drug dealers try to push the harder drugs on customers who would otherwise only use cannabis, creating the illusion that marijuana use leads to cocaine or heroin or meth use. In places where use is legal, do you think regulated dispensaries such as Harborside Health Center pushes cocaine on their customers? No, they even promote the idea of “Wellness Not Intoxication.” Once again, statistics are presented to show how teenagers who use marijuana are more likely to use other drugs than those who don’t, and once again they are both misleading and influenced by the above scenario. Here and throughout the article they say “studies show,” yet they never cite any sources for these studies. Who knows who conducted the studies or how they were done? It could be a Heath/Tulane situation all over again. Even the wording of the statistics of problematic, clearly conveying a bias against cannabis, they say, “Sixty percent of adolescents who use marijuana before age 15 will later use cocaine.” Alright, but how many of the total number of people who use cocaine used marijuana previously? That would be a much more revealing and less biased study.
Finally, Backstrom brings up the link between marijuana and violence. Anyone remember the phrase “reefer madness“? It’s deja vu all over again here. Later on, when young people were protesting the Vietnam War, the opinion on what marijuana did magically swung to the opposite end of the spectrum. It no longer made one angry and violent, it caused pacifism. Isn’t that convenient? -10 points for flip-floppy-ness
“Nationwide, 40 percent of adult males arrested for crimes tested positive for marijuana at the time of their arrest.” This statistic means LITERALLY NOTHING. Why? Because depending on ho much and how often one uses it, it can still turn up on a urinalysis for 84 DAYS after the actual use. That means those men could’ve smoked nearly 3 months prior to committing their crimes, and therefor marijuana had nothing to do with it. -15 points for ignorant BS. “Marijuana is in fact the cash crop that drives the illegal drug trade” BECAUSE IT IS ILLEGAL. If it were regulated, it would be taxed to high heaven, and that “cash crop” would go right back into whatever the hell our taxes go towards nowadays. Instead it’s going to whatever dealers spend it on. Oh, and we’d also have more money in our economy because we wouldn’t be spending $42 BILLION on prohibition.
So basically all the dangers are either made up (like many of the health risks) or created by the fact that marijuana is still an illegal substance, and Backstrom is just an attorney who thinks he knows science.