This is part 1 of a 4 part series on the implications of marijuana on our society
As the marijuana debate has been rehashed there is little doubt that people will sensationalize various misunderstandings as they debate the issue. It is important as with any issue that we fully educate ourselves such that we understand what we’re dealing with and don’t prejudge based upon hearsay. For those interested I did take a rather useful course in university on drugs and behavior which opened my eyes to many of the misconceptions surrounding drugs and their use. Drugs are actually much more widely spread than many realize including being contained in simply things like tea and coffee (caffeine) as well as chocolate. Other substances are considered by many to have drug like effects (sugar) and yet some are acceptable while others are not. It is important we aim to fully understand drugs and their impact so I thought I’d do a little research into drugs, marijuana especially.
It is interesting to note that marijuana, it’s active ingredient THC especially is not lethal. The lethal dose of THC (the active ingredient in cannabis) amounts to about 40,000 times the recreational dose (ie, they pumped THC into the blood of rats to the point where it diluted their blood enough to kill them). By comparison, the lethal dose of nicotine is the equivalent weight of a nickel.
Drug consumption was initially criminalized in the early 1900s in the US and Canada as part of a movement to restrict drug use amongst minorities (Blacks, Hispanics and Asians). Prior to that time consumption of drugs such as cocaine were widely accepted (Coca-cola originally contained cocaine), was an activity undertaken by the elite members of society and was actually endorsed by individuals such as Queen Victoria, Pope Leo XIII and Pope Saint Pius X. Indeed cocaine in the form of the coca leave was used by native South Americans for centuries without ill effects. It wasn’t until the Spanish arrived, extracted the active ingredient in pure form and began consuming it recklessly that it became an issue.
Similarly marijuana has been used for longer than there are records. It has been shown to have significant health effects, to be less detrimental than other legalized drugs (eg, cigarettes and alcohol) and yet still is demonized as the most evil thing going. Quite unfortunately such demonization occurs at the detriment of society as we see individuals consuming it anyway, those who abuse it too afraid to seek proper help, a surging criminal element surrounding its production and supply and ongoing sensationalizing of inaccurate information.
Indeed one of the largest arguments against marijuana is that it ‘makes people crazy’ however there is not conclusive proof of such. For those who have heard that marijuana increases the risks of Schizophrenia they may have misinterpreted the reports. Yes, the initial analysis of Swedish military conscripts and subsequent reports can be downright scary. However, subsequent reanalysis of it and similar studies have only conclusively shown that cannabis increases the risk of Schizophrenia and similar psychosis related disorders for those already at risk and has not be proven for those not already at risk.
For those who view sites like Schizophrenia.com to scare themselves to death with regards to the risks it is worth noting that marijuana is not listed as the only risk factor. Indeed they report up to a 4x increased risk of Schizophrenia for emigrating to a new country. Further having an unstable home life as a child and social adversity increased risks by 2.7X. So too living in a urban environment increases risks by 3X. Further you can look beyond to other scientific studies such as this one which suggests alcohol is associated with an 8x risk of psychotic experiences in men, 3x in women. By all intents and purposes by these suggestions Bermuda must be filled with crazies and yet we’re not. Thus is it worth sensationalizing marijuana reports while ignoring other reports of similar risks?
Further we can look to places that have moved to decriminalize marijuana to understand the implications. This Australian study concluded the incidence of schizophrenia has not risen with the explosion of cannabis use but instead appeared to trigger it in those already at risk. Yet another Australian study confirmed this. By comparison we can use cigarette smoking and lung cancer as a guide where as cigarette smoking skyrocketed so too did lung cancer. A similar trend has not been seen with cannabis use.
As suggested, it is worthwhile fully investigating and examining an issue before making a judgment as far too many jump to unnecessary conclusions. The criminalization of marijuana has nascent undesirable effects on our society that could be prevented or circumvented if we adequately reviewed the issues from a fair and independent view point. Are there risks with smoking Marijuana? Certainly. However, there are risks in just about everything we do in life and thus it is necessary to weigh the risks and choose wisely. Ultimately telling people they can’t do it does not change consumption and if anything unnecessarily punishes individuals more so than the act itself. As with anything it is rather easy to sensationalize the risks, however at some at some point you either are consumed by them or accept that risks are a part of living and just live your life.
An excellent resource I found for much of the information contained here was this post which is rather comprehensive, in-depth and views things from both sides with evidence.
Another excellent resource on the history of drugs and policies in effect around the world is the report produced by the King County Bar Association, something I’ve covered before.