Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Marijuana: A guide to debunking Drug Warrior Talking Points

Gateway Drug

Researchers have rightly noted that people who have try marijuana are statistically more likely try other illicit drugs. This gave raise to the theory that there was something about marijuana that encouraged drug experimentation. Marijuana, it was alleged, is a gateway drug. This, in turn, was given as one more reason to keep the drug illegal.

However, the gateway drug theory has until recently fallen on hard times for lack of an intelligible mechanism. The problem was that there was no coherent explanation for why marijuana would lead people to experiment with other drugs. Without this explanation doubt was cast relationship being more than mere correlation.

That said, in recent years researchers have breathed new life into the theory, albeit with a sociological twist. According to the new version, it is not marijuana’s pharmacological properties that serve as a gateway, but rather marijuana’s illegal status. Specifically in the process of illegally procuring marijuana, users are introduced to the criminal elements with access to other illicit drugs and hence it is the forged blackmarket relationship between dealer and buyer that serves as gateway. Ironically the gateway drug theory has been turned on its head and used as reason for legalizing the drug. The Canadian Senate employed the new and improved version of the gateway argument as a reason for legalizing the drug.

A recent adjunct is the argument that marijuana illegality can lead serve as a gateway to criminality in so far has proven to be a tempting to teenagers what to make an easy buck serving as low level dealers.

Potent Pot

Potent pot is more is more Drug Czar myth than reality. http://www.slate.com/id/2074151 Only the Independent bought in and the Guardian took care of them. http://www.guardian.co.uk/drugs/Story/0,,2041749,00.html

The Guardian rebutted such nonsense in its Bad Science column.

There is exceptionally strong cannabis to be found in some parts of the UK market today: but there always has been. The UN Drug Control Programme has detailed vintage data for the UK online. In 1975 the LGC analysed 50 seized samples of herbal cannabis: 10 were from Thailand, with an average potency of 7.8%, the highest 17%. In 1975 they analysed 11 samples of seized resin, six from Morocco, average strength 9%, with a range from 4% to 16%.To get their scare figure, the Independent compared the worst cannabis from the past with the best cannabis of today. But you could have cooked the books the same way 30 years ago: in 1975 the weakest herbal cannabis analysed was 0.2%; in 1978 the strongest was 12%. Oh my god: in just three years herbal cannabis has become 60 times stronger.”

However, even if one assumes that potent pot is a reality it is certainly nothing to be concerned about. Indeed, saying that potent pot is reason for keeping marijuana illegal is akin to saying that alcohol should be banned because gin has higher alcohol content than beer. It makes no sense. The pharmacological affects of consuming 1 “chemically supercharged” joint, as various US attorneys like to say, versus x number of “dad’s joints” would be no different if the amount of THC consumed is the same. As for consumption, just as people do not drink the same volume of gin as beer, the higher the THC level in pot the less people consume. Hence, ironically more potent pot may be a welcome development. After all, one of the most prominent health effect related to marijuana, if not the most, is that it is usually smoked. The more potent the pot, the less people have to smoke to achieve the same high. Lester Grinspoon of Harvard Medical School concurs, so does Mitch Earleywine of the University of Southern California and so does UCLA’s Mark Kleiman.

Comparing marijuana strength through the years is "absurd," according to Lester Grinspoon, an emeritus professor at Harvard Medical School , who consults patients, many of them elderly, on using marijuana to relieve pain and nausea. "The whole issue on potency is a red herring," he said. "The more potent the pot, the less you use."Grinspoon said that studies have shown -- and his patients' experiences confirm -- that marijuana users smoke until they feel high -- or, as he prefers to say, "achieve symptom relief," -- and then stop, whether it took two hits or an entire joint. In this regard, today's higher-potency pot is no more "dangerous" than the bunk weed of yesteryear, he said.

unlike the speculative claims of increased danger, peer-reviewed scientific data show that higher potency marijuana reduces health risks. Just as with alcohol, people who smoke marijuana generally consume until they reach the desired effect, then stop. So people who smoke more potent marijuana smoke less – the same way most drinkers consume a smaller amount of vodka than they would of beer – and incur less chance of smoking-related damage to their lungs.

The original ONDCP "Facts" correspond with estimates from UCLA professor Mark Kleiman that marijuana has roughly tripled in potency. Kleiman also notes that there is no evidence at all that marijuana is getting kids more stoned than it used to. Writing on his own blog, Kleiman cites the respected annual University of Michigan study that asks respondents about levels of intoxication. Writes Kleiman: "The line for marijuana is flat as a pancake. Kids who get stoned today aren't getting any more stoned than their parents were. That ought to be the end of the argument." Kleiman points out that the average joint is now half its former size, so even if kids are smoking more powerful pot, they are smoking less of it. " 'Not your father's pot' is a great way to convince [boomer parents] to ignore their own experience, personal orvicarious, and believe what they are told to believe."

That said, if potency is the concern, then it should be legalized. As Martha Hall Findlay has noted, the only way to regulate the potency of pot is to legalize it. Moreover, so long as the drug is illegal, producers will seek to increase potency. The higher the potency the smaller the package the smaller the package the less likely they will get caught.

Finally, the distinction between potent pot and your dad’s marijuana is too clever by half. After all, it begs the following question. If today’s marijuana is truly different in kind from “dads marijuana”, would it be ok to legalize “dad’s marijuana”, i.e., low potency pot?

Schizophrenia Marijuana

This past summer a meta analysis of all articles dealing with marijuana and schizophrenia was published in the Lancet. That same day a score of sensationalist headlines appeared. Maia Szalavitz of States at George Mason University put those headlines following into context.

“A 40% increase in risk sounds scary, and this was the risk linked to trying marijuana once, not to heavy use. To epidemiologists a 40% increase is not especially noteworthy-- they usually don’t find risk factors worth worrying about until the number hits at least 200% and some major journals won’t publish studies unless the risk is 300 or even 400%. The marijuana paper did find that heavy use increased risk by 200-300%, but that’s hardly as sexy as try marijuana once, increase your risk of schizophrenia by nearly half!By contrast, one study found that alcohol has been found to increase the risk of psychosis by 800% for men and 300% for women.

Speaking of correlation that is precisely what epidemiological studies have consisted failed to show and there is no causation without correlation. Specifically, should there be a causal link between marijuana and schizophrenia, there should be a positive correlation between marijuana consumption and schizophrenia, but such a correlation is conspicuous by its absence. Despite a massive increase in the number of Australians consuming the drug since the 1960s, Wayne Hall of the University of Queensland found no increase in the number of cases of schizophrenia in Australia. http://www.november.org/stayinfo/breaking3/MJScience.html Mitch Earleywine of the University of Southern California similarly found the same with regard to the US population http://www.november.org/stayinfo/breaking3/MJScience.html and Oxford’s Leslie Iversen found the same regard to the population in the UK. http://www.stats.org/stories/2007/will_one_joint_schizoid_july30_07.htm According to Dr. Alan Brown, a professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at Columbia University,

"If anything, the studies seem to show a possible decline in schizophrenia from the '40s and the '50s,"

http://dir.salon.com/story/news/feature/2005/09/19/reefer_madness/index.htmlAs Szalavitz notes, this is marked contrast to what happened with cigarette consumption and lung cancer.

“ When cigarette smoking barreled through the population, lung cancer rose in parallel; when smoking rates fell, lung cancer rates fell.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/maia-szalavitz/reefer-inanity-never-tru_b_58353.htmlMuch of the evidence linking marijuana to schizophrenia suggests not that it causes schizophrenia per say but rather that it causes the earlier onset of symptoms in people who would sooner or later develop schizophrenia. Much to Gordan Brown’s dismay, this is opinion of Dr Iddon.

Dr Iddon, the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on drugs misuse [Britain], said the study did not convince him it was time to return cannabis to class B. "I don't think the causal link has been proved. I think cannabis might - possibly for genetic reasons - trigger psychosis at an earlier age." The MP, who is also a member of the science and technology select committee, said there was a danger of criminalising "hundreds of thousands of young people" if the status of the drug was changed. "If Gordon Brown changes the class of the drug, it won't be evidence-based but for political reasons," he said.

Psychological Dependency

The term can be applied to just about anything and so is completely useless. Anything where routine and repetition are involved could lead to “psychological dependency”. There are people with obsessive compulsive disorder who are psychologically dependent on hand soap, but that is hardly a reason to ban hand soap. Many scholars have argued that the term is politically motivated and was designed to obscure the fact that marijuana is not physically addictive the way, say alcohol and heroin can be. Whatever the term’s origins, it is certainly employed by the drug warriors to serve political ends. It has virtually no explanatory power.

Treatment Numbers

Most people in drug treatment in Ontario are there because they abuse hard drugs. Only a small percentage, 13% in 2005, are there because of marijuana. Furthermore, those that are there for marijuana differ from other people in treatment, in so far as they are much more likely to be there because of outside pressure. Not surprisingly the typical person in “treatment” for marijuana use in Ontario is a single teenage male who is still in high school.

Ontario is not unique. Despite the fact that number of marijuana users in Western world positively dwarfs of the number of people using hard drugs, in most Western countries the vast majority of people in drug treatment are there because they abuse hard drugs. The notable exception is the US. The vast majority of people in drug treatment in the US are there because they purportedly abuse marijuana. Why the difference? Well if you dig a little deeper you see that the majority (70%) of people arrested for marijuana possession, including many casual users and even some first to users, are there because they have been given a choice, “treatment” or jail. In fact, the rise in the number of admissions for treatment correlates perfectly with a rise in the number of arrests for possession. In true Orwellian fashion, the Drug Czar cites these figures as evidence that other countries need to get tough on drugs.

Canada a major supplier of Marijuana to the US

The ideological threat Canada’s legalization movement poses to the US drug warriors is the reason why the US pays so much attention to what is a bit producer in the greater scheme of things. Only 2% of marijuana seized at US borders is from Canada and the rest from Mexico and US domestic marijuana production dwarfs that of Canada. California produces more marijuana than does all of Canada. Yet Canadian “potent pot” receives a ridiculous amount of press coverage south of the border and to Waters is more of a threat than Mexican "ditchweed".


Dumbwhore said...

Wow, thanks for the nice post. I will be sure it post a link to it in a second. But first I need to load my bong.

I've thought of many of your arguments before, but didn't search for the answers. The one that I didn't have a good counter argument to was the "strong pot" argument. For one, it's hard to debate because I wasn't around to smoke in the 60's, so how would I know the strength? Plus, biology changes over the years, so there's no way to know that pot wouldn't affect you differently later in life. So when people threw those arguments at me, I started thinking about that instead of arguing back. But your point is dead on target. If it's too strong, then it needs to come out of the shadows of prohibition.

Koby said...