Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Question of Marijuana

Nearly every day I read an item extolling the virtues of marijuana from a wide range of its apologists.  Even CNN's Sanjay Gupta has gotten in on the action, recently reversing his long-held opinion about its dangers.  It doesn't kill anyone, they say.  You cannot be addicted to it, they say.  Susan Sarandon says it's silly to send folks to jail over pot possession, for example, because no one has ever been harmed by weed.  It is now not only legal to have it in California and Colorado, but also to consume it.  And even distribute it.  There is even a date on which people on college campuses gather to smoke, in public, in areas in which it remains illegal to do so.  I for one won't help the cause by publishing that date.

The champions of pot like to claim that it doesn't harm anyone, that it is a natural substance "from the earth".  They report that they don't know anyone who has told them about having problems with it.  But if someone did have problems with it, would it be them that such individuals approach?  Not likely.

I know that smokers can and do see mental health professionals, and for a variety of reasons.  I know this because I am one, and I have worked with many over more than 20 years of practice.  They arrive in my office with motivational problems.  With broken relationships.  With chronic bronchial disorders.  Some have patterns of academic and career stagnation.  Some exhibit a kind of intellectual stunting, especially if they began smoking in their early teens.  About one or two of every ten present with an anxiety or psychotic disorder which was apparently unmasked by marijuana use.  It is felt that such disorders may never have been triggered were it not for the smoking.  The CDC, in its Surgeon General's Warning page on marijuana, lists many of these known issues related to use, and has done so since 1982.  Anything that has its own warning page by the CDC is worth a little scrutiny, in my opinion.

Recent studies reveal that 12% of young people have reported driving while intoxicated on pot.  It stands to reason that a portion of these drivers have been in accidents which harmed or killed themselves or others.  But I await real data about that.  Nevertheless, I think it is irresponsible to give others the impression that marijuana is always safe, no matter the full context or the individual human brain involved.  That is simply not true.  If I could I would introduce you to young people whose lives, and in some cases their bodies, were badly altered by their abuse of this substance.

This particular debate is independent of questions about legalization or incarceration.  I don't think the war on drugs has been useful or effective when it comes to pot.  Others who know me well will tell you I far from being a prude.  I believe, and have told my clients this many times, that it is possible to be safe, smart, and still have plenty of fun.  I stand by that 100%.

We speak of marijuana as though it were a single substance with uniform properties, which it is not.  It comes in many varieties and degrees of potency, and sometimes it is spiked with other substances which may or may not be known to the smoker.  The fact is that marijuana consists of chemicals which will impair some individuals.  The science has not evolved to the point where we can accurately predict exactly who will have problems resulting from consumption, at any amount and over any course of time.  Questions concerning addictive potential remain unanswered.  But I am here to tell you, if anyone can be addicted to shoes, so can some be addicted to pot.

No matter that it comes from nature.  Neither will kill or maim everyone who is exposed, but arsenic and snake venom come from nature too.