Cannabis and the War On #Drugs

SpliffAs the debate about the Legalization of Cannabis hots up again, predominantly in the USA (see here) but also in the UK (see here), The Mail reported recently that; “a young mother of three died after she was poisoned by the cannabis she smoked to help her get to sleep” (see here).

The legality surrounding cannabis varies from country to country. Possession of cannabis is illegal in most countries and has been since the beginning of widespread cannabis prohibition in the late 1930s. However, many countries have now decriminalized the possession of small quantities of cannabis, for personal use.

Many of those who are FOR or AGAINST the ‘Legalize It’ campaign have been quick to try to use this single piece of tragic news, mostly for the purpose of enhancing their own particular standpoint.

Whether or not it helps either camp is mostly immaterial. It’s unlikely to finally debunk the pro ‘users’ camp argument, about the ‘herb’ being “natural and safe” to use. It’s also just as unlikely to enhance or strengthen all the drug’s ‘danger’ arguments. At least not significantly, and certainly not in the short-term.

♫♪ Every man got to legalize it, and don’t criticize it. Legalize it yeah, yeah, and I will advertise it♫♪ (Peter Tosh)

It’s now more than 40 years since the American President Richard Nixon declared war on “public enemy No 1″ in the USA – drug abuse. Since then, despite aggressive US anti-drug policies rolling out unabated, c$1 trillion has been spent on drugs law enforcement and over 45 million people have been arrested on drugs charges. But things there (and here) have remained relatively unchanged. There are now well 20 million users of illegal drugs in the US today, and probably a far larger percentage in the UK than we care to admit, despite (mostly manipulated) statistics.

CLEAR Cannabis Law Reform campaigns for an end to the prohibition of cannabis for all purposes – recreational, medicinal, spiritual and industrial…(clear-uk.org)

The plant genus Cannabis isn’t actually the ‘bad guy’ in all this. The fibre (hemp) of the plant is valuable in tens of thousands of commercial products, especially as fibre ranging from paper, cordage, textiles and clothing. Hemp is stronger and longer-lasting than cotton. However, despite the plant having long been used for medicinal purposes, it is the use as a recreational drug that causes the main concerns within our society.


However, a recent piece at Child Health Safety, pointed out that UK Govt ‘experts’ have been involved in ‘Cover Ups’ for years when it comes to the true facts about drugs. Although talking about prescription drugs in this particular report (which also have abuse issues), I see no logical reason not to assume that; ‘official’ advice about currently illegal drugs may well be subjected to political and/or financially motivated manipulation. But as one very knowledgeable academic says; “Drugs Aren’t the Problem.”

In the book High Price: Drugs, Neuroscience, and Discovering Myself, the author unravels the common perception that drugs and drug addiction are the cause of many of society’s problems. Apparently not so – but whilst he doesn’t argue that illegal drugs have no negative effects, he takes the reader through his journey of discovery about the problem.

Book Review: …the pharmacology of the drugs themselves is not the cause of our social ills – rather, drugs are the symptoms of a broken society, masking the underlying issues of unemployment, lack of education, poverty, racism, and despair…(guardian.co.uk)

Dr. Carl Hart, although something of a ‘lone voice’ in the debate, is an eminent Neuroscientist who has been on a mission to debunk many of the myths about addiction (see here). But, with so much ‘noise’ on either side of the drugs debate, one can be forgiven for asking… who the hell is right?

Addiction is one of the biggest preventable killer in the UK (see Addiction Actually). Today many people know someone who has been directly (or indirectly) affected by addiction, or is a friend or loved one or someone with an addiction. Addiction has devastating impacts upon individuals, families and communities alike.

The entire concept of ‘Addiction’ is now underpinned by neuroscience and medicine. We are making enormous strides in moving away from the moralistic viewpoint that blames the addict or alcoholic for their condition…(source: Addiction Actually)

Many say that per se, Cannabis is no more addictive than alcohol or tobacco. Despite not being trained in the ‘scientific’ evidence (or even understanding some of it), I would mostly tend to agree. I do however understand a small part of the science behind addiction.

I understand the scientific concepts of ‘neuroreceptors’ in the brain, I also know a little about the ‘reward’ and ‘pleasure’ centres in our brains. Systems, playing a major role in reward-motivated behavior and sensation-seeking. Dopamine is the ‘neurotransmitter’ or chemical messenger, that facilitates the transmission of signals in the brain and other vital areas

Dopamine also helps regulate movement and emotional responses, and it enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them. Dopamine deficiency results in Parkinson’s Disease, and people with low dopamine activity may be more prone to addiction…(psychologytoday.com)

When referring to any kind of addiction, it is important to recognize that its cause is not simply a search for pleasure and that addiction has nothing to do with one’s morality or strength of character. Experts debate whether addiction is a “disease” or a true mental illness, whether drug dependence and addiction mean the same thing, and many other aspects of addiction. Such debates are not likely to be resolved soon. But the lack of resolution does not preclude effective treatment.

Teenage weed smoking and long-term brain damage

“Adolescence is a sensitive time for brain development,” says Matthew J. Smith, a research assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. “If a teen introduces the abuse of marijuana at that point in their life, it could have consequences for their ability to problem solve, for their memory and for critical thinking in general.”

Unfortunately, this crucial message is getting lost in the pro-legalization fervor.

That perception, however, is all wrong. In a study published last month, Smith and his colleagues found that teens who smoked a lot of pot had serious and abnormal changes in their brain structures related to working memory—a predictor of weak academic performance and impaired everyday functioning—and that they did poorly on memory-related tasks.

While the study focused on heavy marijuana users—specifically, those who indulged daily for about three years—one of its most crucial findings related not to the amount of pot an adolescent smoked, but when he or she started: The earlier the drug was taken up, the worse the effects on the brain.

“Marijuana is the ideal compound to screw up everything for a kid,” says Hans Breiter, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, and a senior author of the study. “If you’re an athlete, a chess player, a debater or an artist, you need working memory, and marijuana hurts the brain circuitry.”

There is one overriding factor in all of this debacle in that; those who use drugs will rarely be dissuaded from doing so, irrespective of therapy, punishment or prescribed safe alternatives.

A Fresh Look at Our Drug Laws Is the First Step Towards a Sane, Evidence-Based Policy…(Caroline Lucas MP)

It is nearly always the individual who actually makes their own personal decision to stop taking whatever substance is their preference. For that reason alone the continued ‘war on drugs’ will always be mostly destined to failure.

◊ ◊ ◊

Dr. Carl Hartis an associate professor of psychology and psychiatry at Columbia University. Hart is known for his research in drug abuse and drug addiction. He is also a member of the National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse (USA) and a research scientist in the Division of Substance Abuse at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. However, long before he entered academia, Hart gained firsthand knowledge about drug usage while growing up in one of Miami’s toughest neighborhoods.

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About Dave Hasney

Management consultant and H&S Practitioner - Retired N.Yorks Police Officer - Kept sane by Angling, Good Food, Real Ale & Wine - Cynical thoughts sometimes developed from others.

Posted on February 12, 2014, in Government, Health Services, Legal System, Our Society and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Heeeeyyy chill man we can talk ’bout this over a tab n a pint. Slainte

  2. Its always interesting to read other peoples opinions (on both sides of this debate) BUT surely the real question is : “Is the WAR on DRUGS, really achieving positive outcomes.. OR is it doing the same as Alcohol prohibition in 1920-33 USA (causing black-markets, corruption, gangsters & other CRIME) & is it time to say “Its time to look beyond it at a REGULATED market ?”
    “Kia ora koutou katoa”

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