When you’ve lost the New Yorker… Among the brave, new policies of this benighted age is the legalization, indeed, the exaltation, of marijuana. Cities and states are falling all over themselves, when they’re not ardently seeking munchies, to legalize pot, and thereby signal their hipness, wokeitude, virtue, and hopefully, to reap huge profits for big government in the form of additional taxes. What could go wrong?
My police days taught me that if the negative effects of legalized marijuana are only 50% as bad as the effects of alcohol, we’d be far better off without a nation of potheads added to a nation of boozers. There is evidence to suggest that 50% is a wildly optimistic assessment. The New Yorker explains—sort of:
A few years ago, the National Academy of Medicine convened a panel of sixteen leading medical experts to analyze the scientific literature on cannabis. The reportthey prepared, which came out in January of 2017, runs to four hundred and sixty-eight pages. It contains no bombshells or surprises, which perhaps explains why it went largely unnoticed. It simply stated, over and over again, that a drug North Americans have become enthusiastic about remains a mystery.
For example, smoking pot is widely supposed to diminish the nausea associated with chemotherapy. But, the panel pointed out, ‘there are no good-quality randomized trials investigating this option.’ We have evidence for marijuana as a treatment for pain, but ‘very little is known about the efficacy, dose, routes of administration, or side effects of commonly used and commercially available cannabis products in the United States.’ The caveats continue. Is it good for epilepsy? ‘Insufficient evidence.’ Tourette’s syndrome? Limited evidence. A.L.S., Huntington’s, and Parkinson’s? Insufficient evidence. Irritable-bowel syndrome? Insufficient evidence. Dementia and glaucoma? Probably not. Anxiety? Maybe. Depression? Probably not.
The problem is the very nature of marijuana and it’s potential application as medicine. We know contemporary pot is far more potent than the pot of the “turn on, tune in, drop out” age. There are no standards for marijuana as medicine, and the interactions of the many chemical substances in marijuana are not understood. No one knows what a given dosage will do, because unlike prescription medicines, there is no process, no science involved, and one joint is not like unto them all. This is, gentle readers, not an argument for spending billions trying to standardize pot composition and dosages.
Then come Chapters 5 through 13, the heart of the report, which concern marijuana’s potential risks. The haze of uncertainty continues. Does the use of cannabis increase the likelihood of fatal car accidents? Yes. By how much? Unclear. Does it affect motivation and cognition? Hard to say, but probably. Does it affect employment prospects? Probably. Will it impair academic achievement? Limited evidence. This goes on for pages.
Motivation and cognition? Employment prospects? Academic achievement? They’re joking, right? It was a running police joke—actually, more of an experience-confirmed axiom—that pot smokers made poor informants. Meth users, while unpredictable and always potentially dangerous, were at least motivated. Pot users were lazy, unreliable, completely unmotivated, stupid and essentially useless, while also being unpredictable and dangerous.
Yes, chronic pot use makes people stupid, and prevents them from recognizing their stupidity. Because such people surround themselves with pot smokers, they get dumber together and are quite content about it.
I came of age in the 60s and 70s, and I did not use pot. Not only did I never inhale, I never tried it—not once. In fact, most of my peers did not use pot, though urban legend would have us believe most did, and even today, most Americans are pot indulgers. They’re not. Were that true, America could not function, just as it could not function if most Americans abused alcohol. But everybody I know smokes pot, just like me! Yes. Perhaps there’s a lesson in there somewhere…
I did not use it because I’ve always preferred to be in control of myself, and my surroundings. I’ve always avoided alcohol for the same reason. I also did not use it because I had occasion to observe its effects on others. It was never pretty. A musician since I can remember, I played with many others who thought pot made them oh- so creative and brilliant. It actually destroyed their sense of rhythm. They couldn’t maintain a steady beat, couldn’t remember lyrics, chord progressions, melodies, and many could no longer sing, or play, in tune. Guitarists have an old joke about tuning: “close enough for rock and roll.” These gleefully stupid potheads weren’t even that close, and they had no ability to recognize their errors. Some sort of had a dim inkling they were screwing up, but were unable to do anything about it other than giggle like the idiots they were.
Last May, not long before Canada legalized the recreational use of marijuana, Beau Kilmer, a drug-policy expert with the RAND Corporation, testified before the Canadian Parliament. He warned that the fastest-growing segment of the legal market in Washington State was extracts for inhalation, and that the mean THC concentration for those products was more than sixty-five per cent. ‘We know little about the health consequences—risks and benefits—of many of the cannabis products likely to be sold in nonmedical markets,’ he said. Nor did we know how higher-potency products would affect THC consumption.
Higher potency effects unknown? I know: it’s more addictive, psychologically and physiologically. Been there; seen that. Of course, my anecdotal observations aren’t science, but one doesn’t have to be a scientist to recognize reality. There is substantial evidence some scientists choose not to recognize reality, or to invent alternate realities (cough: climate change).
For those curious about the worst-case scenario, Alex Berenson has written a short manifesto, ‘Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence.’
Berenson begins his book with an account of a conversation he had with his wife, a psychiatrist who specializes in treating mentally ill criminals. They were discussing one of the many grim cases that cross her desk—‘the usual horror story, somebody who’d cut up his grandmother or set fire to his apartment.’ Then his wife said something like ‘Of course, he was high, been smoking pot his whole life.’
Of course? I said.
Yeah, they all smoke.
Well . . . other things too, right?
Sometimes. But they all smoke.
Been there; seen that too. Conventional wisdom has it that pot smokers are inherently non-violent. Some are; plenty aren’t. People tend to be individualistic that way. Of course, the question is whether criminals use pot because they’re defective personalities or whether pot use makes them defective personalities. Experience makes me tend to lean toward the former, with a liberal sprinkling of the latter, which makes tendencies habits, addiction and psychosis.
The first of Berenson’s questions concerns what has long been the most worrisome point about cannabis: its association with mental illness. Many people with serious psychiatric illness smoke lots of pot. The marijuana lobby typically responds to this fact by saying that pot-smoking is a response to mental illness, not the cause of it—that people with psychiatric issues use marijuana to self-medicate. That is only partly true. In some cases, heavy cannabis use does seem to cause mental illness. As the National Academy panel declared, in one of its few unequivocal conclusions, “Cannabis use is likely to increase the risk of developing schizophrenia and other psychoses; the higher the use, the greater the risk.
Wait a minute: chronic use of a psychoactive drug, about whose ingredients and effects we know little, might cause mental illness? How can this be?
Berenson thinks that we are far too sanguine about this link. He wonders how large the risk is, and what might be behind it. In one of the most fascinating sections of ‘Tell Your Children,’ he sits down with Erik Messamore, a psychiatrist who specializes in neuropharmacology and in the treatment of schizophrenia. Messamore reports that, following the recent rise in marijuana use in the U.S. (it has almost doubled in the past two decades, not necessarily as the result of legal reforms), he has begun to see a new kind of patient: older, and not from the marginalized communities that his patients usually come from. These are otherwise stable middle-class professionals. Berenson writes, ‘A surprising number of them seemed to have used only cannabis and no other drugs before their breaks. The disease they’d developed looked like schizophrenia, but it had developed later—and their prognosis seemed to be worse. Their delusions and paranoia hardly responded to antipsychotics.’
“Surprising?” Life-long use of a psychoactive drug damages the brains of users? How can this be? It’s just a little harmless weed. Pass that doobie, man! One might almost think there was a cause/effect relationship at work. Almost. But what about the effects of legalized marijuana? Increased snack food sales?
Berenson looks, too, at the early results from the state of Washington, which, in 2014, became the first U.S. jurisdiction to legalize recreational marijuana. Between 2013 and 2017, the state’s murder and aggravated-assault rates rose forty per cent—twice the national homicide increase and four times the national aggravated-assault increase. We don’t know that an increase in cannabis use was responsible for that surge in violence. Berenson, though, finds it strange that, at a time when Washington may have exposed its population to higher levels of what is widely assumed to be a calming substance, its citizens began turning on one another with increased aggression.
Oh, I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.
His third question is whether cannabis serves as a gateway drug.
Yes. Been there; seen that; used their t-shirts to stop the bleeding. Next question?
In the dozen years since e-cigarettes were introduced into the marketplace, they have attracted an enormous amount of attention. There are scores of studies and papers on the subject in the medical and legal literature, grappling with the questions raised by the new technology. Vaping is clearly popular among kids. Is it a gateway to traditional tobacco use? Some public-health experts worry that we’re grooming a younger generation for a lifetime of dangerous addiction. Yet other people see e-cigarettes as a much safer alternative for adult smokers looking to satisfy their nicotine addiction. That’s the British perspective. Last year, a Parliamentary committee recommended vapingcutting taxes on e-cigarettes and allowing vaping in areas where it had previously been banned. Since e-cigarettes are as much as ninety-five per cent less harmful than regular cigarettes, the committee argued, why not promote them? Gottlieb said that he was splitting the difference between the two positions—giving adults ‘opportunities to transition to non-combustible products,’ while upholding the F.D.A.’s ‘solemn mandate to make nicotine products less accessible and less appealing to children.’ He was immediately criticized.
Ah. Of course. And the way to do that is to legalize marijuana and to increase access to vaping while simultaneously saying it’s safer than tobacco. Vaping is at epidemic levels in schools. It, and pot smoking, go hand in pipe. Both are incredibly damaging to individuals, institutions and our republic. And it’s no coincidence:
A week after Gottlieb announced his crackdown on e-cigarettes, on the ground that they are too enticing to children, Siegel visited the first recreational-marijuana facility in Massachusetts. Hereis what he found on the menu, each offering laced with large amounts of a drug, THC, that no one knows much about:
Strawberry-flavored chewy bites
Large, citrus gummy bears
Delectable Belgian dark chocolate bars
Assorted fruit-flavored chews
Assorted fruit-flavored cubes
Raspberry flavored confection
Raspberry flavored lozenges
Chewy, cocoa caramel bite-sized treats
Raspberry & watermelon flavored lozenges
He concludes, ‘This is public health in 2018?’
This is the reality with which schools, parents and America have to deal in 2019. By all means, take the link and read the entire article. Never has it been easier for kids to use drugs, without detection, in any setting. You don’t suppose that’s why they market the aforementioned products do you? Never has it been easier for anyone to become an addict. Never has the danger been greater, to individuals and to the future.
But you can’t legislate morality! Of course we can and do. Murder is immoral. So is assault, burglary, rape, and a variety of other things human beings are prone to do. In refusing to acknowledge the darkest recesses of human nature, even if it promises higher tax revenues for properly woke bigger government, we make the manifestations of those terribly damaging aspects of human nature not only more likely, but all but certain. Surely we cannot protect everyone from themselves, but we know enough about human nature, if we’re willing to acknowledge it, to make it harder to do damage–to everyone.
America, 2019: blithely legislating and smoking our way to stupid.