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Marijuana And The Drug Czar

Category: Medical Marijuana
Posted: 06/06/16 01:31

by Dave Mindeman

On 60 minutes they repeated a story they did with Michael Botticelli, Obama's appointment as Drug "Czar". Now Botticelli is doing a great job. He has moved the conversation from drug incarceration to drug treatment. And this is absolutely the best change in drug policy that we can have. He is a recovering alcoholic who has had a wide range of experience in dealing with drug treatment issues and government drug policy at the state and Federal level.

But there is one segment of this 60 minutes interview which I have to take issue with....and it is in regards to marijuana. Here is Botticelli's response about marijuana as a legal drug:

"I'm not a fan. What we've seen quite honestly is a dramatic decrease in the perception of risk among youth around occasional marijuana use. And they are getting the message that because it's legal, that it is, there's no harm associated with it. So, we know that about one in nine people who use marijuana become addicted to marijuana. It's been associated with poor academic performance, in exacerbating mental health conditions linked to lower IQ."

Now although Botticelli is doing great things and his focus on treatment is a vast improvement in our drug policy, he is not an expert in the science of this field. His education consists of a Bachelor of Arts degree from Siena College and a Master of Education degree from St. Lawrence University.

His background is essential for educating the public about drug policy but he does not have any background in the science of medicinal pharmacology.

So let's look at some factual errors in the above statement. First, he says that one in nine marijuana users become addicted. It is disappointing that Botticelli would use the wrong terminology in this regard. Here is the science of the matter:

Estimates of the number of people addicted to marijuana are controversial, in part because epidemiological studies of substance use often use dependence as a proxy for addiction even though it is possible to be dependent without being addicted. Those studies suggest that 9 percent of people who use marijuana will become dependent on it, rising to about 17 percent in those who start using young (in their teens).

Notice the word dependent. There is a clinical difference between dependency and addiction. As Botticelli pointed out in the 60 minutes segment, addiction changes the brain chemistry and the ability to stop using the drug. That is a disease which only responds to medical treatment and counseling. Dependency is different. A coffee drinker can become dependent on caffeine. Those people who say they can't do anything until they have had their cup of coffee are stating a dependency symptom. Our bodies get used to this state of being and feels more normal when an infusion of caffeine happens. But outside of some minor withdrawal symptoms (in the case of caffeine - irritability and a headache), we can stop our infusion of caffeine. It might take a few days to reacquaint our bodies to a caffeine free state, but we will soon function normally.

Marijuana can create a similar dependency.

Now marijuana can also move into an addiction phase if doses become too high for too long a period of time. Abuse like that can happen with almost any drug, but to classify marijuana as narcotic is just as ridiculous as classifying alcohol in the same manner.

And Botticelli repeats another oft cited marijuana issue - links to lower IQ.

There was a classic study published last January which used sound scientific research involving twins and marijuana use. The conclusion?

After taking environmental factors into account, the scientists found no measurable link between marijuana use and lower IQ.

It was a strong conclusion and published in reputable science journals.

Now, nobody is saying that marijuana doesn't have risks and usage issues. I have little doubt that we will have our share of marijuana abusers developing in states that allow cannabis for recreational use. It needs to be dealt with in the same manner as any mood altering drug. But the evidence continues to grow that marijuana has less addictive properties and more medicinal potential than anything already in legal use.

Mr. Botticelli has concerns that, because marijuana has been legalized in some states, that young people are going to assume that it is harmless. That is certainly a possible outcome and we need to be sure to address that with proper education. Cannabis needs to be regulated and people who use it should be made aware of their risks and responsibilities.

But education on the product is the key - not making incorrect claims about its properties or its effects.

And one of the places that needs the most education is the law enforcement community. They are still locked into the "war on drugs" mentality and have convinced themselves that marijuana is some kind of gateway drug to harder narcotics. And as I keep trying to point out, it is not a gateway drug, but its Schedule I classification puts it into the hands of dealers and smugglers that expose users to other addictive drugs.

I hope that Michael Botticelli continues his effective work. That he continues to push forward drug policies that makes treatment our main weapon against addiction - and that legal penalties and incarceration can be reduced and made more fair.

The science of marijuana is out of Botticelli's purview and he needs to let the science determine how we classify marijuana. And, at the same time, maybe we can make the penalties in regards to marijuana more reasonable and fitting for the ramifications of the drug itself.

More education is the key - for everyone.
comments (1) permalink
01/13/17 16:13



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