Thursday, October 16, 2014

Cannabis Not As Addictive As Heroin--By A Long Shot

The Telegraph, a British newspaper, has published an article about a marijuana study as if it were a major new study. In fact, this study has been around for more than 20 years, in one form or another. Its author, Wayne Hall, is the primary exponent of the idea that marijuana is harmful to health and dangerous to its users. There is nothing new in this study, aside from the addition of a few studies that add very little to our understanding and nothing to the debate on marijuana legalization that is currently going on.

The Telegraph article repeats misinformation that has been disputed by recent studies. For example, the article states that marijuana use doubles the risk of psychological disorders. But a recent study failed to find any connection between marijuana use and psychosis.

The Telegraph article also states that marijuana use doubles the risk of a car crash. The National Institute of Health (NIH) states that the influence of alcohol on fatal crashes is well-established, but
studies have been inconclusive regarding whether cannabis use causes an increased risk of accidents.
Statistics taken in states with Medical Marijuana Laws show that fatal traffic accidents decrease by 8 to 11 percent after marijuana is legalized, possibly because marijuana is used as a substitute for alcohol, which is much more likely to cause traffic accidents.

The headline of the article claims that cannabis is addictive as heroin. But the article quotes Hall as saying that,
If cannabis is not addictive, then neither is heroin or alcohol.
This statement by Hall indicates that there is some ambivalence in his mind about whether cannabis is addictive at all. In a New York Times blog article, Hall again admits the doubt around this statement by saying
[s]ome people remain skeptical about whether marijuana dependence exists but let’s assume that it does.
We can just as easily assume that it doesn't.

The word "addiction", according to the World Health Organization, refers to behavior, not physical dependency. Indications of addiction to prescription drugs are

denial of drug use; lying; forgery of prescriptions; theft of drugs from other patients or family members; selling and buying drugs on the street; using prescribed drugs to get "high."
Notice that these behaviors do not all apply to illicit drugs like marijuana, which must be bought on the street and which are generally used to get "high."

The number one risk of taking marijuana is the possibility of arrest and imprisonment. This is not an inherent aspect of the drug, but the result of laws and attitudes that unfairly target marijuana users. In comparison with other drugs, such as alcohol and nicotine, cannabis, especially in small doses, is relatively harmless.

Norm Stamper, former police chief of Seattle, states unequivocally that

[a]ny law disobeyed by more than 100 million Americans, the number who’ve tried marijuana at least once, is bad public policy. As a 34-year police veteran, I’ve seen how marijuana prohibition breeds disrespect for the law, and contempt for those who enforce it.

Alcohol creates physical dependency and results in diseases such as heart disease, cancers of the liver and esophagus, and many other harmful conditions. Nicotine addiction creates physical dependency leads to heart disease and lung cancer. Marijuana use may or may not lead to physical dependency, has never been proven fatal, and is not proven to cause any form of cancer through prolonged use.

The Center for Disease Control puts the number of deaths annually attributable to alcohol use at 88,000, and states that
economic costs of excessive alcohol consumption in 2006 were estimated at $223.5 billion, or $1.90 a drink.
The CDC puts the annual number of deaths caused by tobacco smoking at 480,000. This includes at least 41,000 deaths from second-hand smoke, meaning that the victims did not actually smoke tobacco themselves, yet still died from it.

Marijuana use in conjunction with alcohol may cause some traffic fatalities. Men who smoke marijuana are more likely to have unprotected sex and expose themselves to risk of AIDS. But there is no solid evidence that marijuana use alone causes any fatalities at all.

So why does the Telegraph consider it important to publish an article filled with lies about a relatively harmless drug? Even more to the point, why do American courts still sentence thousands of non-violent drug offenders--mostly minorities--to prison sentences for marijuana use?

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