March 20, 2011

Marijuana Myth Busters

March 20, 2011
Gary Coleman

By Paul Rogers

The Powers That Be would have us believe that marijuana can hurt our health and ruin–or even end–our lives. Cannabis is portrayed as a “gateway drug” (that leads on to “harder,” more harmful substances), with no medical value, that only full prohibition can save us from. The problem is that serious scholarly studies (many of which were funded by the government) and published reports refute all this. We looked at 10 studies the government would rather we never read.


Say What? Prohibition doesn’t work.

Says Who? The National Research Council of the National Academies (NRC).

So What? The NRC’s 2001 report, Informing America’s Policy on Illegal Drugs:

What We Don’t Know Keeps Hurting Us, concluded that data was simply lacking to show the effectiveness of government drug policy–and particularly drug law enforcement. Using what information was available at the time, this substantial report (which was requested by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy in 1998) noted that there is “little apparent relationship between severity of sanctions prescribed for drug use and prevalence or frequency of use.”


Say What? Marijuana is safer than booze and tobacco.

Says Who? The World Health Organization–and Americans!

So What? Having studied the comparative health and societal consequences of marijuana use compared to other drugs, including alcohol and nicotine, in the mid-1990s, World Health Organization experts concluded: “Cannabis poses a much less serious public health problem than is currently posed by alcohol and tobacco in Western societies.” Americans appear to agree. In a 2009 Rasmussen Reports telephone survey, 51 percent of respondents said alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana (and just 19 percent said pot is worse).


Say What? Marijuana is a terminus, not a gateway.

Says Who? French researchers.

So What? Far from leading to the use of other illicit substances, research by scientists in Paris suggests that pot might actually reduce the urge to try “hard” drugs. The findings of Valérie Daugé and her team at the Laboratory for Physiopathology of Diseases of the Central Nervous System, published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology in 2009, concluded that the administration of oral THC to rats can suppress their sensitivity to opiate dependence.


Say What? Marijuana has medical value.

Says Who? The Institute of Medicine (ION).

So What? The IOM’s 1999, White House-commissioned review of available data on the herb’s medical risks and benefits found marijuana to be “moderately well suited for particular conditions, such as chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and AIDS wasting.” Apparently these findings were not quite what the feds were hoping for. Co-author John A. Benson told the New York Times in 2006 that “[The federal government] loves to ignore our report.”


Say What? Cannabis won’t ruin your life!

Says Who? The Department of Veterans Affairs.

So What? In 1997, Veterans Affairs scientists published the findings of their study of 56 pairs of identical twins, one of which had been a heavy marijuana user, while the second had barely touched the stuff. “No significant differences were found between the former marijuana user twins and their siblings for current socio-demographic characteristics, current nicotine or alcohol use; life-time nicotine or alcohol abuse/dependence, past 5-year out-patient or emergency room visits, hospitalizations or medication use for medical problems; past 5-year mental health out-patient use or hospitalizations; or health-related quality of life,” their report found. So there!


Say What? Marijuana can lower risks of certain cancers.

Says Who? Brown University.

So What? A 2009 study by investigators at Brown University on Rhode Island (along with researchers at the University of Minnesota, Louisiana State University and Boston University) reported that moderate long-term marijuana users are around 62 percent less likely to develop head and neck cancers (compared with non-marijuana smokers). Their report, which was published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research, stated that “marijuana use modified the interaction between alcohol and cigarette smoking, resulting in a decreased [cancer] risk.”


Say What? Smoking cannabis does not induce mental illness.

Says Who? Britain’s Keele University Medical School.

So What? Both the media and some governments have long linked smoking marijuana with mental illness. Yet a report by Keele University Medical School, based on incidences of schizophrenia and trends in cannabis use in the U.K. from 1996 to 2005, suggested there was in fact no correlation between the two. Though cannabis use was rising in that country during that period, the Keele researchers reported that “the incidence and prevalence of schizophrenia and psychoses were either stable or declining” and that “this study does not therefore support the specific causal link between cannabis use and incidence of psychotic disorders.”


Say What? Government anti-pot ads can backfire.

Says Who? The Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.

So What? In 2009, investigators at the Annenberg School for Communication posted the results of their assessment of the attitudes of over 600 adolescents after viewing 60 fed-funded, anti-pot TV spots. In particular, they evaluated responses to marijuana-related imagery (like the depiction of people smoking pot) in these public service announcements. Scenes like these were “significantly less effective than others,” said the study. “For [high-risk] adolescents, including marijuana scenes … may not be a good strategy.”


Say What? Marijuana may protect, not harm, the brain.

Says Who? Investigators at the University of California San Diego.

So What? UC San Diego researchers used high-tech scans to compare microscopic changes in the brain’s white matter in adolescents with histories of binge boozing and cannabis use. Sure enough, binge drinkers showed signs of white matter damage in eight regions of the brain. But those who also used pot experienced less damage in seven out of these eight regions. Their findings, published in the journal Neurotoxicology and Teratology in 2009, included the possibility “that marijuana may have some neuroprotective properties in mitigating alcohol-related oxidative stress or excitotoxic cell death.”


Say What? Marijuana won’t kill you!

Says Who? The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

So What? As long ago as 1997, a huge study of California HMO members sponsored by NIDA (and published in the American Journal of Public Health) concluded that marijuana use causes no significant increase in mortality. Oh, and that tobacco use is associated with increased risk of death (duh!).


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