The rehabitionists are just losing their minds over the CNN / Dr. Sanjay Gupta "Weed" documentary. We previously brought you Prohibitionists furiously spinning Dr. Sanjay Gupta's "Weed", where I tackled the bleatings of social-policy-Ph.D Kevin Sabet's Project SAM in response to neurosurgeon-M.D. Sanjay Gupta.
If you've been reading the Rant for a while, you know Kevin Sabet as the Joker to my Batman (ah, if only I had Bruce Wayne's bank account). If so, then Dr. Christian Thurstone is the Riddler. He sort of looks like Frank Gorshim, anyway. Dr. Thurstone is one of the Denver-area's leading rehab businessmen and an opponent of both Colorado Amendments 64 (legal) and 20 (medical) marijuana. Because, you know, the children!
Now, normally I try not to hurl too many stones at people with advanced degrees from my college dropout glass house. I respect the talent, dedication, perseverance, and debt it takes to get a Ph.D. or an M.D. Lately, though, I've noticed that people like Dr. Sabet and Dr. Thurstone don't extend that same respect to their colleagues, some of whom have far more relevant experience and education in the fields of science and medicine (*cough* Sabet *cough*).
This latest missive from Dr. Thurstone, Riggs: What Was CNN Smokin'?, loses points not only for hack use of a pot pun headline but for daring to impugn the credentials of the doctors - medical science doctors - in the Dr. Sanjay Gupta special as he introduces a guest piece from his colleague:
Dr. Paula Riggs, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado, is a true expert --- not a self-proclaimed expert --- in the research and treatment of marijuana addiction. She has extensive experience in clinical practice and research and also peer-reviewed publications in the field --- unlike some of the the sources Dr. Gupta and the CNN production team chose to feature at great length.
I've had the privilege of interviewing both Dr. Carl Hart and Dr. Julie Holland on my radio shows. In preparing for interviews I have to research the résumé of the subject. I know they are both as loathe to wave their CV as any respectable professional, so let me do it for them.
Dr. Hart is an Associate Professor of Psychology in both the Departments of Psychiatry and Psychology at Columbia University, and Director of the Residential Studies and Methamphetamine Research Laboratories at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. A major focus of Dr. Hart's research is to understand complex interactions between drugs of abuse and the neurobiology and environmental factors that mediate human behavior and physiology. He is the author or co-author of dozens of peer-reviewed scientific articles in the area of neuropsychopharmacology, co-author of the textbook, Drugs, Society, and Human Behavior, and a member of a NIH review group. Dr. Hart was recently elected to Fellow status by the American Psychological Association (Division 28) for his outstanding contribution to the field of psychology, specifically psychopharmacology and substance abuse. In addition to his substantial research responsibilities, Dr. Hart teaches undergraduate and graduate courses and was recently awarded Columbia University's highest teaching award.
Dr. Julie Holland is a board-certified psychiatrist in New York City. As an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Holland majored in the "Biological Basis of Behavior," a series of courses combining the study of psychology and neural sciences, with a concentration in psychopharmacology, or drugs and the brain. In 1992, Dr. Holland received her medical degree from Temple University School of Medicine, where she performed research on auditory hallucinations, extensively interviewing nearly one hundred psychotic patients. In 1996, she completed a psychiatric residency at Mount Sinai Medical Center, where she was the creator of a research project treating schizophrenics with a new medication, obtaining an IND from the Food and Drug Administration. In 1994, she received the Outstanding Resident Award from the National Institute of Mental Health. From 1996 to 2005, Dr. Holland ran the psychiatric emergency room of Bellevue Hospital on Saturday and Sunday nights. A liaison to the hospital's medical emergency room and toxicology department, she is considered an expert on street drugs and intoxication states, and lectures widely on this topic.
I can't speak directly to the credentials of Dr. Alan Shackleford or the other doctors in America and Israel who were featured in the documentary, but I'm assured they are all well-qualified to speak on the issue of marijuana. Let's see what Dr. Thurstone's "true expert" Dr. Riggs has to say - here are some of her complaints:
1. The documentary conveyed that habitual marijuana smokers were less impaired drivers compared to occasional smokers --- based on CNN's anecdotal demonstration that included two individuals.
- D'Souza et al. 2008 - "... frequent users of cannabis are either inherently blunted in their response to, and/or develop tolerance to the psychotomimetic, perceptual altering, amnestic, endocrine, and other effects of cannabinoids."
- Ramaekers et al. 2009 - "THC did not affect the performance of heavy cannabis users except in the stop signal task... cannabis use history strongly determines the behavioural response to single doses of THC."
- Hart et al. 2010 - "...frequent marijuana users may show fewer behavioral signs of disruption during intoxication than infrequent users."
- Ramaekers et al. 2010 - "...heavy cannabis users develop tolerance to the impairing effects of THC on neurocognitive task performance."
2. The documentary clearly promoted the use of smoked "medical" marijuana and did not mention alternatives, such as synthetic THC.
Because Marinol pills are not an alternative for the 19-year-old guy to swallow while he's having his diaphragmatic seizures and waiting the 45 minutes digestion time it takes for them to take effect. Besides, the show is "Weed", not "Pills". Marinol's already legal, it doesn't need a documentary.
3. The documentary did indicate that marijuana is "addictive," stating that 9 percent (or 1 in 11) of individuals who smoke marijuana progress to addiction or dependence. However, CNN did not distinguish between adults and adolescents --- who have been shown to have greater vulnerability to cannabis addiction.
Actually, that 9 percent statistic from National Institutes of Drug Abuse includes all pot smokers from age 12 up. The stupid "1 in 6 adolescents" get addicted statistic comes from rehabitionists adding together percentages from separate youth groups.
The debunk of these "addiction" stats is easy if you just think through it. In the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use & Health, of the 108 million people who admit they have tried marijuana, 61.7 million of them tried it before age 18. So one-sixth of them, or about 10.2 million, should be "marijuana addicts". Or, take the one-out-of-eleven stat against the 108 million and you get 9.7 million "marijuana addicts".
Yet the same NSDUH tells us that there are 3.4 million people aged 12 and older who admit to smoking pot every day of the month. To get into the ten million range, you need to include everyone who smokes pot eight days a month (twice a week) or more. There are almost 30 million people who smoke pot annually, so Dr. Riggs is asserting that one in three pot smokers is an "addict". Yeah, I suppose if you count every person who smokes pot on the weekends as an "addict"... but by that standard, we really need to start worrying about all the alcoholics!
4. The documentary created confusion about the potential benefits of Cannabidiol, also called CBD, versus the high THC content of most medical and recreational marijuana products. I was most concerned by the suggestion that cannabis may be neuroprotective (e.g, "build her brain").
You mean that THC that you mentioned was medically beneficial in Marinol pills in complaint #2? Or the high THC content found in the herb being smoked by the 19-year-old with diaphragmatic spasms? As for "build her brain", the study from Wolf et al 2010 concluded "CB1 affected the stages of adult neurogenesis that involve intermediate highly proliferative progenitor cells and the survival and maturation of new neurons. The pro-neurogenic effects of CBD might explain some of the positive therapeutic features of CBD-based compounds."
5. Although there are certainly individuals with medical conditions whose use of marijuana supports more research, the CNN documentary was scientifically imbalanced and irresponsible in suggesting positive health and psychological benefits for which there is little to no evidence.
Other than what you saw with your own lyin' eyes. More research, she says, even though I was just able to find 23,997 studies on cannabinoids in the government's own PubMed database dating as far back as 1938. Maybe that 24,000th study will finally convince her there's enough research.
6. The many positive claims of health benefits associated with medical marijuana were not balanced by the scientifically known health risks associated with marijuana use.
Yes, she goes there, including the widely debunked "average eight-point reduction in their adult IQ" talking point, even going so far as to compare it to "a public health crisis comparable to the impact of environmental lead poisoning." According to a 2002 study by Landrigan et al, lead poisoning cost US healthcare $43.4 billion per year. The World Health Organization notes that lead poisoning causes 1 out of 500 deaths every year.
She then crusades for the children - the juvenile deliquents sure to be born to pot-smoking moms, the toddlers who might accidentally eat a pot brownie, the teenagers on today's Not Your Father's Woodstock Weed who are damaging their brains, and the few chronic tokers who smoke themselves into a vomiting fit. Well, that clinches it; we'd better keep it illegal for the adults whose brains have already developed, are less likely to become dependent, and are allowed to pickle their livers with alcohol and blacken their lungs with tobacco, because it is bad for children.
While I enjoy wading in the minutiae of this reefer madness, you, dear reader, have a much simpler way of dealing with these rehabitionists. No matter what talking point comes out of their mouth, you just respond with "...so that's why we need to continue wasting law enforcement resources on imprisoning cannabis farmers and marijuana dealers and why adults who smoke pot must be forced into rehab with piss tests backed by threat of jail?" From the way they complain, you'd think we were proposing including blunt wraps and a dime bag with school lunches!