Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Uncle Sam on Pot—Part 1

The DEA has some pretty good reasons for keeping marijuana illegal. Unfortunately, those reasons have no connection whatsoever to reality. Below are some of the reasons the U.S. government would like us to believe justify the war on drugs. They are taken directly from the DEA web site, and each is followed by my analysis.

Smoking marijuana weakens the immune system and raises the risk of lung infections. A Columbia University study found that a control group smoking a single marijuana cigarette every other day for a year had a white-blood-cell count that was 39 percent lower than normal, thus damaging the immune system and making the user far more susceptible to infection and sickness.

But what about the federal government’s patent (see the previous article)? It is for compounds in marijuana that act as antioxidants and neuroprotectants. That sounds like something that strengthens not weakens the immune system. Oddly enough, the reference they give for this “Columbia study” is an article in the Washington Times. I couldn’t find any reference anywhere to an actual study done at Columbia that fits with the findings the DEA describes.

But, you might say, maybe it’s the smoking they have a problem with when it comes to medicinal uses, not the drug itself. If that were true, I bet most medical users would not object to ingesting their medicine another way. If they were only given the opportunity.

Marijuana is an addictive drug with significant health consequences to its users and others. Many harmful short-term and long-term problems have been documented with its use.

That’s funny. That’s just the opposite of what every major federally-funded study in the past 70 years has found. I wonder what “documentation” they are referring to. The references they give for this statement are articles in Foreign Affairs Magazine and the Washington Times. Sound like some pretty solid sources to me. I know I base all my medical decisions on what some obscure news magazine says.

The short term effects of marijuana use include: memory loss, distorted perception, trouble with thinking and problem solving, loss of motor skills, decrease in muscle strength, increased heart rate, and anxiety.

Wow! There’s one they got right, at least to a certain extent. I guess that means that you shouldn’t drive or operate heavy machinery when stoned. Fair enough. But then again, I don’t think anyone is advocating the legalization of driving under the influence.

In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of emergency room mentions of marijuana use. From 1993-2000, the number of emergency room marijuana mentions more than tripled.

Mentions? What does that mean? Was it mentioned in casual conversation. Like a guy in the waiting room is telling his friend that he smoked marijuana once? Or did somebody specifically ask about it? Perhaps the admitting nurse asked if the patient ever smoked pot and they replied yes. Notice how they carefully avoid saying marijuana was the cause of any ER visits? I’m not sure why they would be so careful to avoid misstating facts in this case when they flat out lie in others. Makes me suspicious.

There are also many long-term health consequences of marijuana use. According to the National Institutes of Health, studies show that someone who smokes five joints per week may be taking in as many cancer-causing chemicals as someone who smokes a full pack of cigarettes every day.

I have to say I’m a bit skeptical about this one too. Of course when you inhale the smoke from any burning plant you’re bound to inhale some nasty stuff. But there has been no evidence that smoking marijuana increases the probability of getting lung cancer anywhere near what smoking cigarettes does. In fact, recent research has shown that compounds in marijuana can actually reduce the likelihood of getting certain kinds of cancers. (A future piece will look at the findings from a recent NIH study. It’s obviously not the one the DEA is referencing.)

To be continued…

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