By Richard E. Bleil, Ph.D.
Currently, there is a grass roots push (if you’ll pardon the puns) to legalize marijuana. Before going any further, I would like to say that I am a huge believer in taking responsibility for your own actions. I do believe that people should be able to make the choice of if they smoke marijuana, or take other drugs, but they also need to be held accountable for their actions. It’s one thing if they endanger themselves, but something entirely different if they threaten others. As such, anybody offering drugs to children, hiding it and offering it to unsuspecting individuals, or driving under the influence should be harshly punished. Legalizing drugs (or at least marijuana) would save the taxpayers a great deal of money with the expense of the “drug wars”, and incarceration of addicts, and if these drugs were controlled and taxed, the money could go towards education and treatment for addicts that want to clean themselves up, and it would still provide the means to go after unlicensed drug dealers.
But I do believe in education. People should know the facts before deciding to try drugs. With the current movement, there are a lot of people publishing claims that marijuana is harmless. It does have benefits, such as a calming effect and provides a potential for treatment for conditions such as chronic pain and anorexia, but let’s not pretend like it’s harmless. It has taken a long time to find negative effects, but the reality is that research on the effects of drugs began on the harder drugs known to be more harmful before marijuana. Recent studies have demonstrated that even a single use of marijuana can permanently affect the brain, and it does contain carcinogens. It is also a gateway drug for approximately 5% of the population. This may not seem like much, but it does mean one in twenty will become addicted to marijuana or worse.
Many people believe that marijuana is not as bad as alcohol, which is legally available to adults, and I agree. Alcohol is known to damage the brain, liver, pancreas, and other organs. It can lead to violent outbursts, and chronic use can lead to changes in personality. Anybody who has known an alcoholic is likely all to aware of these changes. Why alcohol is normalized in its use, but not marijuana, does strike me as hypocritical.
Tobacco use is also a drug. We are more familiar with the effects of these drugs, thanks to anti-smoking campaigns. Cancer, coughing, weakened immune systems, shortage of breath, and lessened senses of smell and taste are all well-known. Tobacco very well may be more carcinogenic than marijuana, although I’m not sure of any studies comparing these two.
I have good friends who are suffering from chronic pain or have loved ones that are, and are hoping for legalization of marijuana as a treatment. Currently, opiods such as hydrocodone, oxycodone and fentanyl, are prescribed. After my heart attack, I myself was prescribed hydrocodone, but only took one pill as I didn’t like the effects, opting instead to deal with the pain. What I do not know is if it was given to me while I was in the hospital. Opiods are highly addictive, the effects of which include lethargy, paranoia, respiratory depression and more. The symptoms of addiction can show in just three days, and long term addiction damages the liver and brain. One of the greatest dangers of opiods is when they fall into the hands of minors due to the frequency and ease of obtaining prescriptions. If you have completed a prescription, do NOT flush extras down the toilet (which introduces them into the waterways) or throw them in the garbage. Speak with your pharmacist on the proper way to dispose of them, as there are often drop-off locations to safely destroy them.
Amphetamines include dextroamphetamine, levoamphetamine and methamphetamine. Amphetamines influence the central nervous system and are sometimes prescribed to treat conditions such as ADHD. Amphetamines also have a high potential for addiction, and long term can lead to paranoia, outbursts of violence, convulsions and respiratory ailments. Methamphetamine is particularly fun, as they cause permanent physical changes in bone structure, loss and erosion of teeth, and because the body cannot properly pass it through normal modes of disposal, it stays in the system, and eventually crystallizes just under the surface of the skin as blemishes. Here’s a glamorous and fun fact, people with severe addiction cannot be placed in jail cells together because they have been known to pick the scabs off of each other and eat them for the methamphetamine content.
Bath salts belong to a class of drugs called cathinones, and includes things such as MDMA (known as “Molly”). Bath salts are great fun, as they tend to make people suffer from hyperthermia, psychosis, heart failure, kidney failure and damage to the skeletal structure. This is why people on bath salts are often found naked (they are trying to get cool), and killing and eating each other’s faces (yes, it really happened in Florida).
There are a plethora of additional drugs. Hallucinations (such as LSD PCP, mushrooms (psilocybin) and peyote), stimulants (such as cocaine and nicotine) and hypnotic depressant (known as “date rape drugs”, including GHB, and rhoypnol) to name just a few. It seems like most drugs are addictive, often damage the brain and liver, and causes changes in personality. I understand the pressures to begin using drugs (and that’s not even including having it “slipped” to an unsuspecting victim), and as I’ve said earlier, the decision SHOULD be in the hands of the individual. But before deciding to try anything, I recommend doing research on it (legitimate research; not the stories of people trying to normalize it) so you can at least make an informed decision.