Cannabis: Drugs and Developing Minds

New study suggests cannabis use by teens damages brain worse than suspected

I was amused by this article.  It’s the type of thing that would feed some people’s fears.  “OMG!  Pot is destroying our children’s minds!  The fear-mongering of the Just Say No ads was right!  That really is how your brain looks on drugs!”

Yeah, yeah, yeah… well, everything effects the brain, especially the developing brain.  The brain keeps developing even during the decade when most people go to college, start drinking heavily and start experimenting with drugs.  Heck, your diet and environment effects your brain.  Children who grow up poor (malnourishment and environmental pollution) grow up to have many physical and mental health problems (such as lowered IQ).

And you think illegal drugs are the main problem?  Recent research shows that cigarettes and alcohol are more harmful than marijuana.  Also, research shows that prescription drugs given to children (such as the popular Ritalin) can permanently alter their brain functioning.  The prescribing of drugs to children has increased massively in recent years.  There are more kids taking legal drugs than illegal drugs (although they may be taking legal drugs that are prescribed to others which is the biggest drug problem in schools).

I don’t think kids should be smoking pot, but kids shouldn’t be doing many things (whether by their own choice or by the choice of adults).  In the big picture, though, I don’t think marijuana comes even close to being one of the bigger issues to worry about.

Re: Time to turn against cannabis!

Keith E Rice’s blog post titled Time to turn against cannabis!

My comments:

I hadn’t heard of this research. I love research because it can disprove commonly accepted ‘facts’, but I’m always suspicious of how research gets interpreted. The obvious question that arises in my mind is whether people with certain personlity and/or genetic predispositions are more likely to smoke marijuana. Maybe people who have a predisposition to schizophrenia also have a predisposition to experimenting with drugs and so the correlation may or may not be causation.

For example, Ernest Hartmann has written about the relationship between dreams and schizophrenia in terms of thin boundary types. One trait that thin boundary types have is an openness to experience and so they’re more likely to experiment in general.

The question is how many people who become schizophrenic after cannabis use would’ve become schizophrenic whether or not they’d used cannabis? Does the cannabis cause or contribute to schizophrenia? That question still hasn’t been answered. More careful research is required.

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I must admit that I don’t have that strong opinion about marijuana per se.  I just have a negative reaction to the lies and propaganda I was spoon-fed growing up.  It’s hard to know what is true when you were never given the truth.  For example, this meta-analysis had an obvious bias.  The data was being interpeted to a specific ideological conclusion.  I say just give me the data and don’t tell me what it means.  I’m fine with presenting me with the various ways of interpreting it.  I do think there is a decent chance that it might contribute to schizophrenia and so the authorities should say that in an honest way.  It’s possible to simplify information so as to effectively communicate without turning it into lies and propaganda.

Yeah, marijuana has risks but so do lots of legal substances which have dangerous side effects when misused or not supervised carefully by a doctor.  Marijuana also has medical benefits.  That is why you legalize it so that people using it for medical purposes get medical supervision. Sure, people will still use it incorrectly, but that is true for every other legal medication.  Every substance that is prescribed by a doctor can also be bought on the street.  In fact, some legally prescribed drugs are very popular in college and highschool.  Kids illegally sell their legal prescriptions all of the time.  You can’t stop illegal distribution of drugs (whether or not the drugs are legal), but you can decrease the dangers by not lying to people.  Making generalizations that are simplified truths are fine.  Lying is never acceptable.

I don’t think everyone can handle everything.  For one, that is why you legalize it in order to put it in the realm of public knowledge and accountability.  Many people do listen to their doctors and other authority figures, but people lose trust in authorities when they’re lied to.  Drugs bought on the street are even more dangerous because you don’t necessarily know what you’re buying.  As far as I know, there is no evidence that legalizing marijuana increases its use.  You simply decrease the number of people being in prison.  Prohibition proved the truth of this.

I understand your general argument, but it’s a slippery slope.  Why stop with cannabis?  People do all kinds of things that are immensely unhealthy (physically and mentally).  The most unhealthy addictive drug man has ever invented is refined sugar which kills massive numbers of people and leads even more to miserable lives of a wide variety of diseases and disabilities.  Fast food is probably a bigger killer than smoking and alcohol combined.  People make bad decisions all of the time that quickly or slowly destory their lives.  I’d be fine with illegalizing all unhealthy and dangerous activities if it actually stopped those activities, but it doesn’t.  Marijuana is illegal and yet people keep using it.

By the time of college, around half of people report having tried marijuana and about half of those report being current users.  However, I don’t know if this takes into account the massive under-reporting.  According to under-reporting estimates, 41 million Americans use marijuana annually.  The drug war has failed.  Lies and propaganda have failed.  Why not try a different approach?

So, I say prove to me that illegalization and scare tactics work because all evidence seems to be to the contrary.  The government has already tried for several decades of “lurid front page headlines about the dangers of using cannabis” and they failed.  Cannabis use increased during that time of endless propaganda.  I saw that kind of propaganda growing up.  It didn’t stop me and it didn’t stop most of my peers.  I’m for whatever works, whatever helps people.  I’m just against ideology.  It’s similar to people who promote abstinence programs even though they increase the number of pregnancies and STDs.  Personally, I believe results are more important than ideology.  Show me the results.  It’s not about what people can handle.  It’s about what works.

There actually is an argument for propaganda.  It does work when all avenues of information are controlled.  For example, China has been very successful with propaganda because it tightly controls all media.  The problem is such control isn’t possible in a democracy.  Propaganda also works during times of extreme fear such as war, but it’s almost impossible to uphold a constant state of fear and probably isn’t desirable.  The thing is that kids these days are media saavy.  They don’t just accept what they’re told.  If you tell them one thing, they’ll search for opposing viewpoints and they’ll ask their friends.  If they learn they’ve been lied to or been told partial truths, then the propaganda will have an opposite effect than was intended.  Propaganda is a hard thing to do well.

Why do you think marijuana use increased during the largest anti-drug propaganda program the US government has ever implemented?  It wasn’t for a lack of trying nor was it for a lack of good intentions.

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You said something that caught my attention.

“So simplifications/generalisations/lies-based-on-truth can work. I think there will be whole load of factors which give us the zeitgeist – the spirit of the times.”

Attitudes can be changed, but I’m not sure exactly what changes them.

Why has the attitude about cigarettes changed so quickly?  It’s really hard to explain.  How does something switch from being socially acceptable to being socially unacceptable in such a short period of time?  Second-hand smoke is bad, but so are many things such as second-hand car exhaust… the latter being far worse for one’s health.  Why do cities build large parking ramps in the middle of town to encourage the concentration of car exhaust in the very concentration of the human population.  Why don’t they instead build parking ramps far away from populated areas and encourage public transporation?  I don’t own a car and so aren’t my rights being infringed in the way a non-smokers rights are being infringed sitting next to a smoker?

There are all kinds of things that are far worse than second-hand smoke.  Maybe the lies-founded-on-truth of the anti-tobacco lobbies worked because of effective campaigning that had nothing directly to do with facts.  They touched upon people’s emotions and other psychological motivations which are largely unconscious.  They made it uncool, but the facts were secondary.  If you know what you’re doing, people can be easy to manipulate sometimes (there is a lot of research studying this).  That is what advertising is about.  If companies couldn’t influence people to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do, then there’d be no advertising.  Campaigning, like advertising, actually works best when you bypass people’s rational response.  If you present facts, they’re only a facade to hide the true mechanisms of manipulation.  However, if the campaign lies about the facts and gets caught, then the manipulation will backfire.

Sadly, humans aren’t primarily rational and the change in public opinion isn’t rational either.  As I metioned, I think fastfood and junkfood are the biggest killer of any substances in the world.  If we were worried about public health, it would be illegal to buy fastfood and junkfood for kids.  But peole cherish their freedoms (and their habits and addictions) and will fight if you try to take them away.  The worst health hazards never get changed because they involve too many people.  If you can get the majority of people addicted to your substance such as sugar or if you can get the majority to use it on a regular basis such as alcohol, then you can ensure it will never be made illegal or that it won’t remain illegal for long because of public demand.

“As regards, alcohol, while it is still the most popular drug of all, certainly amongst the late teens/early twenties I meet either through family or school networks are very strongly anti-drink driving and they almost unanimously assure me their friends and acquaintances are of a similar mind. Drink-driving just isn’t cool! And now I see it starting to spread quite strongly amongst my own age group (45-50), often considered in the UK previously the most hard-to-shift group.”

This might be where it’s important to consider how generational cohorts play a part in change in attitudes.  But it’s important to keep in mind that generational shifts in attitude don’t always last beyond a specific generation.  There has been a campaign against drunk driving and it’s been effective.  The reason it’s worked is probably because it didn’t use lies and misinformation like was done with the anti-drug campaign.  It also touched upon the power of peer pressure.  Nobody wants to be uncool or to be judged.  This is particularly true for kids of the Millenial Generation which seem to put greater emphasis on peer influence than some previous generations.

I should add that I work in a parking ramp near bars where college kids congregate.  It may be true that drunk driving is less cool than it used to be, but trust me there are still a lot of drunk drivers.  It’s surprising that I see so many drunk drivers on a regular basis considering the legal ramifications of getting caught.  I’d be curious about the statistics about how much drunk driving has actually decreased.