The government’s giant marijuana deception

America’s marijuana policies continue to be hopelessly divorced from science rather than driven by it

Topics: AlterNet, weed, marijuana, drug war, Nora Volkow, ,

The government's giant marijuana deception (Credit: AP/Ted S. Warren)
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNet In her latest blog post, US National Institute on Drug Abuse director Nora Volkow claims that “science should guide marijuana policy.” But if the nation’s top anti-drug doc truly believes that facts, not ideological rhetoric, ought to shape America’s drug policies, why does she feel the need to keep distorting the truth about pot?

Writes Volkow: “Besides being addictive, marijuana is cognitively impairing even beyond the phase of acute intoxication and regular use during adolescence may cause a significant, possibly permanent IQ loss.”

Or, more than likely, it may not. In fact, the very study Volkow relies on to make this questionable claim was publically repudiated in a 2012 review published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. That review suggests that socioeconomic differences, not pot use, are responsible for dissimilarities found among former teen marijuana users and non-users. In fact, once economic variables were factored into the assessment, the analysis reported that cannabis’ actual effect on IQ was likely to be “zero.”

As for Nora Volkow’s allegation that pot is addictive, well, a bit of context is necessary. Do a minority of people who experiment with cannabis at some point in their lives exhibit symptoms of drug dependence? Yes, about nine percent do so, according to the National Academy of Science, Institute of Medicine. But this percentage is similar to that of anxiolytics and is far lower than the dependence liability associated with other substances like alcohol (15 percent) and tobacco (32 percent). So concludes the Institute in its report ”Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base”: “[A]lthough few marijuana users develop dependence, some do. But they appear to be less likely to do so than users of other drugs (including alcohol and nicotine), and marijuana dependence appears to be less severe than dependence on other drugs.”



NIDA’s head also writes, “Brain scans in users who started when they were young show impaired neural development, probably because cannabis interferes with normal brain maturation.”

Hardly. Although a handful of imaging studies have identified slight differences in the brains of cannabis users versus controls, investigators have cautioned that these results are correlations only. It is further acknowledged that these differences do not appear to be associated with any overt adverse effects in subjects’ actual cognition or behavior. In fact, an authoritative review on the subject of cannabis use and cognitive performance, published by the International Psychological Society, concluded, “The results of our meta-analytic study failed to reveal a substantial, systematic effect of long-term, regular cannabis consumption on the neurocognitive functioning of users who were not acutely intoxicated.”

In a weak attempt to try and further bolster the case for maintaining criminal cannabis prohibition, Volkow states, “We do not yet know how marijuana will affect vulnerable populations like older people or those with physical or mental health problems.”

Setting aside the fact that cannabis has been used by human populations for thousands of years, thus providing us with ample empirical evidence as to the herb’s relative safety, Volkow’s overall point appears to be this: ‘Since we remain unaware of how cannabis may impact our most vulnerable populations we should continue to criminally arrest, prosecute, and potentially incarcerate everyone who consumes it.’ Does this in any way read like a ‘scientific’ or ‘public health approach’ to addressing the cannabis issue? At the very least we – and this includes Volkow – know enough about cannabis, as well as the failures of cannabis prohibition, to publicly advocate for an end to the practice of arresting adults who consume it responsibly.

Finally, Volkow says, “There is no reason to think laws limiting marijuana to adults will be any more successful than comparable laws for cigarettes or alcohol.” Yet the very public policies and regulations Volkow is criticizing have, in recent years, proven to be tremendously effective. According to the latest federal government figures, self-reported alcohol consumption within the past 30 days among 12th graders has fallen from 75 percent in the late-1970s to 40 percent today. Tobacco use among 12th graders has similarly dropped, from 28 percent in the 1990s to just 16 percent today. It is the imposition and enforcement of age restrictions – coupled with science-based educational campaigns targeting young people – that have directly led to the historic reductions in young people’s use of alcohol and tobacco, the latter of which is now stands at a historic low and is far less popular among teens than is use of the illegal herb.

In closing, Volkow writes, “Approaching drug use as a public health issue should be a critical goal, and these approaches should be informed by science.”

On this point, we agree. But, unfortunately, with ideologues like Nora Volkow running the show, America’s marijuana policies will continue to be hopelessly divorced from science rather than driven by it.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...