Thursday, March 24, 2016

Legalization no longer the issue

Michael McCarthy is a freelance writer, contributing this excellent op-ed in today's Vancouver Sun.

Stoner mentality: The problem with marijuana is users don’t recognize it as an addiction

Once upon a time, long ago and far away, there was a hippie philosopher guru named Baba Ram Dass. He was formerly known as Richard Alpert, and taught at Harvard University. And then he discovered LSD.
One doctor specializing in addictions says the most dangerous drug on the street today is marijuana. With legalization closer than ever, the bigger threat from marijuana is treating addicts whose brain has told them being stoned is a healthy and normal state of mind.
  Ram Dass became famous for his bestselling book Be Here Now. It was a very simple title for a very simple concept: Wherever you are, be there. Don’t walk in front of buses, for instance. If you are crossing the street, pay attention. (Then came cellphones.)

What has all this to do with Mary Jane, you wonder? Pay attention. Marijuana is in the news every day now. Not only is the federal government going to legalize possession of it, there are now campaigns by “activists” to spread the use of it. No matter the same government is threatening to arrest people for smoking cigarettes; legalization is no longer the issue. There is a bigger threat.

Full disclosure: When I was young, I smoked dope. Everyone did. Not marijuana though. I lived in Montreal, where hashish was king, and Royal Nepalese Temple Hash gives you one heck of a buzz. When I moved to Vancouver, the hippies were smoking homegrown weed, “love grass” as go the lyrics to Steppenwolf’s song The Pusher. As an athlete, I gave up weed and switched to hockey and mountain bikes, where the endorphins produce a better high and the addictions are healthier.

Today’s weed is not grown in the shed next to where you keep your old Herman’s Hermits records. The THC in the new hydroponic strains are apparently 30 times stronger than love grass, and would wound a rhinoceros if rhinos were stupid enough to smoke. I say “apparently” because I am not going to do any tests to compare. The smell alone of modern skunkweed is enough to curl your socks, if you are unlucky enough to be in the vicinity when somebody lights up a doobie. But that’s not the issue.

Recently, I attended a conference about addiction. The doctor leading the conference, a psychiatrist with a specialty in addictions listed off all the new designer drugs, some so powerful they can kill you just by looking at them. A new opioid named W-18 evidently is 100 times more powerful than fentanyl, which is so powerful it has killed thousands of Canadians. But neither drug is the most addictive.

What is the most dangerous drug on the street today? The doctor replied the answer is easy: marijuana. He treats more patients for Mary Jane than all other drugs combined. Love grass? That’s impossible! You can never overdose on weed, although you may get lung cancer if you smoke enough of it.

The problem is that weed is the only dangerous drug that doesn’t come with its own built-in consequences. Unlike alcohol, heroin, crack and all the other popular drugs, marijuana is fairly benign, physically. No overdoses, no hangovers, no immediate negative consequences. Eventually you have to stop using other substances or they will stop you. Not marijuana.

Aside from a dozy state of post bliss euphoria known as “being wasted,” the worst effects of smoking dope are sleepiness and hunger that leads straight to the brownies. Gaining weight is the biggest hassle. But wait. There’s more, of course.

Given that you can smoke dope every day without any lasting consequences, many people do just that. Aside from the fact that they are stoned (which is not the best state of mind to be in when driving, working, looking after kids or many other activities), the addiction leads to changes in the brain and personality. You become a “stoner.” You think that people who aren’t stoned are the ones who have a problem.

This line of thinking, such as it is, does have consequences. Suppose, said the doctor, that your wife wants you to stop being stoned. Suppose your employer is not happy to find your brain is often parked in Never Never Land. Often this leads to divorce, unemployment, or other unhappy consequences.

Cigarette smokers will tell you that nicotine is the most addictive drug and hardest to quit. I never smoked cigarettes, so I can’t say, but I understand that you can make a conscious decision to stop when you realize it’s hurting you, see your doctor, put patches on your arm, and go for long walks and things like that. It’s somewhat harder to reconfigure a brain that has told itself that being stoned is a healthy and normal state of mind. You can’t break an addiction if you don’t recognize it as an addiction.

Be here now? Never mind all the stoners wandering around Lalaland in a daze wondering what day of the week it is. What about all these whackos with cellphones stuck in their ears walking in front of buses? Where is Ram Dass when you really need him?


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