Friday, October 30, 2015

Letter to the Editor on Marijuana Use

Written in Late November 2009
Edited on October 30th, 2015

Note: This piece was not published.

      In an editorial dissent written for the Badger Herald entitled “An impaired decision” (Nov. 23rd, 2009), Beth Mueller argued against the legalization of cannabis for purposes other than “well-controlled and justified medicinal use.”
      Mueller characterized marijuana use as “inherently harmful.” This statement neglects the fact that the negative effects of marijuana use may be greatly diminished if safer absorption methods are utilized. Heating marijuana to the appropriate temperature of approximately 185° F causes Δ-THC, the most well-known active ingredient in cannabis, to boil, thus allowing the user to inhale the vapor while avoiding the cancer-causing effects of combusted carbon, as well as the pain and damage to the lungs caused by inhaling hot fumes. Hence, the immediate, non-psychological, detrimental health effects of marijuana use may be easily avoided with proper care and equipment, expensive though it may be.
      Mueller also claimed that marijuana use causes “[t]he impairment of reason” and “block[s] the ability to think rationally”. She used cliché arguments against recreational users of marijuana, such as that they seek “only pleasure over the higher... goals of humanity”, and to “forget [them]selves and the world just to feel good.” She also wrote that marijuana use for purely recreational, non-medicinal purposes is “mere escapism” and causes “artificial warping of the mind”, and claimed that it diminishes awareness.
      It was irresponsible of Mueller to use such arguments without citing supporting medical evidence. For decades, opponents of marijuana have claimed that it kills brain cells, decreases short-term memory, and impedes the user's ability to think rationally, but recent medical evidence suggests just the opposite.
      According to the website of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), researchers at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon found in 2005 that the administration of synthetic cannabinoids in rats stimulated the proliferation of newborn neurons in the hippocampus region of the brain. Not only that, but a 2007 study by the American Association for the Advancement of Science revealed that endocannabinoids shape neuronal connectivity.
      In laymen's terms, the active ingredients in marijuana not only assist the transformation of neuronal (nerve) stem cells into adult neuronal [...] cells, but also facilitate the building of connections between such cell, which may actually serve to increase the brain's capacity to store memory. Arguments that characterize marijuana use as harmful to the brains and minds of adults are, at best, ill-informed and pseudoscientific, and at worst, intentionally deceptive and alarmist.
      Other medical studies have suggested that marijuana use may have effects that are helpful in either preventing, curing, or relieving symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, Tourette's syndrome, heart disease, and cancers such as glioma, a cancer of the nervous system. However, this is not to say that marijuana consumed via the safest available methods is completely without harm. Marijuana use can cause cognitive defects in fetuses, and, according to UW [University of Wisconsin] professor Amy Mosher-Garvey, M.S.S.W., it is physiologically addictive.
      I agree with Beth Mueller's main thrust that the consumption of cannabis for purposes other than “well-controlled and justified medicinal use” should be warned against, but I believe that the list of reasons that constitute justified medicinal use is longer and more broad than the list of reasons Mueller would be likely to accept.
      Neither I nor any doctor would ever suggest that anyone smoke pot while operating heavy machinery or in the presence of minors, nor that an expecting mother do the same. When it comes to the willful ingestion of controlled substances for recreational purposes, safety, moderation, and keeping oneself well-informed should always be encouraged.