Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Take Marijuana Off the Schedule I Narcotics List

Originally written on September 28th, 2016
Edited and Expanded on October 4th, 5th, 10th, and 19th, 2016
            On June 20th, 2012, Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) asked Drug Enforcement Administration Chief Michele Leonhart whether heroin, crack cocaine, and methamphetamine were greater health problems than marijuana is. Leonhart refused to comment, and declined to admit that hard drugs pose a greater health problem than marijuana does. Years later, Polis commented that she was "terrible at her job".

            Of course, marijuana and its byproducts should not be classified as Schedule I narcotics. This is, first, because the term "narcotic" has several definitions. One definition is simply a vague label for any illicit or prohibited drug. Another definition refers to any substance that affects mood or behavior, and has nonmedical purposes. Yet another definition implies that "narcotic" applies to opiates and sedatives, pain relievers and painkillers, and drugs with analgesic and anesthetic effects.

            While it is true that marijuana is illicit and prohibited, and has non-medical purposes (including its effects on psychology and emotions), it would be misleading to describe it as a narcotic. Marijuana is not a narcotic; rather, it has stimulant and depressant effects, both of them mild. Marijuana is certainly not an opiate; in fact, alcohol is more chemically similar to heroin than either alcohol or heroin is to marijuana.

            Secondly, marijuana does not belong on the Schedule I narcotics list, because drugs are supposed to be put on Schedule I only if they have no scientifically demonstrated medicinal benefits. Of course, marijuana does have medical purposes. The most active psychoactive ingredient in marijuana - Delta-9-THC (Delta-9-tetrahydracannabinol) - facilitates the growth of neuronal stem cells into adult neurons, and untangles the tau protein that agglomerates in neurons. This protein probably causes, or at least contributes to, a host of neurodegenerative disorders, possibly including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and Tourette's. Whole-plant marijuana - which can be eaten; it doesn't have to be smoked - has even been shown to reduce seizures, even more so than concentrated synthetic marijuana-based compounds that have had the psychoactive ingredients removed. THC is found in cannabis sativa, and is responsible for the "head-high" effects that some cannabis gives.

            Although marijuana has some mild depressant effects, it is not a narcotic in the sense that that term means sedatives or opiates. It does, however, have pain relief effects. CBD - cannabidiol, which is responsible for the "body-high" effects in some cannabis, and which is found in cannabis indica - is the type prescribed to medical marijuana patients. It has been used to relieve joint pain and glaucoma, to expand the alveoli of the lungs (increasing lung capacity), and to stimulate and regulate the appetite.

          Vaporizing marijuana at 190 (instead of smoking it) ameliorates nerve cancers, while avoiding the lung cancer caused by inhaling combusted material. Congress should either repeal unconstitutional federal laws against drugs, or else it should enact drug policy via a proper constitutional amendment. Until that occurs, the states have every right to nullify those laws, and interpose the federal government if it tries to enforce them.
     Either way, marijuana and its byproducts should come off of the Schedule I narcotics list. Additionally, governments should legalize and normalize the production of hemp, which is only toxic if consumed in amounts which are impossible to ingest by creatures of our size. Removing marijuana from Schedule I would legalize the testing of new cannabis strains which is needed to officially show that the drug is not harmful when ingested properly.
     Until we adopt D.E.A. and F.D.A. policies supporting legal testing - and a drug education policy that seeks to enlighten, not frighten - we will continue to be plagued with problems like addicts being in the shadows, addicts being driven to a life of violent crime, and people overdosing because they don't know whether their dose will kill them.

     Additionally, we will still have to face problems associated with young people trying drugs for the first time, not knowing simple things about how to take drugs safely (for example; that they shouldn't hold-in marijuana smoke, because more than 99% of THC is absorbed by the lungs upon inhalation, and holding in the smoke does not increase the drug's effects, but only leaves tar on the user's lungs).
     Lack of knowledge regarding safe drug use can lead to overdose deaths, as well as deaths resulting from ecstasy users dying from water poisoning because they incorrectly believed that they needed to drink as much water as possible while on the drug. Moreover, the risk of (non-fatal) overdose extends to marijuana as well; in my opinion, marijuana prohibition has resulted in a shift from smoking to edibles; because ingesting cannabis in foods allows users to more easily conceal its scent. Few marijuana users seem to be aware that the risk of non-fatal overdose (including disorientation) is higher for edibles as opposed to smoking cannabis; I believe that normalizing the smoking of cannabis will help reduce non-fatal overdoses from edibles. 

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