Pubdate: Thu, 05 Aug 2004
Source: Hartford Advocate (CT)
Copyright: 2004 New Mass. Media, Inc.
Author: Mitch Earleywine and Bruce Mirken
Note: Mitch Earleywine, Ph.D., is associate professor of psychology at the 
University of Southern California and author of Understanding Marijuana 
(Oxford University Press, 2002); Bruce Mirken is communications director 
for the Marijuana Policy Project, based in Washington, D.C.
Bookmark: (Walters, John)
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Opinion)


What the government says about "super pot" is simply not true,
real experts say

Recently, the media have repeated dire warnings about alleged "super
pot." In an attempt to frighten parents who may have dabbled in their
day, our government claims that new strains of potent marijuana are
far more dangerous than the innocuous grass of the 1960s or '70s.

Many media reports repeat these claims uncritically. For example, a
July 19 Reuters story warned, "Pot is no longer the gentle weed of the
1960s and may pose a greater threat than cocaine or even heroin."

Such claims are utter nonsense, and may create more harm than

First, high-potency marijuana has always existed. The average potency
has increased slightly, but only because higher-potency marijuana has
become a little more common. It is not a new phenomenon.

Second, there is precisely zero evidence that marijuana with a higher
level of THC -- the component that produces the "high" -- is more
dangerous. Indeed, a close look at the news accounts shows that claims
of greater danger are based on speculation piled on top of conjecture.

To put this in perspective, the average potency of marijuana that has
fueled this fire is 7 percent THC. This is the marijuana that White
House Drug Czar John Walters warns is horribly dangerous because of
its super strength. In contrast, Dutch government standards require
medical marijuana sold in pharmacies in the Netherlands to be more
than twice that strong. So a country where teens are actually less
likely to use cocaine and heroin than in the U.S. wouldn't even use
our marijuana to heal their sick. A recent report from the European
Union noted that "a slight upward trend" in potency means little
because the potency of U.S. marijuana "was very low by European standards."

Third, unlike the speculative claims of increased danger,
peer-reviewed scientific data show that higher potency marijuana
reduces health risks. Just as with alcohol, people who smoke marijuana
generally consume until they reach the desired effect, then stop. So
people who smoke more potent marijuana smoke less -- the same way most
drinkers consume a smaller amount of vodka than they would of beer --
and incur less chance of smoking-related damage to their lungs.

Official warnings about "super pot" often accompany claims that huge
numbers of teens are in treatment for marijuana "dependence and
abuse," and that those numbers have risen dramatically. Such claims
are utterly misleading. According to the U.S. government's own
statistics, most teens in marijuana treatment are there because they
were arrested, not because of actual evidence of abuse or dependence.
Virtually all of the vaunted increase in marijuana treatment
admissions stems from these arrests.

So, we arrest kids for smoking marijuana, force them into treatment
and then use those treatment admissions as "proof" that marijuana is
addictive. Somewhere, George Orwell is smiling.

This wave of marijuana treatment has nothing to do with actual
dependence. According to the latest government report on drug
treatment, called the Treatment Episode Data Set, more than a third of
these marijuana "abusers" did not use marijuana at all in the month
prior to admission. Another 16.1 percent used it three times or fewer.

So more than half of marijuana "abusers" used marijuana three times or
fewer in the month prior to entering treatment -- and this, we are
told, is proof that we must be fearful of highly addictive "super pot"!

There is a real story here, but it's not about the dire effects of
potent marijuana. The real story is the misuse of science by
government officials seeking to justify current policies and hold onto
their jobs. The administration's misuse of science in this area is, if
anything, more blatant than in fields that have generated far more
controversy, such as reproductive health.

And with the administration now talking openly about shifting
prevention and law enforcement resources toward marijuana and away
from drugs like heroin and cocaine, which actually kill, this
dishonesty is putting America's young people at risk.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake