Pubdate: Mon, 30 Nov 2009
Source: AlterNet (US Web)
Copyright: 2009 Independent Media Institute
Author: Paul Armentano
Note: Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML (the National 
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), and is co-author of 
the book Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink 
(2009, Chelsea Green).


The Government Keeps Pushing the BS That Pot Is Addictive and Has 
Serious Health Consequences. And No Wonder -- Lying About Pot Is a 
Lucrative Business.

Marijuana's addiction potential may be no big deal, but it's certainly
big business.

According to a widely publicized 1999 Institute of Medicine report,
fewer than 10 percent of those who try cannabis ever meet the clinical
criteria for a diagnosis of "drug dependence" (based on DSM-III-R
criteria). By contrast, 32 percent of tobacco users and 15 percent of
alcohol users meet the criteria for "drug dependence."

Nevertheless, it is pot -- not booze or cigarettes -- that has the
federal government seeing red and clinical investigators seeing green.
As I reported for AlterNet last year, the National Institute on Drug
Abuse (NIDA), which overseas more than 85 percent of the world's
research on controlled substances, recently appropriated some $4
million in taxpayers' dollars to establish the nation's first-ever
Center for Cannabis Addiction. Its mission: to "develop novel
approaches to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of marijuana

Of course, what good is a research center if it isn't conducting
clinical research? To this end, the U.S. National Institutes of Health
recently made millions of dollars in grant funding available "to
support research studies that focus on the identification, and
preclinical and clinical evaluation, of medications that can be safe
and effective for the treatment of cannabis-use and -induced disorders."

According to NIH's request for applications,

"Cannabis-related disorders (CRDs), including cannabis abuse or
dependence and cannabis induced disorders (e.g., intoxication,
delirium, psychotic disorder, and anxiety disorder), are a major
public health issue. ... Nearly one million people are seeking
treatment for marijuana dependence every year and sufficient research
has been carried out to confirm that the use of cannabis can produce
serious physical and psychological consequences.

"Currently, there are no medications approved by the Food and Drug
Administration for the treatment of CRDs. Given the extent of the use
of cannabis in the general population, and the medical and
psychological consequences of its use ... there is a great public health
need to develop safe and effective therapeutic interventions. The need
to develop treatments targeting adolescents and young adults is
particularly relevant in view of their disproportionate use patterns."

Sounds dire, huh? It's meant to. But as usual, the devil is in the

First, there's the issue of the so-called "one million people seeking
treatment for marijuana dependence." Or not. According to the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of Applied
Studies, Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration
(SAMHSA), the actual number of persons seeking drug treatment for
marijuana "as a primary substance at admission" in 2007 (the most
recent year for which data is available) was 287,933. Still a large
total to be sure, but even this tally is highly misleading. Think
these folks are seeking treatment for pot "dependence?" Think again.

According to SAMHSA, over 37 percent of the estimated 288,000 thousand
people who entered drug treatment for marijuana in 2007 hadn't used
weed in the 30 days prior to their admission. Another 16 percent of
those admitted said they'd only used cannabis three times or less in
the month prior to their admission. Do these individuals sound like
they meet the clinical standard of dependence (defined as "the state
of being psychologically and physiologically dependent on a drug")?
Hardly. In truth, the only reason these people are in "treatment" at
all is because they were arrested with a small quantity of pot and
were ordered to treatment in lieu of jail.

According to the Aug. 13, 2009 issue of The TEDS Report, published by
SAMHSA, nearly six out of 10 individuals enrolled in drug treatment
for marijuana are referred there by the criminal justice system.
Stated the report, "In 2007, the criminal justice system was the
largest single source of referrals to the substance abuse treatment
system. [T]he majority of these referrals were from parole and
probation offices."

In other words, it is not marijuana use per se that is driving
treatment admission rates; it is cannabis prohibition and the
increased emphasis on pot arrests that are primarily responsible. Yet
you'd never know this by listening to NIDA. And that's just the way
the agency wants it.

As for the feds' claim that today's pot "can produce serious physical
and psychological consequences," it's apparent that the potential
adverse effects of cannabis use are relatively minor when compared to
those of legal drugs such as opiates (which are both physically
habit-forming and capable of lethal overdose), alcohol (ditto) and
tobacco. As for the potential physical and psychological consequences
of kicking the pot habit, a newly published clinical trial in the
scientific journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence raises some serious
doubts about this fear as well.

Investigators at four separate German universities assessed the
self-reported withdrawal symptoms of 73 subjects diagnosed with
"cannabis dependence" who resided in an inpatient facility. Overall,
investigators determined that fewer than 50 percent of the trial
subjects reported experiencing physical or psychological withdrawal
symptoms of any clinical significance, even though all of the patients
had a diagnosis of cannabis dependence according to DSM-IV criteria.
Further, among the minority who did report such symptoms, "The
intensity of most self-reported symptoms peaked on day one and
decreased subsequently."

And just what were the most commonly reported symptoms? The authors
concluded: "The most frequently mentioned physical symptoms of strong
or very strong intensity on the first day were sleeping problems (21
percent), sweating (28 percent), hot flashes (21 percent), and
decreased appetite (15 percent). ... Other often highly rated
psychological symptoms included restlessness (20 percent), nervousness
(20 percent), and sadness (19 percent)."

In short, marijuana's withdrawal symptoms, when documented at all, are
mild and subtle compared to the profound physical syndromes associated
with ceasing chronic alcohol or heroin use, which can be fatal, or
those abstinence symptoms associated with daily tobacco use, which are
typically severe enough to persuade individuals to reinitiate their
drug-taking behavior. This explains why most pot smokers voluntarily
cease their cannabis use by age 30 with little physical or
psychological difficulty.

Finally, what about NIDA's claim that "therapeutic interventions" for
marijuana dependence are necessary for adolescents and young adults
"given the extent of the use of cannabis in the general population."
Ironically, NIDA's warnings come at a time when marijuana use rates
among young people are falling -- and have been for some time.
According to the feds' annual "Monitoring the Future" study on
adolescent drug use, roughly 42 percent of 12th graders admitted
having tried pot in 2008, down from 50 percent in 1999, and a whopping
60 percent in 1979. Yet back then the federal government was mum
regarding the need for medications to treat so-called cannabis dependence.

Not anymore. On November 3, the Kentucky-based pharmaceutical company
All Tranz Inc. announced it had been awarded a $4 million NIDA
research grant to promote a "transdermal tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
patch" for the treatment of marijuana dependence and withdrawal. (THC
is the primary psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.) "NIDA is
interested in exploring the role of transdermal THC delivery as an
innovative way to treat marijuana withdrawal symptoms and dependence,"
explained the agency's director, Nora Volkow. "This is especially
relevant to our efforts to fill a critical gap in available treatments
for the many Americans struggling with marijuana-related disorders and
their detrimental medical and social consequences."

Never mind that THC permeates the skin, at best, slowly and
inefficiently (because of the compounds' fat solubility) or that the
symptoms of marijuana dependence and withdrawal are infrequent,
short-lived and relatively insignificant. After all, NIDA has a
research center to staff, tax dollars to spend and a myth to
perpetuate. And the feds aren't about to let the facts get in the way.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake