Pubdate: Sun, 27 Jun 2010
Source: Columbia Daily Tribune (MO)
Copyright: 2010 Columbia Daily Tribune
Author: Eddie Adelstein
Note: Eddie Adelstein, associate professor of pathology at  the 
University of Missouri, is Boone County's deputy  medical examiner.


I remember hearing 62 years ago that Robert Mitchum had been caught 
with a joint of marijuana in his suitcase, was arrested and his 
acting career ended. I remember thinking, "He's done for, now -- that 
devil weed has entered his brain, and it is all over for him." Such 
was the power of public disinformation. In people of my generation, 
those concepts still hold true for many.

Every morning, we review the cases that come before the medical 
examiner's office. During the past few years, more and more deaths 
are related to prescription drugs, often taken with legal 
prescriptions for opiates. In 2009, drug overdoses reportedly 
exceeded automobile deaths in 15 states. Some studies indicated 
deaths from ingesting multiple prescription drugs is up by 60 
percent. This is partially fueled by the ever-increasing volume of 
advertisements for prescription drugs on television. Serotonin 
selective reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) are epidemic. You know them as 
drugs such as Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil. The costs to health care are enormous.

Whenever I see someone with a beatific smile, I ask the same 
question: Have you been touched by a religious experience, or are you 
taking an SSRI? The answer is almost always an SSRI drug. These drugs 
create inter-synaptic happiness and delay the development of a 
rational approach to problem-solving and a personal philosophy that 
can lead to happiness and contentment.

Some recent studies suggest these drugs are of little value except 
for severely clinically depressed individuals. More important, these 
drugs have many serious side effects, both physiological and 
psychological, that can lead to death.

In the 25 years I have been a medical examiner, however, I have 
neither seen nor heard of a death caused by marijuana. Given the 
choice of being placed in a room of either marijuana smokers or 
alcoholics, I would choose the marijuana smokers. Except for 
lethargy, there are few side effects of this drug.

So how can it make sense that a large number of humans are on 
mood-altering prescription drugs with significant risks, yet 
marijuana is deemed a dangerous and illegal drug whose possession 
warrants severe punishment? About 50 percent of prisoners are 
incarcerated because of drug use or sales. Those who go to prison for 
selling or raising marijuana come out highly skilled in the 
production and sale of more dangerous drugs, such as opiates and 
methamphetamine.  The prison experience starts many on the road to 
social anarchy. If the use of marijuana cannot be made legal on the 
basis of rational scientific reasoning, we must admit we cannot 
afford to pay for the many individuals incarcerated for a benign 
drug. This money could be much better used for public education and 
drug education. We are losing the war on drugs and creating an 
illegal market that results in increased crime and drug deaths. We 
should legalize all drugs, but marijuana would be a start. Clearly, 
our approach to mind-altering drugs has changed. A number of 
neuroscientists now suggest drugs such as Ritalin and amphetamine 
should be available to the public to increase brain activity and work 

Often, the older generation that demands punishment for marijuana has 
never actually used this natural herbal drug. They believe the old 
stories about "devil weed." If they actually smoked marijuana, they 
would be surprised because the first time, almost nothing happens. If 
they try it again, they might notice a feeling of relaxation, of 
overlooking the small annoyances of life and of a small increase in 
appetite.  They would notice that, unlike with alcohol, they have 
greater tolerance for their fellow man and tend to be more careful 
about their activities, such as driving.  The next day, they are 
often relaxed and somewhat apathetic to carrying out tasks. Humans 
become more sensitive to marijuana, rather than developing a 
resistance, as with some mind-altering drugs. I would never advocate 
any drug, but this one has fewer side effects than most.

All mind-altering drugs distort the natural joys and charms of 
living, but the worst thing we do is warn our children that exposure 
to marijuana will make them go crazy.

The current issue of Science News describes the many medical uses of 
marijuana, including the treatment of anxiety, nausea and pain in 
cancer patients, and the treatment of multiple sclerosis, Crohn's 
disease and other inflammatory conditions. So it appears we have 
incarcerated a large number of individuals for using a drug with 
evidence of marked beneficial actions.

I know it would be difficult to change the mind-set of hardworking 
law enforcement officers who risk their lives to eliminate drugs and 
believe they are performing a vital service. But the truth is the 
prohibition of these drugs is similar to the attempts to make alcohol 
illegal and cannot succeed.

So it is no surprise that in a number of states, rational thinking is 
supplanting disinformation in the general population. These states 
have significantly reduced punishment for the drug, and in 
California, legal marijuana is flourishing. Michigan recently 
legalized medical marijuana, and the growers are called "caretakers." 
It is time to decriminalize the use and production of marijuana. It 
is already one of the largest cash crops in Missouri; let's tax the 
profits and decrease the prison population. The state will be much 
improved, and there will be more money for educational purposes.

If we had the courage, we'd legalize all drugs. The money we get by 
legally selling drugs could be used for education. The supply would 
be of known concentration and safer than unregulated street drugs. 
Best of all, we could cut the prison population by 50 percent. With 
education, we could make drug use "not cool" like alcohol and 
tobacco. It is clear the approach to the war on drugs is failing. It 
is time to find a new way.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake