Pubdate: Thu, 04 Aug 2016
Source: Chicago Sun-Times (IL)
Copyright: 2016 Sun-Times Media, LLC
Author: Joseph Lemon Jr.
Note: Joseph Lemon Jr. is the founder of The Abbey Foundation, an 
addictions treatment center in Bettendorf, Iowa.


Last week, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law reductions in the 
criminal penalties for minor marijuana possession in Illinois. 
Previously, those convicted of marijuana possession faced possible 
jail time; now, just a citation and a fine.

This reminds us of an age-old admonition: "Just because you can do 
something, it doesn't mean you necessarily should."

Critics of this more liberal (or libertarian, depending upon your 
political persuasion) policy toward marijuana have reason to worry.

As reported by the New England Journal of Medicine, there is an 
inverse correlation between the perceived risk of marijuana and the 
incidence of people's use of it. Simply put, the less risky people 
view marijuana, the more likely they are to use - and abuse - it.

For some, decriminalization may be perceived as a tacit governmental 
endorsement of certain activities - including smoking pot. This moral 
dilemma is heightened when the government stands to profit from the 
behavior in question. Like sales taxes generated from marijuana sales 
in Colorado and Washington, for example. Since those states have 
legalized recreational marijuana use, the perception of its risk has 
lessened, and the amount of its use has increased proportionately.

So, too, have vehicular fatalities related to marijuana use. 
According to research conducted by AAA, marijuana-related traffic 
deaths in Washington state have doubled since pot was legalized there.

There are other reasons for concern. To begin, marijuana growers have 
continually bred marijuana to increase its potency. Today, the amount 
of tetrahydrocannabinol ("THC") - i.e., the psychoactive component - 
has increased by 22 times compared with marijuana strains that were 
available in the 1960s.

Although often considered to be benign, the New England Journal of 
Medicine has identified serious negative impacts of marijuana use on 
brain functioning. These include reduced neural connectivity and 
damage to areas of the brain such as the frontal cortex, parietal 
lobe, and temporal lobe. In turn, that damage results in a broad 
range of neural dysfunction: everything from problem-solving to the 
understanding and expression of emotions become impaired.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that marijuana use is 
highly correlated to underperformance at both school and work. 
Marijuana users experience higher drop-out rates and lower academic 
achievement. On the job, they are responsible for a disproportionate 
number of worker's compensation claims, along with absenteeism and 
lost productivity.

Marijuana advocates often argue that it is not addictive. Research 
indicates otherwise. As reported in the New England Journal of 
Medicine, about 9% of people who experiment with marijuana will 
become addicted to it.

In our American culture, we laugh when Hollywood lampoons potheads in 
movies such as "Pineapple Express" and "Dude, Where's My Car?"

But, at The Abbey Addiction Treatment Center in Bettendorf, we see 
the faces of marijuana addicts firsthand. And it's not funny. We see 
people who struggle with simple tasks at school and work. People 
incapable of perceiving or expressing emotion.

People who suffer from higher incidence of mental health diagnoses, 
such as schizophrenia, paranoia, and anxiety.

While we have great success in helping our patients to recover from 
their addictions, we can't help but remind the public that the best 
way to mitigate certain public health risks is to avoid the factors 
that cause them in the first place.

Put another way, just because you can use marijuana, it doesn't mean 
you necessarily should.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom