Pubdate: Tue, 23 Aug 2016
Source: Rome News-Tribune (GA)
Copyright: 2016 Rome News-Tribune
Author: Spencer Lahr


The DEA announces it will keep marijuana on the list of most dangerous drugs.

In the eyes of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, marijuana is 
still considered dangerous enough to remain among the likes of 
heroin, LSD, and ecstasy as a Schedule I drug.

Ever since The Controlled Substances Act became law in 1970, 
marijuana has been deemed to have no medicinal benefits and a high 
likelihood of abuse. And despite over half the states in the U.S. 
legalizing medical or recreational marijuana in some form, the DEA 
announced this month that marijuana wouldn't be declassified.

Dr. James Craig, a physician and addictionologist at Highland Rivers 
Health, said he believes marijuana doesn't match the features of a 
dangerous drug.

Craig said Schedule I drugs make users dependent on the influence of 
the drug and they build up a tolerance to it. As their 
tolerance-level grows they use more and more, which can lead to deadly results.

"Having marijuana in a classification with heroin ... doesn't really 
make a lot of sense," he said. "I don't think it's a helpful system. 
It may be wellmeaning, but it's a naive place to put it."

For most people, Craig said, marijuana isn't a danger and doesn't 
pose a risk of becoming habitforming.

"Normal people can smoke marijuana and it's a relatively benign 
substance because they're not really going to crave it a second time 
- - or they use marijuana like nonalcoholics drink," he said.

Advances in addiction medicine, Craig continued, indicate the cause 
of addiction is "a dopamine deficiency and dopamine-processing 
problem in the brain stem."

Addicts may use marijuana to make up for their lack of dopamine - a 
chemical in the body - Craig added, and they can abuse it. However, 
addicts will more likely turn to harder drugs that provide more dopamine.

Rome-Floyd Metro Task Force Commander Barry McElroy also sees 
differences between marijuana and other Schedule I drugs.

"I don't think a person who is smoking weed is anywhere close to 
someone using harder drugs," McElroy said.

But regardless of how the DEA classifies marijuana, McElroy said he 
simply focuses on enforcing the current laws, and marijuana is illegal.

As part of their announcement, DEA officials opened up the 
possibility of more research on the potential medicinal benefits of 
marijuana. If benefits are proven, it could instigate a 
declassification of the drug.

State Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, believes that, with more 
research on the drug, the DEA will change its decision.

"I do think they are continuing to do promising research on it," said 
Hufstetler, who is an anesthetist at a local hospital. "When some of 
that research is completed, it will probably be moved to Schedule II."

According to the DEA website, Schedule II drugs also have a high potential

for abuse and use could lead to "severe psychological or physical 
dependence." The difference from Schedule I drugs is that they have a 
medical purpose.

Cocaine, methamphetamine and OxyContin are included in the list of 
Schedule II drugs.

Historically, marijuana has been labeled as a gateway drug, 
postulating the potential dangers the drug can cause. But for Craig, 
who works with patients who've taken the road to abusing harder 
drugs, marijuana doesn't have such qualities.

"You do see a lot of people who are eventually going to develop 
substance abuse disorders with more dangerous drugs starting with 
marijuana. But it's a temporal relationship, it's not a causal 
relationship," he said.

"The typical story I'm going to hear is 'I was 13 years old and I 
started with marijuana, then I went to alcohol, then I went to pills 
then to heroin,'" Craig added. "If you remove marijuana from the 
equation, the equation doesn't fall apart. They would have just 
started somewhere else."

That being said, Craig doesn't condone the widespread use of 
marijuana and doesn't make calls for its legalization.

Craig said her feels the discussion on how marijuana - or any other 
drug - should be classified misses the mark on the real issue.

"You've got a country that consumes 80 percent of the world's supply 
of opiates and we're asking questions about marijuana," Craig said. 
"We've got six people an hour in this country dying from inadvertent 
opiate overdose."

Instead of trying to find medical benefits of marijuana, Craig said, 
there should be a shift of focus to providing timely treatment to 
people suffering from addiction to drugs.

"What we know about addiction medicine now is that it's a true 
brainbased illness ... (and) classifying addiction as a drug problem 
is like classifying diabetes as a Snickers bar problem," he concluded.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom