Pubdate: Mon, 11 Sep 2017
Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network
Author: Chris Nelson
Page: A9


Society needs to understand why people abuse substances

There'll come a day, long after we're gone, when people will react
with disbelief at how we now treat mental health.

Those future Canadians will shake their collective heads in amazement
in the manner we do today when looking back to a time when surgeons
would routinely perform operations without first washing their hands.

How could they have been so ignorant, will be the future common

But there's a chink of light emerging with next summer's planned
legislation of cannabis use across Canada. Not that smoking dope is
going to cure anyone's mental issues, probably the opposite, but it is
recognition that locking people up as criminals because of an urge to
consume mind-altering substances is being jettisoned as a long lost

Yet cannabis is a single strand woven among the complex threads of
addiction binding us. We can't get to the root of why we need such
substances or stimulants to see us through our allotted time on Earth
if we simply declare such users as weak, criminal or both.

We've tried that. It's failed miserably at every level.

Before "reefer madness" became the clarion call of federal agents in
the United States, it was the evil of booze that was the target - go
back almost a century, and you could legally buy heroin and cocaine in
pick-me-up tonics, yet risk a jail cell for swigging a beer.

Back then, during prohibition, many died swilling bootleg liquor the
way those desperate for a high today succumb to fentanyl pills with
who-knows-what dosage present. Ban booze tomorrow and many of those
who now dismiss the death toll opiates are taking in our city with a
cavalier "who cares, they're druggies," will be scrounging around to
get their own drug of choice from today's Al Capone.

But booze and drugs are just part of the problem. Why do some need to
eat to excess, while others starve to death imagining they are fat, or
draw nicotine and tar into their lungs at 40-a-day for no possible

Or why the need to sit before a flashing VLT machine, spending money
they can't afford to lose, as others constantly buy stuff they don't
need because it provides some momentary thrill? Oh yes, and we are
just getting ramped up when it comes to smartphone and social media

Some of these activities are undoubtedly more dangerous than others,
but rare is the person who hasn't felt that grip upon their shoulder.

Yet, before we can discover why that grip exists, we first must stop
treating people as either weak or criminal. Those judgments are simply
a matter of current cultural taste: Was the Victorian-era opium den so
much different than today's neighbourhood pub? At least the first
bunch walked home.

But to return to the upcoming cannabis legalization: The Alberta
government will soon release results of a public consultation study
regarding the upcoming provincial strictures citizens want in place
regarding age limits, point of sale locations and such matters. So
far, our government is doing a good job on this particular file.

Yet, buried among the statistics and typical government verbiage, is
this nugget: "While there is some understanding of the shorter-term
risks of cannabis use, knowledge about long-term risks of cannabis use
is limited, mainly because cannabis use has been prohibited, so
comprehensive studies have not been undertaken." Exactly. We cannot
get to the root cause of why we do potentially harmful things if we
start from the premise that such behaviour is the refuge of criminals
and, therefore, undeserving of our time. So, lock 'em up and let's get
a beer.

We need these various stimulants because of our mental state. Why? We
are not remotely close to an understanding, but if we don't cast aside
the simplistic notion that it's not us, but those weaklings on the
other side of town, then, in a hundred years, we will truly deserve
the disdain of those future Canadians.
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