Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Why potheads are empty-headed

Cannabis isn't benign. A person who is stoned come across as slow-witted and incoherent because THC is scrambling his brain's ability to process thoughts effectively:
Smoking marijuana often causes temporary problems with memory and learning. Now researchers think they know why.

The active ingredient in the drug, tetrahydrocannabinoid (THC), disrupts the way nerves fire in the brain’s memory centre, a new study shows. ...

Normally, cells in hippocampus fire in sync, creating a current with a total voltage of around 1 millivolt. But THC reduced the synchrony of the firing. The drug did not change the total number of firings produced, just their tendency to occur at the same time – and this reduced the combined output voltage of the nerve signals by about 50%.
When you're high, your mind can walk the same number of steps as it can when you're sober. But instead of taking several steps forward, it takes a couple forward, a couple backward, and a few to the side. The subsequent illogical irrationality might support some of the putative 'creativity' that is said to flourish when users are high, in so far as said creativity is a deviation from rationality. It certainly points to why people appear dumber when doped up.

The deleterious effects of hash on cognition and memory aren't surprising. Previous studies have revealed a relationship between long-term use and an inhibited ability to form memories. The argument in favor of marijuana use that is premised on the relative success of the user ("I've smoked throughout high school and still have a 3.8 GPA!") is a non sequitur. And Michael Vick could eat Snickers bars all day and still be a better quarterback than I am. That doesn't mean the Snickers are improving his quarterbacking skills. This same fallacious egalitarian assumption inaccurately underlies opinions on other things like religion and democratic self-determination.

Advocates claiming that marijuana is harmless are making unfounded assertions. The effects of cannabis use, especially those long-term in nature, are not well known. The same arguments used to be made on behalf of cigarettes. Now municipalities across the country are banning them due to the damage they cause others in the form of second-hand smoke. Might potheads similarly be damaging the memories of those in close proximity when they smoke up? The mere possibility is enough to keep me tenaciously opposed to legalization. Memories make us who we are. There's scarcely anything more distasteful than cognitive impairment in my mind.

++Addition++But THC might be an antidote to fight memory failure as well:
In lab experiments, the scientists found THC was significantly better at disrupting the abnormal clumping of malformed proteins. THC could completely prevent AChE from forming amyloid plaques, while two drugs approved for use against Alzheimer's, donepezil and tacrine, reduced clumping by only 22 and 7 percent, respectively, at twice the concentration of THC used in the tests.
By binding to nerve receptors, THC disrupts the synchrony of neural firing in the brain, messing up thought processes and recall. Similarly, it appears to block abnormal protein clumping in older age. Maybe in the future targeted THC injections will be a way of combatting Alzheimer's and other diseases that attack the memory, but ingesting it by smoking joints doesn't appear to be the way to harness its potential benefits.


Fat Knowledge said...

The mere possibility is enough to keep me tenaciously opposed to legalization.

Crush, I don't follow your logic on this one.

I am in favor of legalization of pot not because I think it is harmless, but because making it illegal causes more harm than having it legal.

I have never heard a good argument why alcohol and tobacco should be legal but marijuana illegal. If you have one, please let me know. I was reading today where 12,000 people this year died from drunk drivers. How many die from cigarettes each year? If harm were a reason to make drugs illegal, alcohol and tobacco should be made illegal in a second.

Making drugs illegal doesn't stop people from using them. More teen boys smoke pot than tobacco. Making pot illegal does waste lot of resources in catching drug dealers and then putting them in jail.

I think we should handle pot like we do cigarettes. Make in legal, tax the hell out of them, and spend part of the money on vigorous anti-marijuana advertising.

Milton Friedman was a big supporter of drug legalization and I am right there with him.

nzconservative said...

Personally, I don't think marajuana adds to creativity although it does increase sensory awareness. This is why people in the early 1970s loved listening to atmospheric prog rock while under the influence.

Smoking pot probably also tends to make people physically lazier and people who are physically lazier tend to be less healthy and mentally alert.

Cigarettes do a lot of physical damage but actually increase mental alertness and physical activity.

Alocohol certainly causes a lot of problems but has the lowest addiction rate of the three drugs.

Maybe they are all equally bad, but I would think that if all three are readily avialable, then overall drug use will increase.

nzconservative said...

Sorry, I meant to say "if all three are legal then overall drug use is likely to increase"

Billy Bob said...

I like fat knowledge's idea: Make it legal and tax the hell out of it.
I agree, Crush41, that smoking dope will dull the senses, but you don't convince me that when alone, I don't have a right to dull my own senses.

crush41 said...

Fat and Billy,

Legalization would make public hash smoking ubiquitous. That is what concerns me. I've rarely ever run into second-hand hash while in public. I can avoid its potential damages entirely. I cannot escape second-hand cigarette smoke near as easily (although it is becoming less and less burdensome to do so).

Milton Friedman also opposed entitlement healthcare and wealth transfer in general (ie "I am in favor of cutting taxes under any circumstances and for any excuse, for any reason, whenever it's possible.") He didn't like productive citizenry having to pick up the slovenly's tab (ie "It's just obvious that you can't have free immigration and a welfare state.")

If someone wants to get stoned in the privacy of their own basement, so be it, although we all have to foot the bill either via the stoner's omission (could've been doing something productive) or his commission (increased labor costs because he can't show up for work, etc).


Seems to me alcohol presents the most acute dangers to others, although which is the most dangerous to the one ingesting the crap is up in the air.

al fin said...

I know of no drugs without side effects and possible harm. The problem is we are living in an age of self-medication. We all know that if our lives aren't perfect--something is wrong! We either need to take a drug, or sue somebody.

I side more with mping on this issue, because although pot certainly has unfavorable side effects, it also has benefits (medically speaking).

The drugs that are coming are going to be harder to control, and far more seductive than pot, coke, ecstasy, ethanol, or any current drugs. And the drugs that are coming will be manufactured by portable synthesizers that will be made to look like cellphones, mp3 players, cd players, etc.

If you're worried about society falling to mind altering drugs, pot will not be the drug to worry about.

Anonymous said...

I used to support legalization of pot but I've changed my position. Basically, I estimate that smoking pot would become as expected a behavior at parties as drinking has been for as long as I can remember. Not engaging in that behavior carries a fairly high social price. So for perfectly selfish reasons (the interests of people like myself who have a strong aversion to altering our brain chemistry in such a fashion), I oppose it.
I suppose I could grudgingly support it if it were part of a grand bargain to end the welfare state as we know it, but that would require a significantly higher level of trust than exists in civil society today.

crush41 said...

Futurepundit chimes in.

Anonymous said...

you suck -everyone