Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Independent drops support for pot legalization in face of use consequences

The Independent, a major left-leaning publication in Britain, has reversed itself and come out in opposition to the legalization of marijuana:
More than 22,000 people were treated last year for cannabis addiction - and almost half of those affected were under 18. With doctors and drugs experts warning that skunk can be as damaging as cocaine and heroin, leading to mental health problems and psychosis for thousands of teenagers, The Independent on Sunday has today reversed its landmark campaign for cannabis use to be decriminalised.

A decade after this newspaper's stance culminated in a 16,000-strong pro-cannabis march to London's Hyde Park - and was credited with forcing the Government to downgrade the legal status of cannabis to class C - an IoS editorial states that there is growing proof that skunk causes mental illness and psychosis.

Contemporary pot has tetrahydrocannabidinol (THC) levels some 25 times higher than the levels found in wild hemp. Toking up today isn't the same as toking up forty years ago. Nor are the effects of marijuana use as ambivalent as they were in the past.

In an experiment using lab rats in which some were given an injection of THC proportional to the amount absorbed by a person smoking a joint and others were not, the difference in neural functioning between the two groups of rats was stark:
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%.
The drug dulls the senses. It also scrambles thought processes and dampens nerve signaling. This is why dopers appear so slow-witted and obtuse. It would be interesting to see how marijuana users fare on IQ tests when sober and while high. In my experience being around users who are high, it seems they effectively lose several IQ points. Substantial long-term use appears to have a mildly depressive effect on IQ, with heavy users experiencing a drop of about four points. I expect the immediate consequences are more severe than that.

More positively, this nonsensically sporadic state of mind probably also fuels 'artistic creativity' (to the extent that artistic expression is the glorification of the irrational and the surreal).

Also of concern is the relationship between marijuana use and psychosis, especially its potential for triggering the onset of schizophrenia in people predisposed to suffering from it:
Many medical specialists agree that the debate has changed. Robin Murray, professor of psychiatry at London's Institute of Psychiatry, estimates that at least 25,000 of the 250,000 schizophrenics in the UK could have avoided the illness if they had not used cannabis. "The number of people taking cannabis may not be rising, but what people are taking is much more powerful, so there is a question of whether a few years on we may see more people getting ill as a consequence of that."

"Society has seriously underestimated how dangerous cannabis really is," said Professor Neil McKeganey, from Glasgow University's Centre for Drug Misuse Research. "We could well see over the next 10 years increasing numbers of young people in serious difficulties."
If hashish use increases the rate of schizophrenia by as much as 10% that strikes me as a legitimate reason to severely restrict its use. Schizophrenics tend to have below average IQs, and marijuana users in general are less affluent than non-users. Like so many other aspects of the do-as-you-feel social culture promoted by elite libertines, the most vulnerable members of society are the ones least able to embrace that same culture without being negatively effected by it. Quixotic deniers of human biodiversity claim that stigmatizing certain behaviors is immoral because they (the enlightened ones) engage in those behaviors and function quite well. Those of a more empirical mind argue that the less endowed are unable to handle such behaviors responsibly and it is in their interest especially that such behaviors should be frowned upon.

The arguments against legalization do not convince me that we should shift from prohibitive enforcement to lucrative legalization through taxation (like we do with cigarettes). The deleterious effects of second-hand smoke are well-documented. Many states and municipalities are sagaciously banning cigarette smoking in public places as a means of protecting bystanders from the damage it causes them. Why move in the opposite direction with cannabis when the evidence increasingly suggests it poses health risks?

If cigarettes were made illegal, their use would continue, just as people toke up in places where doing so isn't allowed (although similar to illegal immigration, stricter enforcement and harsher punitions would reduce the number of people engaging in these activities). But they would be much less likely to do so in public. While banning pot doesn't stop people from smoking, it does make it less likely that I will be exposed to it while out and about.

People engaging in alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, and drug use present hazards to non-users in their vicinity. To protect those who choose not to self-immolate from those who do is the primary reason that I support public restriction of all of these activities.


Steve Sailer said...

Woody Harrelson admitted a few years ago, after years of crusading for marijuana legalization, that smoking dope has damaged his brain, making him stupider than he used to be.

Anonymous said...

Did he? When?

agnostic said...

I never understood why smart people took drugs -- even if they thought the effects wouldn't be that bad, it's still like a bunch of supermodels getting together to cut themselves. What a waste.

Anonymous said...


Does that pass for decent evidence around here? Amusing, but no citation and of questionable validity when we're discussing a scientific topic.

And guess what the most common cause of early onset dementia is? Guess and I'll toss a link up substantiating the claim. There's even a syndrome for it.


I love blogging stoned. :)

Sometimes the media is not correct - and I've read up enough on the health consequences of marijuana to know that the literature has never shown a loss in IQ or brain damage. To the contrary, marijuana has been shown to be neuroprotective. It reduces Alzheimer's and reduces and tumors in the brain. Marijuana smokers have no higher risk of lung cancer, likely because of the myriad of protective cannibinoids.

Neuroprotection by THC

You neglected to mention that the 4-point change in IQ cited in the NS article was over 10 years of heavy smoking. Once these heavy smokers stopped, their IQ immediately bounced back. Do you have anything to say in your defense? Does it not seem relevant to you that this drop in IQ is not actually permanent?

As for the psychosis, certainly cannabis increases the risk to some degree. How much is correlation and how much is causation is unknown. I think it's played up overly much, but some BMJ links are on Wikipedia in the marijuana article. I think it'd to best to die crazy. Plus at this point I feel that sanity is to a fair degree affected by the attitude you take to the world. I'm not worried.


If the effects aren't really bad at all, it's still like supermodels cutting themselves? Obviously not. Many drugs do not have much of an effect on intelligence (including marijuana). Others increase intelligence. The science is conclusive on very few of them. Everything that you do will have good and bad effects. Reading books can make you lazy and interfere with developing an original style. Mathematics can rigidify your thinking. Exercise increases the risk of concussion. Ultimately you weigh the risks and benefits: drugs are a powerful, fascinating experience which can literally make you understand time and space in a different way (if you have ever tried salvia, you'll know what I mean). What intelligent person would give up that opportunity if it came with zero sacrifices? And since the medical literature is still not conclusive (though often manipulated) and life is short and relatively boring, why should an intelligent person decide not to use drugs when they know that they will function perfectly fine afterwards, as they most likely will? Wasn't it an intelligent person who said that there is but one truly serious philosophical problem? At some point you have to step back from academics and look at what you want in life. If you want purely pedantic pleasure, that's fine, but it's obviously not cut out for every "smart person."

crush41 said...


Right. For whatever reason, I compare myself with Michael Vick. If I eat well and all he eats are Snickers bars, he's still going to be a much better QB than me. But that doesn't mean his diet is helping his performance.


Steve was just pointing out an interesting anecdote, not claiming that it was conclusive. He'd be just about the last of all people to do so.


Cigarettes were once thought to be a lot more benign than we know them to be today. The long-term effects of marijuana aren't well established. And the immediate consequences are substantial, especially for the least able to handle drug use in moderation (those with lower IQs).

My mind's my most important asset. If second-hand pot smoke potentially impairs my ability to form memories and think coherently, I don't want it occuring in public places, so I want it kept illegal or at least restricted in the way that many states and municipalities are restricting cigarette smoking today.

I said "substantial long-term use". Lung tissue is ameliorated once a heavy smoker quits as well. The effects appear to be tied to the activity, which was the point I was trying to make.

kurt9 said...

Everyone I know who has smoked pot over an extended period of time has become absentmindedly forgetful, with this effect NOT going away when they quit. A couple of my friends like this are so bad that it is actually irritating to do anything with them that requires them to plan ahead and remember to do things.

Based on this anecdotal experience, I have become convinced that marijuana damages short term memory, possibly permanently (not assuming stem cell regeneration therapy for the brain). I really do think that smoking pot is bad for you.

Nevertheless, the Economist had a very good article (survey) about 5-6 years ago where they came out cautiously in favor of legalization.

Anonymous said...

If second-hand pot smoke potentially impairs my ability to form memories and think coherently, I don't want it occuring in public places, so I want it kept illegal or at least restricted in the way that many states and municipalities are restricting cigarette smoking today.

Of course, it goes without saying that activities which impose externalities should be limited or taxed to account for those activities(mercury from coal power plants and particulate matter from oil should be stopped, perhaps?). Unfortunately we're not near that point yet. And when we do get to that point, most likely marijuana cafes will be just that - marijuana cafes, as they are today in Canada or the Netherlands. You choose whether to enter them or not.

The fact is that many, many people have smoked a lot of marijuana over their lifetimes and yet we don't see these aging people getting schizophrenia. People are diagnosed with schizophrenia during late adolescence. Interestingly schizophrenia is more correlated with living in an urban environment than anything else.

I really think that if you look at the data objectively you have to grasp at straws to oppose legalization of marijuana. Especially considering that it's easy for teenagers to get marijuana while it's illegal and there's no way it could get any easier if it were legal.

In the meantime illegal marijuana diverts wealth towards criminals, increases crime and disrespect for the law, puts law enforcement at risk, increases chances of bribery, and hurts the lives of promising young men and women who are caught. (I had a friend who was kicked out of school last year for being caught with it - one of the best students at the school.)

crush41 said...


Yes, it is occurs most commonly among the urban core, where both marijuana use and lower IQs are heavily concentrated.

So long as it is strictly regulated I have little problem transferring wealth from the self-indulgent to the state, as compared to more 'equitable' forms of taxation. Interestingly, many progressives support legalization and taxation, despite the fact that it would be, like state-run lotteries, a regressive tax.

Still, the fact remains that I'm the least likely to suffer from second-hand if it is illegal.

Anonymous said...

Still, the fact remains that I'm the least likely to suffer from second-hand if it is illegal.

You're least likely to suffer from direct secondhand smoke. Can't you see how petty such a concern is? How do you see yourself getting secondhand smoke if it was legal, honestly?

In a world in which tobacco is increasingly regulated for secondhand smoke, how do you see the vilified cannabis being free to smoke in bars or such?

Please. Describe a circumstance for me.

Also, note that I didn't say marijuana use mostly occurs among the urban core. I said schizophrenia does. That's not the same thing.

SundownTown said...

Aud Ep, just FYI, you sound like a weiner when talking about second hand smoke. Have you never gotten high?

Audacious Epigone said...


Right, I said that schizophrenia occurs more in urban areas because it does.

The position may be a little extreme. I'd like to see alcohol and cigarettes severely regulated as well, for similar reasons. I'm more concerned about negative rights than positive ones in the case of illicit substances.


You're perceptive :) I have not.

Robert Lindsay said...

There is not much good evidence that cannabis causes permanent brain damage, nor that it causes schizophrenia
either. At my age, one hit of marijuana gets me seriously stoned with excellent benefits and very little downside. More than one hit and I start getting even better benefits but more downside, even at 2-3 hits. There does seem to be something to the notion that lower IQ people really love to smoke pot. I have also noticed that a lot of pot smokers do not have much going on in their lives - they have no intellectual interests whatsoever, they never read books, many are not in school or working - they are just total derelicts living off others and not going anywhere in life. This is especially true for males around 16-21 or so.

Second hand marijuana smoke is not likely to get you high.

I smoked pot for 20 years, and I am as smart as ever. I don't have any memory problems. No one ever says I am stupid. The only thing people ever say about my intelligence is along the lines that they can't believe how smart I am. I used other drugs too - I tripped on hallucinogens 40 times, I used cocaine for 13 years, etc. No serious aftereffects from any of that. Probably the only problem they are coming up with from pot is a lessened ability to focus on one thing to the exclusion of all else.

Tobacco damage to the lungs surely does not ameliorate after one quits.

Good pts about we elites promoting these stupid behaviors which we handled quite easily, which were then adopted by low IQ types in big cities, which have then devastated them due to their inability to moderate things. I am so sorry we promoted drug use back in the 70's and 80's.

Audacious Epigone said...


Thanks for that.

Offering my own anecdote about second-hand marijuana smoke, in my high school days I was in a couple of cars that were 'hot boxed' (after playing ultimate frisbee, a sport that draws lots of dopeheads) and it made me feel immediately sick. But I see no reason to arrive at a verdict on the putative harmlessness of second-hand marijuana smoke. The more we find out, the worse weed looks. The trajectory is quite similar to the history of cigarettes.

Re: your personal use. Did it not hamper you in the least? You aren't smarter or more successful because of regular drug use, are you? Yes, you can manage use responsibly and function quite well. That doesn't mean it's benign.