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.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.
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.
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."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.
"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."
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.