Aug 042014
 August 4, 2014

white house marijuanaby Mitch Earleywine

The New York Times has joined the majority of US citizens in the call for a more rational marijuana policy. The White House responded with an attempt to explain why a taxed and regulated market is no “silver bullet solution.” Alluding to The Lone Ranger probably wasn’t a great idea, but I think they mean that this isn’t a panacea for every problem related to cannabis.

Of course, all our other legislation is perfect, so we shouldn’t change this policy until we have a solution with all advantages and no disadvantages.

Our government says that this use of law enforcement and court time targets marijuana users because the plant alters brain development, impedes academic achievement, impairs driving, and creates addiction. The tacit assumption, that prohibition is going to prevent all of these problems, is tenable at best. (We’ve had police officers whip out the handcuffs over 18 million times since 1981. From 1995 until now, we’ve had at least one marijuana arrest per minute. The plant is more available than ever.) But let’s forget about how prohibition isn’t going to help and address the White House’s Furious Four Factors.

The first two (brain development and academic achievement) fall under the “what about the children” category. When all else fails, it’s great to play the baby card. NORML has condemned juvenile consumption for decades now. Of course, the underground market is notoriously bad at carding purchasers. When was the last time a dealer asked for ID? Licensed distributors who could lose their livelihood for underage sales would be markedly more motivated to keep the plant from children. But let’s address the claims.

Brain Development. Regular use early in life could alter brain development. But here’s the point no one is supposed to mention: we don’t really know for sure. It’s likely. It works in animals. But it’s not proven. The niftiest gizmos that take pictures of brains often can find differences between those who’ve used early and those who haven’t. But we don’t have a time machine. We don’t really know if these people had deviant brains before they ever saw the plant.

Investigators who run these expensive studies also have a hell of a time publishing results unless they find some differences. Many would rather leave the data in a drawer than battle editors and reviewers in an attempt to publish a paper that says that marijuana has no impact. What has been found is not always consistent. It’s one brain area showing differences in one study and another in the next. Reports that find nothing, or that the non-users actually have deviant brains (e.g. Block, O’Leary, Ehrhardt, et al., 2000, who found bigger ventricles in non-users), never get mentioned. Big reviews try to tell a coherent story, but effects are small. Binge drinking is markedly worse. (See Lisdahl et al.). Cigarette smoking leads to detectable changes in brain structure, too. I’d joke that we should make alcohol and tobacco illegal following this logic, but I’m afraid some people will actually try to do so.

Academic achievement. If the government genuinely cared about my academic achievement, I think I would have learned more in public school. But that’s another issue. We know that mastering new material immediately after using cannabis is extremely difficult. Going to class high is a dumb waste of time. It would certainly interfere with grades. But what’s the real issue here?

Decades ago, researchers showed that college students who used the plant had better grades than their peers who didn’t (Gergen, Gergen, & Morse, 1972; Goode, 1971). It’s not that marijuana’s a study aid. Students who liked the plant might have taken classes they enjoyed and flourished as a result. Subsequent studies didn’t always confirm these results, and investigators lost interest.

But high school kids who use the plant often bonk their exams. Most heavy users had earned lower grades prior to their marijuana consumption, suggesting cannabis could not have caused the poorer performance (Shedler & Block, 1990). Essentially, cannabis users with bad grades in high school also had low marks when they were in fourth grade. Cannabis might not lead to bad grades, but folks with bad grades often turn to cannabis. In addition, high school students who smoke cannabis heavily also tend to use alcohol and other illicit substances. Once these factors are taken into account, the link between cannabis and academic performance disappears. These results suggest that drugs other than marijuana might lower grades (Hall, Solowij, & Lennon, 1994).

In truth, if the government wants to see better achievement in school, the best answer would require schools with funding. Perhaps we could attract more of the energetic, enthusiastic, well-trained teachers who inspire learning if we offered better salaries. Students might find school more engaging when teachers are delighted and facilities are excellent. Busting teens for possession seems too indirect a strategy for improving education.

Driving. Paul Armentano has done such a superb job of summarizing the relevant data on this topic that I don’t want to belabor it.

A few points are worth emphasizing. NORML has always opposed impaired driving. People who can’t pass appropriate roadside sobriety tests should not operate a motor vehicle. Note that passing a sobriety test has little to do with the content of anyone’s blood or urine.

A recent meta-analytic review suggests that, at most, cannabis is no worse than antihistamines and probably on par with penicillin when it comes to culpability for accidents. If we’re going to make all drugs that impair driving illegal, we’re going to have a lot of runny noses and infections to handle.

Research from The Netherlands shows that folks who use cannabis in the laboratory lose their willingness to drive (source). When the experimenter forced them, they go slower, avoid trying to pass other cars, and start putting on the breaks earlier when they have to stop. These compensatory steps probably explain why a couple of studies have found cannabis users less culpable than drug-free drivers. Surprise surprise! This work never got any press. (Drummer, 1994, Bates & Blakely, 1999).

A study of over 300 drivers involved in fatal crashes in California focused on motorists who tested positive for cannabis but no other drug. Unexpectedly, they were half as likely to be responsible for accidents as those who were free of substances (Williams,,Peat, & Crouch, 1985). Another investigation of over 1,800 fatal crashes in the United States found that drivers who used only cannabis were only 70% as likely to have caused an accident as the drug-free group (Terhune, Ippolito, & Crouch, 1992). These are literally impossible to publish anymore, potentially suggesting the bias alluded to in the Elvik meta-analysis. So don’t drive high, but drive as if you were. Go slowly. Don’t try to pass. Leave room to stop.

Addiction. The new DSM V definition of addiction qualifies me for a caffeine disorder, so I’m obviously biased. Better take what I say with a grain of salt. But be careful, salt allegedly has addictive properties, too.

After five millennia and a series of moving definitions, researchers have finally identified something that they can call marijuana withdrawal and marijuana addiction. I’m guessing that prohibitionists really love this one. it conjures up images of sweaty heroin users snatching purses and plunging needles into infected arms. Have you met people who mug girl scouts to maintain their marijuana money? Neither have I. So what is marijuana addiction supposed to be? Among the most common symptoms are disturbed sleep and, I can barely say this with a straight face, loss of appetite. Anybody who uses every day and then gets irritated on a day without the plant could end up qualifying. If you tell anyone struggling with the opiates that these are the symptoms of your addiction, you’re likely to get a swift kick in the crotch. Expert opinions suggest that only the hallucinogens are less addictive than marijuana.

The most negative thing a government can do to its citizens is punish them. If we want to use punishment, we need outstanding reasons. These four simply do not qualify.

Citations:
Block, R. I., O’Leary, D. S., Ehrhardt, J. C., Augustinack, J. C., Ghoneim, M. M., Arndt, S., et al. (2000). Effects of frequent marijuana use on brain tissue volume and composition. NeuroReport, 11, 491-496.

Drummer, O. H. (1994). Drugs in drivers killed in Australian road traffic accidents. (Report no. 0594). Melbourne, Australia: Monash University, Victorian Institute of Forensic Pathology

Gergen, M. K., Gergen, K. J., & Morse, S. J. (1972). Correlates of marijuana use among college students. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 2, 1-16.

Goode, E. (1971). Drug use and grades in college. Nature, 239, 225-227.
Hall, W., Solowij, N., & Lennon, J. (1994). The health and psychological consequences of cannabis use. Canberra: Australian Government Publication Services.

Shedler, J., & Block, J. (1990). Adolescent drug use and psychological health: A longitudinal inquiry. American Psychologist, 45, 612-630.

Terhune, K. W., Ippolito, C. A., & Crouch, D. J. (1992). The incidence and role of drugs in fatally injured drivers (DOT HS Report No. 808 065). Washington DC: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Williams, A. F., Peat, M. A., & Crouch, D. J. (1985). Drugs in fatally injured young male drivers. Public Health Reports, 100, 19-25.

Source: NORML make a donation

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  16 Responses to “Debunking The White House’s Response To The New York Times”

  1.  

    I loved this haha! The info is good and I got a few laughs per the gentle sarcasm. :) Keep rockin’ Johnny!

  2.  

    Great job AGAIN Johnny! Having just dealt with an Opioid deficit myself, I’ll kick em in the NUTS!

    It’s just the same ole TIRED Drug Warrior speak. I don’t think ANYONE’S advocating “Teen Use”. I think we’ve said that for years! But being out and out LIED to, as well as l lied ABOUT, pisses me off! When they recite this same ole bullshit though it makes it much easier to debunk their arguments.

  3.  

    Honestly, I have yet to encounter a single study that convinced me cannabis is harmful to the brain. In fact, the majority of studies pertaining to cannabis and the brain support the hypothesis that cannabinoids are NEUROPROTECTANTS. I may have to remind everyone that the Department of Health and Human Services, our own Federal government, holds patent 6630507 which states “The cannabinoids are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia.”

    As far as brain development goes, the evidence prohibitionists TRY to prop up is usually a study that shouldn’t have managed to squeeze through peer review, but did anyway, most likely *because* of their scurrilous conclusions, and *despite* bad analysis and experimental confounds. I’d say the overwhelming majority of studies that have purported some sort of cognitive deficit correlated with cannabis use were usually analyzed and/or conducted, improperly.

    I know it’s the quick and simple solution to side-step their objections concerning cannabis use and the developing brain by saying “Nobody is advocating for children to have access — in fact, a legal market would only reduce use by children.” All of which is absolutely true and absolutely an advantage we need to publicize.

    BUT… Simply side-stepping the BAD science they prop up only emboldens them to throw MORE bad science at us. It always helps when you know about studies that have different/opposite conclusions, and Johnny has done a great job of doing that, above. What really drives home the point, without fail — knowing precisely why their study draws the wrong conclusion. It sets up our counterarguments like a 1-2 combo punch: “I see your study about _______, but I also have this study, this study, and this study that conclude otherwise, and furthermore, I can tell you why your study about _______ arrived at an improper conclusion.”

    It’s been my experience that the two most common mistakes made by researchers who publish bad results are (1) improperly stratifying their sample, and (2) ignoring experimental confounds. If you’re studying the cognitive effects cannabis has on the brain, it’s critical to ensure your experimental group and your control group are EQUAL with regards to any *other* known factor that could influence the dependent variable (the thing you believe is effected). Socio-economic status is the number-one predictor of intelligence, by every measure I’ve ever heard of, from grades in school to IQ. So, if your dependent variable is IQ, you absolutely must be certain there are as many subjects from wealthy backgrounds as there are from the other side of the tracks in both the experimental group and the control group. It’s kinda like you’re studying the effect Gatorade has on playing basketball, but you put all the tallest people in the experimental group and all the shortest people in the control group — odds are VERY good the Gatorade wasn’t the deciding factor in which group performed better at playing basketball.

    As a responsible researcher, you conduct a literature review of as many studies that pertain to your dependent variable as humanly possible. You do this because you need to know of anything ELSE besides the independent variable you’re interested in studying has a mediating or moderating effect on your dependent variable, but also to make sure nobody else has *already done* the study you want to do. You have to be aware of these other independent variables so that you can account for them in your experiment. You can’t (shouldn’t) study the effect of cannabis use on cognition if you ignore factors like alcohol abuse, which is proven to hurt cognition.

    Dishonest researchers ignore confounds (or build them in, hoping no one notices) so they can publish. Dishonest researchers also do something else I do not abide, which is analyzing the data and THEN cutting subjects from the study to drive up their p-score, coming up with BS justifications for removing the “outliers” from the data. For example, if a crooked research group was trying to prove cannabis negatively influences intelligence, they would remove anyone from the cannabis group that performed WELL. The removal of outliers, post-hoc is rampant dishonesty, IMHO. Subjects are supposed to be cut from the data BEFORE analysis and on justifiable grounds — for example, if every subject in both your experimental and control groups are between the ages of 18 and 25 except ONE subject who was a senior citizen, you probably need to remove the senior citizen from the experiment. But you do that BEFORE you analyze the experimental data, not after.

    The peer review process is supposed to identify problems with studies BEFORE publication, and entails a little back-and-forth between the reviewers and the PI. Sometimes, it takes a year or two to publish a study if the reviewers are doing their jobs, properly. 9 times out of 10, reviewers don’t approve the study right out of the gate, but instead, send it back with questions and comments for the researchers to address. The reputation of a journal depends upon its peer review process.

    It’s supposed to be RARE for a bad study to make it to press with huge, glaring confounds and hack-job analysis. Which is good news — that means prohibitionists don’t have a lot of ammo. Most of the time, when I examine a study purporting some negative effect caused by cannabis, there’s something wrong with that study. Better yet, odds are GOOD that someone smarter than I am has already identified the gaping holes in the research, and a summary is just an internet search away. The overwhelming majority of the scientific community have both intellectual honesty and integrity, which means they don’t let bad science slip through the cracks, even when the peer review process fails. Outraged scientists are not shy about shooting holes through bad science and letting people know, but we usually have to hunt that down — the media does us very few favors in this regard.

    Johnny notes how we never hear about the studies that purport cannabis is beneficial, and that’s largely because of the bureaucratic problems with trying to *DO* research into the benefits of cannabis. But that’s ALSO the media’s fault for prioritizing sensationalism over the truth. It’s not nearly as exciting to say “no negative impact” as it is to say “I now have absolute proof that smoking even one marijuana cigarette is equal in brain damage to being on Bikini Island during an H-bomb blast.” Of course, Reagan’s “absolute proof” was a study so despicably confounded (and inhumane), that it took many years and an FIA request to debunk it. That was the study in which researchers strapped monkeys into gas-masks which pumped in nothing but cannabis smoke (no oxygen) to asphyxiate the poor animals, so the researchers could “conclude” it was the cannabis smoke (and not the asphyxiation) that damaged their brains. The irony of Reagan demonizing the very thing that could have prolonged his life (Reagan died of an advanced case of Alzheimer’s) makes me wonder if there’s a higher power with a DARK sense of humor.

    In any case, we must be vigilant and let no bad science pass, unchallenged. Otherwise, we’re going to hear even more Reagan-esque quotations about the dangers of cannabis.

    •  

      I have always enjoyed your comments , the Gatorade analogy was good, but you’re seriously long winded
      Keep up the fight.
      It’s seems to me there is a serious denial that canabis is really a medicine, the system knows this that’s the biggest reason it’s not legal. It’s hands down a better med. Than most of the junk they push. If the real reason people didn’t like canabis because they saw it as drug abuse, why do we let alchohal ruin our society.

    •  

      I loved your input. I enjoy the facts you stated no matter how long it is. Look at me I usually ramble on and on. But my mind never slows down so it’s difficult for me to formulated good dialog. I bet if i smoked marijuana before reading this blog I would do better. I don’t partake in marijauna it’s not legal in my state and I worked way to hard to have what I have especially when I started so late in my life. Anyhow all of the weed bogs followers are great.

    •  

      WowFad I would love to hear your input on a theory of mine. Is it possible that the regurgitation of these antiquated and thoroughly dis-proven ideas by our government is just another veiled attempt to “trigger the rage”. A tool used by our gvt. for years. Just look at the Middle East if you have any doubts.
      Since their agenda is to criminalize as many behaviors as possible to control an increasingly agitated populous, do you think these obvious insults to sound science and rational thinking everywhere are an attempt to cause a backlash reaction so overblown, that it will give them all the ammunition (pun intended) they need to crush the movement? From reading every post on this blog its pretty obvious that there is plenty of rage out there which only grows with every blatant denial of the benefits of MJ and the utter DISREGARD OF THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE. I hate to imagine what plans they have for the peaceful MJ community should they be lumped into a category of “domestic terrorists”. Time for cool heads people. Don’t play into the hands of this devious government. You thoughts?

      •  

        Truth be said, I *wish* that were the case. Something I’ve noted about the movement to reform our cannabis laws (and end the drug war, altogether) is that our movement has never had an event that we could point to as an impromptu “defining moment” that was a demonstration of our collective outrage across the nation. We haven’t experienced anything on par with the Selma Marches or the Stonewall Riots. Our demonstrations are generally peaceful, and when they do get violent, it’s usually the cops roughing up people who are *not* resisting arrest.

        That’s not to say they are not *trying* to trigger our rage. There’s a direct correlation between the liberalization of cannabis laws across the country and a steady *increase* in the number of arrests. In 1992, there were 342,314 arrests for cannabis possession in the United States. By 2000, that number had more than doubled, with a notable spike in national arrests right after California passed their medical cannabis law. And despite more and more states decriminalizing every year, those numbers stay consistently large — at least 700,000 arrests, every year, for simple cannabis possession.

        When I think about the drug war, you bet my rage tingles. However, I think it’s a testament to the virtue of our reform movement that we *haven’t* been provoked into any reckless actions that would justify them “crushing” us. In terms of science and morality, we have the high ground (pun intended), so nobody has managed to pull us down to their level.

        You could certainly make an argument that one of the many prongs of the drug war is getting people labeled as criminals and social deviants by whatever means. That was the main prong of their strategy in the 1980s, certainly — think of how quickly the word “junky” was popularized. Since then, 8.2 million “junkies” (people) were arrested between 2001 and 2010 for cannabis possession. Millions more in the 1990s. Millions more in just the last four years.

        What’s hilarious to me is that the drug warriors see numbers like that as an indication that their strategy is working. They don’t realize that the millions and millions of American citizens they’ve criminalized still have friends and family who *know* they were not criminals. Friends and family who can still think for themselves, and still vote. The more people they arrest, the more public opinion turns *against* them.

        The shift in public opinion in favor of cannabis was evident when the drug warriors attempted to misconstrue the fact that the younger of the two Boston Marathon bombers *used to* consume cannabis as an indication of his unhealthy deviance from society. Thankfully, the public spoke up for common sense and set the record straight — when the younger brother *stopped* using cannabis, that’s when his friends noticed his deviance from society began. They also tried to hype Trayvon Martin as a crazed cannabis user, but nobody would believe he pounded George Zimmerman into the pavement because he consumed cannabis — again, society patently rejected the assertion that cannabis use is indicative of violent and/or criminal behavior.

        If anything, it’s been the unwavering ethical consistency of the cannabis law reform movement that’s been “triggering the rage” among law enforcement, reducing some of their ranks (within the DEA, especially) into little more than domestic terrorists. You could spend the rest of today and tomorrow reading horrific stories of law enforcement at every level, federal on down, victimizing citizens in some very cruel and unusual ways. Pets get shot. Senior citizens are thrown to the ground like potato sacks. Recently, during a no-knock warrant drug raid, a cop threw grenade into an occupied baby’s crib (the very same sheriff’s department shot and killed an innocent Pastor in 2009 during another narcotics operation). It all sounds like domestic terrorism, to me.

  4.  

    Nice article Mitch. When I was in high school stating in 10th grade untill well after I graduate in 1984. I was drunk every day. I have no excuse why I was drunk except that I tried alcohol and liked it. I graduated with my class barely, I know I could of and should of done better but I wasted my time in school. I just didnt care. I was pulled over for drunk driving when I was 19 I absolutely deserved it. Now here’s the kicker I wasted my time in my early adult life not working not going to school. I never stole from anyone but I never worked I let my girlfriend at the time take care of me. By the the I was 21 I was tired of going to bars. Some time around year 25 I tried marijuana and my life changed I stopped drinking . Started working and I would work hard and long. I no longer was a bourdon on my family and girlfriend . I while high so high that cheech and chong would be envious. I never got pulled over for being intoxicated. I never been in an accident. I never sold marijuana. I worked and worked hard. I live in a nice neighborhood in a house I paid $200,000 for which in Michigan is average housing. In some states my house would be worth half a million ,I have compared prices. I worked and worked hard for what I have.. When I started pot I quit drinking, my choice I never had a drink again for 10 years. I got high on pot. I could of stopped drinking if it wasn’t for marijuana . So I would of had my home my family I have now. For 14 years and going. Old girlfriend is gone,. I gave her up to. I know longer smoke pot but would if it was legal but just as a night cap. I never sleep good and marijuana always let my mind shut down so I could sleep. The only other thing that worked was alcolhol when I was younger. I can drink now and not have a problem I never get drunk now and sometimes I go months without a drink. I don’t ever drink alone or every day not even every weekend. The point of this story is this marijuana saved me problely saved other people. I don’t drink and drive anymore. So to all of you anti marijuana people and your bullshit propaganda. Anyone get write down what they call facts. We have always chaged history to fit what we think we want people to believe. Right Christopher Columbus…. I have lived my life, this is my facts. Not some made up story. Unlike Mr. Columbus I never killed native Americans and have some other persons say different.

  5.  

    Your responses to the White House are logical, factual and coherent. In other words, useless. That White House response was not about the facts of marijuana or its prohibition. Instead, it was a carefully-calibrated political message, designed to offend the fewest possible potential voters and to provide as small a target as possible for the conservative pundits.

  6.  

    Same bullshit coming out of Washington as it always does and straight answers are always as rare as a pink unicorn galloping down the road. You can tell that a politician is lying because their lips are moving.

  7.  

    One of best colums written in wb

  8.  

    They use the children all the time,how about all the money they spend for Defence and let the homeless children live in the street.Hogwash

  9.  

    One lie on top of another. It’s about the money.

  10.  

    I read an article about real scientific research done using pretty potent synthetic thc on rats studying the effects of thc on the brain. The article can be read here http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1253627/ It seems that cannabis is the only major drug of abuse that PROMOTES the growth of new neurons in the brain. I guess that would qualify as affecting brain development : D. As for the academic achievement article, I can address that personally. I started smoking cannabis when I was 15 waaay back in 1974 consequently I spent pretty much 100% of my high school years thoroughly baked. My junior and senior years were spent in Industrial Arts, specifically Electronics. Despite (I guess) being stoned all day long at school I graduated second in my electronics class and won an award for my achievements. I also scored straight A’s in all subjects for two consecutive grading periods in the 12th grade just to show my mom that the bullshit she believed about cannabis was indeed total bullshit. She now agrees that it should never have been illegal in the first place. I have driven stoned more often than straight for 39 years now, I’ve had two accidents which required only the exchange of insurance information, both minor fender-benders only one of which was my fault. When I’m driving high, I’m way more cautious, more attentive to other cars and generally more focused on getting where I’m going without incident. There are zero parallels between driving stoned and driving drunk, the former eliciting MORE focus and the latter completely lacking focus which I find to be impossible for me when I drink alcohol (almost never). Cannabis addiction is absolutely hilarious, the only reason it seems addictive is that the effects are so universally wonderful you tend to make a habit of using it LOL. I have stopped for weeks at a time without any withdrawal symptoms of any type. I either stopped voluntarily to save up some cash to buy something I wanted/needed or I stopped involuntarily when the town I was in ran dry. I simply call bullshit on the White House response in its entirety. I have spent 90% (really rough estimate) of my life since age 15 stoned. I am currently employed as a Moldmaker, I have been a Toolmaker and Aerospace Machinist at times also. My employer loves me and I’m still their go-to guy when they need critical work done on $50000+ injection molds. I’m 55 years old, I’m 5′ 8″ tall, I weigh 190 lbs, I wear a size 32 pants and ride my bicycle to work everyday. I have a medical marijuana card from here in Arizona. I have the beginnings of arthritis in my hands and hey guess what?…the lovely weed I’ve been lovingly enjoying most of my life is now taking the pain out of the equation from the arthritis. So, in summation as regards White House responses and cannabis prohibition…….BULLSHIT!!!!!!

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