Monday, March 9, 2009

Fear-mongering bullshit

From a recent controversy over a book published in the UK, this an excerpt from a recent article in the Guardian:
"This is cannabis. It stops you, it rips out normal reactions, normal kindness, normal motivation. It draws a line and you stand patiently behind it. And this is why we have broken one of the most serious prohibitions facing any writer. You Do Not Write About Your do not ever lay out their genuine, raw problems on the page. You fictionalize them, you do not present it up-front and true...This is an emergency. True, the city is not aflame, plague is not afoot. But there are too many families whose home life has been shattered by a teenage son (it is nearly always boys) who is losing it as a result of cannabis. Maybe not as badly as ours has lost it, but nevertheless creating chaos and distress."
Not exactly. The blathering continues:
"Imagine if you could wave a wand and instantly all the spliffs and baggies were transformed into bottles of gin. You leave for work on Wednesday morning and suddenly you see kids on the way to school with a quarter of Gordon's sticking out their rucksack... and if you saw that daily, all around you, you would say there's a genuine problem. Except it's worse than that. Because skunk gets you as high as gin but has psychotropic effects to boot. Cannabis remains in the bloodstream for up to 10 days and, let me tell you, the mood swings continue for every one of those days. And that's not all. In your early 20s, the legacy returns in the form of schizophrenia. Professor Robin Murray at the Maudsley Hospital estimates that at least 10% of all people with schizophrenia in the UK would not have developed the illness if they had not smoked cannabis. That's 25,000 individuals at current figures. With stronger varieties being smoked at a younger age, this figure can only rise. So tell me, Daily Mail, why are you treating this story like "a bit of pot"?
Now I think that drugs are very serious business (and by the way: alcohol is most definitely a drug). But for precisely this reason, we should refrain from fear-mongering non-sense and hysteria when discussing drug use. I don't doubt for a moment that this couple's child was smoking unjustifiable amounts of pot, which contributed to his allegedly withdrawn, lifeless, callous, careless, directionless behavior. I don't doubt that it was an extremely difficult time for the family and I understand that in order for him to recover from his afflictions he needed to lay off smoking for the time being.

But none of the above has anything whatsoever to do with: 1. The actual effects of the drug on different individuals, 2. how the drug should be controlled (if at all) or regulated, 3. the alleged 'problems' with Tetra-Hydro-Canibinol as such. Yet spreading misinformation about 1-3 is the raison d'etre of this couple, this appears to be why they have written their book and began their foray into the public.

I find it very interesting that the author compares pot to gin. Now alcoholism is a serious matter. Moreover, alcohol is a potent drug which we all know is abused in multitude ways. As a society, we should be extremely weary of the ultra-commodification of alcohol such that its consumption is encouraged as though it had no consequences. From an early age, we must be educated about how to drink responsibly. Some people, given their tendencies,backgrounds and psychological state, probably shouldn't drink at all.

But these days nobody ever suggests that the way to deal with this problem is to make alcohol consumption a criminal offense. The suggestion isn't even worthy of assembling arguments against; its a non-starter. But why, then, do sensible people have to expend so much energy making the analgous (and extremely-plausible case) that cannabis should be dealt with in a similar fashion to alcohol? Well, one reason has to do with trash like the above-quoted article.

Let's consider more closely the bit in the article about Schizophrenia. Combine this with the pervasive "concerned parent" tone that targets other "naive on-the-fence parents" who simply might not be aware of the "horrifying truth" about pot. Now what's going on is that they are suggesting that we accept urban myths as scientific facts. THC is a mild hallucinogen; if you have a family history of schizophrenia or a predilection toward various kinds of mental illness, its true that taking hallucinogenic drugs can exacerbate what lurking problems you may have. (By the way, every prescription drug has an extensive list of risk-factors which suggest whether or not you should take it... were pot legalized presumably similar research could be conducted in order to head-off rare adverse reactions). But this is a far-cry from the non-sense claim that cannabis "makes you more likely to go nuts!". This is false. The author's personal history does nothing in the way of changing this medical fact.

I completely agree that the "its just pot" attitude must be more critically examined. People should figure out extensively what the hell they are putting into their bodies. Addictive behaviors should be dealt with, not tabled because "pot is no big deal" or "alcohol is no big deal". But this doesn't mean that we should discard the unreflective "its just alcohol" or "its just a few drinks" or "its just pot" with hysterical non-sense like "these are devilish substances that should be locked away and banned, lest our society turns into complete chaos!!". Moreover, the last thing we should do is stigmatize and criminalize (and incarcerate) people instead of creating ways that they can easily get access to help if they need it.

While we're at it, let's debunk a few other falsehoods in this article:
"Except it's worse than [gin]. Because skunk gets you as high as gin but has psychotropic effects to boot."
Alcohol and caffeine have psychotropic effects as well. True, neither are mild hallucinogens, but the effects the former has on mood, motivation and behavior are every bit as severe (if not worse) than cannabis. Pot is not simply "worse". Teenage alcoholism should be dealt with in the same way that pot over-consumption should be.
"It stops you, it rips out normal reactions, normal kindness, normal motivation. It draws a line and you stand patiently behind it."
Again this is false. It doesn't have these effects on everyone. In fact the nature of the drug (psychedelic) means that it's effects are extremely dependent on the psychology of the person taking it. The effects and first-personal experience can vary wildly, because people are wildly different. There are some people who will become extremely anxious and have terrifying panic attacks. Some will hardly feel as though the drug has any effects. I'm not saying that we can't make any generalizations about the effects (especially bodily effects)... but let's make sure that we're making scientifically sound generalizations. Moreover, let's be clear that we're making generalizations. Lipitor commercials, after all, do not say "this drug will have the following identical side effects on everyone".
"cannabis creates chaos and distress".
Hysterics. This is about as good of an argument as "homosexuality will undermine civilization and create social chaos".
"Cannabis remains in the bloodstream for up to 10 days"
Not precisely. Some metabolized form of THC probably does, but this does not necessarily mean that there are marked effects. Cannabis (i.e. the genus of psychoactive flowering-plants), however, should not ever literally float around in your bloodstream unless you've done something terribly wrong.
"With stronger varieties being smoked at a younger age, this figure [the number of teen smokers] can only rise."
This "stronger varieties" non-sense is a favorite talking-point of the anti-pot crowd. I cant remember how many times I've read Gordon Brown or some other high-ranking official blathering about how the "street-pot" is getting stronger every week. I wish they were right. Perhaps then smokers wouldn't have to ingest as much tar just to get blazed!


tb said...

Perhaps Tom Ammiano's bill in the California legislature will actually get somewhere, regulating and taxing the sale of marijuana to those over 21. I never expected to see such a piece of legislation in my life...

T said...

And Obama has ordered Eric Holder to get the DEA out of California, which effectively means de facto decriminalization of marijuana in Cali... but like you say, the Ammiano bill could actually make room for something more than 'de facto' decriminalization.

One of the first things Roosevelt did in office was make a push to repeal Prohibition. Something similar could be in store in this political climate.