Archive | July, 2011

Reefer Madness

11 Jul

I don’t know if you saw the latest ludicrous pile of horseshit to drop out of the government ass update on the progress toward sensible marijuana regulation at the Federal level, but I highly encourage you to read at least the first few pages of this new Department of Justice report denying a petition to reschedule marijuana to any lower category than its current Schedule I status.  As a quick review, Schedule I means that the substance in question poses a substantial risk, even when used under medical supervision, and has no acceptable medical purpose.  Other Schedule I drugs include heroin and crystal meth.  Cocaine is a Schedule II drug, showing, according to our trusty gov’t, that cocaine is both more useful and less dangerous than pot.  It’s 2011 and we are expected to take seriously an institution which continues to justify classifying cannabis to be as dangerous and without usefulness as crystal meth?  I don’t even know where to begin with this nonsense, so I might as well comment on each of the disingenuous conclusions reached on the three key determinations for drug scheduling (the DoJ rejected medical marijuana on all factors):

1. Potential for Abuse

The FDA report basically cites the staggering number of people who use marijuana as evidence that its potential for abuse is unacceptable.  No word on whether sheer popularity is proof that Lipitor, Viagra, Prozac, Ritalin, or whatever-the-fuck else also makes them unacceptably dangerous, but the gov’t concludes: marijuana is not legal, therefore all use is abuse, and therefore it should not be legal (get used to this reasoning).  There is zero factual evidence presented that among all those users, a large or even measurable number experience addiction or serious negative consequences, or what “abuse” even means or how that’s different from “use” in this case.  Nevertheless, the potential for “abuse” is unacceptably higher than for cocaine or OxyContin , or so says the DoJ.

A typical glaucoma patient after receiving their medical marijuana treatment (image courtesy of the United States Department of Justice).

2. Acceptable Medical Use

On the next scheduling factor, the report states simply that there is no currently acceptable medical use for cannabis.  What is this conclusion based on?  The presented rationale seems reasonable at first: medical professionals disagree, and at this time there are no FDA-approved cannabis-based medical solutions.  Fair enough, but is that the whole story?  Well, not exactly.  It turns out the disagreement in the medical community is more along the lines of that there is no scientific consensus that marijuana has useful medical properties, which makes potential medical applications for marijuana about as outlandish and controversial as evolution, and only slightly more so than gravity and heliocentricity.  And what about there being no FDA-approved cannabis-based medicinal applications*?  It also turns out that because marijuana is an illegal, Schedule I controlled substance, the FDA rarely if ever approves medications, trials, or studies for it or any other Schedule I drugs, because after all, they’re extremely dangerous and have no value.  There aren’t many rigid drug trials being conducted on crystal meth either.  So, “there is no currently FDA-approved use” of cannabis is a complete red herring.  Marijuana can’t be rescheduled because its current scheduling makes it impossible to determine, to the government’s satisfaction, whether it’s useful or relatively safe, even though reams of longitudinal colloquial evidence seem to suggest it is.  And what about the thousands if not millions of patients and doctors who do assess and experience medical benefits from cannabis?  The sheer number of users is dispositive as to its abuse potential, but are sheer numbers relevant to its medical potential?  Nope.

The next knock against marijuana’s medicinal promise: basically, that it’s a natural growing plant and not a pharmaceutical chemical.  The report cites lacks of standardized sources, standardized potency, and guarantees of no contamination as reasons why pot cannot be an acceptable medication.  So, because you can grow it and you don’t have to buy it from a pharmaceutical company’s laboratory, there is no way to do proper quality control.  This wouldn’t be a completely corrupt concern if the report conceded that, were marijuana to be rescheduled, it would certainly be possible to create well-regulated lines of growth and supply which could be monitored for contaminants and potency.  But it doesn’t, it just states that there currently is no such system, therefore, there never can be.  However, this “fact,” even in its myopic self-servitude, isn’t even true.  Probably the most odious aspect of this entire report is that it fails to acknowledge, at all, that these controlled systems are in fact already happening around the country where cannabis has been approved for medicinal use at the state level.  It doesn’t identify issues or problems with these systems (and I’m sure there are some to honestly discuss and improve upon), it straight up pretends they don’t exist.

Zombie apocalypse or a medical marijuana dispensary, can you tell the difference? Is there one? "No" - Department of Justice.

3. Health Risk

The DoJ report repeatedly cites this statistic which bears further analysis: 10% of total drug-related ER admissions are “marijuana-related” (200,000 out of 2 million, according to DAWN, the Drug Abuse Warning Network).  On its face, this seems suspicious to me.  It’s widely known that it is both literally impossible to overdose on pot and that there is nothing medical intervention can do for you if you’re too fucking high and handling it like a chump.  The report doesn’t specifically state what the “marijuana-related ER admissions” were for, whether they were co-morbid with any other issues, whether the hospital actually treated the patient in any way, and most tellingly, what exactly the consequences would have been if the person had not gone to the hospital.  Ah, but the plot thickens.  Buried somewhere deep in the report it prefaces this statistic with:

Some drug users may have visited EDs for a variety of reasons, some of which may have been life-threatening, whereas others may have sought care at the ED for detoxification because they needed certification before entering treatment. DAWN data do not distinguish the drug responsible for the ED visit from others used concomitantly. As stated in a recent DAWN report, “Since marijuana/hashish is frequently present in combination with other drugs, the reason for the ED contact may be more relevant to the other drug(s) involved in the episode.”

Alright, so the crucial statistic upon which one of the major conclusions of this important determination was based on is… pretty much worthless.  What percentage of admittees also had recently ingested food, drank water, smoked cigarettes, or watched TV?  This just in: 100% of drug-related ER admissions are co-morbid with water use!  To make matters worse, apparently those urgent life-saving ER admissions are made up disproportionately by children under 18 and from the ages of 18-20.  Basically, kids who don’t know what they’re doing get pot and feel different than they do normally and freak out and their parents take them to the emergency room where they get a saline IV and sit for 2 hours to calm the fuck down for $5,000.  And this is why pot is as dangerous as heroin and crystal meth.  If you want to read something really scary, look at the number of hospitalizations for liver failure that are attributed to OTC acetaminophen, aka Tylenol, use.  What about the health risks posed from fucking EATING FOOD, driving a car, or enduring environmental pollutants day in and day out?

Oh, the report also mentions that people don’t do as well on cognitive and performance tests while high (although they also note, apparently irrelevantly, that performance rebounds once the effects of marijuana wear off, and that even heavy users do not experience any permanent decline over a period of years).  This is shocking, because when I hurt my back I was prescribed Vicodin and muscle relaxers and those really really helped out my cognitive performance (if by improved my cognitive performance you mean complete, drooling, paralyzing inability to think or feel anything at all whatsoever).  I wonder how hard people on Valium, Xanax, Percoset, and Ambien* rock at those performance tests.  So yeah, pot also shouldn’t be rescheduled because it might hurt you on an IQ or pilot’s license test.  I wonder why they make all those warning labels for pill bottles if behavioral impairment is reason enough to make something unconditionally illegal…

Finally, the report argued under abuse potential that the sheer number of users proves that marijuana’s abuse potential is dangerously high.  Well, the other side of that coin is that due to the sheer numbers, if marijuana was particularly risky to health, we’d definitely know about it by now.  Does the fact that millions of Americans (2o million, according to DAWN) use marijuana regularly with no particularly severe or unusual repercussions show its relative safety?  No, no it does not.  For this factor’s analysis, numbers don’t mean shit.  The FDA hasn’t studied it (because it won’t), so it’s not safe.  Also, it’s natural, which makes each sample not quite laboratory perfect and consistent, which makes it bad.  Maybe the DoJ should also ban tomatoes because sometimes I get ones of varying color and size, or seedless watermelons because sometimes they still have seeds in them.  Choking hazard!  Basically this section tries to play the Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt card on marijuana.  Ooo, we just don’t know enough, it’s just too mysterious, who knows where this shit comes from, or what’s in it, or what it will do to us.  Well, hundreds of millions of red-blooded Americans have used pot over the course of 100 years, so if there’s some great mystery surrounding it, it’s why the gov’t is STILL trying to use Reefer Madness tactics from the 1930’s and the racist (and perhaps Andrew Mellon and William Randolph Hearst sponsored) Harry Anslinger Senate hearings to make people fear something that so clearly presents a pretty low risk to public health.  And if there are concerns about contamination and impurities that couldn’t be solved with rescheduling or legalization, I’d really like to hear what those are.

**WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT** A room filled with all the victims of marijuana use.

Essentially, any part of this document that is not grossly misleading or outright untrue is based entirely on the fact that pot is not currently legal.  My guess is that the problem with marijuana is – and this finding is strewn about in the subtext of this very report – that it is not dangerous enough.  The report says, among other things, that pot gives only the most minor of withdrawal upon cessation of use, that it creates no hangover effect in the user, that the only real health risk is associated with the physical effects of smoking the pot (which is by no means the exclusive way one could ingest it), and that any reduction in cognitive or performance capabilities is temporary and restricted only to the amount of time that the user is under the influence.  As a result, with cannabis, there is no endemic incentive to dissuade use like there is with most other substances.  It can also be grown naturally, cheaply, and doesn’t have to be obtained from a pharmaceutical giant for 1,000x the production price.  Maybe that’s the scariest part about it.  In any event, I’m exhausted from these rhetorical manipulations posing as factual analysis, man.  Better smoke a J and relax take some Klonopin and drive myself to T.G.I. Friday’s.

* This actually isn’t true, the analysis on this point ignores the fact that there are two synthetic THC-based medications currently approved as Schedule III drugs, even though it’s contradictorily mentioned elsewhere in the report in support of a different negative conclusion.  Synthetic THC = good, natural THC = bad. DoJ = having cake, eating it too.

* If the reader has never taken Ambien, it’s kind of like your brain turning into warm molasses over the course of 10 minutes in a somewhat pleasurable event that you’ll never remember, or what I imagine the guys in Mötley Crüe felt when they used to inject tequila into their throats. If someone ever suggests to you that marijuana presents a bigger risk to memory and functionality than Ambien (or tequila), they are either a complete fool or they are lying to you.

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