ys Research PapersMarijuana in the Past and Present
Marijuana is a mixture of leaves, stems, and flowering tops of the Indian hemp plant Cannabis, it may be smoked or eaten for its hallucinogenic and pleasure-giving effects. Marijuana has not been proven to be physically addicting but, psychological dependence can develop.
Many users describe two phases of marijuana intoxication. During the first level the user will experience lightheadedness; next the user will experience peacefulness in the mind. Mood changes are often accompanied by altered perceptions of time. A person will think that hours have gone by, but in reality only minutes have passed. The thinking process usually becomes disrupted by incongruous ideas, images, and memories. Many users report an increase in appetite, heightened sensory awareness, and various hallucinogenic pleasures. The negative side effects include confusion, panic, anxiety attacks, fear, a sense of helplessness, and loss of self-control.
In the United States there were a number of successful efforts, especially in the 1970s, to reduce criminal penalties for possession and use of marijuana, but many of the resulting laws have since been modified or repealed. The smoking of marijuana is so casually taken for granted in much of our culture that many people assume that a marijuana offense these days will rarely lead to a prison term. The fact is that there are more people in prison today for violating marijuana laws than at any other time in the nation’s history. Data provided by the Bureau of Prisons and the United States Sentencing Commission suggest that one of every six inmates in the federal prison system has been locked up for a marijuana offense. The number currently being held in state prisons and local jails is more difficult to estimate; an estimated guess would be an additional 20,000 to 30,000. A dozen or more marijuana offenders may now be serving life sentences in federal penitentiaries without hope of parole. The number of prisoners condemned to die in prison may reach into the hundreds if you include middle-aged inmates with sentences greater than twenty years. Other inmates are serving life terms in state prisons across the country for growing, selling, or even possessing marijuana.
The vigorous enforcement of marijuana laws has resulted in four million arrests since the early 1980s. Due to mandatory-minimum sentences, many of those convicted are receiving stiff prison terms; even as violent criminals are released for lack of space.
During the 1980s the federal and state governments made the penalties for marijuana offenses much tougher. More resources were devoted to their enforcement, and punishments were more severe than those administered during the “reefer madness” of the 1930s. As a result there may be more people in prison today for violating marijuana laws than at any other time in the nation’s history.
The myth “Cannabis (marijuana) is more potent today than in the past” is a result of bad data. The researchers who made the claim of increased potency used as their baseline the THC content of cannabis seized by police in the early 1970s. Poor storage of the cannabis in rooms that were not air conditioned caused it to deteriorate and decline in potency before any chemical could be analyzed. Independent studies of seized “street” marijuana from the early 1970s showed a potency equivalent to that of marijuana today.
The myth “There is more than a thousand chemicals in marijuana smoke” is true, but misleading. The August 31, 1990 issue of the magazine Science notes that of the more than 800 damaging chemicals present in coffee, only twenty-one have actually been tested on animals and sixteen of these cause cancer in rodents. Yet coffee remains legal and is generally considered fairly safe.
The myth “No one has ever died of a marijuana overdose” is true. This myth was put to a test; it showed that animal tests revealed extremely high doses of marijuana are needed to have any lethal effect. This has led scientists to find that the ratio of the amount of marijuana necessary to get a person stoned is relative to the amount necessary to kill them is one to 40,000. In other words, to overdose, you would have to consume 40,000 times as much marijuana as you needed to get stoned. In contrast, a ten to one ratio of alcohol would certainly cause alcohol poisoning. It is easy to see how five thousand people die of alcohol overdoses every year and no one has EVER died of a marijuana overdose.
“Marijuana is a “gateway” drug that leads to hard drugs.” This statement is a recurring myth. Currently, the Netherlands is a prime example of what happens when marijuana is readily available. The Dutch partly legalized marijuana in the 1970s. Since then, hard drug use–heroin and cocaine–have declined substantially. If marijuana really were a gateway drug, one would have expected the use of hard drugs to have gone up, not down. This apparent “negative gateway” effect has also been observed in the United States. Studies done in the early 1970s showed a negative correlation between marijuana and the use of alcohol. In 1993 a Rand Corporation study compared drug use in states that had decriminalized marijuana versus those that had not. The study showed that where marijuana was more available–hard drug use (according to emergency rooms) decreased. In short, what science and actual experience tell us is that marijuana tends to substitute for the much more dangerous hard drugs like alcohol, cocaine, and heroin.
The statement “Legalization of marijuana would cause more car accidents on the highway” is yet another myth. Marijuana does impair a person’s performance much like alcohol. However, studies of the effects of marijuana on automobile accidents suggest that it poses less of a hazard than alcohol. When a random sample of fatal accident victims was studied, it was found that marijuana was associated with relatively as many accidents as alcohol. However, a closer examination revealed that around 85% of the people intoxicated on marijuana were also intoxicated on alcohol. For people only intoxicated on marijuana, the rate was much lower than for alcohol alone. This evidence, has also been supported by other research using several completely different methods.
The last myth I’m going to mention is “Cannabis impairs short-term memory.” This is true but misleading. Any impairment of short-term memory disappears when one is no longer under the influence of marijuana. Often, short-term memory effect is paired with a reference to Dr. Health’s poor rhesus monkeys, this implies that the condition is permanent.
To try and explain feeling stoned to someone who has never been there is very difficult. A survey in 1971 of 100 volunteers who were regular marijuana smokers produced the following results as to what being stoned actually is. Many users notice a greater sense of sound, increased hunger (eating a whole week’s food in one night), thirst, dry mouth, feelings of increased empathy, and a feeling that time has slowed down. The majority of subjects experienced no ill-effects, slept well and awoke calm and clear headed after the acute effects had passed. A small number of users reported negative feelings of anxiety. The feelings you experience are also influenced by the amount of marijuana you take, its potency, the environment you are in and your emotional state before getting stoned. It is probably impossible to describe exactly what it is, but the above survey is a fair report of what happens to you when you get stoned.
ys Research PapersMarijuana in the Past and Present