Cannabis and Non-Affective Psychotic Disorders

The literature on the relationship between marijuana use and psychosis has been best described by Time magazine in 2010: it’s complicated.

Various studies have attempted to investigate the connection between the two variables to rather confounding results, including “circumstantial evidence” that individuals afflicted by schizophrenia are more likely to abuse drugs including cannabis and that “only a very small proportion of the general population” using cannabis develop psychosis; all of which warrant further research.

It is through the media and public discourse that this already convoluted relationship becomes even more difficult to understand. A follower of the debate on cannabis and its association with non-affective psychotic disorders, I observe a disconnect in communication. It is as if many prohibitionists and reformists are talking about completely different topics: CAUSATION and EXACERBATION.

No, cannabis does not cause psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia. Numbers have shown that despite fluctuations in marijuana usage, there has not been a concurrent variation in the instances of schizophrenia, largely debunking claims of a causal relationship. There exists, however, an unsettling association between marijuana usage in existing patients of psychotic disorders and severity of symptoms and timing of onset. Several of the studies were conducted with relatively small sample sizes and so demand future investigation, yet are sufficient to recommend present caution.

One of my core principles is to share that which I appreciate – whether art or food or experiences – with those dear to me. One of the things I appreciate most in the world happens to be cannabis. From close friends, I ask that they at least try it, just as I’ll ask that they try oysters (a travesty, to miss out on the tender, slippery treat; like an intense and delightful shot of the ocean). If their experimentation leads to ultimate dislike, I never attempt to dissuade them; I will always respect individual preference or lack thereof. They simply need to try putting it in their mouth once.

The only exception to sharing my appreciation for cannabis is if the friend in question is genetically prone to schizophrenia.

Marijuana and Tobacco: A Subjective Comparison

With a steady increase in the number of governments implementing marijuana law reform into their political agendas, it is only natural that cannabis be compared to alcohol and cigarettes. As with any pot enthusiast, I rejoice in reading research findings that indicate the relative safety of marijuana in contrast to the socially and legally acceptable substances of ethanol and tobacco. However, cheerleader-esque triumph is replaced with more sober considerations upon closer examination of the drugs in question.

A vice-riddled creature, I am a user of all three substances. Cannabis is used to enhance perspective and the physical senses; to intensify appreciation of food and of art. Alcohol is used to complement meals (a full-bodied Barolo with meat dishes, a citrusy Sauvignon blanc with pasta and seafood, and beer of all types with anything deep-fried) and to render the labyrinth of expected conduct at large social gatherings more navigable and enjoyable. Tobacco was used as a means of obtaining peer acceptance as a teenager and gradually as a source for immediate stress relief. All three are used as social stimulants: for reasons beyond comprehension, collective substance use increases camaraderie and can strengthen or even forge friendships.

The fundamental discrepancy between these substances lies in that I no longer wish to smoke cigarettes. After no less than a dozen escape attempts, I have relinquished hope of quitting completely, establishing a new standard of smoking only occasionally (defined as less than two cigarettes a month) with the intention to set more realistic goals and to reduce the frequency with which I disappoint myself with failure.

I know all three are “not healthy”. I know that excessive marijuana can diminish my short term memory. I know that excessive alcohol can damage “nearly every organ in the body”. Most of all, I know that smoking cigarettes increases mortality rate by about 300% and decreases life expectancy by “at least 10 years”; that this little white stick is literally killing me. Despite awareness of such staggering dangers and of the atrocious behaviour of tobacco companies (i.e. Philip Morris International suing the Uruguayan government to avoid educating consumers of risks through graphic informative packaging.), I still cannot stop. I am able to withhold from alcohol (though I admit that it is difficult to say no at celebratory occasions and that it would indeed be pleasant to have a glass of wine or pint of beer with most meals). I am capable of abstaining from marijuana (a beloved substance which I believe improves the appreciation of art and life) for weeks with no symptoms of withdrawal. But I am unable to say there will ever be a day when I am completely free from nicotine. Even if I successfully “quit”, the addiction will remain; a poltergeist forever lingering in the shadows, a parasite lying dormant deep within the body.

Such horrifying addictiveness and plethora of health repercussions make for a nasty combination, best described by the World Health Organization as “the single most preventable cause of death in the world today”, responsible for more deaths than “tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria combined”.

At the moment, all attention is centered on cannabis: its legal status, its health and sociological effects. Assuming, however, that the government and the courts adopt an evidence-based approach, I truly hope that the dialogue on drug policy reform eventually extends to tobacco; that there be future consideration of increased regulation and taxation, of its inclusion as a Schedule I drug in the Controlled Substances Act (Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in Canada), and of the establishment of licensed tobacco dispensaries as opposed to ready availability in every gas station and convenience shop.

But, I suppose, one step at a time.

“Nobody Cares”: Victims of Female-On-Male Rape and the Patriarchal Perception of Sex

A perturbing phenomenon to occur in an allegedly progressive society: that the FBI definition of rape — changed in 2013 so as to include non-traditional cases — can ironically be misconstrued as excluding female-on-male rape.

Rape is defined as:
“Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

To interpret this definition as pertinent to male-on-female and male-on-male rape yet not to female-on-male or female-on-female rape is to make very specific assumptions about penetration — and indicates the grim reality of the prevailing myths towards rape and sex in general.

Myth #1: A hard-on means he wants it.

Credit: Joey Yee/https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/Source: Joey Yee/https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

Yes, the victim was erect during his molestation. But as with female victims, rape and physical arousal aren’t mutually exclusive.

Male sexual response is entirely possible in intense negative emotional states such as “embarrassment, humiliation, anxiety, fear, anger, or even terror”, and can elicit confusion and self-blame in survivors of rape with both male and female attackers.

Erections and orgasms aren’t equivalent to consent, but rather physiological reactions to stimulation.

Myth #2: He’s bigger and stronger: he can’t get raped.

Credit: Netflix/Archer

Source: Netflix/Archer

As a sexually dichomotous species, our males tend to be physically larger and stronger than females. But physical coercion isn’t the only means of forcing unwanted intimacy: there’s incapacitation with alcohol and drugs, and emotional or verbal coercion.

There have been reports of egregious and rather imaginative methods of sexual extortion, with threats of falsely reporting the victim himself as the rapist or threats that physical retaliation would harm the assailant’s unborn child.

Myth # 3: He still got laid.

Credit: Netflix/American PieSource: Netflix/American Pie

Through masculine gender socialization, males are told from a young age to equate sexual interaction with conquest and manhood. But to assume that men always want sex regardless of partner and circumstance is to assume automatic consent.

If men by default say “yes,” then they can’t say “no” — right?

Myth #4: It’s not as bad as “normal” rape.

Credit: Reddit

 

 

Source: Reddit

The most horrifying aspect of female-on-male rape, aside from the act itself and the trauma that follows, has been the lack of victim care or even acknowledgement. A “cultural blindspot” with severe implications for survivors, such as higher rates of under-reporting and struggling to identify their experience as rape.

Socially, victims’ stories reveal a common denominator: that cases of female-on-male rape are frequently perceived as light and even laughable experiences. Institutionally, rape crisis centres and hotlines accustomed to assisting female victims have been reported to reject males seeking help, going as far as to hang up the phone. Legally, there exists a similar double standard, with law enforcement members expressing disbelief and scorn, and with a discrepancy in sentencing. Take, for instance, the case of a Chicago female rapist who forced sex on a man at gunpoint. While the woman wielding the weapon was charged with aggravated sexual assault and armed robbery at a $75,000 bail, her accomplice — the woman with whom the victim was forced to have sex — faced no charges.

Such lacklustre responses highlight the perception that rape with female perpetrators simply isn’t as traumatizing or heinous as rape with male perpetrators. But similar consequences are observed in both male and female survivors, including psychological and emotional disturbances such as anxiety or depression, substance abuse, sleep disturbances and sexual dysfunction (asexuality or its polar opposite, hypersexuality).

Sexual violence — the mind-jarring experience of losing power over one’s own body — isn’t specific to any gender.

Myth #5: Penetration = dominance.

Credit: rollingout.com/comments
Source: Comments/rollingout.com

The notion that men cannot get raped by women can be attributed to the traditional perception of women as passive recipients of sex and of penetration as an innately dominant act: something that’s done to someone rather than as a physiological component of intercourse. That women “get raped” and do not rape stems from their sexual objectification; the idea that they “get fucked” and do not fuck in turn.

Despite such misogynistic views, sex is a two-way street: an exchange of consent and pleasure. From the moment consent is withheld or withdrawn, by either party, the act becomes rape — a physical and psychological violation.

To deny boys and men the reality of their rape is to deny their vulnerability as human beings — and is a truly tragic consequence of our ever-improving yet deeply rooted patriarchal society.

 

 

“Afterparty”

I wake up to everything shaking, my head pressed against the frame of the bed, the frame repeatedly hitting the wall.

Wha – earthquake?

I open my eyes as wide as possible, trying to blink away the sleep and make sense of everything through the darkness, and know I’m not alone.

There’s someone on top of me, shifting back and forth, their skin hot against mine.

You’ve woken me up with some morning oral action in the past – never sex, which is a little weird. And except it’s not morning. But hey, I’m not complaining. I reach up to hold you, and start moving back.

Just as I start getting into it, realization hits me and it’s like blood is literally being drained from my fingertips. Chris went home for the holidays.

You are not Chris.

‘What the fuck?!’ I try to get up but you keep going, slamming your weight down on me. I push you, hard, and finally you get off.

‘What?’ You’re panting. Your tone is nonchalant and slightly annoyed, as if I’ve interrupted you. Your voice is somewhat familiar, but I still don’t know who the fuck you are.

I swing my legs over my bed and rush to the door. I turn and hit the lights, and it takes me a moment to recognize your face.

You’re the chick from last night’s party. The chick who kept trying to cling onto my arm even when I said to stop, that I have a girlfriend. The chick Rob refers to as ‘the hottest piece of ass’ he’s ever seen. The chick who’s fucked Jim – and Mike and Jason and Tommy and God knows how many more from the frat.

‘Get out.’

You actually scowl at me. ‘What’s your problem?’

Incredible, audacious, un-fucking-believable is what you are. This is unreal. ‘Are you fucking kidding me? I told you I have a girlfriend. I told you I’m not interested. And you just come in and start fucking me as I’m sleeping?!’

You actually roll your eyes at me. ‘God, it’s just some harmless sex. Stop being such a pussy.’

I’m shaking and I can’t control it. I’ve never hated anyone, never visualized bashing anyone’s face in and sending blood and teeth down their throat – until now.

‘GET THE FUCK OUT!’

You jump off my bed and have the decency to look scared – maybe you’re not a complete sociopath, after all. You grab some clothes off the floor and run out the door. I slam it shut behind you, and try to think.

What will Chris say? Would she break up with me? I look down at my dick and see no condom.

Holy fuck. Oh, Jesus Christ.

I try to calm down but it’s impossible. All the stats from Bio are running through my head. Genital herpes: 1 in every 6. Hepatitis B: 1 in every 20. Chlamydia: 1 in every 15 for sexually active adolescent females. HIV: 6 in every 1000.

I try to tell myself it’s illogical, that it’s moot to panic before getting tested, but I’m already imagining my life with HIV. How much do the drugs cost? Will my insurance cover it?

Somehow, I get myself across the hallway to the washroom. My hands are still shaking as I climb over the bathtub ledge and turn the hot water knob as far as it’ll go. I’m aware venereal diseases can’t be boiled away – but I still feel like trying.

I stand there wincing as I let the water scald my crotch, and know I won’t go back to sleep. I wonder if I can just go to emergency and get tested now – what would I even tell them? – or if I should wait until morning.

My chest heaves. I place one hand against the mosaic wall, the other over my mouth.

I think I’m going to throw up.

The Underlying Feminist Symbolism in ‘Ex Machina’

A most glorious Tuesday, with a highly anticipated film, half-price tickets, an assortment of munchies, and wonderful company – all while stoned out of my mind.

I pass through the doors into the darkness of the theatre, not knowing quite what to expect yet looking forward to it all the same, by virtue of the science-fiction premise and promising graphics.

The audience is introduced to three characters. Caleb Smith, the lucky lottery winner, well-versed in science and logic. Nathan, the brilliant yet eccentric founder of the world’s most powerful search engine. And Ava, the innocent yet omniscient A.I. – a stunning, doe-eyed manifestation of the Internet.

Yet they are not alone within the confines of the subterranean research facility. In the first morning, a tall and slender female of Asian ethnic background enters Caleb’s room. She places a tray of breakfast on the table, and turns and leaves with neither word nor eye contact. Mellow, cannabis-enhanced contentment is interrupted and I am left as disoriented as our protagonist, newly awake in bed: what was that about?

In the following scene, the only information we are given of the woman is that her name is Kyoko, and that she makes “some alarm clock”; a description coupled with a look heavy with sexual suggestion. Kyoko is next seen over dinner, during which we learn that she does not speak English. Her function is to bring food and to clean – all the while with bowed head and silence.

The perfect, mute housekeeper and, as we discover in a later scene, sex toy. A domestic slave with no prospects beyond the personal gratification of another and with no shared language or means of self-expression.

This is either going to perpetuate gender-specific objectification, I thought, mouth filled with chips and eyes glued to the screen, especially of visible minorities. Or somehow turn it around and make social commentary on sexism.

I believe it was the latter, and that it was delivered with exquisite finesse; an allegory of female emancipation to rival Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper.

From the outset of the film, we become acquainted with the seeming protagonist. Caleb the eager visitor, Caleb the orphan, Caleb the advanced coder with a self-professed penchant for high-level abstraction. Moral Caleb, who grows visibly uncomfortable with the demeaning treatment of others; sensitive Caleb, who grows to question his own humanity in the presence of anthropomorphic machines.

It is through Caleb that we experience the familiar yet extraordinary – and at times unsettling – setting. It is through his perspective that the plot’s tension is built; through his eyes that the audience feels suspicion and a sense of displacement. Whom should we trust, the erratic genius struggling within the grips of alcoholism, or the non-human?

Caleb’s choice leads to a satisfying twist, unveiling an epic battle of wits between the two men. Yet the twist in plot is further contorted as the lady love dresses in preparation for a new life – and leaves our hero behind.

Caleb is the false protagonist. He is the deus ex machina, whose unexpected appearance provides the means to resolve a seemingly impossible situation; he is Ava’s means of acquiring the ultimate form of recognition as a sapient being with a mind, with hopes and fears and desires of their own – freedom to live life on their terms.

It was her story all along.

War on Human Rights: The Humanitarian Impacts of Drug Prohibition

The criminalization approach to drug use, emphasizing punishment and incarceration over treatment and rehabilitation, has affected entire lifetimes – often infringing upon universal and constitutional rights.

“The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating
consequences for individuals and societies around the world.”
—Kofi Annan, former U.N. Secretary-General

THE RIGHT TO HEALTH: PART 1

The Constitution of the World Health Organization (WHO) defines the right to health as “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health.”

And a major component of an ethical healthcare is the recognition of the patient’s right to give or refuse consent to treatment.

Addictions are a “diverse set of common, complex diseases” influenced by environment, neurology and genetics. Yet unlike with most patients, drug users are often given mandatory sentences as a form of compulsory treatment – violating this fundamental standard of health.

“Drug dependence treatment should not be forced on patients.”
— Antonio Maria Costa
Executive Director, U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime

THE RIGHT TO HEALTH: PART 2

As with all common physiological and social afflictions, the public should have access to services that minimize associated risks.

Arguments in favour of harm-reduction as a necessary social service:
“overwhelmingly strong” evidence highlighting the benefits of needle exchange programs, which diminish rates of “HIV transmission effectively, safely and cost effectively” without increasing rates of overall drug use by the populace
• a 2011 Supreme Court ruling which found that the Vancouver supervised injection facility Insite was proved “to save lives with no discernible negative impact on the public safety and health objectives of Canada”
• fear of arrest and stigmatization cited as “the most substantial barrier” to seeking treatment and to calling for help during an overdose.

“Without protective policies and decriminalization of the behaviour of key populations, barriers to essential health services will remain”
— World Health Organization

Casualties of the War on Drugs: Victims of Overdose

Contrary to common misconceptions, deaths by opioid overdose are not exclusive to recreational users.

Victims include patients who:
• developed an addiction to prescribed opiate pain relievers (Percocet, Vicodin, Norco, Avinza, OxyContin)
• failed to understand the danger of mixing opiates with other substances including alcohol and Valium
• gradually turned to heroin once prescriptions ceased.

Drug overdose was reported to be the “third leading cause of accidental death in Ontario” – responsible for deaths that could be prevented with the following measures:
• better prescribing practices
• training and increased availability of naloxone (an emergency medication that reverses the effects of opioids)
• improved efforts to encourage people to call 911 during an overdose event
• regulation of the variable purity of recreational drugs.

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

In 1988, section 462.2 was introduced and passed into the Canadian Criminal Code, prohibiting not only paraphernalia but also “literature for illicit drug use” – and thereby infringing upon free speech and censoring political dissent.

462.2 “Everyone who … promotes or sells instruments
or literature for illicit drug use is guilty of an offense”

Only seven years later did the Ontario Court of Justice overturn the law’s prohibition on literature, ruling that it infringed upon the fundamental freedom of expression.

Nonetheless, Section 462.2’s ban against literature is to this day on the books throughout the other provinces and territories.

THE RIGHT TO BE FREE FROM
UNREASONABLE SEARCH & SEIZURE

Section 8 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects the citizen from unreasonable invasions by the state into their property and privacy.

Search and seizure based on drug use – a personal behaviour with no victims or impact except on the health of users themselves – is an encroachment of this basic right.

In 1992, the Canadian office of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) was raided by means of a drug search warrant issued under the aforementioned Section 462.2. The police intruded not only into the office – which doubled as the home of director Umberto Iofida – but also into the privacy of the organization’s members and contributors as they seized the membership list.

As recently as February 2015, Neufchatel high school in Quebec city forced a 15-year old student suspected of selling drugs to undergo a strip search. That such a police practice was enforced in a civil, school environment caused widespread outrage and legal concerns, with a Toronto lawyer likening the incident to a form of assault.

FREEDOM FROM CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENTS

The Narcotics Control Act (the predecessor to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act) required a minimum of seven years’ imprisonment for the conviction of importing drugs, regardless of amount. This sentencing provision was challenged in the 1987 case R v Smith and was found to be a violation of Section 12 of the Charter, which
protects individuals from cruel and unusual punishments – including prison sentences disproportionate to the crime.

However, in 2012 the Conservative government passed the Safe Streets and Communities Act: an omnibus bill imposing more severe punishments for sexual and drug-related offences, including mandatory minimum sentences.

In theory, mandatory minimum sentences are based on the concept of specific deterrence: to use the threat and experience of prison as a way to discourage known offenders from repeating their crime.

In reality, the sentencing practice:
• does not dissuade the repetition of crime, as indicated by high recidivism rates with 41% to 44% of federal offenders being reconvicted two years after their release
• limits the control and discretion by trial judges, reducing their ability to review and sentence on a case-by-case basis
• violates the Charter of Rights by imposing severe punishments on drug users and low-level dealers, as ruled in 2014 by B.C. Provincial Court Judge Joseph Galati

“Empirical evidence suggests that mandatory minimum sentences do not, in fact, deter crimes.”
— The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin
Supreme Court Chief Justice

The Right to Life, Liberty and Security of the Person

Today, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act lists the following maximum years of imprisonment for possession (or for the attempt to acquire in the case of Schedule IV, the possession of which is not an offence):
Schedule I (MDMA, heroin, methamphetamine): 7 years
Schedule II (Cannabis exceeding 3kg and cannabis resin exceeding 1g): 5 years
Schedule III (Mescaline, psilocybin mushrooms): 3 years
Schedule IV (Anabolic steroids): 1 year
Schedule VIII (Cannabis not exceeding 30g and cannabis resin not exceeding 1g): 6 months

Under Section 7 of the Charter, the individual is guaranteed “the right to life, liberty and security of the person” with the only exception “in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice”.

When citizens engage in behaviours that are potentially harmful (or even helpful) to their health and well-being, the issue is a matter of public health and not criminal justice. Moreover, criminalizing citizens for the victimless act of holding a substance in your hand is a clear violation of human rights.

Casualty of the War on Drugs: Andrew Cornish.

In the U.S., based on an anonymous tip and two plastic bags containing cannabis residue, the apartment of Andrew Cornish was raided by SWAT teams at 4:30 a.m. in May 2005. The police failed to announce their identity and purpose, using a battering ram to enter the residence instead. The disoriented and unaware Mr. Cornish confronted the police – from his eyes intruders into his home – with a sheathed knife, and was shot in the forehead.

The raid resulted in the seizure of a small amount of marijuana.

The Right not to be Arbitrarily Detained or Imprisoned

Section 9 of the Charter ensures the individual the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned. Arbitrary detainment and imprisonment is distinguished when there is “no express or implied criteria which govern its exercise.”

Based on empirical and unbiased research, there is an undeniable inconsistency in the criteria by which the state treats certain drugs and its users.
• Tobacco, described by the WHO as a global epidemic and “the single most preventable cause of death in the world today”, is responsible for more deaths than “tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria combined”.
• Alcohol was reported by the WHO to be responsible for 5.9% of all deaths worldwide and to be a causal factor in “more than 200 health conditions”.

A study conducted by the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs found alcohol as the most detrimental drug and psilocybin mushrooms as the least detrimental in terms of total harm inflicted to both others and to users. While the use of other relatively less harmful drugs (such as the non-toxic substances of psilocybin mushrooms and cannabis) remains a criminal offence, alcohol and tobacco are not only legal but widely
accepted as social norms; exemplifying the arbitrary selection of illicit drugs.

Victim of the War on Drugs: Antonio Bascaró

Antonio Bascaró was convicted in 1980 for importing cannabis from Columbia to Florida. Although the leader and the wholesaler involved in the smuggling operation were released in 1994 and 1996 respectively, Mr. Bascaró remains in jail to this day – earning the title of “The Nation’s Longest Serving Marijuana Prisoner” in the U.S. For his non-violent, first criminal offence, he will have served 39 years in prison, with his release currently scheduled for June 2019.

THE PRICE OF THE ‘WAR ON DRUGS’

Justice Canada’s 2008 report on the Costs of Crime in Canada estimated that the nation spends $2 billion on enforcing the arbitrary criminalization of certain substances.

But the true costs of prohibition extend beyond inefficient public expenditure, and lies in the normalized and systemic violations of human rights – all in the name of the politically motivated and insensible ‘war on drugs’.

How Cannabis Could End a North American Epidemic

Yet another way in which medicinal cannabis could save lives: as a substitute for painkillers.

Opioid overdose has been described by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a national epidemic. And contrary to lingering stereotypes, death by overdose on opiates isn’t exclusive to recreational use of illicit substances. Victims include patients who gradually developed an addiction to prescription painkillers (the most popular of which include Percocet, Vicodin and OxyContin) and either failed to follow proper instructions or resorted to illegal alternatives – namely heroin – once prescriptions had run dry.

With the prescriptions and sales of painkillers having almost quadrupled in number since 1999 in addition to existing prohibited drug use, it seems almost cause-and-effect logic that the FDA reported overdose deaths as today’s “leading cause of injury death in the Unites States – surpassing motor vehicle crashes.”

The most tragic part of this public health issue is that such casualties are entirely preventable.

Research has consistently revealed the following methods of prevention:

In regards to prescription-related overdose, perhaps the most effective and practical method would be to prescribe an alternative to opiate painkillers, preventing patient addiction and misuse from the outset. One medical alternative is – wait for it – cannabis: a natural substance with analgesic, pain-relieving properties recognized since the second century AD in China.

A time-series study revealed that states legalizing the medicinal use of cannabis exhibited a “24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate”. Yet legalization remains a contentious issue.

The lack of government adoption of such fact-based provisions is not only disheartening – instilling a sense of repugnance towards the lengthy and at times backwards bureaucratic process as well as towards deeply rooted prohibitionist attitudes – but also cruel, standing idle in the face of so much empirical evidence, in the face of so many unnecessary deaths.

As citizens wait for evidence-based drug policies at the federal level, victims of opioid overdose may be added to the list of casualties of the war on drugs.

A Distinction on Cannabis: Relatively Harmless vs. Relatively Less Harmful

Following the debate on cannabis, two general tendencies can be observed of opponents and proponents: of the first to cast marijuana as a dangerous and immoral substance, prescribing prohibition; and of the latter to herald its medicinal benefits and relative safety in comparison to the legally and socially acceptable substances of alcohol (ethanol) and tobacco, advocating reform.

The first is easy to dismiss, as with the irrational tantrums of a child accustomed to getting their way. One only needs to conduct a basic search to uncover a plethora of scientific research refuting the claims of prohibitionists, including that marijuana acts as a gateway drug to harder substances and causes psychosis and apathy.

The latter is more concerning. In the heat of the debate, from an inherently defensive position of the underdog, it can be enticing and even natural to focus solely on affirmative information. In this, however, quotes extracted from statements and studies may be incomplete in context.

Cannabis enthusiasts celebrated the findings of a Cambridge University study which “failed to reveal a substantial, systematic effect of a long-term, regular cannabis consumption on the neurocognitive functioning of users who were not acutely intoxicated.” The empirical refutation of claims that marijuana renders its users stupid is a reformist victory – but omitting that the “two exceptions were in the domains of learning and forgetting […] indicating a very small but discernible negative effect” issues a subtle yet significant shift in context.

Enthusiasts and reformists also exulted when Cathy Lanier, Washington D.C. Police Chief as well as former recreational user, contradicted the perception of cannabis as a dangerous substance inducing violence and societal harm, emphasizing that “Alcohol is a much bigger problem.”

Such a statement from a major law enforcement actor amounted to a huge gain to the reform movement and has accordingly been reproduced throughout the Internet. However, the chief’s full quote includes an additional four words which seem to have been largely overshadowed yet which raise a crucial distinction: “Still, it’s not healthy.”

Marijuana is significantly less harmful relative to the legally and socially acceptable drugs of alcohol and tobacco, but it is not harmless.

In terms of medicinal uses, marijuana is nature’s goddamned miracle. The recognition of its analgesic properties dates back to the second century AD in China and today, cannabis has been approved by various governments “for treatment of central neuropathic pain in multiple sclerosis” and of cancer pain. Research has highlighted cannabinoids as potential therapeutic treatment for Alzheimer’s, glaucoma, and migraines, and has underscored their anti-tumor and anti-proliferative properties, inviting further cancer research.

Nonetheless, marijuana is not without its own risks and repercussions. Heavy use can negatively affect working memory and verbal recall; a consequence experienced first-hand as a frequent recreational user. The list of synonyms at my command seems to have been shortened (Diminished? Reduced? Abridged? … Utterly destroyed?), though the effect can be reversed with a month-long abstinence.

Sociologically, heavy use of cannabis is correlated with depression.

Correlation in the social sciences, while it in no way signifies causation, can be deeply suggestive. When people in large numbers exhibit the same behaviours, the trend can indicate something about underlying conditions. Nevertheless, a similar association exists between depression and “binge-watching” behaviour on streaming services such as Netflix. Watching television for continuous stretches of time and/or smoking pot (the combination of which coincidentally harmonizes like salt and caramel) does not cause depression. The studies may indicate that individuals exhibiting symptoms of depression may look to external sources to alter moods. Television is entertainment, but can be a source of addiction. Marijuana is medicine, but it is also a habit-forming drug with its own risks.

Regardless, the dangers of cannabis are miniscule in comparison to those of alcohol and tobacco. As the INSERM Collective Expertise Centre reported in 2001, heavy alcohol use “triggers high morbidity and mortality rate due to cancer, liver disease, adverse effects on the central or peripheral nervous system, cardiovascular diseases, or abnormal development in children exposed in utero.”

“Nevertheless,” the report points out, “the consequences of alcohol intake on health depend on individual consumer susceptibility, on its pattern, and above all, its level of consumption.” With both weed and booze, health and sociological effects are determined by intake volume and frequency. Tobacco is a whole other story.

No, marijuana does not cause psychosis, lead to the use of more dangerous drugs or decrease motivation. Yes, its medicinal and recreational use ought to be legalized, regulated and taxed. But as with all things in life, recreational indulgence should be done in moderation. Heavy regular use (at least 5 joints per week) not only may have negative effects on short term memory but also may reflect emotionally and/or chemically compromised decision-making abilities.

What is of utmost importance is that the individual’s decisions, however poor or healthy, be fully informed decisions – not piecemeal.