Responsible use of marijuana should be a choice

The Washington Post reports that the U.S. government spends $35 billion a year on a drug war that has placed a stronger emphasis on marijuana prohibition in the past ten years, a period in which marijuana possession arrests have increased 15 percent.

The undeniable failure by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to manage the distribution and consumption of marijuana in the United States can be attributed to one simple factor: faulty and outdated information. Factual inaccuracies about marijuana must be cleared up before any attempt to “control” the drug can be successfully initiated.

During the Reagan administration of the 1980s, the White House implemented the “Just Say No” campaign that labeled marijuana a gateway drug that leads to harsher substance abuse. In 1999, however, the Institute of Medicine’s Division of Neuroscience and Behavioral Health refuted the claim in a medicinal study. In fact, the U.S. government’s statistics now show that 75 percent of marijuana users never follow the gateway trend.

The D.A.R.E. program was launched in 1983, underscoring the notions that marijuana is highly addictive, permanently impairs memory and cognitive processes, and is four times more likely to cause cancer than cigarettes.

In actuality, research by the National Institute on Drug Abuse ranks marijuana as the least serious drug in relation to dependence, following nicotine (the most serious), heroin, cocaine, alcohol and caffeine, respectively.

In regard to psychology, the American Council for Drug Education states that the cognitive effects of marijuana use typically last no longer than 24 hours and that there is still no evidence of any irreversible effects on the brain.

Furthermore, the notion that marijuana is more carcinogenic than cigarettes is only partially true. While marijuana contains about 50 percent more cancer-causing chemicals than tobacco, cigarette smokers are at a much greater risk due to frequency of use and quantity consumed.

The risk of developing cancer from marijuana use is so low, in fact, that the British medical journal Lancet concluded after 30 years of study that “the smoking of cannabis, even long term, is not harmful to health” and has yet to document a case of lung cancer solely attributable to marijuana use.

The embarrassing attempt by the U.S. government to spread anti-marijuana propaganda and the subsequent delegitimization of many of the government’s scare tactics among the general public have led to such an alarming level of backfire that an estimated 100 million Americans (40 percent of the population) have used marijuana in their lifetimes without fully understanding its true risks and consequences, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

When marijuana is ingested, the active ingredient THC is absorbed into the blood stream and the brain, where the recently discovered cannabinoid receptors are psychoactivated. This causes a boost in dopamine levels, the chemical linked to feelings of euphoria and the motivation-reward concept.

There it is. Marijuana makes you feel good as feeling good becomes a higher and higher priority. A lyric by the band Coldplay could sum it up simply: it is “such a rush to do nothing at all.” That is the danger of marijuana.

Weed does not kill brain cells — it kills motivation. The unfounded emphasis on neurotoxicity and destructive social behavior is basically an effective tool for political fund-raising.

Discouraging marijuana use cannot be approached with scientific facts because none of the facts are prominent enough to justify avoidance. The only knowable thing is that people differ with regard to susceptibility to addiction — whether for pot, heroin or shopping.

The truth is that marijuana can be destructive, not on a biological level, but rather a behavioral one. Despite warnings to the contrary, marijuana is not easily acquired.

There are no street vendors, nobody gives away free samples and dealers are typically paranoid individuals (and with good reason — during the Reagan administration’s drug war, the federal prison population doubled).

People who experiment with marijuana do so because they make a conscious and ultimately uncomplicated decision. So much emphasis is placed on the enabling elements in the social life that pot smokers are purported to lack that heavy smokers frequently separate themselves from “potheads” in their own minds.

If there were a campaign aimed at putting responsibility back in the hands of the individual — making marijuana use a personal decision with personal consequences instead  of babying grown adults — and institutions of education did not cater to political demand, people would take the responsibility to fully understand the effects of their actions rather than Google “weed myths” before lighting up.

Mohammed Ibrahim is a senior majoring in biology.