Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Did A Time Tunnel Open Near The New York Times?

There is an article in the January 7, 2013 New York Times about the health risks associated with marijuana. Those who regularly read my blog will not be terribly surprised, although they do mention some new studies recently completed that show more general risks than the relatively tiny fraction that is at risk of schizophrenia:
Teenagers may be more vulnerable to addiction, however, and those who start smoking pot at a younger age are at higher risk. Approximately one in six will become addicted, Dr. Volkow said. Young adults who start smoking marijuana at earlier ages also tend to smoke much more, and more often, than those who start in their later teens, researchers say.

In users who develop a dependence or addiction, quitting can cause intense withdrawal symptoms, like anxiety, trouble sleeping, lack of appetite, mood swings, irritability and depression, experts say.
The article goes on to make some of the same points that I made to a newspaper reporter earlier today: the widespread social acceptance of marijuana and the overwhelming insistence by worshipers of the weed that it is essentially risk-free may encourage a lot of kids to use a drug that even if less dangerous than alcohol, is hardly without risk. (To say that a drug is less dangerous than alcohol is rather like saying that 9 mm Parabellum is less deadly than .223.)  

The article goes on to discuss recent studies concerning effects on brain structure development among young teenagers:

The most disturbing new studies about early teenage use of marijuana showed that young adults who started smoking pot regularly before they were 16 performed significantly worse on cognitive tests of brain function than those who had started smoking later in adolescence. They performed particularly poorly on tests assessing executive function, which is responsible for planning and abstract thinking, as well as understanding rules and inhibiting inappropriate responses.

Imaging scans also found detectable differences in how their brains worked, said Staci Gruber, the lead author of these studies and director of the cognitive and clinical neuroimaging core at the imaging center at McLean Hospital in Boston. Imaging scans found alterations in the frontal cortex white matter tracts of the brain in the early-starters, she said, that are associated with impulsiveness.

“The frontal cortex is the last part of the brain to come online, and the most important,” Dr. Gruber said. “Early exposure perhaps changes the trajectory of brain development, such that ability to perform complex executive function tasks is compromised.”
Finally, the article mentions a recent study that found that those who started smoking marijuana early lost IQ points, and this problem progressed over time. By comparison, adults did not suffer the same reduction in IQ points. Of course, neither individuals nor society suffer from being stupid when they grow up, right? Certainly the brilliance of President Choom in managing our economy demonstrates the benefits of early marijuana use.

Most amusingly, the comments section, as you might expect for the New York Times, was full of ferocious invective from the worshipers of weed for merely suggesting that there may be health consequences to these policy changes. There is a fanaticism there that makes the most rabid gun nuts look positively... mellow!

4 comments:

macweave said...

My brother scored higher on IQ tests than me by about 10 points. After heavy pot use for 15 years he is now a Liberal.
Although he may be starting to come out of it. He said something nice about fracking.

Bikeboy said...

Any rational and honest person will acknowledge that cannabis is harmful... a lifestyle devoid of consciousness-altering substances is the healthiest.

As a libertarian/conservative, my question is: "Is it the government's job to prevent us from ingesting anything harmful?" Maybe adults should be able to get informed, and then decide for themselves.

If it is... why are they so selective? They not only condone the use of alcohol... in Idaho they sell it! They profit from tobacco use.

On the other hand, health-conscious Mayor "Nanny" Bloomberg would prevent his constituents from eating too much fat, or drinking a big soda. Does he have the right idea?

Clayton said...

A good bit more discussion of cannabis's risks would make me a lot less nervous. I think everyone is aware of alcohol's risks, and even then, those risks are typically understated by the entertainment industry. When was the last time the entertainment business made a film acknowledging the risks of pot?

RS said...

Pleasurable mind altering drugs are dangerous. No question.

But prohibition is more dangerous, not just to the user, but to the entire society.

And it doesn't work, witness the issues we are seeing.