. . . But Are All Drugs Dangerous?
“I’M A 17-year-old high school senior and have been smoking pot for about a year,” wrote a young man to a medical advice columnist of the New York Post. “Many of my friends are into drugs,” he continued, “and they say you just have to stay off the hard stuff—pot is okay. What do you think?”
The view that marijuana is harmless is increasingly common. One reason for this is the abundance of conflicting testimony from the scientific community. It seems that for every study that accuses the drug, another comes along that excuses it.
Proponents even point to certain useful medical properties. It is said to bring some relief from the symptoms of glaucoma and asthma, as well as easing the nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy. Research into its effects on epilepsy, sleep and appetite is also under way.
Armed with such favorable comment, many believe that marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol or tobacco, and possibly less so. They feel that governments that ban the drug are cheating people of its pleasures. Hence, in some countries, there is strong pressure to “decriminalize” marijuana.
It is not the purpose of Awake! to comment on whether certain drugs should be legalized or not. History indicates that many people are going to obtain what they want regardless of its legality. Many individuals just do not care about the medical consequences of their actions, as is illustrated by the huge number of tobacco users in spite of overwhelming testimony about the dangers.
But those who do care about medical and/or moral issues should have sufficient information upon which to base an informed decision. With this purpose, the following is presented.
Is Marijuana Wrongly Accused?
The contradictory findings on the effects of marijuana recently prompted a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal to ask one scientist: “Either marijuana is harmful or it is not. Why can’t you experts get together on the controversy?”
Hardin Jones, professor of medical physics at the University of California, responded:
“We get different answers because we ask different questions. For example, if you only look at the beginning of marijuana use, or at occasional use, you see very little damage. But I am trained to look for long term effects. And I found evidence of this sort by the bucketloads.”—May 29, 1977, p. 28.
One factor behind such “long term effects” is marijuana’s active ingredient, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), that accumulates in fatty tissues of the body such as the neurons of the brain and the germ cells of the testes and ovaries. This contrasts with alcohol, which is water soluble and completely metabolized by the body into water and carbon dioxide within a few hours. THC can still be detected weeks after ingestion.
Though there is disagreement as to just how harmful this THC accumulation is, some widely reported effects on the mind are worth considering. Dr. Jones asserts that, for one thing, “parents and teachers are certainly aware of the major personality changes that occur in young users.” He adds: “I never see a sharp sparkle in their face and eyes.”
And Dr. John A. S. Hall, chairman of the Department of Medicine at Kingston Hospital, Jamaica, agrees that “personality changes among ganja [marijuana] smokers . . . are a matter of common observation in Jamaica.” Apathy, retreat from reality and incapability or unwillingness for sustained concentration are also among the symptoms he cites.
One strong evidence of marijuana’s effect on the mind is the fact that, after heroin, the drug is reported to be the second leading cause of admissions to federally funded U.S. mental hospitals. Similarly, “during a visit to a psychiatric hospital in Salé, Morocco,” writes Dr. Pierre C. Haber in a letter to New York magazine, “I saw a whole ward of patients hospitalized as a result of prolonged cannabis-smoking.”
If the above charges are true, we might reasonably expect to see mental damage reflected in social relations with others. Is there evidence of this?
Effects on Human Relations
Even though a recent three-year study for the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse minimized the physical damage from marijuana, it found “significant differences in the family structure of users compared to nonusers,” according to American Medical News. The study stated: “Heavy marijuana smoking in our study correlated with a disruptive home life.”
An extreme example of such family disruption occurred recently in Texas, where a father went on trial for killing his twenty-year-old son. Recounting the circumstances that led him to kill the boy, the father said: “He was my pride and joy, and we did all sorts of things together—until all this happened three years ago.”
The son began using Valium (a tranquilizer) and marijuana. “He changed, he changed completely,” agonized the father. “I thought we’d get him straight, and then he’d start again. He’d get a job, then quit and spend the money on this stuff. He kept maintaining he was all right.”
Of course, marijuana’s damaging effects on the family are seldom so extreme, but is jeopardizing relationships with those we are closest to worth the temporary pleasure?
Other relationships may also be affected. A high-school teacher wrote to Psychology Today magazine, commending one of its articles for “demythologizing the effects of this drug [marijuana].” The article had been generally favorable to marijuana from a medical standpoint. Yet this teacher added:
“I am becoming alarmed at the presence in my classroom of ‘high’ students. I would be the last to say categorically that any of their intellectual skills have been reduced as a result of their drug use but I have noticed that in a group setting, the high person appears to have difficulty communicating even simple ideas verbally to the straight person, and vice versa. . . . This ‘harmless’ intoxication has somehow built a wall.”—March 1977, p. 8.
Clearly, not only what the drug does to users while they are under its influence, but the very fact that they often use it at inopportune times tells us something about it. Thus the desire for marijuana may ruin one’s good judgment. Rather than restricting it to personal “recreation,” it often interferes with necessary activities of life. Users tend to center their lives around their own pleasure, frequently showing a general disregard for others. Their inhibited judgment may even become a potential danger to innocent people. How so?
Hazard to Others
“The greatest concern I have about this drug,” says Dr. Robert L. DuPont, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “is its potential effect on automobile accidents in this country.”
The Medical Letter provides some details of this hazard, reporting that
“forty-two per cent of those on low doses (4.90 mg THC per cigarette) and 63 per cent of those on high doses (8.40 mg THC per cigarette) showed a decline in their driving ability after smoking one marijuana cigarette. Unusual behavior included ‘the missing of traffic lights or stop signs; . . . unawareness or inappropriate awareness of pedestrians or stationary vehicles.’”
Do you think that people whose judgment is so poor as to bring their “high” into the classroom will show restraint when it comes to driving an automobile? Hence, use of this drug is hardly just a “personal” matter. Family, schoolmates, fellow workers and even total strangers may be affected and possibly hurt.
And though the current scientific controversy tends to becloud marijuana’s medical dangers, this does not mean that certain unquestioned dangers do not exist.
Proved Medical Hazards
Aside from still controversial hazards such as brain damage, inhibition of cell growth, reduction in sperm production, chromosome damage and others, certain medical dangers remain that there is little disagreement on.
One is lung damage. “Marijuana is far more irritating to the respiratory tract than tobacco,” declares Dr. Nicholas A. Pace, president of the New York City Affiliate of the National Council on Alcoholism. “It takes 20 years of heavy tobacco smoking to produce the same type of severe sinusitis, pharyngitis, bronchitis and emphysema that one year of daily marijuana smoking produces.”
Additionally, the Medical Letter reports research showing that “smoke from marijuana cigarettes, like smoke from tobacco cigarettes, accelerates malignant transformation of lung cells in tissue culture.” Medical evidence of this cancer hazard is also cited by Dr. Hardin Jones: “Bronchial biopsies taken from 30 American soldiers in Germany who smoked 25 to 30 grams of hashish (from the same plant but richer in THC than marijuana) a month for a few months showed that 24 of them had precancerous lesions.”
Hence, all dangers to one’s health from marijuana use cannot just be dismissed as still controversial.
What About Cocaine?
Another drug that many have believed be relatively “safe” is cocaine. It has become a toy of the rich and famous and others who can afford it or steal enough money to get it. Less than a century ago, cocaine was mixed in a wine product that was praised by four European kings, U.S and French presidents, the grand rabbi of France and Popes Pius X and Leo XIII, who presented a gold medal to the maker. Even the soft drink Coca-Cola was laced with cocaine for its first seventeen years, until caffeine replaced the stimulant around 1903.
Describing the feeling that cocaine gives, one writer said: “It hits you right in the brain, activating connections of pure pleasure . . . The C-charged brain is a berserk pinball machine, flashing blue and pink lights in electric orgasm.” Another said: “Under cocaine I feel like a king.”
But what is the price paid for this brief flight from reality? Harvard researcher Dr. Andrew Weil explains that “cocaine does not miraculously bestow energy on the body; it merely releases energy already stored chemically in certain parts of the nervous system. Consequently, when the immediate effect of the drug wears off, one feels ‘down’—less energetic than normal.”
“I plunge from the heights of heaven to the depths of the abyss,” says a user. “I’m overly sensitive to criticism,” says another. “You don’t want to be around me when I’m coked out.”
A recent four-year study of cocaine by the National Institute on Drug Abuse says that, far from being harmless recreation, cocaine is a “serious drug of abuse” with side effects, including anxiety, insomnia, paranoid delusions and even death.
Is It Worth It?
Some may argue that cocaine, like marijuana, is also used for medical purposes. Hence, they believe, it must be safe. But just because a drug is used successfully in treating sick people does not mean that it is not dangerous. “Even the most beneficial drugs notoriously possess adverse effects,” writes a professor of pharmacology. “The best one can say of any drug is that its beneficial effects outweigh its harmful ones—for most patients, most of the time.”
So, in an effort to cure a greater evil, taking any drug is a calculated risk. A sick person or his doctor must decide whether to take that risk. But what reason is there to take a drug that causes harm when there is no medical reason whatever for doing so? Should a person poison his body merely for momentary pleasure? “Let us cleanse ourselves of every defilement of flesh and spirit,” is the common sense answer that is found in the Bible.—2 Cor. 7:1.
But some may argue that using marijuana or cocaine is no different than using alcoholic beverages, which are considered acceptable in most societies. “If alcohol is okay, why not pot and coke?” they reason.
First, it might be noted that most people use alcoholic beverages as a form of liquid refreshment and to relax, not to get drunk. As noted earlier, the body treats alcohol similarly to the way it does food, assimilating it relatively quickly. However, overindulgence in alcohol to the point where thinking becomes distorted is another matter. It raises the real issue: Can any drug, or can alcohol, when used primarily to alter our mind, be considered morally right as a form of recreation?
On this point it is of interest that, while approving alcoholic wine as a beverage, the Bible does not approve of it as a mind distorter: ‘Drunkards will not inherit God’s kingdom.’—1 Cor. 6:9, 10.
The principle is similar in the case of marijuana and/or cocaine. They serve no purpose as food or drink. They are used primarily to alter one’s mental state. This is harmful in several ways.
Getting drunk on any drug, or on alcohol, leaves people open to actions that may differ considerably from what they would do if they had full control of themselves. For example, such loss of control may lead to promiscuous sex with its consequences in disease, illegitimacy and broken homes. To avoid such problems, the Bible urges that “each one of you must learn to gain mastery over his body, . . . not giving way to lust like the pagans.”—1 Thess. 4:3-5, New English Bible.
But a person under the influence of drugs such as marijuana and cocaine usually does not have full “mastery over his body.” The drug does. Yet people need all their faculties to deal with today’s pressures and to protect themselves from deceptive attractions that can lead to disease and heartache. The Bible wisely points out that “thinking ability itself will keep guard over you, discernment itself will safeguard you, to deliver you from the bad way.”—Prov. 2:11-13.
One who is tempted by drugs could ask himself: Why do I seek the unreality brought on by drugs? Does a healthy, balanced person need to find his pleasure by altering the normal function of his brain? Is not the whole drug experience a self-centered one, weakening to integrity and harmful to health?
The use of drugs, as Dr. Hardin Jones declared, “is really destroying the pleasure of being a healthy, vigorous and active person.” The young couple in the following article experienced how true this is, yet learned how to make their lives full and satisfying without drugs.
[Blurb on page 7]
“Heavy marijuana smoking in our study correlated with a disruptive home life.”—National Institute on Drug Abuse study
[Blurb on page 8]
“It takes 20 years of heavy tobacco smoking to produce the same type of severe sinusitis, pharyngitis, bronchitis and emphysema that one year of daily marijuana smoking produces.”—Dr. Nicholas A. Pace.
[Picture on page 9]
A man snorting “coke” (cocaine)