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Marijuana: Harmless or a gateway drug?

February 9, 2014
By CATHY THOMAS BROWNFIELD - Family Recovery Center Publicist , Salem News

How safe is marijuana? Is there any reason to compare it to another drug-such as alcohol-rather than looking at the substance on its own merit?

Late last month President Obama said marijuana is no worse than alcohol. He said he has told his daughters that "it's a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy."

What are the effects of alcohol on a young person's brain? The National Institutes on Health (NIH) advises that, "Research shows that the brain continues to develop throughout adolescence and well into young adulthood. Many scientists are concerned that drinking during this critical developmental period may lead to lifelong impairments in brain function, particularly as it relates to memory, motor skills and coordination.

"Young adults are particularly likely to binge drink and to suffer repeated bouts of withdrawal from alcohol This repeated withdrawal may be a key reason for alcohol's harmful effects on the brain Findings also show that not all young people who drink heavily or become alcohol dependent will experience the same level of impairment and some may not show any damage at all. This is because factors such as genetics, drinking patterns and the use of other drugs also influence risk."

So, what do the experts say about marijuana? Researchers and officials at the Office of National Drug Control Policy at the White House reports:

Marijuana has significantly more (50 to 70 percent) carcinogens than tobacco smoke.

Marijuana causes permanent brain damage including lowering the IQ.

Marijuana is one of the four major drugs (cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine). White House drug csar R. Gil Kalikowski, through the agency's website, advises that "confusing messages are being presented by popular culture, media, proponents of medical marijuana and political campaigns to legalize all marijuana perpetrate the false notion that marijuana is harmless.

Marijuana use is associated with dependence, respiratory and mental illness, poor motor performance and impaired cognitive and immune system functioning, among other negative effects.

Marijuana intoxication can cause distorted perceptions, difficulty in thinking and problem solving and problems with learning and memory.

Studies show an association between chronic marijuana use and increased rates of anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and schizophrenia,

The White House website advises, "The Administration steadfastly opposes legalization of marijuana and other drugs because legalization would increase the availability and use of illicit drugs and pose significant health and safety risks to all Americans, particularly young people."

The federal publication, "Marijuana Myths and Facts, The Truth Behind 10 Popular Misconceptions," offers this: Myth #10: The government sends otherwise innocent people to prison for simple possession or use of marijuana. Fact: Less than one percent of all drug incarcerations are for simple possession or use of marijuana. Those few tend to be plea bargains for people who actually are dealers."

Lisbon attorney, Virginia Barborak agrees with that statement and advises that, in Ohio, nobody gets locked up for smoking pot. But civil penalties do affect the poor and middle class kids who, with a drug conviction will not be eligible for student financial aid to attend college or to receive public housing. In Ohio, possession of marijuana is a minor misdemeanor with a $150 fine and mandatory six-month driver's license suspension. A drug paraphernalia charge is a fourth degree misdemeanor with a $250 fine and 30 days jail time as well as becoming ineligible for student financial aid for college or public housing.

Is it worth it?

Family Recovery Center promotes the well being of individuals, families and communities with education, prevention and treatment programs for substance abuse and related mental health issues. For more information, contact FRC at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone 330-424-1468 or e-mail, FRC is funded in part by the Columbiana County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board.



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