Hashing out the Marijuana debate.

This could be a biggie. So there are lots of questions and lots of stances on this issue, legalize, medicinal, decriminalize. I’m going to comment on a bit and wait for comments from the public and then I’ll expand on those issues.

A lot for good arguments are already out there, both for and against legalization marijuana. So I’m going to start with one you may not have thought of…..

What happens when we compare Prozac the antidepressant to marijuana?

     Prozac has a better safety profile, it has medicinal uses as well, less side-effects, it can also help people be happy, it acutely has no effects on driving skills or work ethic unlike marijuana, it doesn’t increase food intake, in general it is an OK drug. So….. should it be sold at cosmic corner without prescription? Should people have the CHOICE to do Prozac? Just at your local dairy. People should wear shirts featuring the little green and white Prozac pill, and listen to artists sing about it. What about advertising and two bottles of Prozac for one deals etc. To most people this idea seems ridiculous, but why? In every way it is a milder drug than Marijuana, so why not? In fact why not open it up a little more, stronger antidepressants like MAOI’s or perhaps a brain numb-er like lithium (it has been proven that cities with more lithium in their water have less suicides!).

    Now there are two main openings here for the pro-marijuana movement. One is that marijuana is natural and there some how different and better than prozac, and the other is that people should be able to choose what drugs they do and prozac should be sold at the local dairy. Let me address each one.

      The natural mechanism of cannabinoids actually lies within the brain. Your body produces marijuana like substances called endocannabinoids (or more correctly the marijuana plant produces substances like endocannabinoids). These endocannabinoids are produced in tiny tiny amounts and bind to receptors in the brain. Among other reasons, they are produced after a stressful event to reduce neuronal firing. I love that, think about the evolutionary background of that. You’re running away from a lion and this produces all sorts of stress hormones. You then out run the lion and need to relax, but stay alert (paranoia), you need food (increased appetite), you need to conserve your resources (suppressed immune system), but you need to keep your heart rate up in case of further activity needed (lion reappears). This is the normal function of your endocannabinoids, this is the natural way your cannabinoids are supposed to work, just because something is produced in nature does not mean we should consume it to high-jack our biological system to make us feel things and it doesn’t mean that it is natural to consume. The box jelly fish is in nature that doesn’t mean I should consume it. Or more appropriately- opium is a natural drug that gets you high and has huge medicinal benefit, does that mean we should legalize this? Should we be able to choose Opium?

      Those who would argue that we should allow Prozac in the dairy. They are treading a scary line. To me this really asks the question…. what is choice? Your normal system of choice involves having a plan- deciding whether to do it- evaluating whether it was a good idea and this feeds back on the previous step to help you choose in the future. This process occurs in the brain, and each step communicates with each other through signalling molecules. Drugs target these signalling molecules and give their own signal thus skewing the very mechanism of choice. Now I know that is a weird thought, but think about it, it happens every day. Does coffee taste that good? Coffee and tea are the top two selling drinks in the world. Do they taste THAT good? what’s the third most sold drink? Coke. Is lemonade that much worse than coke. We ALL drink coffee and we ALL drink coke, but we don’t ALL listen to the same music? We don’t all like the same meals? we don’t like the same art? what is it about those three drinks that makes them so popular? Caffeine. How has caffeine done this? well it affects the very processes of choice, and it is the weaker kind of drug that effects choice, yet it has conquered the world. So legalizing drugs that in their nature affect our decision making machine (the brain), isn’t that taking away choice? rather than preserving it?

This is just the discussion starter, it is no way a complete argument- so let me know what you think.

08. December 2011 by jackrrivers
Categories: Blog | 10 comments

Comments (10)

  1. hi,
    was wondering what you thoughts are on the use of cannabis in inhabiting the spread of brain tumors? i am trying to reserach the subject and finding lots of conflicting information on both sides that appear to have resonably sound methodology and experiments that are conducted in controlled enviroments , i am finding it all rather confusing both sides cant be right…

  2. Hi Jack, a great blog. I’m so pleased to have stumbled upon someone who focuses on the scientific evidence of issues.

    In the last month I’ve been listening to a lot of Joe Rogan’s podcasts. If you don’t know, Joe Rogan is the guy who fronts Fear Factor and is also a UFC commentator. He is a vocal proponent of marijuana and interviews some really interesting guys on his podcasts to discuss a wide range of issues. One of his recent interviews was with a guy called Graham Hancock who talks a bit about the evidence of ancient cultures using marijuana to induce an expansion of consciousness (which I guess is one way of describing getting high).

    I’m not a marijuana user, however I do imbibe alcohol. Your comparison of marijuana to prozac is a refreshing way to look at the issue. In the US I believe the use of “medical marijuana” has been legalized in several states. However I believe that this has maybe clouded the argument a little. Why? Well I think that those people arguing for the legal use of marijuana basically wish to use it to “enhance” their psychological experience. I’m struggling to find the right words to express this, so please bear with me. I purposely don’t want to use the expression “get a high” as that is so negatively charged and associated with what I consider ‘dangerously easy to get addicted to drugs’ such as cocaine and heroin. I compare marijuana use to alcohol use, as really both groups of users primarily take the drug not for medical benefits, but to enhance their psychological experience.

    In the US the large group of people wishing to legally have marijuana as a choice to get a great experience seized upon a backdoor entry to do this, by getting it accepted as a medical treatment. However I really don’t think that his “medical treatment” argument is what marijuana use is all about it. It was only a means to an end (i.e. using it legally). So your prozac vs. marijuana albeit being an interesting comparison, is not really addressing the key point, which is ‘as an adult wishing to get an enhanced psychological experience, should I be able to choose whether I use alcohol or marijuana?’ When I start to look at these two choices from a purely scientific viewpoint things start getting cloudy.

    Now, currently alcohol is entirely legal, so I can go to the store and buy it up in order to get “high” whenever I feel like it (ok, I’ve given in to using high since enhanced psychological experience is so long to type). Now I’ve heard that I could also experience a high taking marijuana. Being a logical type of guy, I would like to take the one that of course gives me a great feeling, but secondary to that, I wish to take the one that has the least amount of negative side effects. Assuming that both gave me the same level of ‘high’ (currently I have no way of testing that since marijuana use is illegal) then which one has the least amount of negative side effects? Now I don’t want to get into listing out an alcohol vs. marijuana side effect list here (someone probably has already done it), but the anecdotal evidence I’ve seen so far suggests that alcohol use is the more dangerous choice, to my body.

    If this is the case, then why shouldn’t I be able to choose to use marijuana to get my high rather than alcohol?

    Due to the many negative results of abuse, I am sure that if alcohol didn’t exist and suddenly got invented, then there is no way the government would legalize it. However that is not the world we live in. I think we need to recognize first that as adults it is entirely natural to seek ‘enhanced psychological experiences’, whether it be from alcohol or working yourself up to a hysterical frenzy in a rowdy church meeting. Acknowledging this need, then we should focus on clarifying the pros and cons of each method. The government can legislate to make illegal those that are extremely difficult to control and which lead to very destructive outcomes, such as heroin and cocaine, and should set up frameworks for use of the rest. Virtually anything can be abused – look at those who are alcoholics, addicted to pokie machines etc. However just because something can be abused should not automatically prohibit its use. We need to rationally approach these items which create a high, so that I can, fully informed, make my choice.

  3. Great response. The alcohol vs marijuana comparison is a common one, it is common for a reason, it is a good argument. There are a few holes in it. First let’s look at dose vs negative effects, if you were to have a glass or two of wine a day that would be good for you. It would have positive health effects, it would lower you risk of heart disease and have no deficits on you cognitively. If you were to have one joint a day, that would probably have minor negative effects on you, this may include lung problems, it will suppress your immune system possibly increasing your risk of disease, and it may have some negative effects on you cognitively (increased risk of mental illness). The research is a little sketchy on this one, because it is illegal and thus very difficult to do research on. But if you were to get drunk every day compared to stoned everyday (again the research is sketchy) I would say it may be better for you to get stoned. So your argument is valid at the high dose, but invalid at the low dose. At the high dose, however, both drugs would be very bad for your health.

    “So your Prozac vs. marijuana albeit being an interesting comparison, is not really addressing the key point, which is ‘as an adult wishing to get an enhanced psychological experience, should I be able to choose whether I use alcohol or marijuana?”- What I was trying to state was that Prozac could arguably give you a minor enhanced psychological experience, and has less negative effects than both alcohol and marijuana….. People who are pro-marijuana choice, should theoretically be pro Prozac choice, and many other drugs.

    Addressing you not wanting to use the “high”. I fully agree with not using language that is “charged” and avoiding connotations when they are not wanted. I think the public people on both sides of this argument (including fear is not a factor Joe Rogan) use language that is full of connotations. My favorite one is pro-marijuana lobbyist using the word “prohibition” to describe the laws against marijuana. It is a smart thing to do. Anyway I’m just wondering if “enhanced psychological experience” isn’t more charged? Isn’t more bias? Actually both marijuana and alcohol act to suppress neuronal firing, these are described as depressants (in pharmacology), this doesn’t mean they make you depressed, it just means in inhibits neuronal function and thus causes a drop in reaction speed and thought process speed etc. So I’m not sure if “enhanced” is the right word.

    Back to choice. Marijuana is addictive, the research is showing this now. It took some time to figure this one out, because marijuana is oily and thus can sit in your fat tissue for a long time, because it takes such a long time to get out of your body, it was difficult to see the acute withdrawal effects that you see with opioids. So my caffeine argument comes into play. How can a man be free to choose something that reduces his freedom of choice? The human mind is easily manipulated by exogenous chemicals? Should we not try and reduce the number of substances available that artificially influence our neuronal communication mechanisms? What you describe as naturally seek, is actually shortcutting natural reward with pharmaceutical reward (Natural reward is the reward felt after eating a good meal or social boding or physical exercise, whereas pharmaceutical reward is the same feelings induced exogenous chemicals signaling in your brain).

    The other thing I would say about this debate is that the history of the world and politics has lead to one strong psychoactive compound being available, ALCOHOL. It is legal and has been taxed and the public have been educated about it in schools and on T.V., in the clinics and in churches etc. Yet, It is now seen as one of societies biggest problems and is abused by a large percentage of people aged 18-25. There are rituals of abuse like the 21st yardy or circle of death (drinking game). So the argument that legalizing marijuana will help manage it and control it, seems untrue. History trusted society with one highly psycho active drug and look what we’ve done with it! What would happen if we added one more! I think California has shown us, that even legalizing medicinal marijuana could lead to a large increase is use.

    All people know there should be an illegalization line drawn in the drug continuum, no one thinks that opioids should be legalized. Some people place that line after alcohol but before marijuana, some people place it after marijuana but before opioids. It is very difficult to draw distinctions between these drugs and where to draw the line. Who is right is a matter of opinion. However, the facts should always be used, but never abused.

  4. @Corey
    There has not been a large scale double blinded placebo controlled trial on brain tumours and cannabinoids. What this means is, a good study on humans has not been done. You are right, the preliminary preclinical research is underway with different groups reporting different things.

    What this reminds me of is a study that a group did on all drugs ever tested on humans to treat ANY disease in large scale double blinded placebo controlled trials in the last 25 years. What they found is the placebo group (the group that didn’t get the drug and is to be used as a control) was equally as likely to recover as the drug group. What this means is that with all our knowledge and all the testing on cell cultures and animals, we CANNOT predict what will happen when we give the drug to treat human disease. So the cannabis and brain tumour jury is still out on that one and it may be at least ten years before we get a verdict.

    Also, cannabis and cannabinoids are two different things. Cannabis is the plant that is full of active chemicals, however, what is tested on in research is normally a cannabinoid which is a synthetic (or natural but purified) compound that is similar to A chemical in cannabis or one that is similar in how it works on the body but actually does the complete opposite of the main effects of cannabis. What this means is that when reading the research make sure you know what compounds they are testing and how they work, because they may not translate to cannabis ingesting.

  5. Jack, thanks for all your feedback. I agree with you that it is difficult to determine facts as research is sketchy. I think it becomes more clouded due to the different goals and reactions of people in response to these chemicals.

    As I mentioned before, I am quite open in stating that my goal is an ‘enhanced psychological experience’ (I hear your statement about whether this could still be a charged statement, however for the simplicity of typing I’ll just use ‘high’). Secondary to this goal is which will do the least damage. I agree that there is a lot of research showing that a glass of wine per day can be beneficial, however I don’t bring this to my argument as a glass (or two) of wine does not meet my primary goal. I need more than that in order to get to the point where my inhibitions are suppressed and I’m feeling good. As an aside, I think too that there are a lot of people who drink to excess and use this “alcohol is healthy” argument erroneously as justification.

    Now, when I do drink to get my ‘high’, it will not be frequently. At the most it will be once per week. Currently the last time I drank for the high was about 2 weeks ago, and before then perhaps 6 weeks. It is never to the point of vomiting or hangover etc., as this would defeat my purpose of feeling good.

    Now when I talk to my friends who smoke marijuana, they say that they get a high from just one or two drags on a joint. I notice too, that they appear to smoke perhaps once every week to two weeks. My impression is that this does not meet the definition of a ‘stoner’, who is someone who would probably smoke just about everyday, and who I would say is addicted – just as the alcoholic who must drink everyday. Maybe my definition is not accurate as I’m not quoting any science here.

    So where am I going in this you are probably asking? Well you mentioned that marijuana is addictive, and I presume are offering that as a strike against its use? Forgive me if I am wrong. From what I see though I think that marijuana is as addictive as alcohol. Some personality types are more prone to addiction than others, thus in a population you will always get that group who will become alcoholics or stoners (as I term those that are addicted to marijuana).

    So to me personally, that chance of addiction is something I am aware of, but considering my control of alcohol would be something I’m willing to try anyway (if it was legal) in order to see what the experience is.

    You make the statement about which would be safer in regards to get stoned or drunk everyday – however I think that is not relevant as it is not the goal. As you rightly point out, both would be destructive.

    A key issue for me in the contemplation of marijuana as a tool to get a high, is that the most common delivery system is via smoking, and there is considerable information about the dangers of this method. Naturally then I think about an alternative, i.e. ingesting it as a biscuit or similar. Ha. I must admit that more than once I have thought about taking a trip to Amsterdam so I can try it out!

    You also make a really interesting point about using prozac to get a ‘high’. I’m not sure though if it would be any safer than marijuana. Have there been any studies of using prozac on a normal population (rather than people who are depressed)? I would be concerned that perhaps prozac on a normal person could also induce some mental changes. Anecdotally I did have one friend who was prescribed prozac and made the comment that it made everything ‘rosy’!

    So if marijuana was legal, then would it indeed induce a lot of adults who had never used alcohol or other drugs to try it? Or would it mean that some people given the choice would choose to use marijuana at a party to get their high rather than alcohol? Is this a better choice? Or people would use both? I think probably yes to all.

    However as I maintained at the beginning, if I want to get high, then why can’t I choose to use marijuana instead of alcohol? Scientifically I am not convinced that it is a much more harmful substance than alcohol. I am also not convinced that it is a ‘gateway drug’ to more ‘hard drugs’. It seems that those who are “for” legalization will point to places such as Amsterdam as proof against the gateway theory, and those that are against will bring up other studies. Then there are also the conspiracy theorists who will talk about the resistance to legalization due to the potential financial threat to pharmaceutical and alcohol companies if marijuana was made legal, and the political clout they have with politicians.

    Trying to look at the facts (and I applaud you again for this blog), it seems that the risk / benefit ratio for alcohol in obtaining a high is similar to marijuana. I guess the bottom line is more studies are needed.

    As an aside, I did see that there was a study regarding the positive effects through ingestion of magic mushrooms . I must admit that reading that summary got me curious to try it. If you happen to hear of any research on it where they are looking for candidates, let me know!

  6. Hey sorry about the delay, I was camping and fishing. So you’ve gone through a lot of points there.

    Firstly I would say that the government (the people making the laws) would not want you to get drunk or high. So now we are left with the choice between a drug that can get you high “off one or two drags” or a drug that has many culinary purposes and can be enjoyed as a beverage. So one drug can only be a drug (marijuana) and the other drug can also be a drink, to me this is a little like saying that because sniffing glue can get you high and is extremely bad for your health, other drugs should be legal because they get you high with less negative effects. Because alcohol has that legitimate use it was always more likely to be make legal.

    To me the argument of the comparison of Amsterdam is unfair because of the vastly different cultures over the world. France has an excellent alcohol culture. Does that mean alcohol won’t be a problem in other places of the world? Of course not. Pro marijuana lobbyists often say that the reason why alcohol isn’t illegal is because prohibition of alcohol doesn’t work… but Brunei has alcohols prohibition and it has very few problems. Now I don’t think that is a good argument to say that prohibition will work, and I think prohibition of alcohol probably wouldn’t work in Australasia, Europe or north America, I just think it is an EQUAL argument to the Amsterdam argument. Interestingly Amsterdam is heading backwards and is slowly phasing out the open legalisation of marijuana, moving towards clubs which you must be a member of for at least a year. So you will not be able to travel there and try it.

    Again with the concept that you have the right to get so you should be able to choose, I just wonder why marijuana is the other choice argued and why not Valium or other pharmaceuticals which have less negative effects with the same high factor?

    Now with the mushroom thing, this is a concept that is scary to me, drug induced personality changes. My philosophy (I know we are getting away from the science) is that no personality trait is better than another, the open minded is valued the same as the closed minded, the introvert is as good as the extrovert.

  7. Prozac does not have a better safety record than cannabis. I could go on listing the 100s of nasty side effects of prozac but I will leave you with just one – 1-2% of prozac users attempt suicide. This from a control group who did NOT have depression. The ones who DID have depression had an 8x greater risk of suicide. The study was done by the makers of prozac.

    My own father died from pancreatic cancer which developed from the pancreatitis which he got because of prozac.

  8. Sorry about the double post. Heres another one for you

    Number of Americans killed each year by aspirin – 40,000
    Number of Americans killed each year by cannabis – 0

  9. At alfred Rosenberg.
    I am sorry to hear about your father.
    Could you please post the paper title and authors on the blog, I would love to read it.
    All research I have read has shown no significant effect of SSRI’s (including fluoxitine) on suicide. Including a large meta-analysis (a study of studies), the meta-analysis has shown that both groups in depressed patients had a suicide attempt rate of 0.2%.
    Also, the world health organization did a study on pancreatic injury and inflammation and SSRI’s and found no significant association. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, it just means they couldn’t find it. Research is limited on this topic. Some animal had been done however, this has been inconclusive.

    I do not claim to be a medical doctor or know about your father condition. So forgive me for my scientific approach.

    Again sorry to hear about your father.

  10. Please feel free to post frequently.
    Dare I say it that both of those rates are probably inaccurate.

    In 1989 a massive study on asprin was done. Normally studies are named after the people involved but this was sooo big that is was just named the ISIS 2 study (international study of infarct survival). They found that yes asprin does kill people, however, by preventing clots it was also saving lives and the net result was 4000 people a year in England alone were saved by asprin.

    Now in 2012 with fat consumption at an all time high and people dying of strokes and heart attacks left right and center it would be interesting and impossible to do a study of the greater societies effects of casual asprin consumption, but I would love to know what that net effect is.

    Now the marijuana death rate is difficult. First marijuana suppresses the immune system opening user to infections that they may not have got, and this may killed them.
    Second is that carbon is a known carcinogen. I used to laugh at the head of department’s joke that if you eat a burnt steak you should eat broccoli and thus balance your carcinogens with your anticancer foods. (She studied the active ingredients of broccoli that have anticancer properties). When you smoke marijuana (I know not all people smoke it but most/many do), you inhale a known carcinogen.

    These are two ways in which I have no doubt that marijuana users HAVE died from marijuana consumption. The rates have not been studied, because they are indirect and people are (understandably) not forth coming with their marijuana use. So we may never know how many for sure, however we can be sure that a rate does exist.

    Anyway again if your stats come from journal articles, I would love to read them, so post them up.

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