Not your father’s weed
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Guest columnistMarijuana effects, risks should not be taken lightly

Not your father’s weed

Paul Herman: "No one is immune — not from the flu, from heart disease or from addiction...Marijuana is not harmless. Today's product is different."

Guest columnist Paul Herman argues proponents of marijuana use ignore the fact that the present-day substance is remarkably more powerful than that of a generation ago. (Photo from public domain)
Guest columnist Paul Herman argues proponents of marijuana use ignore the fact that the present-day substance is remarkably more powerful than that of a generation ago. (Photo from public domain)

Paul Herman
I came across an article in a recent issue of the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle touting the benefits of marijuana, and ways it can be enjoyed. It was “a gift from Hashem [G-d].”

While that is certainly one perspective, there are others that should be considered as well.

Marijuana is prevalent and it has been part of American culture for decades. It also gets a lot of press, with medical marijuana and legalization efforts all garnering headlines.

Even then-President Obama commented that he had tried a little bit of marijuana when he was much younger and did not think it was that big a deal.

I imagine that when we consider modern-day drug realities like a nationwide opioid epidemic, a little marijuana here and there probably sounds like a relief. What, in fact, is the big deal?

According to government data collection sources that keep track of this sort of thing, alcohol is the most widely used drug in the United States.

We all know people who use alcohol, and we don’t necessarily see them abusing it. In fact, most people who do drink do not have an alcohol abuse problem. Some do, of course; but they are the minority, though often a visible minority.

So maybe the thinking is that marijuana is similar, that people can use it, not abuse it, falling into the “it’s not so bad” category.

Substances that get people “high,” including alcohol, are known as mood- and mind-altering. They are also addictive.

Different drug classifications have differing rates of addictive potential. Drugs such as heroin, methamphetamine and crack cocaine exhibit high and very high rates. They cannot be used without severe risk of developing an addictive relationship with them. Alcohol? Much, much lower.

Marijuana is a bit trickier.

Proponents of smoking weed or of eating marijuana-infused foods ignore the fact that present-day marijuana is remarkably more powerful than that of a generation ago. Growers have developed ways to increase the potency to provide a more intense high.

For example, in the 1970s, the level of THC, the chemical compound at the heart of marijuana’s draw, was typically between 0.5 and 2 percent in generally available products. Today, the same generally available marijuana has THC rates of 15 to 20 percent or more.

In some alternate forms, THC’s potency is in excess of 70 percent. What this means is that today’s user takes in much more of the drug, increasing the addictive potential.

What about the people who insist that marijuana is not addictive? They’re right … sort of.

Instead of the physical dependence more closely associated with alcohol and opioid abuse, marijuana use, especially chronic or early-onset marijuana use, causes what is known as amotivational syndrome, which simply put means that it quietly slips the smoker into neutral.

The more the person uses, the more they risk developing this syndrome.

Another point to consider is that marijuana is one of the classic “gateway drugs,” those that pave the way for other substance abuse.

This does not mean that anyone who smokes marijuana will go on to use other, stronger drugs. But the majority of people in treatment for addiction to heroin and cocaine began with using gateway drugs like marijuana.

What does all of this mean four us? No one is immune — not from the flu, from heart disease or from addiction. We’re also not immune from buying into a convenient theory.

Our kids, the next generation of American society, are being given the message that marijuana is natural and therefore safe to use.

They’re also exposed to the confusion that accompanies medical marijuana and the reality that legislators are making health-related decisions instead of the FDA or the American Medical Association.

Marijuana is not harmless. Today’s product is different, its effects are different and the risks are different.

I thought you should know. PJC

Paul (Pinchas) Herman, Ph.D., is a licensed professional counselor in Pittsburgh. He is board certified in treating addictive disorders and in dual diagnosis.

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