Addiction, Medical Marijuana

Bring a Jacket & Smoke Pot Instead of Drinking

Since the impetus of High Sobriety, we have been taking a bit of heat. To be expected and encouraged. We certainly don’t believe we have come up with the solution to the age-old problem of addiction. What we know is that our program is right for some, certainly not all, people. One of the big criticisms is “marijuana is bad for kids”. Umm, yes, we know and agree. High Sobriety clients are vetted through Dr. Scott Bienenfeld. As an MD psychiatrist with a specialty in addiction, his is a loud voice in determining if an individual is appropriate for what we can provide. One of the big issues is age. Before age 25, the literature is clear, the brain isn’t developed enough to tolerate any form of intoxication. Still, it’s better than overdosing on heroin but to be clear, it’s very unlikely that Dr. B would admit anyone under the age of 25. Sorry, kids, no weed party here. 

I have two boys and I want neither of them to be intoxicated at any level by any substance. That’s my policy “There is no intoxication here, especially not for anyone with a developing brain and body”. Did it work? Mostly it did. There was a beer party incident but minor rite of passage stuff for American teen life. My older of the two did very well in high school, he was busy and tired in a rigorous academic and athletic program. Now a freshman at Georgetown, I know what he tells me, which isn’t much short of the typical “can you deposit some money” type requests. Do I think he is living virtuous Nancy Reagan life? I doubt it. His grades are excellent, and his adolescent arrogance has yielded to undergrad dogmatic banter so I don’t think he is derailing on the party train either. I’m sure he drinks and likely smokes pot, though as an athlete he is drug tested so maybe not. We all love the idea of the young people in our lives be it children, nieces and nephews, or friends being safe and protected. Why then do we cower at the conversations about risk? In a way “don’t do it” is a form of prohibition and that has proven time and time again to be ineffective and harmful. Here is what the website collegedrinkingprevention.gov says about consequences of drinking:

Researchers estimate that each year:

  • 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor-vehicle crashes.1
  • 696,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.2
  • 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 report experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.3
  • Roughly 20 percent of college students meet the criteria for an AUD.4
  • About 1 in 4 college students report academic consequences from drinking, including missing class, falling behind in class, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall.5

Here is what this doesn’t say: the stakes are significantly lower with beer than with distilled spirits.  A red cup full of cheap beer has risks to be sure but death isn’t one of them. The sheer volume of what it would take to reach a blood alcohol content to die isn’t possible with beer, trying would merit a big huge vomit festival. Great, by eliminating distilled spirits we just managed some risk and steep consequences, that seems like a pretty good thing. Of course, many of the other consequences are intact, fights, increased sexual assault, risky sexual encounters, diminished academic performance, and accidents all rise even with the somewhat wholesome beer pong game.  Then there is the question of pot?

Cannabis use has an element of risk, there is no doubt to that. Much of what is known about the risk is conjecture. The DEA keeps marijuana as a “schedule 1” drug which means there is “no medicinal value” and therefore there are no clinical trials to empirically know the risk or value. What we do know is the risk is exponentially lower than any other form of intoxication. During the height of the HIV crisis there was a huge cry for “abstinence”. That’s good advice but the truth is, that did little to slow the new infections. While it seemed like an obvious answer, it didn’t work that well. Condoms did. The massive media campaign and ensuing cultural more to “always use a condom” greatly helped slow the spread of the disease. Could the same be true of substance use disorders? What if we treated this disease like others and advised based on health and safety with an acceptance that a “drug free America”? Would drug policy have better success? “Be careful” is a parent’s mantra, we say it all the time. Much of what we say is harm reduction from “wear a seatbelt” to “stop running on the pool deck” its ingrained in our better parenting self. Should we start saying “I hate the idea of getting drunk or high but if you do, please use beer or marijuana?” 

 

Author: Joe Schrank