Like many of the works of darkness drug addiction flourishes in the dark and in secret; it thrives on confusion and disinformation, and cancer-like, it is nurtured and nourished in the hidden place of dissembling and deception, dissolution and degeneration. Its inimical, inevitable and invariable fruits are depravity and despair, destruction and death.
As such it is paradoxical that at a time when the destructive effects of drugs are better understood than ever before, there appears to be a deluge of deceived media activity attempting to manipulate public opinion into brow beating people and bypassing democratic processes for self-centred and financial interests of particular powerful personalities. Drug use is widespread in the homosexual community, and real concerns have been expressed that this unusually well financed and powerfully connected lobby is a key driver of the present media activism.
Science can lag behind real life experience. Therefore whilst it may be quite obvious to lay people that drug addiction is unhealthy, the toxicological properties of many addictive drugs had not been well defined until more recently.
As mentioned the rhetoric of the legalization media space is populated by numerous twisted half-truths and outright falsehoods. Two favourite false mantras are (1) that illegal drugs are not really all that bad for you provided they are given under supervision or in supervised and controlled dosage formats so that overdose cannot occur. The second is that (2) the legal drugs alcohol and tobacco cause more death and disease than the illicit drugs. This second one is particularly pernicious in that it is precisely because the illicit drugs are legally proscribed, that community exposure is reduced compared to licit intoxicants, and the sum damage may therefore appear to be less.
Because of favourite lie (1) the defined toxicity of drug addiction is of more than medical importance. Cannabis for example is known to be related to the formation of altered connections between brain cells, so that memory, attention, mood, cognition, educational achievement, employability and personality are all perturbed 1. In the developing brains of babies inside their mothers, children, adolescents and young adults up to about 26 years, leading international researchers have expressed concerns that brain growth and development can be permanently altered 1. Chest disease including changes like chronic bronchitis and emphysema are well described. Driving accidents including fatalities are well documented under the influence both of cannabis alone, and of cannabis combined with alcohol. Cannabis is known to suppress and perturb the immune system in such a manner as to pose a risk to AIDS patients. Anxiety and depression are known to occur, as is violence and seizures in the now accepted cannabis withdrawal state. Although its advocates claim that no one has ever died from cannabis this is likely false and simplistic. Death can occur by combination overdose with other drugs, in car wrecks, from cannabis-related cancers, from violence (suicide or murder), in industrial accidents, congenital heart and neural tube defects, various cancers including congenital cancers, heart attacks and stroke 1-2. It may be true that such events are not reflected in official statistics, but this is partly because official statistics are not set up to capture such data, and partly because cannabis is invariably exonerated when such deaths do come to coronial attention.
The gateway effect of cannabis has now been proven in many studies from many nations. Cannabis use in adolescence increases the risk of subsequent graduation to harder drugs. Similar gateway effects have been found with tobacco and alcohol, so that more widespread consumption accompanying cannabis legalization, which even its advocates agree would occur, will also legalize combinations between tobacco, alcohol and cannabis, including particularly respiratory, driving, neurological, psychiatric, developmental and overdose toxicities.
The implications of cannabis addiction have not been truly worked into the present debate. Considering that around 40% of our population have been exposed to cannabis in their lifetime, a quoted dependency (or addiction) rate of 9% represent a large number of people 1. Moreover some of the world’s leading researchers have noted that 50% of patients can become addicted when smoking occurs on a daily basis and begins in adolescence which is a common pattern we see at present, and would likely become very widespread under legalization 1. We hear much about cannabis being used for pain relief. Since cannabis withdrawal is painful and can cause muscle aches, cramps, spasms and pains, and since cannabis exposure will obviously relieve cannabis withdrawal, cannabis is an effective treatment for the pains of cannabis withdrawal. It seems likely that a significant number of patients who have been testifying to Government or media of their anecdotal experience either have pre-existing or acquired cannabis addictions.
Space does not permit a detailed listing of toxicology’s of the other major illicit drugs. However it is important to note that ALL the addictive drugs damage the immune system. Up- and down- regulation of the immune system is associated with EVERY major chronic disease including heart disease, cancer, depression (including suicide), psychosis, dementia, osteoporosis, stem cell damage and especially with the ageing process itself.
The half-truths and twisted perceptions at the heart of legalization advocacy could not be more wrong; nor their implications for our children and their children after them more serious, sombre and sobering.
Professor, Dr, A. S Reece M.D.
1) Volkow ND, Baler RD, Compton WM, Weiss SR. Adverse health effects of marijuana use. N Engl J Med 2014;370:2219-27.
2) Reece AS. Chronic toxicology of cannabis. Clin Toxicol (Phila) 2009;47:517-24.