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home : opinions : commentary September 30, 2016

9/10/2013 10:27:00 AM
Commentary: Marijuana harmless? The subtle signs of destruction

By: Sheila Polk
My Turn

Odds are you know someone who has struggled with addiction from either legal or illegal substances. In 2011, 2.3 million in the United States aged 12 or older sought treatment for illicit drug or alcohol use at a treatment facility, according to SAMHSA, our nation's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Add to that number those who did not seek or could not afford treatment and the number of adults struggling with addition is much higher.

Marijuana dependence is part of this equation; in fact, marijuana dependence in this country is twice as prevalent as any other illicit psychoactive drug. For the year 2011, 4.2 million Americans suffered from marijuana abuse or dependence. That's almost two thirds the population of the state of Arizona.

The national treatment admission rate for marijuana dependence is also on the rise, at 21 percent higher in 2010 than in 2000. The average age of admission for drug dependence in 2010 was 25 years old; in 2011, more than two thirds were male. In Arizona for 2010, treatment admissions for marijuana exceeded all others substances except alcohol, surpassing admissions for methamphetamine in 2009.

As we strive for global competitiveness and lament the performance of our school children compared to their international peers, it is time to face the truth about pot. Regular marijuana use jeopardizes a young person's chances of success-in school and in life.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse warns us that habitual teen marijuana use is linked to a significant decrease in IQ, 7 to 8 points; school drop-out and failure; other drug use; and mental health problems. This cannot be ignored. A loss of 8 IQ points is titanic, dropping a person of average intelligence into the lowest third of the intelligence range.

Nationally, 1 in 15 high school seniors use pot on a regular basis. The Arizona Youth Survey for 2012 reports more than 1 in 5 of Arizona's high school seniors used pot in the last 30 days, and a 14.4% cumulative increase in past 30-day use between 2008 and 2012 for grades 8, 10 and 12.

Given the increases we are seeing in marijuana use among our teens, it is more crucial than ever to challenge the impression many of them have that marijuana is a benign, unfairly demonized substance.

When I see public opinion swaying toward legalization of marijuana, I scratch my head. Why would we legalize a substance to which so many people in this country, particularly our young adults, are already addicted? One in 11 users of marijuana will become addicted. For those who start smoking pot as teens, the addiction rate is higher - 1 in 6; and for those who smoke it daily, as many as 1 in every 2 will develop marijuana dependence.

Unlike methamphetamine, heroin, and the recent scourge of bath salts and spice, the harm caused by marijuana is not immediately apparent. Users of marijuana don't typically experience a life-threatening overdose, or deteriorate into the gaunt and ravaged images of meth users. Rather, marijuana starts the user on a downward life trajectory, affecting IQ and cognitive development, mental health, education attainment, delinquency and social growth. Cognitive ability that declines slowly over a span of months or years is not the kind of harm that young people are easily able to identify nor is it the type of news that garners headlines.

I am at the forefront of substance abuse issues because I see the harm - I see the child abuse inflicted by the neglectful pot-smoking parent; I see the traffic fatalities by the driver impaired due to marijuana; and I see the more subtle signs of destruction - the growing number of young adults, primarily male, addicted to marijuana. How sad it is to see bright young people lose their ambition, focus and drive, slipping instead into the grips of a drug that subtly changes life's course from healthy and promising to lost dreams and low achievement. Gloom descends upon me when concerned parents share their stories of their pot-using teen falling behind in school while insisting that marijuana is harmless because it is "medicine."

Withdrawal from marijuana addiction, as the body relearns to function without the benefit of artificial stimulation of the brain, is characterized by the same symptoms as other drugs - cravings, irritability, low self-confidence, despondency, depression, and suicidal thoughts. The good news is that recovery is possible.

Parents ask me what they can do. Here is my best answer: as adults, we have the obligation to do a better job creating a safe environment within which our kids can succeed. Educate our youth and the voting public about the value of their brains and the damage that marijuana inflicts.

We clearly face an uphill battle getting this message across. The legalization movement across the country and the pressure to ease restrictions on pot increases teens' access and influences their perception that marijuana is safe. We can't sit passively by and watch this slow decline.

Marijuana harmless? Think Again.

Sheila Polk is the Yavapai County Attorney and Co-Chair of MATForce, the Yavapai County Substance Abuse Coalition

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Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Article comment by: @ Show of hands

You forgot:

"Please raise your hand if you personally know someone who neither does drugs nor drinks but still cannot function in normal society."

One might also add, " But, if they did it might help!"

I know a bunch of them...

Posted: Thursday, September 19, 2013
Article comment by: Common Sense Perhaps

Because the big corporations can't control cannabis, it shall remain illegal by the federal government. Because cannabis is drug, it can and will be abused, just as any drug, legal or illegal is. Personally I believe cannabis has great potential as a cancer cure. Cannabis grown for a very low THC, and high in cannabinoids has great promise. The higher cannabinoids has helped those suffering from epilepsy seizures. Reducing the THC, raising the cannabinoids, makes the drug very usable for many aliments. It would also reduce the appeal of using cannabis in those seeking a cheap high. Can we stop kids from using? No. However we can start educating them about how to live well, eat well, and point them in a career direction based on their personal talents, thus building up their self-esteem, self-worth, and greater desire to contribute to society as a whole. May be this way we get at the core of why kids turn to drugs in the first place. To escape.

Posted: Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Article comment by: T.J. O'Malley

I AGREE WITH REBUTTLE TIME, let's hear it Mrs. County attorney

Posted: Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Article comment by: Show of Hands Please !

Please raise your hand if you personally know someone who is so addicted to mairjuana that they cannot function in normal society..? 1..2..3. OK
Raise your hand if you personally know someone who is so addicted to Alcohol they cannot function in normal society..?
Raise your hand if you believe that NO ONE ever died from using marijuana, directly or Indirectly..? Anyone?? No hands.. OK
How many believe the Law Enforcement establishment views enforcement of the prohibition of Marijuana Laws as a "Cash Cow".. meaning they receive state and federal money to seek out and destroy marijuana (and the users) wherever they can find it/them? And further, if they lost that funding, budgets would be cut, even a few tanks and Humvees whoudl have to be sold as surplus..?? Ohh Everyone ??

Well that concludes our research for today. What have we learned ?? marijuana is BAD.. and if we legalize it, we will end up losing lots of funding for SWAT teams, Humvees, Tanks, and the prison population will dwindle because only bank robbers and car thieves will go there.
So.. Keep the pressure on Shiela.. We don't want to lose our share of the drug money.. Besides, what would we do with the old fire station on Mingus, currently housing Humvees and SWAT Team gear..?

Posted: Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Article comment by: Tom Babbitt

The Iron Brotherhood

Posted: Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Article comment by: nutso fasst

"Something republicans have failed over and over again."

The "Respect State Marijuana Laws Act" was introduced in Congress by Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican. It has attracted 19 co-sponsors, 15 Democrat and 4 Republican.

Although voters in Colorado and Washington voted decisively to legalize marijuana, only one Colorado Democrat and two Washington Democrats support Rohrabacher's bill.

So it seems that lobbyists for Drug War funding have more influence on lawmakers than ordinary voters, regardless of lawmakers' political party.

Anyway, if Rohrabacher was really serious about stopping federal meddling, why didn't his legislation simply remove "Marihuana" from the list of federally-controlled substances?

Posted: Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Article comment by: The Verde Votes Count.

Expect much more of this coming from Prescott. Empty jail beds, lack of federal enforcement of the PLANT, possible outright decriminalization of the PLANT = less money. Expect all the reefer madness propaganda to be screeched from soap boxes across the county. Save the kids, save the air, save the roads, feed the pig and keep those cartels in business. The backlash of commonsense and solutions. Something republicans have failed over and over again. WHY?

Posted: Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Article comment by: Tired of paying for prohibition

The number one study that should be quoted is a statistic.

Number of deaths due to cannabis. . . ZERO!

Posted: Monday, September 16, 2013
Article comment by: sean thomas

This article is bs. so she is saying the hardcore drugs aren't a big deal like heroin, crack, or meth... no they are a big deal more of a issue than a plant

Posted: Saturday, September 14, 2013
Article comment by: I missed something

Ms. Polk says, "The National Institute of Drug Abuse warns us that habitual teen marijuana use is linked to a significant decrease in IQ, 7 to 8 points school drop-out and failure other drug use and mental health problems. This cannot be ignored. A loss of 8 IQ points is titanic, dropping a person of average intelligence into the lowest third of the intelligence range."

"Remember the study that came out last year, researched in part by Duke University, which claimed that smoking marijuana in your teens leads to a long-term drop in IQ? It won blanket coverage at the time—but a new analysis is now crying foul."

”The new paper, published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, examines that research and finds its methodology to be flawed. Socioeconomic differences among study participants in terms of education level, occupation and income weren’t taken into account, says Ole Rogenberg of the Ragnar Frisch Center for Economic Research in Oslo. These factors could, according to Rogenberg, have influenced the participants’ varying IQs. His paper, based on on a computer simulation, traced what would happen to IQ scores over time if they were affected by socioeconomic factors (as suggested by other research), but not by smoking marijuana. He found that the patterns closely resembled those found by the pot-centric Duke study. This, says Rogenberg, suggests that the researchers of the initial study should have analyzed their results more thoroughly before jumping to conclusions. Dr. Norma Volkow, director of the less-than-progressive National Institute on Drug Abuse, grudgingly admits that Rogenberg’s findings “look sound”—though she points out that socioeconomic factors aren’t yet proven to be the cause of the IQ variations, any more than marijuana use is.”

Posted: Saturday, September 14, 2013
Article comment by: Nobody Special

Dr. Jack E. Henningfield of NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) ranked the relative addictiveness of 6 substances (cannabis, caffeine, cocaine, alcohol, heroin and nicotine). Cannabis ranked least addictive, with caffeine the second least addictive and nicotine the most.

Three substances legal three are not. Ms Polk says, "Why would we legalize a substance to which so many people in this country, particularly our young adults, are already addicted? " I would say because criminalizing marijuana is ineffective in stopping it's use and destructive in every other respect.

Posted: Thursday, September 12, 2013
Article comment by: Carl Nye

In the (average) three minutes it takes to read Ms. Polk's letter, 2.28 people died of tobacco-related causes. Zero people died in the same time period from marijuana. In fact, zero people have died from marijuana today, or this month, or this year. But count on Sheila to keep up the fear factor with her biased statements and statistics. For example, she says, " Users of marijuana don't typically experience a life-threatening overdose," thereby implying that some users do experience a life-threatening overdose. OK, Sheila, give us any single verifiable figure of how many users have had such an experience. She says, "Regular marijuana use jeopardizes a young person's chances of success in school and in life." Well, yeah, that criminal record of being arrested for pot possession means that young person won't qualify for federal student loans, and will have a hard time getting a job with that on their record. Of course that jeopardy goes away if they are not arrested. She says admissions to treatment for marijuana exceed the number of admissions to treatment for meth. For this statement to be in perspective, let's examine how many thousands more people use marijuana than use meth. Oh, she's silent on those comparative stats. By the way, how many of those marijuana treatment admissions were voluntary versus court-ordered? Just asking.

One thing we can count on - if we see Sheila's picture at the top of an article about marijuana, you know in advance it will be a biased rant loaded with fear and loathing.

Posted: Thursday, September 12, 2013
Article comment by: Is there a 12-step program

for addiction to federal drug war funding?

Posted: Thursday, September 12, 2013
Article comment by: Rebuttal Time

Okay Mrs. Polk this is your chance. Have the courage to address the comments in this forum. Explain why they are all wrong and you are right. Almost everything you said has been shown to be untrue through studies and data collection. So take this time to explain the holes in these writers arguments. I will wait.... still waiting.... thats what I thought.

Posted: Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Article comment by: dale ruff

Tobacco kills 400,000 in the US each year, and tens of millions worldwide.

Alcohol is involved in over half of all 15,000 auto fatalities each year.

Prescription drugs kill 40,000 a year.

Pot heals it is a promising cure for cancer and other serious diseases. Google cancer research cannabis and learn how deeply you have been lied to by the drug warriors.

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