Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific Evidence

Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific Evidence

Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific Evidence

Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific Evidence

Synopsis

Marijuana is the world's most popular illicit drug, with hundreds of millions of regular users worldwide. One in three Americans has smoked pot at least once. The Drug Enforcement Agency estimates that Americans smoke five million pounds of marijuana each year. And yet marijuana remains largely misunderstood by both its advocates and its detractors. To some, marijuana is an insidious "stepping-stone" drug, enticing the inexperienced and paving the way to the inevitable abuse of harder drugs. To others, medical marijuana is an organic means of easing the discomfort or stimulating the appetite of the gravely ill. Others still view marijuana, like alcohol, as a largely harmless indulgence, dangerous only when used immoderately. All sides of the debate have appropriated the scientific evidence on marijuana to satisfy their claims. What then are we to make of these conflicting portrayals of a drug with historical origins dating back to 8,000 B.C.? Understanding Marijuana examines the biological, psychological, and societal impact of this controversial substance. What are the effects, for mind and body, of long-term use? Are smokers of marijuana more likely than non-users to abuse cocaine and heroine? What effect has the increasing potency of marijuana in recent years had on users and on use? Does our current legal policy toward marijuana make sense? Earleywine separates science from opinion to show how marijuana defies easy dichotomies. Tracing the medical and political debates surrounding marijuana in a balanced, objective fashion, this book will be the definitive primer on our most controversial and widely used illicit substance.

Excerpt

As I answer questions about marijuana, I am constantly reminded of three ideas. The first idea is Einstein's oft-quoted expression that everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler. The research on marijuana is extensive, lending itself to incomplete summary and interpretation. A description of marijuana can stress parallels to medicine, harmless intoxicants, or addictive narcotics. Perhaps all of these are true, in part, but they remain incomplete. A narrow focus prevents these descriptions from providing a full picture of the substance. These attempts at quick summaries may end up presenting cannabis as simpler than it is. I have tried to avoid this problem by providing a thorough look at all of the available research, no matter how confusing or contradictory.

The second idea concerns the distinction between research and its meaning. Data are separate from interpretations. Investigators present data and then interpret results. Sometimes results support an author's conclusions. Sometimes a close look reveals that the conclusions are unjustified. The interpretations often remind me of responses to those splotchy blots of ink from the infamous Rorschach test. People purportedly see these ambiguous pictures in a way that reveals more about them than the ink.

Authors may respond the same way to marijuana research. Their interpretations may tell more about their own biases than the data. For example, prohibitionists might mention that THC often appears in the blood of people involved in auto accidents. Yet they might omit the fact that most of these people also drank alcohol (see chapter 9). Antiprohibitionists might cite a large study that showed no sign of memory prob-

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