The Columbus Dispatch/Forum


By Paul W. Leithhart

The news media have given extensive coverage to marijuana's possible medical uses. Probably many people now believe that these possible medical uses of marijuana constitute sufficient grounds for its legalization. They do not. Should we legalize heroin because the opium poppy has produced some useful painkillers? Should we legalize cocaine because it is used as an anethstetic in the medical industry? Most people who have ever faced the cruel reality of drug addiction would say "NO!"

Most people who use marijuana ocaisionally for recreational purposes do not want to face the tragic fact that immeasurable damage is done to youth across the country who cannot "control" themselves when it comes to drugs. Multitudes of young people start out on marijuana in their teens and even pre-teens, many of them for the sole reason that everybody else is doing it. Marijuana becomes their way of life, and soon it is far from "recreational". If marijuana is legalized, it is these young people who will suffer and die in greater numbers than ever before. It is bad enough that alcohol is so readily available to our youth. It is very selfish of those who would want marijuana to be legalized so that they could enjoy it without fear of the law. They take no thought of all the poor kids who suffer and are damaged because marijuana came into their life at a young age.

A clever campaign has been staged across the country by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) featuring demonstrations, anecdotes of pot users and NORML national advisers Dr. Lester Grinspoon, a psychiatrist, and Dr. J. Thomas Ungerleider, professor emeritus of psychiatry at the University of California at Los Angeles Medical Center. These biased people have apparently convinced many legislators and media representatives that pot may be of use in treating some diseases.

In 1979, Keith Stroup, then director of NORML, stated the organization would use "the issue as a 'red herring' to give marijuana a good name". The goal of NORML is to legalize pot. The next stage is the current petition drive to get the issue on the ballot in 1998. NORML advocates allowing marijuana users to grow their own. Is it possible that some growers might give some away or sell it? Most people have some medical problem and would be able to grow their own marijuana; thus, use would increase dramatically.

Over the past 30 years, marijuana has been intensively studied. Millions of dollars have been spent on research and hundreds of scientific articles on marijuana have been published in medical literature. In February 1997, there were hearings in Washington with 30 experts testifying. The verdict: The legitimate medical uses for marijuana do not constitute grounds for its legalization. It is a major health hazard.

But marijuana users are under the delusion that they are helped. Users report they "enjoy the side effects of marijuana better than the side effects of prescription drugs." It is the "high" they desire. How does this mixture of 421 compounds harm the user?

Pot interferes with the memory and causes confusion, a progressive inability to concentrate, pathological thinking, decreased motivation, anxiety, depression, paranoia and suicidal thoughts. It also causes changes in electroencephalograms and does permanent brain damage. Schools report higher dropout and failure rates and increased promiscuity among pot users. Marijauna use is almost always associated with gang activity and criminal behavior in young people.

Pot has been found to damage the immune system, which is important in fighting cancer, AIDS, infections and similar ailments. Smoking pot harms the lungs at 10 times the rate cause by cigarette smoking. Pot users show increases in sexually transmitted diseases. Males have lower sperm counts and testosterone levels and females have reproductive difficulties.

And use of pot is dangerous for drivers because it diminishes search and recognition ability, impairs traffic signal recognition and impairs memory, coordination and reflexes. These effects persist for hours after the high wears off.

All of the conditions the pot users promote marijuana for are a sham. For example, pot is recommended for glaucoma but it increases eye pressure in some users, and when it lowers pressure, it must be used every two to four hours. The public is misinformed about marijuana. Polls and voting returns show that many people consider it a safe, recreational drug. This misconception is dangerous. It sends the wrong message to the adolescents: If it is OK for the sick, it is OK for them.

American poet and editor James Russell Lowell said, "Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne." If the youth of our generation are to survive Truth must prevail.

Paul W. Leithart is a Columbus Physician and a founder of Talbot Hall (Park Hospital) and Parkside Treatment Center for Drug Dependence.

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