Connecticut -- The cable channel Showtime recently released a 2001 musical remake of the 1936 anti-marijuana film "Reefer Madness." The original "Madness" became a "cult classic," gleefully mocked for its blatant, often false propaganda.
In the decades since, Hollywood has released several films, from 1980's "Cheech & Chong" to 1993's Dazed and Confused," depicting marijuana use as "cool."
The films' target audiences were the teen and collegiate crowds. The pot-smoking protagonists were always portrayed as lovable, bumbling slackers.
Not surprisingly, in our Hollywood-seeped America, many people are unaware of the dangers of marijuana.
Worse, when presented with the facts on pot's destructiveness, many people disregard it as "exaggerated," the "exception" rather than the norm.
Further, many people praise activist efforts to legalize marijuana in the U.S., purportedly for medical use.
The truth is that marijuana is far from harmless. Marijuana is addictive.
I first learned about marijuana, along with heroin, cocaine and alcohol, in fifth grade, when a DARE officer visited our health class to discuss how drugs would hurt our brains.
While we were all horrified by the anecdotes involving lethal heroin overdoses and alcohol poisoning, stories about the effects of marijuana did not end in sobering tales of deadly indulgence.
One of my friends said her parents smoked marijuana when they were young. "I guess it's not as bad as that other stuff, like heroin," she said.
My own parents, both Baby Boomers, were open about virtually everything. Their communication with me as a child was always honest, straightforward and direct. So, I believed them when they told me how much drugs, including marijuana, could hurt me.
The following year, in sixth grade, rumors began to spread about a group of peers, kids in the "cool" clique, who smoked marijuana on weekends.
From then on, there was always a certain mystique about marijuana use.
In high school and even college, talking about heroin or crack use was always revealed in a worried whisper.
Marijuana use, however, was practically celebrated as a way to "relax" and socialize.
I'm proud to say that I've never been drunk and I've never smoked a joint or a cigarette. I feel especially good about avoiding marijuana, now that scientists know much more about the physical and psychological effect of pot on the brain than they did even 10 years ago.
The effects of marijuana use on the brain are very similar to the effects of heroin, alcohol or cocaine. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), withdrawal from THC, pot's active ingredient, inhibits the activity of the body's natural anti-stress hormone, dopamine. Damage to the dopamine neuron can result in the onset of deep depression, anxiety and personality disturbances.
Due to the regeneration of THC over the past few decades, marijuana is far more potent today than it was in the 1960s and 1970s.
Thomas Pasquarella of the Drug Enforcement Agency discussed this recently at the Family University at Joel Barlow High School, sponsored by the Easton-Redding Community Coalition (ERCC), in conjunction with the Redding and Easton schools' PTAs.
Pasquarella made clear that in addition to being highly potent, marijuana today is frequently laced with potentially instantly lethal substances, including rat poison and the "club drug" ecstasy. (Note that ecstasy and similarly manufactured "club drugs," are derived from horse tranquilizers).
Usage carries severe short- and long-term health consequences.
When someone smokes pot, THC passes rapidly through the lungs into the bloodstream, where it travels to the body's organs, including the brain.
Short-term effects of marijuana use include problems with memory and learning, difficulty in thinking and problem-solving, loss of coordination and increased heart rate.
Research findings for long-term use are similar to those of so-called "harder" drugs.
According to the NIDA, a user's risk of heart attack more than quadruples in the first hour after smoking marijuana.
Further, a study of 450 individuals who smoked marijuana frequently but did not smoke tobacco reported significantly more health problems and missed more days of work than nonsmokers.
Even infrequent use can cause burning and stinging of the mouth and throat, often accompanied by a heavy cough.
Someone who smokes marijuana frequently has many of the same respiratory problems as cigarette smokers, including lung cancer
The NIDA cites many studies reporting that students who smoke pot frequently get lower grades and are less likely to graduate from high school compared to their non-using peers.
A study of 129 college students found that those who used marijuana heavily (27 out of 30 days) had far inferior cognitive skills related to attention, memory and learning. As a result, stated the NIDA, heavy users may be functioning at a reduced intellectual level all of the time.
Marijuana is the top drug of choice among Americans; according to the NIDA, and 60 percent of youth under 21 use marijuana more than any other illicit drug.
Marijuana is often mistaken as a more "socially acceptable" alternative to "harder" substances like heroin and cocaine - but as we know, the effects on the body are alarmingly alike.
Remember, even experimen*tation can lead to addiction.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, more teens are in treatment with a primary diagnosis of marijuana dependence than all other illicit drugs combined.
So, be clear that today's marijuana is not the pot smoked by earlier generations. It is addictive and horribly damaging to one's physical and mental health and intellectual capacity.
Don't be fooled by the exploits of fun-loving celluloid "stoners." And don't think just because your parents may have smoked marijuana, that it's okay for you. It's not - the price is just too high.
This column reflects the opinion of Editor Larissa Lytwyn and does not necessarily represent the views of Hometown Publications.
Source: Easton Courier (CT)
Author: Larissa Lytwyn
Published: May 26, 2005
Copyright: 2005 Easton Courier