Let's Talk Pot
Posted on: 03/08/2016 03:51 PM

by Brad Pickett

This is a tough world. Its a competitive world. Do I want to be a worker bee always complaining about how unfair the world is? Or do I want to be the boss?


I am lucky in many ways, but two ways in which I am most lucky are that I have an awesome father and that I can really discuss anything with him. Being a teen, its inevitable that I would have discussed drugs with my dad many times. Usually, of course, he has initiated that discussion.

What my dad told me was to use some common sense. First off, lighting anything on fire and inhaling the smoke is unwise – because all combusted organic material contains carcinogens. Secondly, that any natural substance contains a wide variety of ingredients in impure form and varying proportions, so you can't guarantee the effects. So he told me to research it myself, and come back to discuss my research. After several question and answer sessions, and a lot of questions and several revisions, this is what I've come up with.

Legal vs Illegal
It is never smart to use an illegal drug. Down in Mexico they practically have a war going on, and at the highest levels of pot distribution people actually get killed left and right. It is stupid to expect that people who value human life so little should be supplying something you put into your body. Sometimes there are adulterants, but of greater concern is that sometimes there are undetected molds and bacteria. But even if it is perfectly okay, when it is illegal you are paying money that eventually gets in the hands of people who think nothing of killing innocent women and children. Pot is not exactly essential – so its not worth making murderers rich over.

But separate from that, legal vs illegal doesn't mean anything in terms of safe vs unsafe. Lots of legal drugs and substances are unsafe. Whether it is prescription drugs that get recalled later after people die, or commonplace alcohol and tobacco – people die from these things even though they are legal. Making pot legal would likely make sure it was more free from additives, but it wouldn't make it any more or less safe.

It's Natural
So is nux vomica, the plant strychnine is made from, or hemlock which was used to execute Socrates. The fact that something is natural doesn't make it safe.

More importantly, natural substances can be really complicated in that they contain a lot of different drugs, all of which have different effects. The jimson weed that grows in our unused pasture contains atropine (used for dilating eyes, counteracting strychnine and protecting against nerve gas) but also scopalamine used to erase memory for rapes, and hyoscamine used to dry up mucus secretions.

Pot has a lot of different drugs in it, not just THC, and most of them have not been as studied as other drugs. We generally know most of the effects anecdotally, but there are not a lot of studies – so we really don't know.

A lot of plants are toxic in their natural state, such as castor beans or manioc root, but can be processed into safe and useful substances such as castor oil and tapioca starch. Even though these things are natural and legal, I wouldn't recommend eating or smoking them in their natural state unless you want to die.

Pot doesn't have a track record of instantly killing people … but what do we know about its effects?

Psychiatric Disorders
A girl at my school wound up in a mental hospital. When she came out, she blamed it on pot. I thought she was full of crap, because who has ever heard that pot can literally put you in a mental hospital?

But I dug into it. Sure enough, there is a certain gene called AKT-1 that can take one of three forms (TT, CT, CC) and if someone has the CC form of the gene, using marijuana makes it 700% more likely they will develop a seriously life-altering psychosis like schizophrenia.(1)

There is another gene, that codes for something called COMT, that also comes in three forms (VV, MT, MM) and if someone has the MM form, if they used pot as a teenager, their odds of developing a serious psychosis as an adult are more than 400% higher than if they had never used pot. (2)

Right now there are no affordable tests to tell me if I have the CC form of the AKT-1 gene or the MM form of the COMT gene. And there are a lot of genes we still don't even know about. So by using pot, I would be taking a big risk of hurting my mental health permanently … permanently destroying my chances to lead a normal life. A lot of people take that risk and they come out okay. Would I?

There's no way to know unless I tried it. But here's the problem: if I rolled the dice and lost, I would have no chance to press reset and try again with a better choice. I'd be stuck with the adverse results for the rest of my life. I'm a smart kid. I'm looking forward to a career in STEM, a beautiful wife, 2.5 kids and a picket fence. None of those will happen if I roll the dice and lose.

I bet nobody who ever pushed for pot legalization ever brought those studies to the attention of the public. Why not? Whether it is legal or not, shouldn't we know about this possibility in order to make an informed choice about whether or not to use it?


Short Term
Using pot hurts your short term memory. (3) It can hurt your ability to form new memories – to learn new things – for as long as seven days after last use! This is a competitive world. I'm white, male, straight and clean cut. Any scholarships I might get will have to be based on my merit rather than being born Hispanic or female or a "strong black woman who don't need no man" or something. What could pot possibly give me that would be so positive that it would be worth missing scholarship opportunities because some other kid had a .1 higher GPA because I was smoking pot?

Using pot hurts your motor control. (4) I read a lot about it and it seems less harmful than alcohol because people who smoke pot are very aware that they are compromised and can compensate by driving slower and taking fewer risks. But still, it can mess up your motor control for 6 hours or more! I guess that's okay if you know that for the next few hours you won't have to drive and you won't trip on the stairs or the fire alarm won't go off in the house or anything. But again, since hundreds of people die every year in car wrecks where they had pot in their system, why should I increase my risk? What if I just smoked some pot and then a friend calls and he really needs me to come over? Should I turn over important things in my life to this stuff?

There are other things too, like higher heart rate and stuff like that. But kissing my dream girl would do that too, so I am not worried about those. But I am really concerned about having my ability to learn compromised or screwing up my motor control when I might really need it.


Long Term
Though it is considered “controversial” a lot of people have observed this amotivational syndrome in people who have used pot for a long time. Basically, they are unmotivated. The controversy comes from a lack of trials, but the repeated observation of hundreds of people over a period of decades is pretty clear that long-term users of pot are less accomplished in practically every way than their peers.

Granted, this is not a very likely outcome from using it just once. But most people I know who use pot, hang out with other people who use pot, and it is sort of used as a social bonding thing. So it seems that using pot comes along with a certain batch of friends and certain rituals and expectations that would make it more likely to use it repeatedly.

This is a tough world. Its a competitive world. Do I want to be a worker bee always complaining about how unfair the world is? Or do I want to be the boss?

I think I want to be the boss.

Use of marijuana hurts the brain's ability to respond to dopamine. Not only does that make it hard to get motivated, it also blunts emotional responses overall and makes chronic users seem depressed. (5) Even worse, with long-term use, the ability of the brain to make dopamine at all is compromised. (6) This is what causes the amotivational syndrome, and it is a proven fact – not really controversial except to partisans who want to ignore the facts.

Babies
Birds of a feather flock together. Drinkers usually marry people who also drink, pot smokers tend to marry people who also smoke pot. Do I want to marry a girl who smokes pot?

Okay, maybe that's separate from my crazy sex drive. It's crazy. Everything with a vaguely female shape sort of turns me on and maybe if I could be sure of no STDs and no unwanted babies, I'd say yes to some girls I wouldn't want to marry. But I'm a teenager and my hormones are crazy. But thinking about it, the end game is ultimately I want a great career and to marry a great woman and have some kids.

Do I want a girl who smokes pot as the mother of my kids? Because if I am a pot smoker, my choice of women will mostly be limited to girls who also smoke pot.

Kids have no choice about being born. Its our job to give them the best possible chance, just like my parents gave me. Does a mother who smokes pot hurt kids?

Yes.

Okay, its a game of odds. Some women are probably smoking pot right in the delivery room and their kids are okay. But when pregnant women use pot, the THC reduces the number of connections in the baby's cerebral cortex, which can cause a relative cognitive deficit for life. (7)

So what if she decides to quit smoking pot before getting pregnant? Still no dice.

When a woman smokes pot, even if she has quit several years before becoming pregnant, it can make it more likely that her kids will become opiate abusers. (8) I can't prove it, but the recent spike in heroin use may be a result of a bunch of girls who thought smoking pot was harmless in high school … and the kids they had later are now coming of age.

It can also compromise the immune system of babies. (9)

Starting off a kid in life with so many strikes against it, when that can be easily fixed seems like legal child abuse to me.

So no, I really wouldn't want to marry a girl who smokes pot, and I would be pretty concerned even if she quit several years ago. And if I don't want to limit my options to just those kinds of girls, I shouldn't be a pot smoker.

Lost Opportunities
In some places, like the Miracle Gro company, they test their employees for nicotine and fire them if it is in their system. Even though tobacco is legal. And courts have upheld their right to do this.

Employers in a lot of industries require a drug test at least before getting the job, and a lot of them require periodic random drug tests while employed.

I have overheard so many conversations where peers gave up opportunities when they learned a drug test was involved, because they knew they wouldn't pass it. Most recently, a peer gave up a full-paid 4-year ROTC scholarship worth at least $150,000 when he got the notice in the mail that he had to show up for a “DODMERB” physical in two weeks that included a drug test. He knew he wouldn't be clean in time because pot lasts so long in your system.

Can you imagine that? He gave up $150,000, a commission in the military and the ability to retire with a full pension at 50 when so many people end up eating cat food when they retire … and he gave it all up for a joint. What could he possibly have received from pot that was so valuable it was worth giving all that up?

I probably won't want to join the military, but so many opportunities that can come at unpredictable times would be lost if I could not be certain of passing a drug test. Do I want to wash dishes in a restaurant for the rest of my life?

My physical health
Pot has some nasty effects on men. It screws up testosterone levels and lowers them. (10) I have a hard enough time as it is, do I really want to chemically castrate myself? I also know girls prefer guys who are taller than them, and pot use can also hurt growth hormone. (11) In general, and in social situations, pot is usually smoked. The fact that carcinogens are present in pot smoke is not disputed. What is lacking are the sort of long-term direct-link studies that were done on tobacco. But do I want to be a guinea pig for this when it already seems obviously harmful?

The Social Landscape
Sorry, I'm a teen, and as much as I love and admire my dad, everyone knows that our peers are usually more important in our decisions than our parents. And I have to tell you that even kids who have never used pot claim to use pot just to fit in. That makes it really tough.

On top of this, I really want to spread my wings and gain some independence, make some decisions for myself instead of just doing what dad says.

I wouldn't consider myself rebellious. I don't have blue hair and a bone in my nose. But at the same time, I really want to be myself instead of just a reflection of my father's opinions.

Obviously, deciding to use pot is something where I would have instant acceptance from peers who also use pot, most teachers these days wouldn't care. And by assigning me to research this myself, my dad is pretty much acknowledging there isn't anything he can really do to stop me if that is what I want to do.

But at the same time, my peers don't have to live with my decisions: I do. If I use pot and end up on psych meds with a bunch of opportunities taken away for the rest of my life, they won't save me from that. If I end up missing a great scholarship or a great job, that's no skin off their nose. If all of that takes away from me being able to have the girl of my dreams, that's not their problem either.

I have to do what is right for ME.

And sometimes, what is right for me … also is exactly what my dad would recommend. But I really want to emphasize I'm not caving to my dad here. I have done the research and decided that the risks seriously outweigh any benefits. It seems the benefits are mostly social, but they would put me in a social group with the kind of girls I couldn't in good conscience make the mother of my kids. But the downsides could be really horrible and land me the kind of life I would hate.

So I am going to skip the pot, and assert myself in other ways.




(1) Di Forti et al. Biol Psychiatry. 2012
(2) Caspi et al. Biol Psychiatry. 2005
(3) Miller LL, McFarland D, Cornett TL, Brightwell D. Marijuana and memory impairment: effect on free recall and recognition memory. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 1977 Aug;7(2):99-103. PubMed PMID: 918141.
(4) Asbridge M, Mann R, Cusimano MD, Trayling C, Roerecke M, Tallon JM, Whipp A,Rehm J. Cannabis and traffic collision risk: findings from a case-crossover study of injured drivers presenting to emergency departments. Int J Public Health. 2014 Apr;59(2):395-404. doi: 10.1007/s00038-013-0512-z. Epub 2013 Sep 24. PubMed PMID:24061594.
(5) Nora D. Volkow, Gene-Jack Wang, Frank Telang, Joanna S. Fowler, David Alexoff, Jean Logan, Millard Jayne, Christopher Wong, and Dardo Tomasi, Decreased dopamine brain reactivity in marijuana abusers is associated with negative emotionality and addiction severity 2014 111 (30) E3149-E3156; Published ahead of print July 14, 2014, doi:10.1073/pnas.1411228111
(6) Bloomfield MA, Morgan CJ, Egerton A, Kapur S, Curran HV, Howes OD. Dopaminergic function in cannabis users and its relationship to cannabis-induced
psychotic symptoms. Biol Psychiatry. 2014 Mar 15;75(6):470-8. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2013.05.027. Epub 2013 Jun 29. PubMed PMID: 23820822.
(7) Wu, Chia-Shan, Christopher P Jew, and Hui-Chen Lu. “Lasting Impacts of Prenatal Cannabis Exposure and the Role of Endogenous Cannabinoids in the Developing Brain.” Future neurology 6.4 (2011): 459–480. Print.
(8) Henrietta Szutorisz, Jennifer A DiNieri, Eric Sweet, Gabor Egervari, Michael Michaelides, Jenna M Carter, Yanhua Ren, Michael L Miller, Robert D Blitzer and Yasmin L Hurd, Parental THC Exposure Leads to Compulsive Heroin-Seeking and Altered Striatal Synaptic Plasticity in the Subsequent Generation, Neuropsychopharmacology (2014) 39, 1315–1323; doi:10.1038/npp.2013.352; published online 22 January 2014
(9) Zumbrun EE, Sido JM, Nagarkatti PS, Nagarkatti M. Epigenetic Regulation of Immunological Alterations Following Prenatal Exposure to Marijuana Cannabinoids and its Long Term Consequences in Offspring. J Neuroimmune Pharmacol. 2015 Jun;10(2):245-54. doi: 10.1007/s11481-015-9586-0. Epub 2015 Jan 25. PubMed PMID: 25618446; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4470789.
(10) Harclerode J. Endocrine effects of marijuana in the male: preclinical studies. NIDA Res Monogr. 1984;44:46–64.
(11) Brown TT, Dobs AS. Endocrine effects of marijuana. J Clin Pharmacol. 2002;42:90S–96S.


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