8 Mar­i­juana Facts To Con­sider When Vot­ing


Cal­i­for­nia is the most pop­u­lous of the five states to be con­sid­er­ing the le­gal, con­trolled sale of recre­ational mar­i­juana at this week’s gen­eral elec­tion. While Ne­vada, Ari­zona, Maine and Mas­sachusetts will also be vot­ing on state con­trol of cannabis for recre­ational pur­poses, Arkansas, Florida, Mon­tana and North Dakota will be vot­ing on the med­i­cal use of mar­i­juana. Cur­rently, 24 states and the District of Columbia have le­gal chan­nels for the med­i­cal use of cannabis while four (and D.C.) al­low lim­ited sale and use of mar­i­juana for recre­ational pur­poses.

In Cal­i­for­nia, the pro­posed 62-page law is for­mally known as the Con­trol, Reg­u­late and Tax Adult Use Act, or the Adult Use of Mar­i­juana Act or, sim­ply, Propo­si­tion 64. The high­lights are fairly typ­i­cal of those of the other states: al­lowance of up to one ounce of mar­i­juana flower or 8 grams of cannabis con­cen­trates for adults age 21 and older, the per­sonal cul­ti­va­tion of up to six mar­i­juana plants, the in­dus­trial cul­ti­va­tion of hemp. But the tax­a­tion and reg­u­la­tory ap­pa­ra­tus would be some­what more com­pli­cated than in other states.

My sci­en­tific in­ter­est in the ther­a­peu­tic uses of mar­i­juana stems from my aca­demic ca­reer as a nat­u­ral prod­ucts phar­ma­col­o­gist. While my lab worked with chemists to char­ac­ter­ize an­ti­cancer

drugs they iso­lated from plants, fungi and cyanobac­te­ria, my teach­ing re­quire­ments led my con­tin­u­ing ed­u­ca­tion on other drugs from na­ture. Most of these turn out to be drugs of­ten used for recre­ational pur­poses—opi­oids, co­caine, mesca­line—so I’ve of­ten turned to my neu­ro­science col­leagues for pro­fes­sional guid­ance on the phar­ma­col­ogy of such sub­stances, in­clud­ing their rel­a­tive risks and ben­e­fits.

So it was fit­ting that I’ve been fol­low­ing a drug abuse re­searcher who cur­rently works at the Scripps Re­search In­sti­tute in La Jolla, Cal­i­for­nia. Michael

Taffe, Ph.D., and his lab­o­ra­tory group have been funded by the Na­tional In­sti­tute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to study the be­hav­ioral tox­i­c­ity of drugs that are mis­used recre­ation­ally, in­clud­ing mar­i­juana, ec­stasy (MDMA), metham­phetamine, sub­sti­tuted cathi­nones (the sub­stances found in so-called “bath salts”) and al­co­hol.

As he lives in a state that will be in­flu­enced by the out­come of the Propo­si­tion 64 vote, Dr. Taffe posted some of his per­sonal thoughts on Face­book, say­ing, “As many of my friends, neigh­bors and ac­quain­tances are aware that I work in the sub­stance-abuse fields of sci­ence, they have ques­tions. So I thought I would put some of my usual re­sponses/points down on a Fb post.”

I’ve al­ways been im­pressed with Dr. Taffe be­cause he views his role as a re­searcher to also in­clude be­ing an ob­jec­tive ed­u­ca­tor and in­for­ma­tion source for the pub­lic.

We’ve been ban­ter­ing over the last week or so about his thoughts, and I found them im­por­tant enough to share with you as they are cer­tainly de­serv­ing of a wider au­di­ence and, more­over, are rel­e­vant to those of you in the other four states that are con­sid­er­ing the sale of mar­i­juana for recre­ational pur­poses.

For the sake of disclaimer, I should note that these thoughts come from Dr. Taffe as a neu­ro­science and psy­chol­ogy ex­pert and that his opin­ions do not nec­es­sar­ily re­flect those of the Scripps Re­search In­sti­tute or the NIH’s Na­tional In­sti­tute on Drug Abuse. Wher­ever pos­si­ble, he has pro­vided me with ad­di­tional links to the pri­mary sci­en­tific lit­er­a­ture to sup­port his thoughts and pro­vide you with ad­di­tional read­ing if you have more than a pass­ing in­ter­est in the topic.

As far as le­gal­iz­ing recre­ational mar­i­juana goes, I do think that the epi­demi­o­log­i­cal, hu­man lab­o­ra­tory and an­i­mal lab­o­ra­tory data has some rel­e­vance to the Prop 64 is­sues. So, I’m go­ing to list a few facts.

1. Mar­i­juana is ad­dic­tive. Full stop. The con­di­tional prob­a­bil­ity of de­pen­dence is about 9% where like-to-like com­par­isons put co­caine and metham­phetamine at 15%, heroin at 25-45% (data are ter­ri­ble) and al­co­hol at 4%. Al­co­hol is a huge prob­lem be­cause 85%+ of peo­ple con­sume it at least an­nu­ally. In con­trast, less than 1% of peo­ple have ever tried heroin, 0.4% in the past year. Mar­i­juana comes in at about 32% an­nual preva­lence for ages 19-28. The scope of the ad­dic­tion is­sue de­pends on how many peo­ple are us­ing it, ob­vi­ously. This will go up with le­gal­iza­tion—but we don’t have any idea how much. 2. 5-6% of high school se­niors use mar­i­juana daily. Daily. That’s the U.S. av­er­age. I don’t have num­bers for Cal­i­for­nia. 3. Mar­i­juana ad­dic­tion is as “real” as

any other. Fre­quency of with­drawal symp­toms and sever­ity of those symp­toms were com­pared be­tween mar­i­juana and tobacco smok­ers and the data were nearly in­dis­tin­guish­able. Most peo­ple are much more fa­mil­iar with nico­tine de­pen­dency (which is a higher rate, by the way, prob­a­bly 33%+) since it is more com­mon, not em­bar­rass­ing to dis­cuss in pub­lic and con­ven­tion­ally rec­og­nized. A lack of per­sonal fa­mil­iar­ity with the scope of with­drawal in the peo­ple who are mar­i­juana-de­pen­dent doesn’t mean that it doesn’t ex­ist.

4. There is no such thing as “psy­cho­log­i­cal” ver­sus “phys­i­cal” de­pen­dence since the brain is part of the body and the mind is the func­tion­ing of the brain. Keep in mind that peo­ple can be months to years out from their last use of any drug and still re­lapse se­verely. This is not be­ing driven by the with­drawal symp­toms that most ev­ery­one rec­og­nizes when they talk about “phys­i­cal” de­pen­dence. 5. Mar­i­juana acutely im­pairs cog­ni­tive and other be­hav­ioral func­tions.

6. Be­hav­ioral tol­er­ance with chronic ex­po­sure is sub­stan­tial. Blood lev­els of THC in an­i­mals or hu­mans are a poorer proxy for im­pair­ment (ver­sus other drugs) if you do not know any­thing about the prior ex­po­sure his­tory.

7. THC is de­tectable in the body for a very long time com­pared with many other drugs of abuse. One study found de­tectable THC, or one of the main me­tab­o­lites, for 30 days of in­pa­tient study (chronic users).

8. Try­ing to make spe­cific pre­dic­tions about an in­di­vid­ual who uses mar­i­juana from gen­eral find­ings (there is al­ways a cen­tral ten­dency or av­er­age around which the dis­tri­bu­tion of data points or in­di­vid­ual out­comes varies) is a fool’s er­rand. We can only pre­dict gen­eral trends. Con­versely, and this is im­por­tant for your per­sonal in­tro­spec­tion, the ev­i­dence from one given data point or in­di­vid­ual doesn’t tell us much that is in­for­ma­tive about the av­er­age trend. The fact that it is your per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence does not make it more valid.

Dr. Taffe closes his com­ments say­ing, “Fi­nally, there is much we sim­ply don’t know. Any given sci­en­tific study or data set is lim­ited by how it was gen­er­ated. This doesn’t mean we throw up our hands and say it is all bunk or un­in­ter­pretable, but it means one does have to think about it a bit.”

Lastly, he says, “I would in­vite you to read over the Prop 64 pro­vi­sions. Per­son­ally, I see a fair bit of in­vest­ment of the tax rev­enue in state-spon­sored ac­tiv­i­ties to an­swer some of these is­sues bet­ter, to ad­dress some of the ob­vi­ous con­cerns, etc. To me, this is a pos­i­tive. The ex­tent to which this will hap­pen, the ex­tent to which ac­tion­able in­for­ma­tion will re­sult, the ex­tent to which ac­tiv­i­ties in­tended to head off or ame­lio­rate ob­vi­ous neg­a­tives is, how­ever, an un­known.”


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