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Fly-By Counterargument from 40,000 Feet


Since the item was brought up by way of public comment, it had not been vetted by staff as an agendaed item, so the closest thing to a counterargument was impromptu commentary from Bonnie Vest, who had come to speak on another item. She briefly called attention to the opioid crisis and the widely-held belief that marijuana is a gateway drug. This article, therefore, is prepared in the interest of equal time. Whereas many who spoke shared that they had conducted considerable research, conjuring images of exhausting the Elsevier, AMA, and other databases; this article will merely present a Wikipedia overview.

But first, in the spirit of the founding of this country, it should be noted it is unfair for anybody to presume authority over another’s personal choices. If one prefers the joy of eating buttery food to living into his nineties, that is his choice to make. The problem is, pot has externalities. If it should be legalized, there must be safeguards against letting the smoke into public spaces or the high-THC hemp flour into groceries unannounced. Here’s why:

Pot has not been researched rigorously in controlled settings largely because it has long been illegal in most places. Studies that have been conducted typically involve statistically invalid populations, and they are so few and random as to lack any kind of corroboration. While correlations are often found, there is insufficient isolation of variables to establish causation. Some of the best data, then, come from police reports and medical metadata. For example, according to 2011 USDHHS data, pot was determined to be a contributory factor in 455,000 emergency department visits, but it was the exclusive impairing agent in only 129,000.

Aphoristically, for every study, there is another claiming the opposite. The good news is, most effects appear to be reversible, provided use is light and infrequent. Problems compound, predictably, with ongoing use of concentrated THCs. Damage tends to be worse in persons with physical predisposition to outcomes correlated with smoking pot, or in youth whose central nervous systems are still developing.

The list of problems correlated with pot use includes the psychological impairments that play a part in the buzz casual users enjoy and may describe as a religious experience. Users are likely to experience a feeling of detachment from reality, difficulty paying attention, problems organizing thoughts, and impaired motor skills. These correlations are well-established for youth; the symptoms, in turn, being correlated with delinquency, lower academic achievement, and rebelliousness.

Prolonged, more intense, deeper chooming of higher levels of THC can lead to depression, anxiety, and paranoia. Psychoses strongly correlated with extensive pot smoking include hallucinations and delusions. Longer-term use is believed to worsen symptoms of schizophrenia and augment manic episodes for persons diagnosed as bipolar. It is estimated that between ten and twenty percent of the population can become addicted to pot, meaning they develop dependencies with increasing levels of tolerance and experience withdrawal symptoms with cessation. Correlations are sufficiently strong to have warranted calls for precautionary public health notices.

Since pot can be habit-forming, the pitfalls of addiction cannot be dismissed. People like to be high, and many prefer consuming chemicals to hard work as a way of stimulating the brain’s reward centers. Those who run to chemicals for comfort instead of developing adult skills for confrontation, like challenging, debating, and negotiating; are stuck with the emotional competencies they had when they started using. And, once addicted, anything – success, failure, or boredom – is a reason to use again. Then, when habituation numbs a user to the benign highs of pot, something stronger, like opioids, will be needed to bring back the feeling; hence the saying marijuana is a gateway drug.

On the chemical level, marijuana plants contain over 100 cannabinoids in variable concentrations. Some latch on to cannabinoid receptors in the brain, elevating dopamine release, and producing a high as well as the side effects already mentioned. Other chemicals, like cannabidiol, actually counteract the psychotropic effects of the THCs, rendering viable pharmaceutical uses a question of balance. While advocates describe pot as a panacea, the anecdotes of its miraculous healings, while not dismissed, suffer skepticism in light of the drug’s established powers of delusion. A recent article in the Huffington Post argued statistics about opioid abuse and crime in places where marijuana has been legalized are but another publicity stunt of the budding cannabis industry and based on faulty logic.

The list of potential physical harms – not the least of which is cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, characterized by nausea, vomiting, and stomach cramps – is, again, as long as the list of claimed cures. While nobody has died of a pot overdose, lethality from compounding pre-exisitng conditions is possible; particularly in teens. Marijuana use is strongly correlated with liver disease, including hepatitis C. Cardiopulmonary risks users assume include myocardial infarction, stroke, sudden heart failure, damage to heart tissue, damage to vascular walls, lung infections, and tuberculosis. Cannabis is also known to have indirectly and acutely injured kidneys.

These claims are justified in terms of chemicals known to exist in marijuana. The human body has an endocannabinoid system that is known to affect memory, appetite, mood, and pain. That there are risks associated with playing around with cannabinoid levels, then, goes without saying. Cannabis also contains catecholamine, which provides an “adrenaline” rush, as well as vasoconstrictors. The added stress these chemicals put on the heart could be too much for some people. Another chemical in marijuana, carboxyhemoglobin, lowers the concentration of oxygen in the blood.

There is little refutation that smoking marijuana causes many of the problems associated with smoking tobacco. These include coughing, expectorating, and wheezing. Longer-term effects of extensive use include chronic bronchitis and pulmonary collapse. While publishers cite evidence claiming marijuana both cures and causes cancer, marijuana smoke contains known carcinogens, causing marijuana to be listed as a carcinogen on California’s Proposition 65, among other places. It should be noted, the pulmonary disease is a consequence of smoking pot, not consuming it in other forms; and the carcinogenic compounds are formed by the oxidation of chemicals naturally occurring in the plant.

Another area of concern is the role of pot-induced physical impairment on the operation of heavy machinery, including motor vehicles. Marijuana is the most common illegal substance found in car crashes, but it is probably also the most common illegal substance, period. More convincingly, one study estimated a driver increases his odds of getting in an accident 2-3 times after smoking pot, compared to 6-15 times for drinking alcohol.

Elaborating on what has been stated, pharmacological studies attempting to assess the role of pot in various pathologies are too sparse to establish anything but correlations. Metadata is tangled because persons admitted to emergency departments while using pot are typically using substances like tobacco, alcohol, and cocaine in conjunction. Furthermore, until more and better research may be conducted, the chicken-and-egg conundrum persists. Does pot induce the observed changes in biochemistry, or are people with pre-conditions self-medicating? Or, as one unnamed person put it, “Does pot make people stupid, or are stupid people more likely to smoke pot?”

In Other Matters –

The commissioners celebrated two announcements of extended access to extraparental childcare. First, the county is opening a program for eighteen children in a classroom at Johnston Elementary School. Community Action Opportunities will handle operations, and the program will serve “people who experience low income, engagement with the foster care system, are homeless, or receive public assistance.” Secondly, the county and Eliada Homes are partnering to provide childcare for 60 children. Then, later in the meeting, the commissioners approved the rezoning of a parcel to accommodate the expansion of a private daycare facility owned by Tim and Katherine Tolar.

The talking points the county published make extraparental childcare sound almost as magic as pot; to wit, “Early childhood education and development have a clear impact on the economic vitality and safety of our community. Ensuring that children have access to high quality and affordable early childhood programs can help children prepare for school and succeed in later life while strengthening parents’ workforce access, advance their career, and increase their earning potential. Research shows that money spent on young children is an effective investment, yielding benefits immediately to parents and for many decades to come for the children. Participants in high quality early childhood programs go on to have more educational success, higher earnings and are less likely to rely on government assistance. Pre-K provides school readiness and helps improve their ability to succeed in math and language skills assessments. It improves their social and emotional skills and other necessary skills that contribute to their school readiness and ability to succeed. Those children who enrolled in pre-K are more likely to graduate high school and attend a four-year college, showing the lasting impacts of this investment.”

On a different subject, Commissioner Joe Belcher called attention to the new format for ordinance project staff reports. While still only one page, reports now include a photograph, a map, and a one-paragraph description. The old format only published broad line item codes with brief titles and overall dollar amounts.

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