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Time for Drug and Alcohol Facts, Not Reefer Madness II

marijuana leavesThis week (through Sunday, June 27) is National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week, a program intended to “to counteract the myths about drugs and alcohol that teens get from the internet, social media, TV, movies, music, or from friends.”

“The best way to prevent alcohol, tobacco, and drug use in later life is to prevent it in early life”. That’s a fairly uncontroversial statement of fact even if you don’t think the occasional use of any of these substances is evil or harmful in itself. The question is how to achieve this.

In the past, perhaps believing children (and many adults) were incapable of understanding the true dangers of these substances, this was done in a heavy-handed manner with exaggeration, anecdotes, lies, and outright prohibitions. Even the conservative Heritage Foundation now thinks this approach was a bad idea.

According to two fellows of the Heritage Foundation, “One way to deter harmful recreational drug use by teenagers is to treat them like adults”. That could include persuading them of the benefits of not using tobacco, alcohol or illicit drugs—whether prescription painkillers such as OxyContin–that are safe if prescribed and when taken as prescribed–and telling them the real dangers of heavy early drug use especially of mixing alcohol with other drugs.

“Just Say No”, the school-centric program Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.), “This Is Your Brain on Drugs”, “I Learned It from You, Dad”, and even the current anti-smoking campaign The Truth have sometimes seemed to treat children like idiots, using scare stories instead of fact- or evidence-based arguments.

This has at least once led D.A.R.E. to endorse as true (and to republish) a satirical web site’s scare story: “Edible Marijuana Candies Kill 9 in Colorado, 12 at Coachella”.

Leave aside the fact that no one has ever died from an overdose of marijuana—not even edibles—other “facts” in the story that should have been red flags include:

  • “For every one joint of marijuana, four teenagers become burdened with pregnancy”. How?
  • Every bag of marijuana candy sold results in “16 violent crimes”. Really? Regardless of how many pieces or how much THC they contain?

Novelist and journalist Alex Berenson has produced a new anti-marijuana screed that is so unapologetic about being called a modern-day Reefer Madness that it borrows that film’s original title: Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence.

Berenson’s argument (and it is an argument; Berenson admits it is “Not balanced”, despite his claims of being “a journalist, not an advocate” and “just the messenger for a bunch of scientists and physicians”) is that marijuana use causes schizophrenia and psychosis in a small but not insignificant number of users of marijuana, and thus to violence. This is a minority opinion even among anti-marijuana activists.

There is some evidence (though the thorough scientific study needed is still blocked because marijuana officially has no medical value or safe use under federal law) that marijuana use by those younger than their mid- to late- 20s might have negative effects on their growing brains’ development. That is a more realistic and understandable argument than telling teens that weed will make them kill somebody during a psychotic episode.