October 7, 2009 – Alcohol is nice within bounds, and in moderation it can be one of life’s pleasant things. Unfortunately, many folks nowadays are addicted to drinking copious volumes of alcohol, this ispage_1 very damaging to both their physical and mental welfare. Those people around them, the relatives and friends, also feel these damaging results. So the issue is when should you be aware of the time that you need alcohol drug detox? One of the first answers to this is if the consumption of alcohol is causing you a problem. Most people can drink alcohol at a level which is hospitably acceptable, in order to take it easy in company, or to wind down after a difficult day at work for example. Restraint is the key here, these persons have no aspiration to drink huge volumes of alcohol, they have no yearning to get absolutely drunk.

Many times, an alcoholic will only search for help after he has damaged himself, or worse somebody else, after he has been consuming alcohol. A solution must be found at this point in time, this should entail alcohol detoxification. Not only should you be thinking about the effects that taking a drug will have on you, you also have to grasp how it is distressing other people around you. Are you having troubles at work? Is your drinking harming your attentiveness? Is your alcohol drinking affecting your aptitude to do your job? Are you showing up to your occupation inebriated? Are you boozing while at work?

You ought to think about alcohol detoxification at these occasions, it must be obvious that your boozing is affecting other people around you or yourself. It particularly must be considered if your alcohol consumption is affecting the lives of your relations and friends. Before you decide, you need to pay a visit to a physician. They will be able to assist you through your uncertainties and you can clarify your full condition to them. By giving you the correct guidance for your exact condition they will be able to direct you in the right route.

Alcohol detox can offer hope and relief to alcohol and substance abusers through medical intervention and rehabilitation care, but you must make the first step, the first thing that you should do is to consult with your physician, from there you will find the best course of alcohol detoxification. Source.

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Jack_A._Burton

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October 5, 2009 – An Objective, Brief, and Ethical Exploration of a Law Prohibiting Marijuana

Marijuana is illegal, but should it be? That is a question that remains unanswered. The road to the freezedirtbag2illegalization of marijuana began in 1937 when the Marihuana Tax Act was passed. While it didn’t make the drug illegal, it made it very dangerous to deal with the substance. It wasn’t until the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 that marijuana became a schedule 1 narcotic, making it illegal. In order to be declared a schedule 1 narcotic, a substance must meet the following criteria:

(A) The drug or other substance has high potential for abuse.

(B) The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.

(C) There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.

In this article we will explore the function of drug laws, how that function relates to marijuana, and whether or not a law prohibiting marijuana is ethical and fair. In addition to the guidelines offered by the CSA, we will include our own reasons for controlling a substance, which are:

(A) The drug induces severe psychological affects, which cause unpredictable behavior that may endanger the user and those around them.

(B) Use of the drug could lead to crime.

(C) Use of the drug can lead to severe health problems.

The opposition to marijuana (in the modern day) stems largely from fears in regards to the possible psychological and physical health effects of the drug. Some claim that marijuana causes permanent damage to brain, hindering a person’s cognitive skills over time. Others note personality changes such as loss of motivation, paranoia, and addiction.

Studies have shown the fears regarding personality to be justified. However, the general consensus is that the people most affected by marijuana in terms of addiction and personality changes, are people who began using the drug before the age of 18, a period in a child’s life that is important to their psychological and social development. In fact, 10-14% of marijuana users suffer from addiction problems and withdrawal that is comparable to nicotine withdrawal, says University of Vermont associate professor and director of its Treatment Research Center, Dr. Alan J. Budney (Carroll).

According to the National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA) marijuana can have lasting effects on a user’s daily life. The following is taken from NIDA’s information page of marijuana:

Research clearly demonstrates that marijuana has the potential to cause problems in daily life or make a person’s existing problems worse. In one study, heavy marijuana abusers reported that the drug impaired several important measures of life achievement including physical and mental health, cognitive abilities, social life, and career status. Several studies associate workers’ marijuana smoking with increased absences, tardiness, accidents, workers’ compensation claims, and job turnover.

As for physiological health effects, the three main concerns are in regards to the brain, the heart, and the lungs. As mentioned earlier, many opponents to marijuana use claim that the drug causes permanent damage to the brain. Many studies dispute this notion, but we will cover that in more depth when we get to the pro-marijuana portion of this paper. Instead, we will focus on the areas in which scientific studies have been able to confirm potential health risks.

Research has shown that the risk for a heart-attack increases within the first hour of marijuana use. This happens because of an increase in blood pressure and heart rate. In addition to heart concerns, marijuana poses a threat to the respiratory system as it is carcinogenic and users tend to hold smoke in their lungs longer. While it was originally believed that marijuana smoke caused cancer new studies have proven otherwise, some even saying that the active ingredient in cannabis, THC, may be able to help prevent certain kinds of cancer (NIDA).

Nevertheless, the debate on medicinal marijuana has caused an increase in the amount of research regarding the drug, many of which have ended with surprising conclusions. In 15 different studies, varying from 3 months to 13+ years, scientists observed regular marijuana users and non-users to determine if there was any damage to the brain as a result of use. All of the studies conclusively proved that marijuana does not damage the brain permanently as previously believed. Other studies have produced similar results (WebMD).

Igor Grant, MD and lead researcher for the previously mentioned studies makes sure to mention that the participants were all adults and that the results would most likely be different if it was a 12 year old user, whose nervous system is still developing (WebMD).

In regards to addiction, ”Everything is relative,” said Dr. Donald Jasinksi, a professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins medical school and director of the Center for Chemical Dependence at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. ”Does it destroy as many lives as alcohol? No. Does it kill as many people as cigarettes? No. Does it have as many deaths associated with it as aspirin overdose? No. (Carroll).”

While studies have shown a percentage of marijuana users to suffer from addiction to the drug, it is a small percentage of the population and an argument can be, and has been, made that anything can be addictive based on the emotional attachment a person has to an activity. The withdrawal period is far less severe than that of alcohol and other drugs. The NIDA has found that the average withdrawal begins after 1 day of abstinence, peaks at 2-3, and subsides after a week or two (NIDA).

As far as physical health effects, respiratory problems appear to be the only one that both sides agree on, but advocates of marijuana contend moderate use of the drug is less severe than cigarette use as cigarette users tend to smoke multiple cigarettes a day. Furthermore, alternative means of marijuana consumption such as eating it or using a vaporizer lower the amount of carcinogens that enter the lungs. Even more surprising, studies conducted in Italy and Britain have found that THC might be useful in fighting off bacteria (Fountain).

With the amount of studies that have been conducted on marijuana since the 1950s, and the nature of their findings, it is shocking as to why a collective conclusion has not yet been reached in regards to the legality issue of the substance. Based on the above information and the criteria established earlier for determining whether a substance should be controlled or not, we will systematically explore the ethical validity of a law prohibiting the use, growth, and sale of marijuana.

First, we must define the telos or function of a law. Certainly, most will agree that the function of a law is to protect the majority of the population from a dangerous element of society. If that is the function of a law then we must examine the societal effects of the illegalization of marijuana versus the potential dangers.

As a result of the prohibition of marijuana, millions of Americans have been arrested and entered into the justice system, with 872,721 people being arrested in 2007, 89% for simple possession (NORML). The number is a 5.2% increase from 2006, with the annual number of marijuana arrests rising steadily on a yearly basis (NORML).

The majority of people arrested for marijuana are non-violent offenders with no previous criminal record. This means they pose no threat to society. So what is the law protecting the population from? Themselves? This seems to be the case since the law has damaged more lives through legal troubles than it protected since most marijuana users do not use the substance and go on crime sprees.

If the law’s function is meant to protect people from the health risks associated with the population then we must once again return to the studies conducted on the issue. While marijuana, like anything, has negative effects, it appears that overall it is no more dangerous than many legal substances such as alcohol, cigarettes, aspirin, etc. In the WebMD article, which talks about Igor Grant’s research regarding the effects of marijuana on the brain, Lester Grinspoon, MD, a retired Harvard Medical School psychiatrist who studied medicinal marijuana use since the 1960s and wrote two books on the topic, says that while Grant’s finding provide more evidence on its safety, “it’s nothing that those of us who have been studying this haven’t known for a very long time.”

“Marijuana is a remarkably safe and non-toxic drug that can effectively treat about 30 different conditions,” he tells WebMD. “I predict it will become the aspirin of the 21st century, as more people recognize this. (WebMD)”

While many credible minds in the scientific community warn about the dangers of marijuana use on people under the age of 18, the consensus seems to be that it is relatively safe to use for adults, especially when used in moderation.

If it poses little danger to a person’s health, brings joy to those who use it, and its users are not prone to criminal behavior, what is the function of a law prohibiting marijuana? If, as a law, it is to protect the population from an assumed danger, is it serving that function? The answers to those questions are for the reader to determine based on the evidence and analysis presented within this paper, in addition to any evidence found independently. Source.

Works Cited

Carroll, Linda. “Marijuana’s Effects: More Than Munchies.” New York Times 22 Jan. 2008.

“872,721 marijuana arrests in 2007, up 5.2% from 2006.” NORML. 15 Sept. 2008. NORML. 22 Oct. 2008 .

Fountain, Henry. “Marijuana Ingredient May Fight Bacteria.” New York Times 5 Sept. 2008: F3.

“Info Facts – Marijuana.” National Institute of Drug Abuse. June 2008. National Institute of Drug Abuse. 22 Oct. 2008.

Kirchheimer, Sid. “Heavy Marijuana Use Doesn’t Damage Brain.” WebMD. 1 July 2003. WebMD. 22 Oct. 2008 .

October 3, 2009 – Yesterday, on the Today show, Matt Lauer interviewed the editor of Marie Claire magazine and another paris-smoking-marijuana-1woman about the use of marijuana among female professionals. This interview was inspired by an article on the same subject in the current issue of Marie Claire entitled, “Stiletto Stoners.”

Neither the interview nor the story contained any serious “reefer madness” claims, as mainstream articles about marijuana use usually do. Rather, these were straightforward conversations about women who simply use marijuana at the end of the day to unwind and relax, either by themselves or with their friends or families.

Interestingly, there was a common theme running through all of the interviews in the article and on the Today show: these women not only enjoy using marijuana, but they consistently described it as a preferred alternative to alcohol. In a sense, they were saying, “Society accepts that people are going to have a drink — or many drinks — after work to unwind. I don’t want to do what society suggests I do. I find marijuana to be a more enjoyable and less detrimental alternative, and that it is why I use it instead.”

It is hard to overstate the importance of this burgeoning “Stiletto Stoner” movement. Of course, for decades there have been hard-working professionals who would hit a joint or a bong after work or on the weekend. Perhaps you knew people like this yourself, but considered them to be more of an exception to the rule. Or you thought they were hiding some “dirty little secret.” Maybe you had your own dirty little secret.

The zeitgeist-shifting aspect of this media coverage is not simply that these women are “coming out of the closet” — although that is great on its own; it is that they are uniformly asserting their desire to use marijuana instead of alcohol because of its relative benefits. One woman noted that she feels better the next morning when she uses marijuana instead of alcohol; another mentioned that marijuana is cheaper than alcohol.

You see, if we are going to change marijuana laws in this country, we need the public to see marijuana for what it is: a relatively benign intoxicant that millions of Americans use instead of alcohol for recreation and relaxation.

As things stand, despite the fact that marijuana is objectively less harmful than alcohol, we steer people toward alcohol instead. We do it through our laws, as well as through employment policies and professional licensing standards. The disincentives to using marijuana openly, in a manner similar to alcohol, are evident in the Marie Claire article itself. The women in that piece may have come out of the closet, but they did so using fake names. And the “stiletto stoner” interviewed on the Today show did so in the dark to conceal her identity.

It is time for people to stand up and defend the right of all Americans to use marijuana instead of alcohol, if that is what they prefer. That is the underlying motivation behind Marijuana is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?, a book I co-authored with Steve Fox of the Marijuana Policy Project and Paul Armentano of NORML. The book not only includes background information about marijuana and alcohol, but also includes talking points useful in convincing friends and family members that people should not be punished for making the safer choice.

Whether you are a stiletto stoner, briefcase bong-hitter, or sympathetic abstainer, it is time to bring this entire conversation out of the shadows. Thanks to Marie Claire and the Today show for getting this ball rolling. Now, let’s keep the momentum going.

Mason Tvert is the executive director of Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER) and the co-author of Marijuana is Safer: So why are we driving people to drink? (Chelsea Green, August 2009).

Source.

Aug 28, 2009 | LISBON – The evidence from Portugal since 2001 is that decriminalisation of drug use and possession has benefits and no harmful side-effects.greenwald_whitepaper

IN 2001 newspapers around the world carried graphic reports of addicts injecting heroin in the grimy streets of a Lisbon slum. The place was dubbed Europe’s “most shameful neighborhood” and its “worst drugs ghetto”. The Times helpfully managed to find a young British backpacker sprawled comatose on a corner. This lurid coverage was prompted by a government decision to decriminalise the personal use and possession of all drugs, including heroin and cocaine. The police were told not to arrest anyone found taking any kind of drug.

This “ultraliberal legislation”, said the foreign media, had set alarm bells ringing across Europe. The Portuguese were said to be fearful that holiday resorts would become dumping-grounds for drug tourists. Some conservative politicians denounced the decriminalisation as “pure lunacy”. Plane-loads of foreign students would head for the Algarve to smoke marijuana, predicted Paulo Portas, leader of the People’s Party. Portugal, he said, was offering “sun, beaches and any drug you like.”

Yet after all the furor, the drug law was largely forgotten by the international and Portuguese press—until earlier this year, when the Cato Institute, a libertarian American think-tank, published a study of the new policy by a lawyer, Glenn Greenwald.* In contrast to the dire consequences that critics predicted, he concluded that “none of the nightmare scenarios” initially painted, “from rampant increases in drug usage among the young to the transformation of Lisbon into a haven for ‘drug tourists’, has occurred.”

Mr Greenwald claims that the data show that “decriminalisation has had no adverse effect on drug usage rates in Portugal”, which “in numerous categories are now among the lowest in the European Union”. This came after some rises in the 1990s, before decriminalisation. The figures reveal little evidence of drug tourism: 95% of those cited for drug misdemeanours since 2001 have been Portuguese. The level of drug trafficking, measured by numbers convicted, has also declined. And the incidence of other drug-related problems, including sexually transmitted diseases and deaths from drug overdoses, has “decreased dramatically”.

There are widespread misconceptions about the Portuguese approach. “It is important not to confuse decriminalisation with depenalisation or legalisation,” comments Brendan Hughes of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, which is, coincidentally, based in Lisbon. “Drug use remains illegal in Portugal, and anyone in possession will be stopped by the police, have the drugs confiscated and be sent before a commission.”

Nor is it uncommon in Europe to make drug use an administrative offence rather than a criminal one (putting it in the same category as not wearing a seat belt, say). What is unique, according to Mr Hughes, is that offenders in Portugal are sent to specialist “dissuasion commissions” run by the government, rather than into the judicial system. “In Portugal,” he says, “the health aspect [of the government’s response to drugs] has gone mainstream.”

The aim of the dissuasion commissions, which are made up of panels of two or three psychiatrists, social workers and legal advisers, is to encourage addicts to undergo treatment and to stop recreational users falling into addiction. They have the power to impose community work and even fines, but punishment is not their main aim. The police turn some 7,500 people a year over to the commissions. But nobody carrying anything considered to be less than a ten-day personal supply of drugs can be arrested, sentenced to jail or given a criminal record.

Officials believe that, by lifting fears of prosecution, the policy has encouraged addicts to seek treatment. This bears out their view that criminal sanctions are not the best answer. “Before decriminalisation, addicts were afraid to seek treatment because they feared they would be denounced to the police and arrested,” says Manuel Cardoso, deputy director of the Institute for Drugs and Drug Addiction, Portugal’s main drugs-prevention and drugs-policy agency. “Now they know they will be treated as patients with a problem and not stigmatised as criminals.”

The number of addicts registered in drug-substitution programmes has risen from 6,000 in 1999 to over 24,000 in 2008, reflecting a big rise in treatment (but not in drug use). Between 2001 and 2007 the number of Portuguese who say they have taken heroin at least once in their lives increased from just 1% to 1.1%. For most other drugs, the figures have fallen: Portugal has one of Europe’s lowest lifetime usage rates for cannabis. And most notably, heroin and other drug abuse has decreased among vulnerable younger age-groups, according to Mr Cardoso.

The share of heroin users who inject the drug has also fallen, from 45% before decriminalisation to 17% now, he says, because the new law has facilitated treatment and harm-reduction programmes. Drug addicts now account for only 20% of Portugal’s HIV cases, down from 56% before. “We no longer have to work under the paradox that exists in many countries of providing support and medical care to people the law considers criminals.”

“Proving a causal link between Portugal’s decriminalisation measures and any changes in drug-use patterns is virtually impossible in scientific terms,” concludes Mr Hughes. “But anyone looking at the statistics can see that drug consumption in 2001 was relatively low in European terms, and that it remains so. The apocalypse hasn’t happened.” Source.

July 21, 2009 – IT was as if she woke up one day and decades of her life had disappeared.

Joyce, 52 and a writer in Manhattan, started smoking pot when she was 15, and for 19pot395.1years it was a pleasant escape, a calming protective cloud. Then it became an obsession, something she needed to get through the day. She found herself hiding her addiction from her family, friends and co-workers.

“I would come home from work, close my door, have my bong, my food, my music and my dog, and I wouldn’t see another person until I went to work the next day,” said Joyce, who like most others in this article asked that her full name not be published, because she does not want people to know about her past drug use.

“What kind of life is that? I did that for 20 years.”

She tried to stop, but was anxious, irritable, sleepless and lost. At one point, to soothe her cravings, she took morphine that she found at her dying father’s bedside. She almost overdosed.

Two years ago, she checked into the Caron Foundation, a treatment center in Wernersville, Pa. Even there, she said, some other addicts — cocaine and heroin users or alcoholics — downplayed her dependence on marijuana.

“The reality is, I was as sick as them,” said Joyce, who recently married.

Smoking pot, she said, “was a slow form of suicide.”

Marijuana, the country’s most widely used illicit drug, is typically not thought to destroy lives. Like alcohol, pot has been romanticized by writers and musicians, from Louis Armstrong to Bob Dylan, and it has been depicted as harmless or silly in movies like “Harold and Kumar.” And addiction experts agree, marijuana does not pose as serious a public health problem as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine. The drug cannot lead to fatal overdose and its hazards pale in comparison with those of alcohol. But at the same time, marijuana can be up to five times more potent than the cannabis of the 1970s, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

And this new more-potent pot and the growing support for legalization has led to an often angry debate over marijuana addiction. Many public health officials worry that this stronger marijuana has increased addiction rates and is potentially more dangerous to teenagers, whose brains are still developing. And officials say the movement to legalize marijuana — now available by prescription in 13 states — plays down the dangers of habitual use.

“We need to be very mindful of what we are unleashing out of a Pandora’s Box here,” said Dr. Richard N. Rosenthal, chairman of psychiatry at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan and professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University. “The people who become chronic users don’t have the same lives and the same achievements as people who don’t use chronically.”

More adults are now admitted to treatment centers for primary marijuana and hashish addictions than for primary addictions to heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, according to the latest government data, a 2007 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Even though alcohol and opiates (which includes painkillers and heroin) are the two leading primary addictions, the percentage of those seeking treatment for marijuana addiction, compared with 10 years ago, has increased significantly to 16 percent in 2007 from 12 percent in 1997. The percentages of those seeking treatment for cocaine (13 percent of admissions in 2007) and alcohol addiction (22 percent in 2007) declined slightly.

Advocates for legalizing marijuana and some addiction specialists say these concerns are overwrought. The admissions data, they say, is deceiving because it was collected by government agencies that oppose legalization; 57 percent of those admitted for marijuana addiction treatment were ordered to do so by law enforcement. (The percentage of those ordered into treatment was lower for other drugs, except for methamphetamine. For alcohol abuse, 42 percent were ordered into treatment.)

Advocates and even some addiction specialists say cannabis is an effective treatment for medical and emotional problems, and can even help some battling addictions to harder drugs.

The risk of addiction, they say, is less problematic than for alcohol and other drugs. For instance, of the people who had used marijuana, only 9 percent became addicted, according to a 1999 study by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, a nonprofit research organization on science and health. Of those who drank alcohol, 15 percent became addicted. For cocaine, the figure was 17 percent, and heroin, 23 percent. (These are the latest figures from the institute; advocates and addiction experts said there were no more recent data available.)

“The word addiction is so fungible in our society, and cannabis just doesn’t fit that tidy definition, though it can be abused,” said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, a legalization advocacy group. “Science really has proven, if anything, that cannabis is likely one of the safest substances we can interact with.”

Many people can smoke marijuana every day without ill effects, advocates say, just as many casually drink wine in the evening.

These marijuana users do not meet the clinical definition of addiction, which includes an inability to stop using the drug, an uncontrollable obsession with it and increased tolerance. Javier V., a 24-year-old supervisor in an industrial park in Miami, said he has smoked pot regularly, without a problem, since he was 14. “After a busy day at work,” he said, “I come home, roll up a J and — I mean, it’s stress relief.”

Then there are people like Milo, 60, who recently attended his first Marijuana Anonymous meeting in Los Angeles. He said he started smoking pot at 13, and has struggled to quit.

He is also an alcoholic, he said, but has not had a drink since the early 1980s.

“I’m a pothead, a marijuana addict, a stoner, we call ourselves a million things,” he said. He is trying to quit, he said, because his girlfriend is threatening to leave him. Besides, the drug no longer alleviates his depression and anxiety.

“I’m losing things and people,” Milo said after the meeting. “I’m estranged from my children. I’ve lost two houses, and I’m living in my R.V., basically homeless.”

He added, “There are a whole lot of pieces, and I can’t get them together.”

Many addiction experts would say marijuana abuse has, at the very least, added to Milo’s problems. And the drug’s new potency has made the likelihood of addiction that much greater, public health officials say.

“It’s like drinking beer versus drinking whiskey,” said Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a government agency and a strong opponent of legalizing marijuana. “If you only have access to whiskey, your risk is going to be higher for addiction. Now that people have access to very high potency marijuana, the game is different.”

A 2004 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggested that the stronger cannabis is contributing to higher addiction rates. The study, conducted for the National Institute on Drug Abuse, compared marijuana use in 2001 and 2002 with use a decade earlier.

While the percent of the population using the drug remained stable during that time, dependence or abuse on the drug increased significantly, particularly among black and Hispanic men. Higher concentrations of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, known as THC, the study said, was the likely reason for the growing dependency.

Dr. Volkow, who spearheaded federal research into treatment for marijuana withdrawal, had studied cocaine in the 1970s and early 1980s. Back then, she said, she was unsuccessful in winning grants to study cocaine addiction.

“People thought cocaine was a very benign drug,” she said.

Government statistics show the number of emergency room visits linked to the use of marijuana, which can lead to psychotic episodes and was cited in other medical emergencies, has risen significantly.

With marijuana, “it’s going to take some real fatalities for people to pay attention,” Dr. Volkow said. “Unfortunately that’s the way it goes.”

Only after the basketball player Len Bias died of a cocaine overdose in 1986, and the crack epidemic began, did the government start a campaign to warn of cocaine’s dangers.

Like any addiction, quitting pot can be daunting. Jonathan R. has been a member of Marijuana Anonymous in Los Angeles since the early ’90s, shortly after the 12-step program was founded. He has seen many members in meetings say they would rip up their medical marijuana cards, available in California and used to fill prescriptions for problems ranging from severe pain and discomfort from cancer, to headaches and insomnia.

But then, inevitably, he said, they secure another one, much like “an alcoholic who pours booze down the drain and then goes out to get another bottle.”

The difficulty in quitting has spurred psychologists and psychiatrists to debate whether “Cannabis Withdrawal Syndrome” should be in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Yet, marijuana withdrawal is not nearly as severe as withdrawal from most other drugs. Giving up drinking can cause fatal seizures. Heroin users vomit and sweat for days; sudden withdrawal can be fatal.

In fact, some doctors specializing in treating addicts would rather prescribe marijuana for anxiety and insomnia than sleeping pills or Valium and Xanax, which are highly addictive.

“I see people every day dying from alcohol, stimulants and opiates,” said Dr. Matthew A. Torrington, an addiction specialist and clinical researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Marijuana may be an up and comer, it may be transforming into something that will become a bigger problem in the future, but at the moment I don’t see that.”

Still, even one of Dr. Torrington’s patients, Jonathan James, has concerns about his own marijuana use. Mr. James, 50, a former choreographer, has been a regular pot smoker for 35 years.

He said smoking marijuana helped inspire some of his most original ideas. But Mr. James is afraid to stop smoking, even after kicking heroin and cocaine. When he stopped the harder drugs, he stayed off pot for six months. When he started again, he planned to smoke only a few times a week.

After a month or so, “I started smoking it more,” he said. “Two months later, I was smoking it in the morning, and four months later I was smoking all day.”

He said he would be more successful without pot.

“It keeps me back — from engaging in the dreams and aspirations I have,” he said. “I would like to feel I don’t need to take anything to feel better.”

Source.

Correction: July 21, 2009

A previous version of the article incorrectly stated that Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are also open to drug addicts.

Picture 66July 13, 2009 – Subpoenas have gone out, the DEA has been brought in, and every doctor who has ever come within a prescription pad of Michael Jackson can probably expect a phone call soon.

But even absent the results of the inquiries and toxicological reports, it seems obvious that prescription drugs played a role in the pop star’s sudden death.

In fact, what we already know about Jackson’s reliance on sedatives and painkillers is enough to prompt the kind of public discussion we have sidestepped too many times before — when Anna Nicole Smith died from “combined drug intoxication” two years ago after mixing sleeping pills and sedatives; or when Heath Ledger was found dead last year with six different legal medications for pain, anxiety and insomnia in his blood.

Instead of simply dismissing them as celebrity drug addicts or pitiable tragedies, it’s time we take a look at our own lives — and the contents of our medicine cabinets.

::

It’s no secret that the use of pharmaceutical drugs is on the rise. Prescriptions for painkillers climbed from 40 million to 180 million in the last 15 years. More than 56 million prescriptions were written for sleeping medications in 2008, up 54% since 2004. And 7 million Americans admit to “non-medical” use of drugs prescribed for pain or mental disorders.

Even the nation’s new drug czar Gil Kerlikowske has called Jackson’s death “a wake-up call.” More Americans die from overdoses of legal drugs each year than from gunshot wounds, he told CNN on Thursday.

It’s a complicated problem. There is no bright line separating use from misuse. And a constellation of circumstances is nudging us toward chemical solutions to the struggles of everyday living.

An ever-expanding list of mental illnesses means almost anyone can be diagnosed with a treatable malady. Pharmaceutical ads — with butterflies flitting through bedroom windows and happy, prosperous families — promise pills that can make you happier or more social; help you stop hurting and get to sleep. And doctors have been pressed by patients, plied by drug reps and squeezed by insurance companies until a 10-minute visit gets you a refillable prescription.

Yet pharmaceutical advances have allowed schizophrenics to hold down jobs, insomniacs to get a good night’s sleep, and people with depression to go about their lives.

Substance abuse recovery programs have long relied on a simple nostrum: You’re an addict if “your life has become unmanageable due to drugs or alcohol.”

But what if your life is only manageable because you’re taking drugs? How do you recognize addiction then?

I took my questions to Vickie Mays, a nurse and professor of psychology at UCLA.

“We think about addiction as ‘Your life is out of control,’ ” Mays said. “But it’s the medication that gives you a sense of control when you’ve got so many balls in the air . . . with so many demands from the job, the kids.”

Sounds a lot like the lives that us non-rock stars live.

“It’s the demands on us that are out of control,” Mays said. “You yearn for just a little bit of peacefulness, a way to try to shut things off. . . . It’s the normal, average, very busy, high-achieving person” who is most vulnerable to reliance on prescription drugs.

We’re not trying to get high, just trying to get some sleep, blunt the pain from that old sports injury, keep from screaming at the kids.

But pill-popping can move almost imperceptibly, she said, from habit to ritual to need.

“When there’s no other way in your mind to relieve the pain, and you start taking it more frequently and in higher doses. . . . When it’s become too automatic. You can’t sleep and you don’t wait; you just reach over for the bottle on your bedside table.

“It’s a slippery slope,” she said. But that’s when you ought to ask, “Am I becoming an addict?”

::

Her answer gave me pause this week, when I tossed and turned through a sleepless night.

I rolled over and reached for the bottle of pills my doctor prescribed last year, when chest pains that sent me to UCLA’s emergency room turned out to be anxiety, not a heart attack.

Is this, I wondered, how Michael Jackson’s problems with drugs began?

A pain pill when your hair catches fire and you end up mainlining Demerol? A tranquilizer when you’re stressed out by the paparazzi and soon you’re throwing back 10 Xanax pills at a time?

OK . . . so those were middle-of-the-night thoughts. But I can’t blame Jackson for wanting a break from the cacophony in his head; relief for a 50-year-old body, called on to perform for hours every day onstage.

His manner of death was a tragedy with implications for all of us.

Have I started down the slippery slope if I have refilled that year-old prescription twice? If I can tell you exactly how many of those pills I have left?

Or was I wise not to take the sedative that night, even though I stumbled through work the next day? Instead I watched the sun come up, with “Man in the Mirror” playing in my head.

By Sandy Banks. Source.

July 6, 2009 – Have you ever looked at our marijuana policy? I mean, really looked at it?

WHEN WE THINK of the drug war, it’s the heavy-duty narcotics like Decrim-300x250.300wide.250highheroin and cocaine that get most of the attention. And why not? That’s where the action is. It’s not marijuana that is sustaining the Taliban in Afghanistan, after all. When Crips and Bloods descend into gun battles in the streets of Los Angeles, they’re not usually fighting over pot. The junkie who breaks into your house and steals your Blu-ray player isn’t doing it so he can score a couple of spliffs.

No, the marijuana trade is more genteel than that. At least, I used to think it was. Then, like a lot of people, I started reading about the open warfare that has erupted among the narcotraffickers in Mexico and is now spilling across the American border. Stories of drugs coming north and arsenals of guns going south. Thousands of people brutally murdered. Entire towns terrorized. And this was a war not just over cocaine and meth, but marijuana as well.

And I began to wonder: Maybe the war against pot is about to get a lot uglier. After all, in the 1920s, Prohibition gave us Al Capone and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, and that was over plain old whiskey and rum. Are we about to start paying the same price for marijuana?

If so, it might eventually start to affect me, too. Indirectly, sure, but that’s more than it ever has before. I’ve never smoked a joint in my life. I’ve only seen one once, and that was 30 years ago. I barely drink, I don’t smoke, and I don’t like coffee. When it comes to mood altering substances, I live the life of a monk. I never really cared much if marijuana was legal or not.

But if a war is breaking out over the stuff, I figured maybe I should start looking at the evidence on whether marijuana prohibition is worth it. Not the spin from the drug czar at one end or the hemp hucksters at the other. Just the facts, as best as I could figure them out. So I did. Here’s what I found.

In 1972, the report of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse urged that possession of marijuana for personal use be decriminalized. A small wave of states followed this recommendation, but most refused; in Washington, President Carter called for eliminating penalties for small-time possession, but Congress stonewalled. And that’s the way things have stayed since the late ’70s. Some states have decriminalized, most haven’t, and possession is still a criminal offense under federal law. So how has that worked out?

I won’t give away the ending just yet, but one thing to know is this: On virtually every subject related to cannabis (an inclusive term that refers to both the sativa and indica varieties of the marijuana plant, as well as hashish, bhang, and other derivatives), the evidence is ambiguous. Sometimes even mysterious. So let’s start with the obvious question.

DOES DECRIMINALIZING CANNABIS HAVE ANY EFFECT AT ALL? It’s remarkably hard to tell—in part because drug use is faddish. Cannabis use among teens in the United States, for example, went down sharply in the ’80s, bounced back in the early ’90s, and has declined moderately since. Nobody really knows why.

We do, however, have studies that compare rates of cannabis use in states that have decriminalized vs. states that haven’t. And the somewhat surprising conclusion, in the words of Robert MacCoun, a professor of law and public policy at the University of California-Berkeley, is simple: “Most of the evidence suggests that decriminalization has no effect.”

But decriminalization is not legalization. In places that have decriminalized, simple possession is still illegal; it’s just treated as an administrative offense, like a traffic ticket. And production and distribution remain felonies. What would happen if cannabis use were fully legalized?

No country has ever done this, so we don’t know. The closest example is the Netherlands, where possession and sale of small amounts of marijuana is de facto legal in the famous coffeehouses. MacCoun and a colleague, Peter Reuter of the University of Maryland, have studied the Dutch experience and concluded that while legalization at first had little effect, once the coffeehouses began advertising and promoting themselves more aggressively in the 1980s, cannabis use more than doubled in a decade. Then again, cannabis use in Europe has gone up and down in waves, and some of the Dutch increase (as well as a later decrease, which followed a tightening of the coffeehouse laws in the mid-’90s) may have simply been part of those larger waves.

The most likely conclusion from the overall data is that if you fully legalized cannabis, use would almost certainly go up, but probably not enormously. MacCoun guesses that it might rise by half—say, from around 15 percent of the population to a little more than 20 percent. “It’s not going to triple,” he says. “Most people who want to use marijuana are already finding a way to use marijuana.”

Still, there would be a cost. For one thing, a much higher increase isn’t out of the question if companies like Philip Morris or R.J. Reynolds set their finest minds on the promotion of dope. And much of the increase would likely come among the heaviest users. “One person smoking eight joints a day is worth more to the industry than fifty people each smoking a joint a week,” says Mark Kleiman, a drug policy expert at UCLA. “If the cannabis industry were to expand greatly, it couldn’t do so by increasing the number of casual users. It would have to create and maintain more chronic zonkers.” And that’s a problem. Chronic use can lead to dependence and even long-term cognitive impairment. Heavy cannabis users are more likely to be in auto accidents. There have been scattered reports of respiratory and fetal development problems. Still, sensible regulation can limit the commercialization of pot, and compared to other illicit drugs (and alcohol), its health effects are fairly mild. Even a 50 percent increase in cannabis use might be a net benefit if it led to lower rates of use of other drugs.

SO WOULD PEOPLE JUST SMOKE MORE AND DRINK LESS? Maybe. The generic term for this effect in the economics literature is “substitute goods,” and it simply means that some things replace other things. If the total demand for transportation is generally steady, an increase in sales of SUVs will lead to a decrease in the sales of sedans. Likewise, if the total demand for intoxicants is steady, an increase in the use of one drug should lead to a decrease in others.

Several years ago, John DiNardo, an economist now at the University of Michigan, found a clever way to test this via a natural experiment. Back in the 1980s, the Reagan administration pushed states to raise the drinking age to 21. Some states did this early in the decade, some later, and this gave DiNardo the idea of comparing data from the various states to see if the Reagan policy worked.

He found that raising the drinking age did lead to lower alcohol consumption; the effect was modest but real. But then DiNardo hit on another analysis—comparing cannabis use in states that raised the drinking age early with those that did it later. And he found that indeed, there seemed to be a substitution effect. On average, among high school seniors, a 4.5 percent decrease in drinking produced a 2.4 percent increase in getting high.

But what we really want to know is whether the effect works in the other direction: Would increased marijuana use lead to less drinking? “What goes up should go down,” DiNardo told me cheerfully, but he admits that in the absence of empirical evidence this hypothesis depends on your faith in basic economic models.

Some other studies are less encouraging than DiNardo’s, but even if the substitute goods effect is smaller than his research suggests—if, say, a 30 percent increase in cannabis use led to a 5 or 10 percent drop in drinking—it would still be a strong argument in favor of legalization. After all, excessive drinking causes nearly 80,000 deaths per year in the United States, compared to virtually none for pot. Trading alcohol consumption for cannabis use might be a pretty attractive deal.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE GATEWAY EFFECT? This has been a perennial bogeyman of the drug warriors. Kids who use pot, the TV ads tell us, will graduate to ecstasy, then coke, then meth, and then—who knows? Maybe even talk radio.

Is there anything to this? There are two plausible pathways for the gateway theory. The first is that drug use of any kind creates an affinity for increasingly intense narcotic experiences. The second is that when cannabis is illegal, the only place to get it is from dealers who also sell other stuff.

The evidence for the first pathway is mixed. Research in New Zealand, for example, suggests that regular cannabis use is correlated with higher rates of other illicit drug use, especially in teenagers. A Norwegian study comes to similar conclusions, but only for a small segment of “troubled” teenagers. Other research, however, suggests that these correlations aren’t caused by gateway effects at all, but by the simple fact that kids who like drugs do drugs. All kinds of drugs.

The second pathway was deliberately targeted by the Dutch when they began their coffeehouse experiment in the ’70s in part to sever the connection of cannabis with the illicit drug market. The evidence suggests that it worked: Even with cannabis freely available, Dutch cannabis use is currently about average among developed countries and use of other illicit drugs is about average, too. Easy access to marijuana, outside the dealer network for harder drugs, doesn’t seem to have led to greater use of cocaine or heroin.

So, to recap: Decriminalization of simple possession appears to have little effect on cannabis consumption. Full legalization would likely increase use only moderately as long as heavy commercialization is prohibited, although the effect on chronic users might be more substantial. It would increase heroin and cocaine use only slightly if at all, and it might decrease alcohol consumption by a small amount. Which leads to the question:

CAN WE STILL AFFORD PROHIBITION? The consequences of legalization, after all, must be compared to the cost of the status quo. Unsurprisingly, this too is hard to quantify. The worst effects of the drug war, including property crime and gang warfare, are mostly associated with cocaine, heroin, and meth. Likewise, most drug-law enforcement is aimed at harder drugs, not cannabis; contrary to conventional wisdom, only about 44,000 people are currently serving prison time on cannabis charges—and most of those are there for dealing and distribution, not possession.

Still, the University of Maryland’s Reuter points out that about 800,000 people are arrested for cannabis possession every year in the United States. And even though very few end up being sentenced to prison, a study of three counties in Maryland following a recent marijuana crackdown suggests that a third spend at least one pretrial night in jail and a sixth spend more than ten days. That takes a substantial human toll. Overall, Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron estimates the cost of cannabis prohibition in the United States at $13 billion annually and the lost tax revenue at nearly $7 billion.

SO WHAT ARE THE ODDS OF LEGALIZATION? Slim. For starters, the United States, along with virtually every other country in the world, is a signatory to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (and its 1988 successor), which flatly prohibits legalization of cannabis. The only way around this is to unilaterally withdraw from the treaties or to withdraw and then reenter with reservations. That’s not going to happen.

At the federal level, there’s virtually no appetite for legalizing cannabis either. Though public opinion has made steady strides, increasing from around 20 percent favoring marijuana legalization in the Reagan era to nearly 40 percent favoring it today, the only policy change in Washington has been Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement in March that the Obama administration planned to end raids on distributors of medical marijuana. (Applications for pot dispensaries promptly surged in Los Angeles County.)

The real action in cannabis legalization is at the state level. More than a dozen states now have effective medical marijuana laws, most notably California. Medical marijuana dispensaries are dotted all over the state, and it’s common knowledge that the “medical” part is in many cases a thin fiction. Like the Dutch coffeehouses, California’s dispensaries are now a de facto legal distribution network that severs the link between cannabis and other illicit drugs for a significant number of adults (albeit still only a fraction of total users). And the result? Nothing. “We’ve had this experiment for a decade and the sky hasn’t fallen,” says Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano has even introduced a bill that would legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana; it has gained the endorsement of the head of the state’s tax collection agency, which informally estimates it could collect $1.3 billion a year from cannabis sales. Still, the legislation hasn’t found a single cosponsor, and isn’t scheduled for so much as a hearing.

Which is too bad. Going into this assignment, I didn’t care much personally about cannabis legalization. I just had a vague sense that if other people wanted to do it, why not let them? But the evidence suggests pretty clearly that we ought to significantly soften our laws on marijuana. Too many lives have been ruined and too much money spent for a social benefit that, if not zero, certainly isn’t very high.

And it may actually happen. If attitudes continue to soften; if the Obama administration turns down the volume on anti-pot propaganda; if medical dispensaries avoid heavy commercialization; if drug use remains stable; and if emergency rooms don’t start filling up with drug-related traumas while all this is happening, California’s experience could go a long way toward destigmatizing cannabis use. That’s a lot of ifs.

Still, things are changing. Even GOP icon Arnold Schwarzenegger now says, “I think it’s time for a debate.” That doesn’t mean he’s in favor of legalizing pot right this minute, but it might mean we’re getting close to a tipping point. Ten years from now, as the flower power generation enters its 70s, you might finally be able to smoke a fully legal, taxed, and regulated joint. By Kevin Drum. Source.