Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Perplexity of Achieving Balance

"The line that we have drawn between legal and illegal drugs has everything to do with history, politics and culture, and almost nothing to do with public health."
"For most people and in most circumstances, alcohol is a drug that is much more destructive to health than cannabis."
Neil Boyd, director, Simon Fraser University, school of criminology

"Renewed efforts to reduce the prevalence and harms of alcohol abuse could alleviate burdens on our enforcement, justice, health and social care systems."
The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse

"Given its overall emphasis on youth substance abuse, prevention, the National Anti-Drug Strategy also provides a mechanism by which the Government of Canada can address alcohol abuse among the country's young people, ensuring they have the best opportunity to enjoy positive economic, social and health outcomes in later life."
Health Canada

 Since legalizing the recreational use of marijuana in Colorado, the state has tried to warn youth about the potential negative consequences of marijuana. (Brennan Linsley/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Canadian teens are among the world's top users of cannabis, viewing it as a 'natural' substance with no downside to its use. Hardly surprising, since it is being increasingly touted as a medicinal, and even the federal government through Health Canada has recognized its helpful ameliorative effects for some people suffering from chronic diseases, finding pain relief with its use. The resulting authorization for its use through medical license has given it an aura of respectability.

Teens who smoke pot regularly, however, are at higher risk for future cognitive problems, motor-vehicle accidents and substance abuse. Research shows that marijuana is at the very least just as harmful as alcohol to the developing brain. Scientists say that the belief that pot is non-addictive is pure myth. Over five percent of Canadian youth from age 15 to 24 meet the criteria for abuse or dependence on cannabis, revealed through data collected from the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey.

In addition to which, according to Dr. Bernard LeFoll, a drug-addiction researcher and clinician at the Centre for Addiction and  Mental Health in Toronto, "cannabis use and driving is highly prevalent in youth -- way more prevalent now than drinking alcohol and driving." Many scientists believe that marijuana may have permanent effects on brain development, known to impact on normal brain functioning in teens.

Not the most dangerous of drugs, "it has a lot of harmful effects", cautions Dr. Harold Kalant, professor of pharmacology at the University of Toronto. He has quite a bit of research under his academic belt relating to alcohol and cannabis, dating back to 1959. Cannabis-rat studies conducted by Dr. Kalant in the 1980s were telling; even after years without marijuana exposure, rats given marijuana in adolescence demonstrated residual mental deficits in learning and memory persisting into adulthood.

Dr. Kalant pointed out that cannabis receptors in the brains of humans and rodents work "in very similar ways". Based on these research results and many others, along with recommendations from scientists working in the field, the Government of Canada has continued to wage an aggressive campaign against illicit drug use. Now, the federally funded Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse is urging the government to include alcohol in its $570-million National Anti-Drug Strategy launched in 2006.

The Centre on Substance Abuse has called on the government to commit to a study of the health implications of decriminalization or legalization of pot, arguing alcohol is the cause of more harm than drugs in Canada. More deaths than from lung cancer are caused by alcohol consumption, they point out, and responsible as well for more hospital stays than all other substances combined.

Alcohol consumption, they point out, is linked to spousal abuse and fatal motor vehicle crashes. The cost of alcohol-related offences, according to a 2002 study on crime, was $3.1-billion as opposed to $2.3-billion for drug offences. Good arguments, all, but with no easy solution. Alcohol prohibition has never worked, and that is a reality. The complex taxation of alcohol and public education has helped, but people consider alcohol a social relaxant, its denial highly sensitive.

Since 2007 the federal government has allocated $570-million on its multi-pronged strategy involving numerous government departments, from Justice to Foreign Affairs, to Health Canada.
Some of the related programs that fall under the auspices of those departments drawing funding from the anti-drug program focus on drug-related foreign financial intelligence, forensic accounting, tax compliance, border patrols, drug prosecution, drug treatment, and health promotion and education efforts particularly targeting youth.

All focuses that any government should be concerned with in an effort to erect a framework for general population, and youth-drug prevention and support.

A protester lights a joint during a 4-20 marijuana rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, April 20, 2012. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
Needless to say, the movement within Canada, supported by the Liberal Party of Canada, is for the liberalization of marijuana, and its decriminalization. Which might make good sense if the result would be fewer Canadians being punished for light use of marijuana and its possession, but verging into the problematical as long as medical science points out its potential harmful effects to youth, those most likely to use it.

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