Know the World Before You Give Yourself to It
About the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking of Drugs and the growing debate over the legalization of the most widely used illicit drug in the world, Granma spoke with the renowned professor Dr. Ricardo A. Gonzalez Menendez, consultant of the service for comprehensive care of addictions at the Havana Psychiatric Hospital and Chairman of the National Medical Ethics Committee.
Author: Lisandra Fariñas Acosta | firstname.lastname@example.org
June 25, 2015 23:06:32
A CubaNews translation.
Edited by Walter Lippmann.
For more than 6000 years, the world has known Cannabis sativa and the history of human consumption dates back some 5500 years. Of Asian origin, Cannabis Indicus –its common name- was used for centuries as a textile fiber and its seeds as bird feed. It is marijuana, whose effects were initially considered scarcely dangerous and therapeutically useful, which placed it in the frontline of medications thousands of years ago, but which today are recognized as catastrophic.
It seems paradoxical that in the 21st Century, “the debate over this plant and its effects resembles that of 2000 years ago, the date of Proverbs that clearly indicate divided opinions. For some, marijuana was a passport to paradise, while for others it was a plant that grew along the road to hell. It is extremely worrying that we are now at the same point, when marijuana is a hard drug which is included, along with alcohol and other substances, among the first psychoactive substances capable of significantly transforming human behavior.”
Marijuana is a hard drug which is included, together with alcohol and others, among the first psychoactive substances capable of significantly transforming human behavior.”
This reflection was given to Granma by Dr. Ricardo A. Gonzalez Menendez, consultant of the service for comprehensive care of addictions at Havana Psychiatric Hospital and Chair of the National Medical Ethics Committee when commenting on the current trend around “the ghost” of legalizing marijuana, the most widely-used illegal drug in the whole world.
With over 30 years experience in the treatment and detoxification of addicts, the professor said it was urgent to destroy myths with facts that are established science. There is enough up to date scientific information on the outbreak of schizophrenia, cognitive impairment, carcinogenicity and sudden violence caused by marijuana consumption.
“One argument that has contributed to the legalizing trend is the therapeutic properties attributed to the plant. The list of positive effects range from the attenuation of nausea and vomiting associated with cytostatic serums in cancer patients receiving chemotherapy, references to some decrease in seizure frequency and the intraocular pressure in glaucoma cases, up to analgesic effects and appetite control as well as tranquilizing action, despite being one of the drugs most associated with symptoms of acute anxiety or panic,” said the expert.
Although the macroeconomic and social impact of organized crime is indisputable, proponents of legalization, cannot, by their professional profile, assess the impact at home, work and community of the cerebral effects of this drug that blocks the rational brain and releases the more primitive structures and functions”
Precisely –he said– what happens is that for all these cases there are specific and more effective medications with the huge advantage of being much safer when applying the ethical principle of risk-benefit. “Marijuana, like tobacco, alcohol and all the hard drugs are not isolated and purified active principles, but mixtures of hundreds of chemicals with different effects, often opposite and usually harmful. From this, it follows that the use of the drug as medicine would require a pharmacological high-tech process to demonstrate, separate and produce adequate presentations for consumption, dosage and control of both positive and adverse effects. The final product would be tablets, vials or eye drops and not the absolutely anti-medical way that has been proposed for its use, which is the traditional form of illegal consumption simply growing and smoking marijuana either in the form of leaves, flowers and stems, as resin (hashish) or oil obtained through the same procedures as those used by narco producers and drug traffickers.”
The interviewee said that many honestly think that legalizing this drug is a solution –among them people with high human qualities, but with limited knowledge of the neuro-psycho-physical pathology and the personal, home and community impact of behavior modifying drugs, as well as the micro-paradigms of risk-benefit and accessibility–consumption implicit in such a measure. “They do not know the true face of drugs. Few have been able to interview a patient who feels enslaved wanting to stop using and being powerless, nor a desperate mother who has gone out with a gun to kill the seller who supplied his son, and who is a codependent, almost passive consumer hurt by the addict’s suffering.”
There is enough up-to-date scientific information on the outbreak of schizophrenia, cognitive impairment, carcinogenicity and sudden violence caused by marijuana consumption.”
For Dr. González Menéndez, the contradiction between these two tendencies is not based on lack of human values or the dubious ethics of the proponents, but in lack of knowledge. “Although the macro-economic and social impact of organized crime is indisputable, proponents of legalization cannot by their professional profile, assess the impact at home, work and community of the cerebral effects of this drug, that blocks the rational brain and frees the most primitive structures and functions. It is also naive to expect a reduction of consumption by eliminating the ”attraction of the forbidden” he remarked.
“Consuming marijuana before age 18 reduces up to 10 IQ points, and that is irreversible”
If marijuana is an illegal drug (like many others) it is not by chance but because the extensive damage it causes has been established. “The myth that it is a soft drug without determinant effects of addiction and dependency must be destroyed. Far from it, the percentage of consumers who become addicted and dependent, the little time it takes for that slavery to settle in and the great risks to determine symptoms of irreversible intellectual impairment, treatment-resistant schizophrenia, cannibalistic behaviors and cancer manifestations make marijuana quite hard and destructive drug which can by no means be underestimated. It produces moderate dementia with memory and learning difficulties in adolescents, especially those who began to consume early,” he said.
Professor González Menéndez argues that in today’s science, it is irrefutable what happens in the brain of a human being under the influence of these drugs. “Drugs that modify behavior in a relevant way, that is, from alcohol on, have immediate effects. In mid- and long terms, when consumption is addictive and prolonged, they cause impulsive and irrational instinctive-affective behaviors that are exclusive to animals. This has very little to do with the humanism, ethics and spirituality that everyone expects. “
It is marijuana –even more than the non-social use of alcohol– the true prototype of the “Russian roulette” metaphor in which no one can know for sure when the bullet will fall into the chamber; and when that happens, the effects are usually fatal
“The misuse of these substances implies a profound moral degradation, with the potential to become chronic in the individual case, but it has a generalization potential that would turn it into a macro-social phenomenon of very high relevance, because, when sober, our behavior is cognitive, volitional, rational and controlled. This also brings down the belief that marijuana does not generate violence or criminality. “
The history of these 6000 years of living with marijuana has given exemplary lessons.
Clinical and research experience shows that the much-propagandized ‘consumer placidity’ often and unpredictably is transformed into extreme violence. Therefore, marijuana –even more than the non-social use of alcohol– is the true prototype of the “Russian roulette” metaphor: no one can know with certainty when the bullet falls into the chamber, and when this happens, the effects are usually fatal.
LEARNING FROM SCIENCE AND HISTORY
The history of these 6000 years of living with marijuana has given exemplary lessons. Our interviewee remembers that in the early eighteenth century there was an English doctor, O’Shaughnessy, who traveled to India and returned amazed at marijuana’s analgesic properties. He was so enthusiastic that with his influence he managed to get marijuana introduced in the pharmacopoeia of his country. This trend reached the United States. A decade later, England declared it was a mistake to have this substance (“a product with so many dangers”) in their list of medications. A few years later, the United States eliminated it and subsequently, India did the same.
Finally, since 1971, the use of cannabis was controlled through the “Illicit Drugs Act” which prohibited the medical use of both the weed and its active constituents. Its nefarious actions on the human body had eclipsed its possible medical uses. This criterion was emphatically endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1997, recognizing that cannabis adversely affects mental health.
The legalization of marijuana is far from being an accurate blow to drug trafficking, and so, as organized crime, how long would it take to replace and compensate the product for other designer drugs?
Physician Jacques Moreau, quoted by Escohotado, had described in 1973 his experiences resulting from the self-administration of an infusion of Sativa Cannabis flowers. He described eight main symptoms observed under the influence of the substance: “Unexplained feelings of happiness, dissociation of ideas, errors in assessing time and space, exacerbation of hearing, fixed ideas, disturbance of emotions, irresistible impulses and delusions or hallucinations”. He suggested that, in some cases, the intoxication caused by this drug could be considered a pattern of psychiatric illness.
The idea that ending the ban would end the lure of the forbidden, and reduce consumption, is absolutely anti-historic. The specialist says that it would be enough to remember London in 1751 when a phenomenon called the gin epidemic inspired Hogarth’s Gin Alley engraving. The work is expressive of the catastrophic effects derived from a certain overproduction of grains diverted to the production of the most genuine and legal drink of the time in that country. A 90% reduction of gin’s price created a flood of eager buyers who –as shown in the engraving– committed every imaginable crime. The consumption of this drink was multiplied by more than five and the tragedy transpired to this day.
Dr. González Menéndez says the legalization of marijuana is far from being a real blow to drug trafficking because organized crime would soon replace the product and compensate with other designer drugs. Can we ignore the consequent risk of a chain of effects that in the long run would make us face the dilemma of having to legalize all drugs, and the resulting immediate extinction of the human species?
The specialist says that the trend –defended by many on the grounds of the right of each person to choose how to live their lives– imposes a reflection: “Doesn’t that right end where the rights of others begin? And what about the cost to the family, and bystanders who die in traffic accidents due to marijuana or other drugs such as ecstasy? Isn’t legalization of marijuana a first step, by necessity consistent with the promotional efforts of health and healthy lifestyles, the promotion of moral values, of prevention of disease and crime, as well as the creation of a better world? Can we thus achieve cultures of higher spirituality, and dismissive of the consumption of substances that degrade our biological, psychological, social and cultural well-being? Can the problem of drug abuse be solved by legalizing consumption without creating truly effective multi-sector systems for the care and comprehensive solution of the multiple effects of drug abuse?”
We live in a world where young people tend to experiment. We fear legalization will determine most unfavorable results once the drug is free from family, school and community censure –together with the higher addictive nature of marijuana compared to alcohol.
Tobacco and alcohol should have taught us something. If with only two legal drugs in the world we lose more than nine million lives each year, do we need another legal drug? Drugs –that do not respect anything, not age or gender, or skin color or culture, ideology, sexual preference or philosophical position– open the doors to more drugs. The success of anti-drug programs depends on our awareness that these toxic substances are a system of substances that associate and reinforce their actions. This demands the indispensable confrontation with all its categories. We must remember the universal principle that the greater the access, the greater the consumption.
Development without drugs
According to the World Drug Report 2014, the use of these substances continues to cause considerable damage, reflected in the loss of valuable lives and the productive years of many people.
Author: Lisandra Fariñas Acosta | email@example.com
June 26, 2015 00:06:46
This new International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking -–a day that humanity celebrates every June 26– is dedicated to development for our lives, our communities, and our identity in a world without drugs.
This date established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1987, serves to remind the target agreed by the Member States of the United Nations to create an international society where drugs are not misused. According to the World Drug Report 2014, the use of these substances continues to cause considerable damage, reflected in the loss of valuable lives and the productive years of many people.
“In 2012 an approximate total of 183 000 drug-related deaths were reported (variation margin 95 000-226 000). That figure corresponds to a mortality rate of 40,0 (variation margin: 20.8 to 49.3) deaths per million in the population between 15 and 64 years,” refers the document.
Although this calculation is less than 2011 figures; this reduction can be attributed to the lower number of deaths reported by some countries in Asia.
According to the statistics in this global report it is estimated that in 2012 between 162 and 324 million people, i.e. 3.5% to 7.0% of the population between 15 and 64 years, consumed illicit drugs – mainly cannabis group substances, opium derivatives, cocaine and amphetamine-type stimulants– at least once.
This Friday, June 26, the United Nations reminds everyone that we all have a role to play in protecting youth from dangerous substances.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:
Message on International Day
against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking
26 June 2015
VIENNA, 26 June (UN Information Service) – In September, leaders from around the world will meet at the United Nations to adopt an ambitious new sustainable development agenda to eradicate extreme poverty and provide a life of dignity for all. This ambition, while achievable, must address various obstacles, including the deadly harm to communities and individuals caused by drug trafficking and drug abuse.
Our shared response to this challenge is founded on the international drug control conventions. In full compliance with human rights standards and norms, the United Nations advocates a careful re-balancing of the international policy on controlled drugs. We must consider alternatives to the criminalization and incarceration of people who use drugs and focus criminal justice efforts on those involved in supply. We should increase the focus on public health, prevention, treatment and care, as well as on economic, social and cultural strategies.
We must address the nexus between illicit drugs and violence, corruption and terrorism. A balanced approach recognizes the close connections between those who traffic in drugs and criminal networks involved in firearms smuggling, kidnapping, human trafficking and other crimes. This work must also include redoubling efforts to prevent the supply of the precursor chemicals that are the foundation of so many illicit drugs.
Promoting international cooperation through the UN conventions on transnational organized crime and corruption is essential to addressing today’s security and development challenges. No criminal should escape justice. The balanced approach calls for unity of purpose within the international community, including the UN, civil society and, most importantly, the world’s nations. No country can work in isolation. Comprehensive and integrated efforts at the local, regional and global levels offer the best hope for dealing with the traffickers, while taking care to protect vulnerable groups and marginalized communities.
Efforts against illicit drugs must be connected to our work to promote opportunities through equitable and sustainable development. We must continually strive to make the weak and fragile stronger. The United Nations General Assembly special session on the world drug problem, to be held in April 2016, can advance this cause, with countries sharing knowledge and forging common solutions.
On the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, let us raise awareness about the value of applying a balanced approach to these problems based on an understanding that sustainable development can and must catalyze change across all these fronts.
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