Taking Political Opinions with a Grain of Salt: Separating Fact from Fiction
Written by Tyler Smith
Brushing up on my current events in marijuana reform, I decided to do some basic research using the Google search engine. Searching “new jersey marijuana” in the News section, I discovered a Times opinion article written by Mary Pat Angelini, a Republican General Assembly deputy conference leader of New Jersey. In short she states that “If you legalize it, young people will use and abuse it.” This was the beginning of the most one-sided, non-informational opinions given on the subject.
Assemblywoman Angelini continued to go on how it’s “obvious that more people will use a substance deemed legal and presumably safe by government than they will use an illegal and presumably dangerous one,” and that marijuana “is an addictive drug that often leads users to use other illegal drugs and down a path toward a number of medical and social problems.” Among other radical claims and stretched truths, Angelini believes “teen users have an increased risk of schizophrenia and depression and suicidal thoughts” (Click here to view the rest of the article.
Unfortunately for Angelini, she didn’t provide evidence to back up her claims, so I went ahead and looked for research related to what she believes is “science” and found almost the complete opposite of her theories. There are multiple scientific studies that contradict her claims, so let’s start from the beginning.
In contradiction to Angelini’s theory of “Legalization means higher abuse rates”, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that in states where legalization is welcomed (Colorado and Washington) and medical marijuana is allowed, rates have actually fallen.
The CDC report shows youth marijuana use in Colorado went down 2.8 percent from 2009 (24.8 percent) to 2011 (22 percent); in 2011, while youth marijuana usage in Colorado even fell below the national average -- 22 percent in Colorado, 23.1 percent in the U.S. The problem though lies in the nation usage, where youth marijuana use nationally went up 2.3 percent from 2009 (20.8 percent) to 2011 (23.1 percent). That is in correlation with the fact people are beginning to realize the safety and effectiveness of medicinal marijuana. The reason rates in Colorado dropped are because people can casually use it without fear of the law. This is the Prohibition argument, where people will more likely do something if they are told they cannot.
Even more interesting is that the CDC report didn't just measure youth usage, but also measured drug availability on Colorado school grounds. The report shows the availability of drugs on school grounds in Colorado went down 5 percent from 2009 (22.7 percent) to 2011 (17.2 percent) and availability of illegal drugs on school grounds in Colorado is below the national average by 8.4 percent -- 17.2 percent in Colorado, 25.6 percent in the U.S. Nationally, though, illegal drugs offered, sold or given on school property was up 3.1 percent from 2009 (22.7 percent) to 2011 (25.6 percent). This again correlates to the Prohibition argument, and in the end: If legalization and regulation is in effect, then a substance is much harder to obtain by illegal mean. Illegal dealers will be unable to compete with the price, quality, and safety of a legal purchase, so they will turn to substances that are not regulated.
An interesting argument that anti-marijuana advocates like to use is the “major health problems” that marijuana causes, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. A recent study done by researchers at the University of Nebraska, the Harvard School of Public Health, and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center have “identified a reduced prevalence of obesity in the pot smoking community.”
The Atlantic covers the details of the study, with a 4,600-adult sample, where about 12 percent of the participants were self-identified as current marijuana users, and another 42 percent said they used the drug in the past. The participants were “tested for various measures of blood sugar control: their fasting insulin and glucose levels; insulin resistance; cholesterol levels; and waist circumference.” The results were fascinating, to say the least.
The results suggested that marijuana miraculously works to improve insulin control, regulating body weight and possibly explaining why marijuana users have a lower incidence of diabetes. The differences between those who smoked marijuana and those who never or no longer did was that current smokers' insulin levels were reduced by 16 percent and their insulin resistance (a condition in which the body has trouble absorbing glucose from the bloodstream) was reduced by 17 percent. Also, current marijuana users “had significantly smaller waist circumference than participants who had never used marijuana”. They’re levels of HDL ("good cholesterol") were also higher than non-users.
Another claim that’s boasted by the anti-marijuana advocates is the thought that marijuana causes depression, but this too has been proven to be false. University of Southern California’s Thomas F. Denson and University of Albany, SUNY’s Mitchell Earleywine performed a study to put this theory to the test and the results essentially stopped that theory in its tracks. There results and discussion claims:
- “Those who consume marijuana occasionally or even daily have lower levels of depressive symptoms than those who have never tried marijuana. Specifically, weekly users had less depressed mood, more positive affect, and fewer somatic complaints than non-users.”
- “Daily users reported less depressed mood and more positive affect than non-users. The groups did not differ on interpersonal symptoms. Our results add to the growing body of literature on depression and marijuana and are generally consistent with a number of studies that have failed to confirm a relationship between the two after controlling for relevant variables.”
- “This study was also the first to our knowledge to separately investigate depression in medical marijuana users relative to recreational users. Medical users reported more depressed mood and more somatic complaints than recreational users, but reported less negative affect and fewer somatic complaints (among women) than those who had never used marijuana. These latter results suggest that our findings should be even more robust among individuals without medical conditions.”
- “They also suggest that medical users may contribute to studies that find positive associations between marijuana use and depression.”
So my final question to Mary Angelini is: “Where did you gather your information to formulate your opinion?”
We are surrounded by politicians who use old, outdated concepts and arguments that today would not stand in the scientific world. With Google and an hour of personal time, one can educate themselves with scientific research, so next time your local politician makes a claim be sure to find where they obtain there information. Some may be stretching the truth more than you think.