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Feds Say You’re Addicted To Pot, But They’re Addicted To Cash

​Why does the U.S. federal government keep pushing outdated lies about marijuana’s health consequences and potential for addiction?

Because it’s a lucrative business, according to Paul Armentano of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

Armentano, deputy director of NORML, points out that the feds are wasting their time — and your money — researching what must be the Loch Ness Monster of the drug policy world (as in nobody can prove it exists), “marijuana addiction.”

Yes, you read that right. “Marijuana addiction.”

ReeferMadnessPosterAccording to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), “Cannabis related disorders (CRDs), including cannabis abuse or dependence and cannabis induced disorders (e.g., intoxication, delirium, psychotic disorder, and anxiety disorder) are a major public health issue.”

OK, first things first. You gotta love that these acronym-loving policy wonks have come up with an actual abbreviation for the bad things pot’s supposed to do to you. Just making something up because you wish it so is one thing, but give it a catchy acronym like CRDs and suddenly it’s real, right? Right?

And how, exactly, did those luminaries at NIH come to that remarkable conclusion?

Because, first of all, um, “Nearly one million people are seeking treatment for marijuana dependencies every year” and besides, “sufficient research has been carried out to confirm that the use of cannabis can produce serious physical and psychological consequences.”

Which brings us to…

The Great Marijuana Rehab Scam

NORML's Paul Armentano: Keeping government bureaucrats honest about pot

NORML’s Paul Armentano:
Keeping government bureaucrats honest about pot

​As Armentano points out, there aren’t “one million people seeking treatment for marijuana dependence”; it isn’t even close. The real number, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the actual number of persons seeking drug treatment for marijuana “as a primary substance for admission in 2007, was 287,933. That’s a lot less than “a million.”

But there’s more. If there really are 288,000 folks are year who need help quitting marijuana, then maybe there’s reason for concern, right? Wrong answer, Believer Of Bureaucrats. Almost all of these “people seeking treatment” are FORCED to do so by court orders, under threat of jail, after having been busted for possessing small amounts of pot.

Great use of public resources, eh? Just think about all those spaces in addiction recovery support groups that could have available for real addicts having problems with meth, crack, and heroin. Never mind those guys! We’ve got the potheads going to rehab!

According to the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), more than a third of the 288,000 people entering “drug treatment for marijuana” hadn’t even smoked any pot in the 30 days prior to the admission. Doesn’t sound much like they were addicted, does it?

Another 16 percent admitted they’d only used marijuana three times or less in the month prior to their admission. That just doesn’t sound much like the sort of out-of-control behavior we associate with drug addicts. Do these people meet the clinical standard of being in “the state of being psychologically and physiologically dependent on a drug”? Of course not.

These people don’t belong in drug rehab with real addicts. The only reason they are there is that they were given the choice between pretending to be drug addicts and attending the meetings, or going to jail. That’s a no-brainer, right? Having been both places, I’d certainly rather spend a few evenings with recovering addicts (even if they sometimes tend to be a little whiney) than a few months with pissed-off inmates just looking for an excuse to “touch you up.”

A report published by SAMHSA indicates nearly six of 10 individuals “enrolled in drug treatment for marijuana” were forced there by the criminal justice system (I’d suspect the actual number is even higher).

The criminal justice system is the largest single source of referrals to the substance abuse treatment system, according to SAMHSA. The majority of these referrals come from parole and probation offices, i.e., parolees and probationers who fail urinalysis tests because they smoked a little weed.

The Myth of Marijuana’s “Serious Consequences”

When she tries to quit, she might not be quite as hungry or sleepy. It's just horrible. Quick, get that woman a transdermal THC patch! [Reefer Madness]

When she tries to quit, she might not be quite as hungry or sleepy. It’s just horrible. Quick, get that woman a transdermal THC patch!
[Reefer Madness]

Any serious and impartial study of the adverse effects of marijuana use almost immediately runs into one striking and unavoidable fact: It’s glaringly apparent that marijuana’s potential negative effects are minor when compared to those of legal drugs such as opiates (physically habit-forming and capable of causing overdose deaths), alcohol (same on both counts) and tobacco.

A clinical trial from the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence raises serious doubts about the physical and psychological consequences of quitting pot, as well, Armentano points out.

Researchers at four separate universities in Germany studied the self-reported “withdrawal symptoms” of 73 subjects judged to be “cannabis dependent”; all subjects resided in an inpatient facility. It was determined than less than half of the subjects reported any withdrawal symptoms of clinical significance. Remember, these are all people who’d been diagnosed as being “cannabis dependent” — whatever that’s supposed to mean.

Even among the minority who did report such symptoms, “The intensity of most self-reported symptoms peaked on day one and decreased subsequently.”

What were these scary-sounding symptoms of quitting pot, anyway?

Well, the most frequently mentioned physical symptoms on day one were sleeping problems (21 percent), sweating (28 percent), hot flashes (21 percent), and decreased appetite (15 percent). Psychological symptoms included restlessness (20 percent), nervousness (20 percent), and sadness (19 percent).

Now, I’m not trained in psychology (oh, wait! I am), but those symptoms sound pretty much like what I’d expect to feel if you locked me in a rehab facility (for pot!), tell me I’m not free to go, and that smoking weed is no longer cool. Restlessness? Damn right. Nervousness? Check; I get arrested if I leave. Sadness? Duh.

Bottom line, marijuana’s “withdrawal symptoms” are so mild and subtle as to be laughable compared to those associated with quitting alcohol or heroin addiction (which can be fatal) or quitting tobacco (which many addicts report is harder to kick than heroin).

Follow The Money

You see a bud, but the feds see a bundle. [Coaster 420]

You see a bud, but the feds see a bundle.
[Coaster420]

​So why does NIDA soberly claim that “therapeutic interventions” are necessary and important, “given the extent of use of cannabis in the general population”? (Adolescent pot use has actually been falling steadily since 1979.) Why is it so crucial to manufacture this bugaboo and to pretend it’s scary?

Well, there are currently no accepted medications to aid in “quitting marijuana,” and to help in combatting those fearsome CRDs (remember them?) And some companies (and, well, government officials) see a huge profit potential in fighting the marijuana monster.

In 2009, Kentucky-based pharmaceutical corporation All Tranz Inc. announced it was the proud recipient of a $4 million NIDA grant to promote a “transdermal tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) patch” for the supposed “treatment of marijuana dependence and withdrawal.”

Nora-Volkow

Dr. Nora Valkow of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) claims thousands of pot addicts are desperately seeking treatment
[The Clean Slate]

“NIDA is interested in exploring the role of transdermal THC delivery as an innovative way to treat marijuana withdrawal symptoms and dependence,” said the agency’s director, Nora Volkow.

And here’s where it gets exquisitely surreal.

“This is especially relevant to our efforts to fill a critical gap in available treatments for the many Americans struggling with marijuana-related disorders and their detrimental medical and social consequences,” Volkow helpfully tells us.

So, Nora. You’re telling us there’s a huge crowd of desperate marijuana addicts trying to kick the weed, who need these enormously expensive THC patches so that they can still feel hungry?

Wow, yeah, man. Sounds like an emergency, all right.

Never mind that the symptoms of “marijuana dependence and withdrawal” are rare, and mild even when they do occur. Never mind that THC permeates the skin, at best, slowly and inefficiently (because of its fat solubility).

Forget all that, because there’s a research center to staff, tax dollars to spend and Reefer Madness myths to keep alive. Facts be damned; there’s some money to be made here.