Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The harsh reality of juvenile drug use

I get angry with people who try to argue that drugs should be legalized, rather than criminalized. It's all very well for them to say that the 'War On (Some) Drugs' hasn't worked. I agree with them - it hasn't. It's been a ghastly failure, and it's led to the very serious undermining of many of our Constitutionally recognized rights, freedoms and liberties. On the other hand, the use of drugs poses so many dangers to society from impaired drivers, criminals trying to fund their habit, and so on, that I can't possibly support their legalization.

In my work as a prison chaplain I saw many younger criminals who were permanently mentally impaired by drug use. They'd almost literally 'fried their brains', to use a common description. A new study suggests such damage is more easily sustained early in life, and is probably irreversible.

Children who smoke cannabis before their 15th birthday perform much worse in mental tests than those who start at a later age, warn researchers.

A study of chronic cannabis users found those who started in their early teens struggled with a range of neuropsychological tasks.

But those who started later did not have the same difficulties, says a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

The findings add to growing evidence that the drug damages the developing brain, with greater harm caused by early exposure.

. . .

Lead researcher Dr Maria Fontes said: ‘We found that early-onset, but not late-onset, chronic cannabis users had deficits in their cognitive functioning.

‘Adolescence is a period in which the brain appears to be particularly vulnerable to the neurotoxic effects of cannabis.

‘The brain before the age of 15 is still developing and maturing, so exposure to cannabis during this period may be more harmful.’

There's more at the link.

Personally, I can't think of anything worse than legalizing a drug that can - and will - do this to our youngsters if they can more easily get their hands on it. Most teens don't - can't? - display the self-control necessary to say 'no' to this stuff. The more difficult we make it for them to obtain it, the less damage their brains will suffer.

OK, I know there are going to be plenty of readers who disagree with me . . . but I can only invite them to spend a while inside prison walls, and work with those who've been brain-damaged for life, and become habitual criminals to support their addiction. It changes one's perspective.



The Lost Goat said...

I can't disagree with you about the horrors associated with recreational drug use - I have family members who are addicts. But I support legalization because I see no better option. With legalization, at least drug addiction can be treated as a mental illness instead of a criminal matter. Also, our society would no longer bear the moral culpability for the horrors of the drug trade that are entirely a function of the illegality of narcotics (exhibit A: Mexico).

Wraith said...

Peter, I love you and I respect your opinion, but you are dead wrong on this one.

Let me explain my perspective: I'm scum. Well, mostly-reformed scum, but I did more than my share of time in the broken, sad world of the drug culture.

Back in those days, I wondered over the fact that it was far easier for minors (like myself) to acquire a tube of toluene glue or a bag of weed, than to buy a six of beer. How could that be? Because beer was legal.

The guy at the liquor store is running a legit business. He has to worry about keeping his licence. He cares--whether by concience or paranoia--about following the law.

That dude on the corner is perfectly willing to sell you weed, coke, acid, meth, hash, smack, dust or cyanide...and he doesn't give a rat's ass if you're 18 or 8. What, is he going to lose his dope dealer's license? He's already breaking the law. Once you put yourself outside of the legal system, it really doesn't matter what you do.

Laws only affect the law-abiding. This is something Prohibition should have driven home unmistakably. If you want to keep our kids away from something, the only realistic solution is to legalize it, thus removing it from the lawless black market and placing it in the care of those who have something to lose if they abuse their trust.

Will kids sometimes still get their hands on it? Yes, unfortunately. But not nearly as often as our current system allows. Remember, those kids in the article couldn't possibly have smoked cannabis. After all...it's illegal.

Anonymous said...

The problem is it is easier for them to get than alcohol. Indoor growing operations are everywhere and the drug dealers don't ask for ID.The cannabis these days that is grown in these hydroponic indoor growing operations is many times more powerful than it was 20 years ago. It truly is making a lot of people stupid. Nothing sadder than seeing a young mind perma buzzed and wasted on this garbage.

Unknown said...

If pot were legalized, it would be harder for kids to get, and fewer of them would use it. If drug prohibition worked, it would be worth what is costs our society. It doesn't and it isn't.

Isn't it our goal to REDUCE drug use?

Anonymous said...


If it weren't for drugs and ethanol, I'd have a lot less work. But you are presuming causation where it might not be. People in prison are more impulsive, (tend) to have less empathy for others, and have high rates of Axis I as well as Axis II disorders. Now, is their drug use BECAUSE of those problems or a way to self-medicate those problems? No-one really knows that answer.

To spend societal money forbidding something that might be the cause of problems. Hmm. That sounds like something out of the Brady campaign. If it's wrong for them, it's wrong in toto.

STxRynn said...

My dad was in the juvenile division during my elementary school days. He took me to the lockup at the police department, put me in the empty cell, closed the iron door and turned off the lights. When he let me out, he told me, just because you're my son doesn't keep you out of here. And if you're dumb enough to get in here, you're on your own to get out. When I was changing schools in 7th grade. He brought the "drug kit" home and showed me all kinds of drugs. He burned a bit of pot on a wire mesh, made me sick to my stomach. He warned me to leave the area if I smelled that any where on campus.

I thank God routinely for my dad. Tough as a cob, very sharp. Parental responsibility is key in this issue. He developed my character, helped me say no to myself. That's what a good parent does. I can't help but believe that is where the problem is.

If we are really serious about this, then treat it as a war. We are so soft on everything, "it's a disease", "self medication", etc. With that attitude, we can excuse all manner of evil behaviour. I fear we are past the point of rescue.

perlhaqr said...

You've totally convinced me. Freedom is just too scary to let people have. I'm moving to North Korea where I won't have to worry about such things.

C. S. P. Schofield said...

I sympathise with your feelings, but I'm unconvinced that the War is worth the collateral damage. In order to "save" a small number of sad people from the dangers of opiates we are making it impossible for people with chronic and incurable pain to get the relief they need. That is not simply a bad trade, it's barbaric.

I cannot help but note that the Federal laws against Marijuana, Cocaine, and Heroin were passed after the collapse of Prohibition in a political move that some reputable historians believe was, in fact, a 'full employment for out of work Prohibition Agents' measure. All three drugs were legal in many states during the Victorian era, and in that era the biggest drug problem society faced was alcoholism.

Yes, junkies are sad, wasted people. I'm not convinced that removing the drugs we ban from their lives will change that, even if it were possible. And the evidence of history seems to be that it isn't possible.

As to crime, and end to the War on Drugs should, minimally, seriously undermine the price of Marijuana. Pot is a native plant. It is, in point of fact, a hardy weed, not only easy to grow but in some cases nearly impossible to clear out ... which is why you hear the classic story of the Police station that has pot growing on its back lot. Sure, the quality may not be very high, but a plant that is hardy enough to survive the cultivation attempts of hippies (I've know several. They struck me as massively unlikely to be good farmers) isn't going to be rare.

As I said, I sympathize with your position, but we've tried the prohibitionist position, to varying degrees, for more than three quarters of a century. It doesn't get the job done. It is time to try something else.

tpmoney said...

Agreed with most of the others here. You're conflating the effects of a black market drug trade with the drugs themselves. Sure, a whole bunch of illegal drugs will impair your judgement and make you dangerous behind the wheel of a car. So will alcohol. And cigarettes will give you cancer. Yet you don't see guys on the street corner selling booze and cigarettes (barring the moonshiners and the mob running tax stamp scams on the cigarettes, but again note that there isn't a lot of money in that and it's again a side effect of regulation).

No one* robs a bank to support their cigarette habit. No one* mugs you for beer money.

Further, you talk about the dangers of letting kids have them, but no one* in support of legalization is talking about including pot as part of the school lunches. They're talking about legalizing them the same way cigarettes and booze are legal (well, ideally we'd fix the sin tax / illegal to make your own issue but I digress).

Incidentally, I say this as someone who has never partaken of an illegal drug in my life, didn't even drink until I was legal (barring church wine), and will never in my life pick up a cigarette because of watching my grandmother die from lung cancer. I could have done all of these things before I was 18, but it was good and involved parents that kept me from it, not any legal barrier.

*While you might find some examples of this, I argue that the examples are so small as to be not worth the trouble caused by trying to prevent it. See also the number of concealed carry holders who rob banks.

Stranger said...

Peter, remember Mexico. Our war on drugs created the Cartels. So we created the situation in Mexico.

Now, how do we save Mexico and points south - and starve the Cartels - unless we make drugs so cheaply available to "adults" there is no profit for the cartels?



SordidPanda said...

Countries that have "de-criminalized" recreational drug use have suffered no long lasting ill effects. Portugal comes to mind.

And while permanent brain damage may result from the use of cannabis by minors it doesn't change the facts that the wholesale prohibition on cannabis has not stopped consumption.

Legalize it, tax the hell out of it, and I expect that like Portugal we will see a decline in drug use. After all, how are you "sticking it to the man" by paying taxes on your weed?

I understand your desire to protect children. It is both right and admirable, but I disagree with your conclusion about prohibition.

Comrade Misfit said...

I accept every thing that you wrote as true, Peter. But given that, where do we go from here? The War on Drugs is a failure. 40 years on, drugs are more available than they were when Nixon declared this war. The War on Drugs has resulted in our incing closer to a militarized police state, for police tactics that would have been looked on with horror 40 years ago are now acceptable. Between the War on Drugs and now the War on Terror, the 4th Amendment has been reduced to a hollow shell.

Criminalization of drugs has failed. Other than legalization, what is the alternative?

Anonymous said...

The real question is, have they controlled for intelligence? Or did they just assume cannabis smoking is something that seems a swell idea to all youths?

It's fair to say that smoking anything is stupid, and I'm fairly sure smokers are under-represented among the smartest segments of population.

And the average kid can appear 'brain damaged' when compared to your average MIT student... who most likely has never and never would smoke.

Personally, I know of several people who have been reportedly very heavy cannabis users. At a rather selective grammar school. Most of them are now involved in professional work.

Czech Republic, has a notorious journalist who seems like a real life Spider Jerusalem... and some stuff he has lived through seems like from that comic.

He's a bit of an asshole, and a little trollish, but overall his writing is good, and often for good causes. (anti-racism, sane enviromentalism, against superstition, corrupt politicians)

He's a gun owner (you can't be a cannabis smoker and own guns, if you ever get caught, you lose your licence). Yet for that past decade, he's never been caught despite doing stuff like staging several 'cannabis cup' competitions for best weed... and publishing embarrasing articles about one lefty pigdog* minister of interior..

Who then replied by sending cops to the offices of the magazine ..supposedly someone has reported the journo there, stoned and packing a CZ-75.

Long story short.. he wasn't stoned, wasn't at the office, was instead at home, in bed.. making love to his busty thirty-something psychologist wife (who probably should'nt have married her work.. but love. You can't command it I guess)

*prasopes in Czech.

Anonymous said...

If we can't keep drugs out of a maximum security prison, what chance is there to keep it out of the hands of a normal citizen?

To approach from another angle, by what authority can you (society) dictate what I can and cannot ingest into by body (assuming age of consent etc, etc) in the privacy of my home? Now clearly if I partake of something and leave my house, that's a whole new kettle of fish. If it is OK for the gov't to make that decision for me, then I don't see anything wrong with allowing them to force me to buy healthcare or anything else for that matter.

I'm 42--I've never smoked a cigarette, never touched any illegal drugs, rarely drink, and always wear a seat belt. I believe the gov't has zero right to pass laws to enforce any of those behaviors.