CASA RELEASES REPORT: "NON-MEDICAL MARIJUANA - RITE OF PASSAGE OR RUSSIAN ROULETTE?"
Highlights Critical Distinction Between Non-Medical and Medical Uses of Marijuana
More Teens -- Nearly 88,000 -- in Treatment for Marijuana Than Any Other Drug Including Alcohol
Califano Warns of Dangers of Marijuana Use to Children
NEW YORK — Legalization or decriminalization of non-medical marijuana would pose a serious threat to millions of America's children, increasing their use of this dangerous drug and taking away critical support for parents, teachers and others attempting to steer kids away from drugs, a new report released today by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) concludes.
Sounding an alarm for parents, the report finds that in 1996 (the latest numbers available) more teens age 19 and younger entered treatment for marijuana abuse and dependence than for any other drug including alcohol. In fact, nearly as many teens and children were admitted to treatment for marijuana as were admitted for abuse and dependence on all other substances combined.
Of the 181,784 teens and children who entered treatment in 1996, nearly half -- 48.2% or 87,687-- were admitted for abuse or addiction to marijuana (the primary drug): 19.3% (35,069) were admitted for alcohol with a secondary drug; 11.9% (21,594) for alcohol alone; 2.9 % (5,323) for smoked cocaine, 2.4% for methamphetamines (4,354); and 2.3% (4,166) for heroin, also the primary drugs. More than half the teens in treatment for marijuana were between the ages of 15 and 17.
"Teens who smoke marijuana are playing a dangerous game of Russian roulette. The potential of marijuana as a dangerous drug for our children in and of itself, as a gateway to other drug use, and as a signal of trouble is a matter of the most serious concern for American parents," said former HEW Secretary Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA President and Chairman (Click here for full statement). "Teen experimentation with marijuana should not be considered a casual rite of passage."
The 66-page White Paper, Non-Medical Marijuana: Rite of Passage or Russian Roulette?, is the most comprehensive report ever published on non-medical marijuana, making clear the critical distinction between medical and general use of marijuana. The report recognizes that the determination of the medical value of marijuana should be made by physicians and scientists, but finds that any such determination has no relevance to prohibition of the general use of marijuana.
"Marijuana legalization proponents like to play doctor and prescribe marijuana by political referendum. Medical marijuana should not be the nose under the tent leading to the drug's general legalization, as some proponents hope, any more than the medical use of cocaine or opiates has been regarded as an opening move in the direction of general use of those drugs," said Califano.
CASA's report comes just as the summer season gets fully underway when many children and teens are less likely to be closely supervised. CASA's research has shown that a child who gets through age 21 without smoking, using marijuana or any other illegal drug, or abusing alcohol is virtually certain never to do so. Decriminalization or legalization of non-medical marijuana would increase use among the nation's teens and children, heightening the risk of physical and psychological dependence and the likelihood of children moving on to other illegal drugs such as LSD, cocaine or heroin.
CASA's own surveys show that marijuana is already readily available to teens. CASA's 1998 teen survey reported that 19% of middle school students and 45% of high school students say they can buy marijuana in an hour or less.
In light of the discussion of the medical use of marijuana, the report stresses the serious consequences of non-medical marijuana use, especially by children, which include:
impairment of short-term memory, concentration and motor skills, critical for a child's intellectual and social development.
greater likelihood of use of another illegal drug such as cocaine or heroin. increased likelihood of having unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners, leaving them at greater risk of pregnancy, AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases.
possible long term physical and psychological dependence.
slowed reaction time, impaired coordination and decreased attention span, leading to increased highway accidents and fatalities.
Recent studies at universities in California, Italy and Spain reveal that marijuana affects levels of dopamine (the substance that gives pleasure) in the brain in a manner similar to heroin and cocaine. "While scientists have not yet uncovered the smoking gun, they have certainly found the trigger finger. Parents who mistake the absence of proof for the proof of absence are playing Russian roulette with their children's lives," said Califano.
The report also suggests that a policy that decriminalizes or legalizes marijuana for adults while continuing to ban it for minors is unlikely to be effective. Although the sale of tobacco is prohibited for those under 18 and alcohol for those under 21, the report noted that the use of these drugs by adolescents far exceeds that of marijuana, clearly demonstrating that age restrictions on the use of substances which are available to the entire population are difficult to enforce. Despite the massive public education campaign against smoking, tobacco use among young people has remained virtually constant from 1978-98, while over the same time period, marijuana use has decreased by approximately 50%.
Among the report's conclusions:
The statistical link between marijuana and other drugs like LSD, cocaine or heroin is tighter than between smoking and lung cancer, high cholesterol and heart disease, and asbestos and lung cancer. For example, 12- to 17-year-olds who smoke marijuana are 85 times more likely to use cocaine than those who do not. The correlation in the 1964 Surgeon General's report between smoking and lung cancer was nine to 10 times; in the Framingham Heart Study between cholesterol and heart disease, two to four times, and in the Selikoff Study between asbestos and lung cancer, five times.
The higher THC content available in today's marijuana makes psychotic and other reactions (anxiety, agitation, delusions, amnesia, confusion and hallucinations) more likely.
One pot cigarette causes more damage to lungs than one tobacco cigarette.
Because the law has a normative as well as punitive function, decriminalizing marijuana will decrease its perceived harmfulness and lead to more widespread use, especially among children.
While the report disputes claims that the nation's prisons are jammed with low level marijuana offenders, it recommends reform of current criminal justice policies, including an end to mandatory sentences; giving prosecutors and judges more discretion in dealing with low level offenders; assigning public health and substance abuse experts to support prosecutors and judges; expanding drug courts, and providing treatment to all alcohol and drug addicts in and out of prison.
"Laws that prescribe mandatory sentences for possession of small amounts of marijuana are overkill," says Califano. "In general, mandatory sentences, especially those requiring drug and alcohol abusers and addicts to serve their entire sentence, are counterproductive and are particularly insidious where they concern teens convicted of marijuana possession. Mandatory sentences remove any potential that the threat of incarceration or early release might hold as an incentive for such an inmate to enter treatment. We need all the carrots and sticks we can muster to help these individuals shake their habit."
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University is the only national organization that brings together under one roof all the professional disciplines needed to study and combat all types of substance abuse as they affect all aspects of society. CASA's missions are to: inform Americans of the economic and social costs of substance abuse and its impact on their lives; assess what works in prevention, treatment and law enforcement; encourage every individual and institution to take responsibility to combat substance abuse and addiction; provide those on the front lines with tools they need to succeed, and remove the stigma of substance abuse and replace shame and despair with hope.