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ARCHIVE:  September 22, 2003

On the Question of Marijuana's Safety

Dear Dr. Shulgin:

Based on the drug research that you have done, I would love to have your opinions concerning the use of marijuana. Does it cause learning problems? Does it damage the ability to store long-term memory? Does it make something go wrong in the brain? With all the anti-marijuana zealots out there, it is hard to get to the truth. -- M.J.

Dear M.J.:

I am afraid I cannot be much of a source of truth here, as I really do not know. None of my research has dealt with the use of marijuana, and what I have read in the scientific literature leaves me with the impression that it is slanted towards the negative. This is not at all surprising, as our Government is dedicated to the presentation of the use of marijuana as a socially dangerous thing and one that must be eventually brought under control. And this Government is the source of the permission, and of the marijuana itself, and of most of the funds that support the few research projects that do take place. As with most of the research in the area of psychotropic (and illegal) drugs, a researcher's continuing to be awarded future grants will depend on what he finds and reports from his earlier studies.

Kevin Zeese, the President of Common Sense for Drug Policy (www.csdp.org), wrote a chilling note recently, presenting the political side of the marijuana health issue. Tapes have recently been released of President Nixon's discussions in the Oval Office during the 1970-1971 period. Congress was uncertain of the appropriateness of placing marijuana in Schedule I in the new Controlled Substances Act, and thus created a commission to research the subject and recommend a long-term strategy. Nixon did most of the appointing of the members, with Raymond Schafer being the Chairman (it became known as the Schafer Commission) and nine others. Most were pretty much law-and-order people and bigwigs from a law school here and a mental health hospital there. Four members of Congress served on it as well.

This Schafer Commission was officially known as the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, and it took its job seriously. They launched fifty research projects and polled members of the criminal justice community. After reviewing all the evidence the commission came to an unexpected conclusion, unexpected to them, at least. Rather than harshly condemning marijuana, they started talking about removing it from the Federal drug law. Nixon heard about this, some months before the report was to be publicly released. He warned Schafer to get control of the Commission, and from the tapes one hears that they must avoid looking like a "bunch of do-gooders," who are "soft on marijuana."

Nonetheless, the Commission recommended the decriminalization or non-profit transfer of marijuana. No punishment -- criminal or civil -- under State or Federal law. The day before the Commission released its report, the tapes show that Nixon had a different opinion. "We need, and I use the word 'all out war,' on all fronts ... we have to attack on all fronts." Aiming towards the 1972 presidential election year, Nixon proposed that he do "a drug thing every week" that would make a "Goddamn strong statement about marijuana ... that just tears the ass out of them." These tapes are at www.csdp.org.

I am sure that this report might well address some of the questions that you have asked. Unfortunately, those experiments that can document the quality of learning or of memory, with or without marijuana use, are virtually undoable. Looking at people I know, I can see no suggestion that those who are users are in a mental class distinct from those who are not users. A precious example of the political anti-marijuana mind-set can be had from the answer from John Lawn, the former head of the DEA, at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, February 1986.

Question: "What's wrong with legalizing marijuana?"
Answer: "I think that if we decide upon legalization, we can forget democracy as we now know it. In experiment animals mutations in the brain caused by marijuana is (sic) found not only in the user or the user's offspring, but in the offspring's offspring. The dangers associated with cannabis are different than those associated with alcohol. Marijuana is fat-soluble and one third of the brain is fat."

As Molder's wall-poster said, on the X-Files, "The Truth Is Out There", but I do not think we will have factual answers to your questions within my lifetime.

-- Dr. Shulgin

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