Should We Legalize Marijuana? No. Why Pot is NOT a Nothing Drug

Should we legalize marijuana? I say no. Decriminalize, yes. I should be up front and say I have a skewed bias because I have been working as an addiction counselor since 1985.

I know, pot affects people differently so if your experience is that it enhances reality, fine. At the age of 20 I smoked daily for a year and it was the most unproductive, wasted, sleepy year of my life. I was able to take care of my son, clean the house and nap a lot. I remember the realization that sluggishness was not how I wanted to live each day, quit and felt mentally clear. But it took awhile!

Pot today is WAY stronger than it was when I smoked. According to the Caron Treatment website the amount of THC in pot has increased 150% since 1983. The half-life of pot is 6 months and THC resides in the fatty tissues of the body including brain and breast matter.

I hear from people all the time that smoking or vaping is no big deal, it doesn’t negatively affect them. But, any drug (including alcohol) we’re doing daily does affect us.

Does smoking pot affect your IQ? Yes, especially if you start smoking under the age of 18. A study from New Zealand's University of Otago of 1,000 people were IQ tested and followed from 18 to 34 showed that people who smoked and became dependent by 18 had an average drop of 8 points. Unfortunately, quitting didn't remove the problem researchers reported.  (Modesto Bee, Tue. 28, 2012)  

I’ve had many a teen in my addiction counseling office who has said to me some version of:  “Pot’s not like alcohol or hard drugs, it doesn’t have the same bad effects.” While that’s true if comparing pot to meth or heroin, it’s at that point I grab a copy of Daniel Amen’sChange Your Brain, Change Your Lifeand show them pictures of the “potted” brain. Drug or alcohol abuse visibly affects how the brain looks and functions with fissures or even holes in the brain. Dr. Amen says that over time the brain may repair itself. Other research reports that after a person becomes sober the brain takes 4-12 months to normalize.

 (View images at Amen’s website :http://www.amenclinics.com/the-science/spect-gallery/category/images-of-treatment)  

Pot is NOT a nothing drug.

When smoking, you may not jump off buildings, but depending on whether it ups or mellows you - you will tend to zone out, eat everything, get lost in a video game, sit on the couch staring into space, or other such productive activities.  I know, I know – for some there is heightened creativity and energy.

Or, you may be smoking and driving, oblivious to the fact your car is weaving and smoke is billowing from your windows. I’ve seen this many a time driving around my hometown of Modesto. And, then, there’s the smell of weed, the old slang for it being “skunk”. I was at the gym one day and a group of guys came in trailing a cloudy aroma of weed I’m sure they were unaware of but the offensive smell filled the room. Yuk. I don’t want to smell pot everywhere I go.

In the 80s, I was a beginning drug & alcohol family counselor at Starting Point in Sacramento, CA. Most patients that went through detox "cleared" in 2 or 3 days; meaning they were visibly able to think and process better and were then admitted into the general population. There was a man in his 40s however, a Vietnam Vet, that had been smoking heavily for over 20 years. He hadn't used any other drugs or alcohol, just pot. At the end of 30 days he was still not mentally clear. It was scary.

If you don’t think you have a problem, but people in your family or work environment have commented or expressed concern – you do have a problem. It’s not easy to face our challenges, and loved ones or employers can provide helpful feedback.

As with any of the self-medications we feel we need to get through the day, gently ask:What would life be like if I weren't using this?  What might I emotionally not be wanting to feel? Are there feelings I’m trying to escape or mask? If I wanted to quit or to cut down, how could I do that? If you're curious about quitting - take a break for a week and see how you feel. There’s lots of online help available - just google "tips to quit smoking pot" and see what comes up. Or check out Intentional JOY: How to Turn Stress, Fear & Addiction into Freedom for specific stress and anxiety busting strategies.

I won’t be voting Yes on 64 but I believe Prop 64 will pass. One of my big concerns is not for adults who can make their own choices, but for kids under 18 who may feel that because it’s legal, it’s OK to use. My hope is that with Prop 64 passing, we get better prevention-oriented classes in our schools that SHOW the importance of protecting brain development. If kids can put off putting off using any alcohol or drugs until 18 or above the chances they’ll become addicted is much less.  If you have questions, please contact me at lynntelfordsahl@gmail.com

Feel free to use all or part of this blog as long as you list my name, website and contact information.

Lynn Telford-Sahl, M.A. Psychology, Certified Addiction Counselor, Private Practice, Modesto (209) 492-8745 www.addictionmodesto.com

Lynn is the author of Intentional JOY: How to Turn Stress, Fear & Addiction into Freedom.