"My point was that the number of marijuana uses who do not go to hard
drugs is much smaller than the percentage who do."
Charitably, I'm going to assume that this was a typing error. It is, of course,
plain wrong. On this issue and all the other myths, it is well worth reading
recent paper from the "Harm Reduction Journal" which includes:
Holland, having the most liberalized drug laws, does not have more cannabis
users (over age twelve) than do more repressive countries, and the per capita
number of heroin users is also lower http:// www.drugpolicy.org/global/drugpolicyby/westerneurop/
thenetherlan/. The Dutch Ministry of Justice estimates that 0.16% of cannabis
users are heroin users. This figure does not support cannabis being a gateway
drug. Data from the 2000 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)
also shows that the vast majority of people who try cannabis do not go on to
use hard drugs.
"I cannot attest to the harmfulness of morphine on the population. However,
the working definition of addiction that I am familiar with is: "the repeated
use of a substance in spite of negative consequences"
The point is that, under the conditions I've previously stated, there are no
scientifically demonstrated negative consequences. Many people find this difficult
to believe because we've all suffered a lifetime of ignorant propaganda. But
go ask any doctor. The drug (morphine or heroin) itself is well tolerated and does not cause any
permanent damage to the system. We cannot, for example, say the same thing about
cocaine which has been shown to have similar brain cell destroying effects as
alcohol abuse. The only studies which suggest clinical harm caused by heroin
are studies of those forced to consume the illegal supplies (which renders them
meaningless). You will find hundreds of references to "harm caused by heroin"
but when you dig into them you will find no evidence that the harm is caused
directly by use of the drug, but rather by the complications which arise from
addicts, with access to clean needles and uncontaminated sources of the
heroin, are able to lead normal lives with their families, hold down regular
jobs and live without the physical complications generally associated with the
drug. It is a cruel paradox that heroin in these countries is a far safer drug
than either alcohol or cigarettes. Heroin is certainly much safer medically
than other “hard drugs” like cocaine and methamphetamine, because
these, like cigarettes, are not medically safe at any level of use.
Addiction itself is not harmful. Many people are caffeine addicts, for example,
but it is a non issue in most cases because the addiction doesn't lead to clinical
damage. We wouldn't be at all concerned, for example, by nicotine addiction,
were it not for the hundreds of thousands of deaths which tobacoo causes each
year through the lethal effects it has on the heart and lungs.
"Also, I disagree with your definition of harm. Let me explain by way
of example. [snip] In response to the higher levels of DA, the number of DA
receptors on the dentritic spines decrease. As a result, when the user returns
to normal they are "down," and experience a depression in mood and
reward effect. Personally, I believe this qualifies as harmful, even if it does
not physically injure the person."
Actually cocaine damage is probably more serious than that - on a par with
brain damage caused by alcohol abuse.(1)
However, your subjective definition of harm is just that: subjective. The only
harm measurement that really matters is the effect on life expectancy. It is
not for you or me to decide what makes someone elses life worth living. If the
occasional highs outweigh the inevitable lows, then there is no obvious reason
why the behaviour cannot be incorporated into a long term lifestyle. The really
damaging drugs cause a significant reduction in life expectancy, usually by
attacking major organs of the body. Tobacco, for example, costs its users, on
average, about 13-14 years(2). (although it is worth reading what the "pro-smoking"
activists have to say about such studies(4).)
Moderate Alcohol users, on the other hand, GAIN life years. A couple of glasses
of red wine a day adds 4 -7 years to the lives of such users (3), when compared
to abstainers. It is much more difficult to determine the effect on Life Expectancy
of Alcohol Abuse because a) there is no agreement on what constitutes abuse
(or "moderate" come to that) and b) the reduction in LE is masked,
in part, by the aforementioned increased LE for "moderate" users.
But the best guess is that serious long term abuse costs about 5-6 years (5)
- mainly for males (women are much less likely to abuse long term).
Nobody has yet done the statistical research on cannabis and it is deeply complicated
by the widespread practice of mixing it with tobacco, but there are already
a number of tantalising signs that cannabis use is a significant life extender
(See Melamede's paper above).My best guess at the moment is that if we could
isolate cannabis influences from all the others we will find that moderate use
(say, a joint a day or its equivalent in food) adds between 3 and 10 years to
a users life.
Finally, self harm is never a legitimate basis for prohibition. Only 3rd party
harm provides a valid excuse for social intervention. Thus if it can be shown
(and it is much more seriously disputed than politicians and media would have
you believe) that secondary tobacco smoking causes non consenting victims to
suffer, that would justify rules which prohibit smoking in their presence. It
certainly has been shown that alcohol causes a great deal of 3rd party harm
(mainly through violence and traffic accidents) and this justifies either strict
control of drunks or substantial insurance premiums attached to the price of
alcohol in order to pay for their damage.