To Smoke or Not to Smoke? What We Can Learn from Marijuana Users
By Steve Miller
When I began to suspect that some of my son's friends (I have five boys at home over 13-years-old) were using marijuana, I put up a poster board in the basement. One side I entitled: "Why Use Marijuana?" The other side I entitled "Why Avoid Marijuana?" Finally, I wrote a comment or two in each category to get the ball rolling and encouraged my kids and their friends to add anonymous comments at their leisure. Their comments let me see that after years of health education in top-notch public schools, their beliefs on this hugely important issue were largely nonsense, collected from their peer "experts."
I challenged them to research the facts, only to discover that some of the best-ranked sites were pro-marijuana, containing select studies to give the veneer of objective research. I took action by researching the following to try to get the facts straight and present it in a way that might appeal to them. Perhaps this will be helpful to you with your kids or students doing research as well. You've got my permission to copy it or personalize it for your needs.
Since marijuana contains about 400 chemicals, there's no way to know every long-term effect. But we can know a lot because hundreds and thousands of regular users have been surveyed and studied.
Knowing the facts about how marijuana has affected others helps me to make a wise decision concerning using it.
As we look at some facts, let's each ask ourselves, "Does the potential reward outweigh the potential consequences?"
Here are the facts as I understand them. If you disagree about any of these points, give me the basis of your opinion. As hard as it is, let's try hard to put our personal opinions aside and get at the facts.
Do I Prefer Poor Health?
- Lung problems. Marijuana causes five times more carbon monoxide to accumulate in the blood than cigarettes. Three times more tar is inhaled and one third more tar settles into the respiratory tract. One joint does the damage of five cigarettes.
- Problems from unknown additives. It's sometimes contaminated with the Herbicide Paraquat, which damages many body organs.
- Effects on the heart. It "speeds up the heart rate, increasing the need for oxygen. At the same time, it reduces that amount of oxygen available to the heart and stresses the cardiovascular system."
- It depresses the immune system, weakening the body's ability to fight off other diseases. You'll get sick more often.
- Concerning reproduction, it reduces the male sperm count. I don't want anything to risk my future sex life. Babies born to women who smoked two joints per week were less responsive, less able to recover from crying and generally had an immature nervous system. Pregnant women risk birth defects.
- Concerning cancer, marijuana contains some of the same, and sometimes even more, of the cancer-causing chemicals found in tobacco smoke.
My Conclusion: The potential reward of smoking pot (a temporary good feeling and good time with friends) isn't worth risking my health over the short and long haul. My health gives me much more options for fun.
Do I Want to Get Dumber and "Dumberer?"
- It hurts our ability to concentrate.
- It hurts our ability to remember things.
- It slows our reactions, hurting us in sports and all activities calling for fast reactions.
- It makes us less coordinated, hurting our ability to do sports and activities that require coordination.
- "All my mistakes -- all my stupid f---ups -- I can categorically tell you are a direct result of alcohol and drugs or both." (Ozzy Osborne)
My Conclusion: I don't want to put my thinking at risk. My ability to think impacts the respect I get from others, my ability to make money and succeed in business, my relationships and ultimately my ability to acquire the things I want in life.
Do I Want to Risk Ruining My Shot at Success?
- Marijuana causes "amotivational syndrome," where a person begins to show "lack of concern about the future; lessening of ambition, drive, and will; diminished physical activity; apathy; and self-neglect."
- People who test positive for marijuana are absent from work 30% more than those who don't.
- Marijuana becomes an expensive habit, especially those who get addicted and can't function without it. It's not just the cost of the marijuana, but the cost of rehabilitation for the addicted. The habit can easily run up expenses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. I can think of lots of other things I'd rather have for that kind of money.
- Addicts ruin many of their relationships.
- If you get caught, a bad Police record can keep you from landing that dream job, or getting many scholarships. A hair analysis can prove marijuana use for two years following use.
My Conclusion: Motivated people - those who want to get ahead in a vocation, have great and lasting relationships with the opposite sex, are motivated to become skilled at an instrument or a hobby, seem to enjoy life and get a lot more out of life. I don't want to do anything that might de-motivate me over time.
Do I Want to Risk Ruining My Individual Freedom?
- There's no question that marijuana is addicting. I don't want to risk being controlled by something.
- Do you want to risk prison or other limitations imposed by the law?
- Although all users say that they would never drive while impaired by drugs, it's almost impossible to time your highs where you'll never have to drive while high. If your driver falls through or you're called into work unexpectedly, you end up driving while under the influence. If you hit a child, you live with that guilt the rest of your life. If you get caught, you risk losing your license or serving time. Again, less freedom.
"Marijuana controls our lives! We lose interest in all else; our dreams go up in smoke. Ours is a progressive illness often leading us to addictions to other drugs, including alcohol. Our lives, our thinking, and our desires center around marijuana---scoring it, dealing it, and finding ways to stay high." (From "Marijuana-Anonymous" Site)
My Conclusion: I want to be free - free to drive, free from addiction, free from the restrictions of authorities. To me, using marijuana isn't worth the risk of losing these freedoms.
Do I Want Less Long-term Pleasure?
- Users risk long-term relationship losses.
- Some people won't hang out with you. Why limit your field of friends, especially when some of them might be exceptionally hot?
- Although immediately after a smoke you may experience a laid-back state, over the long-haul it often depresses.
- A research team studied over 1600 Australian school youth aged 14 to 15 for seven years. Daily cannabis use was associated with a five-fold increased risk of depression at the age of 20. Weekly use was linked to a two-fold increase.
My Conclusion: The short-lived pleasure of smoking marijuana must be weighed against the long-term pleasure I get from not smoking it. Losing my health, losing my motivation, losing my ability to think well - all these bring about a lasting loss of pleasure.
Do I Want to Risk Ruining My Important Relationships?
- The relationship with parents becomes strained with mistrust and lies.
- Your closest friends often become limited to other drug users.
- A person I may really want to date won't go out with me because of her standards.
My Conclusion: My relationships are important to me. I know many relationships that have been ruined through the use of drugs or drinking. For me, it's not worth the risk.
And that's not all…
- I become much more at risk to use even more dangerous drugs."The risk of using cocaine is 104 times greater for those who have tried marijuana than for those who have never tried it."
"There is no doubt about it. Almost every drug addict I've talked to said he started with marijuana." (Chief John Enright, Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs)
- I risk auto accidents. Sober friends won't always be around to help drive. Marijuana lessens your ability to be alert, concentrate, be coordinated and react quickly. These effects can last up to 24 hours after smoking marijuana.
- It's easier to get into risky sex, get an STD and lose your ability to enjoy sex for a lifetime. One in three people in metro Atlanta recently tested positive for Herpes Simplex II, which has no known cure.
- You can make unwise decisions (for example, ride with driver who's under the influence)
"…marijuana has been correlated with low levels of social achievement, criminal activity, higher college drop-out rates, and use of other drugs and alcohol." (Marijuana: Its Effects on Mind & Body, The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Drugs, William J. Hermes and Anne Galperin, p. 75)
My Conclusion: I'm willing to take risks in life. I relish the risk of starting a new business, moving to another country, trying challenging sports or activities. But these risks hold the very real potential of great future gains. If marijuana promised a huge lifetime payoff in pleasure (incredibly increased pleasure over time), relationships (I get many more quality friends), health, etc., then the benefits might outweigh the risks. For me, there is too high a chance of ruining my life, for something that gives such minimal short-term benefit.
Frequent Comebacks and Questions
"I'd rather learn by my own experience."
Sometimes this is a good idea, like in trying a new food or trying a new sport. I might like a food that most others tell me is horrible. When the risk is small (I might not like the food and waste a little money), why not go ahead and experience it?
But when the stakes are high, I'd be a fool to rely solely on my own experience. Example: If science tells me that drinking antifreeze will likely kill me, I'll trust science (which has collected a large enough sampling of cases of antifreeze poisoning to make a strong case) than experience it myself. If thousands of people a year are loosing all their money to certain "get-rick-quick" schemes, I'd rather learn from their experience rather than lose my own money.
Similarly, why not learn from what thousands of long-term users of marijuana are saying, rather than have to learn the same lessons from my own experience?
"Nobody can speak with authority unless they've tried it themselves."
Would you trust a doctor's diagnosis of a disease only if he himself had had this disease? Often the greatest experts on a disease have never had it themselves. Similarly, the greatest authorities on the moon have probably never been there. They learn from the research and experiences of others. We don't have to experience things to know a lot about them.
What I stand to learn from smoking a joint each weekend for several months is very little.
First, I may learn that it temporarily relaxes me, helps me have a good time, etc. But I learn very little about how my thinking or physical reflexes are impaired, since we know that it affects our judgment about such things. In other words, most people who drink and drive or smoke pot and drive don't think they're impaired at all. So, just because I experience marijuana and think that I'm not impaired doesn't mean that I'm not.
Second, by smoking it for a short time I still know nothing about the long-term affects. Just like smoking cigarettes, the effects are incremental and I may not realize what's happening to my body for a long time.
120,000 marijuana addicts are telling me from their experience to not get involved with Marijuana. Sure, I might be the exception. But how can I ignore this vast, cumulative experience?
"It's no worse than beer."
- If you're caught smoking pot, the penalties will be much worse than if you're caught with beer.
- You're assuming that beer has very little ill effects on people. Once you know scores of people who have ruined their marriages, families and others' lives through impaired driving or alcoholism, beer may not look so innocent. But that's another subject…
- Beer doesn't harm your cardio-vascular system in the same way that pot does.
- Because pot is not regulated, it often contains contaminants that cause additional harm.
"I'm not hurting anyone but myself."
- Everything we do influences others. A little brother or friend or neighbor will start using it if you do it first.
- Impaired driving from marijuana and alcohol are killing and maiming many every day.
"The chief cause of death among young people (ages 15 to 24) is now drunk or drug-impaired driving.'' (Youthletter)
- Addicts drain their family'sassets
"It's not addicting."
"A drug is addicting if it causes compulsive, often uncontrollable drug craving, seeking, and use, even in the face of negative health and social consequences." This is a classic definition of drug addiction. Many marijuana users experience all these symptoms. More than 120,000 people seek treatment each year for their primary marijuana addiction. Why would 120,000 people pay tons of money to go into rehab for marijuana addiction if they could simply stop any time?
Only 1 in 3 marijuana addicts stay drug free after going through the expense and rigor of rehabilitation.
"Cultivate only the habits that you are willing should master you.'' (Elbert Hubbard)
Reflections on Decision-Making: Las Vegas Style
In a sense, life's decisions are a lot like gambling. A wise gambler (if that's not a contradiction of terms) weighs the potential for reward on one side with the potential for loss on the other. For example, if the odds are against him 50 to 1 in winning at a certain game, he might risk dollar coins over and over in order to get the chance to get a greater gain. Even if he loses 50 times in a row, he's still only lost $50.00 total. He'd never bet his entire life savings for a one time shot at fifty to one odds. Although the potential gain would be incredible, the odds of losing it all would cause the wise person to not even consider the bet.
Sometimes this is a good way to look at life's decisions. When I marry a person, it's a gamble. She might turn into a witch over the next five years. She may spend all my money. By getting to know the woman well I minimize my risk and believe that I've got great odds of having a great life together. But it's still a gamble. (If you’ve read this far in this paper, I applaud your interest. Ask me and I’ll give you five dollars. Please don’t tell anyone else about this.) (Author's note: I put this in for my kids to see if they really read this!)
Let's say you find a girl who's got a history of dishonesty, thievery and drug use. But she's hot and she loves you. You say, "Odds are, this girl's gonna get tired of me pretty soon, will eventually take all my money, then she'll divorce me and I'll have to pay her money every month for the rest of my life." On the other hand, you think marrying her might be really fun for the few months it might last. But in my mind, it wouldn't be worth the risk.
So let's apply this decision-making model to Marijuana. On the plus side, you get a pretty cool feeling of euphoria for a few hours each time you use it. Add to that good feeling that you've got some fellow smokers to hang out with. Not bad. But look at the potential of risk: losing your zest for life, going on to more powerful drugs to get the same feeling, loss of your driver's license, losing a job you really wanted, losing a girl you really wanted, losing all your money for drugs and rehab, making decisions your regret, etc. And unlike the "wise" gambler betting against 50 to 1 odds, there's no huge pay-off even if you "won" by avoiding trouble and stopping before you got addicted.
To me there's no way I'd take the risk.
Reflections on Decision-Making: Reaching Long-Term Goals
Many thinkers note that truly happy people have a purpose in their lives, something to shoot for that keeps them interested in life. If we can define a purpose in our lives, then we can better choose the activities that best help us achieve those goals.
Some of my goals involve making a decent living, keeping my health, being wise rather than a fool, being respected rather than laughed at, making a positive impact in the world rather than contributing to it's misery.
In that light of where I'm heading in life, I must ask several questions before trying Marijuana. Does it help me achieve my goals? If so, then I go for it. Does it put my goals at risk? Then I abstain. From my understanding of the facts, marijuana does nothing to help me achieve my goals. In fact, if I use it, it will almost certainly make my goals more difficult, if not make them impossible to achieve.
What are some things you want out of life? I challenge you to look at Marijuana in the light of what you want to achieve in life and see if it's worth it.
Copyright by Steve Miller, President, Legacy Educational Resources, Acworth, Georgia, Fall, 2003, all rights reserved. Feel free to copy and distribute in your school or home, if not for profit.