The Marijuana Series: NY Times Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

Re “What Science Says About Marijuana” (editorial, July 31):

The measuring of marijuana’s addictive potential and consequences against our two most highly profitable, deadly and legal drugs — tobacco and alcohol — as a justification for its legalization seems to me to reflect a terrible cynicism about public health, and it distracts attention from the research findings.

Is it really acceptable for one out of every 10 marijuana users (among adolescents, nearly one of every five) to have a diagnosable disorder? The majority (two-thirds) of adolescent substance abuse treatment admissions involve marijuana as the primary disorder.

Other scientific facts need emphasis separate from their comparison to alcohol and tobacco. Regular marijuana use is associated with cognitive, educational and respiratory problems. It increases risk for other substance and psychiatric diagnoses. Scientific disagreement remains about marijuana as a “gateway” drug; it is not a myth that has been disproved.

Marijuana addiction and withdrawal are considered physical because this potent drug causes significant changes in the brain. Finally, the belief that marijuana addiction and health problems will be managed better by legalization and government regulation has no basis in science or history.

Decisions about the safety of our country’s youth should not be made exclusively in the court of public, political and media opinion. I hope the science of marijuana addiction will not be minimized or distorted in this polarizing debate.

New York, July 31, 2014

The writer is president and chief executive of CASAColumbia, which does research on addiction, and a professor of psychiatry at Yale Medical School.