The Truth About Pot (May, 1968)
This is a surprisingly honest, un-biased and well researched article about marijuana from 1968. It’s kind of sad that essentially nothing has changed in this debate since this article was written.
THE TRUTH ABOUT POT
- Is marijuana addictive?
- Does it have bad physical and mental effects on the user?
- Does its use tend to increase crime?
Here are the conflicting opinions of leading experts on this highly controversial subject.
By Robert Gannon
After reviewing Mr. Cannon’s article on marijuana, “The Truth about Pot,” a consultant for the American Medical Association had this to say: “This is an excellent article. The author has done a wonderful job of making some legislative zealots look ridiculous simply by quoting their exaggerated statements and reciting the disconcerting facts.”
The great debate about marijuana ranks closely behind Vietnam and civil rights as one of the top issues of our time. And as the number of pot users grows, so does the controversy in which marijuana is called everything from a menace to a harmless delight.
What is the truth about this strange drug? Here is an in-depth report on the nation’s pot problem and what science has learned so far about its effect on those who use it.
Getting caught with the mild, euphoric drug called marijuana can mean a jail term of from two years (in most states) to life (in Texas) for the first offense. Yet nearly eight percent of all Americans have tried it at least once, and another one million to 2.3 million turn on with it more or less regularly. Life states that last year 675 million marijuana cigarettes were smoked in the U.S. — 3 and 3/8 for each man, woman, and child – in a flouting of the law rivaling the days of Prohibition.
Pot is in the news almost every day. If the item isn’t about the local high school principal getting busted, it’s U.S. Food and Drug Chief Dr James Goddard’s current explanation of what he meant when he said marijuana isn’t any more dangerous than alcohol (see below). If it isn’t an item that an estimated 75 percent of the soldiers in Vietnam puff pot, it’s another one nothing that 12 midshipmen were caught smoking it at Annapolis.
Few scientific studies exist
Solid medical evidence regarding marijuana is hard to find, mainly because no mass, long-term studies have bee conducted. Few short-term ones have, either. In 1963, for instance, only four persons in the whole country were licensed to perform research.
Never the less, clear away the emotional smoke, and you find that some significant work has been completed.
The plant is easy to spot. It has five to 11 long, narrow, toothed leaflets, pointed on both ends, growing from a center like olive-drab spokes on a lopsided wheel. The stalk, hollow, is four-cornered, and can grow to two inches think. Under optimum conditions the plant can rise to 20 feet, but usually stops at five.
The intoxicant content of the marijuana source plant, cannabis (hemp), varies considerably. Most of the wild stuff has so little active resin (which contains the intoxicant tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC) that it gives no more kick than corn silk. Two reasons for the low content: It originally was grown for hemp fibers, not resin, and the climate over most of the U.S. isn’t hot enough for maximum resin production. Pot grown in cramped window boxes for fun and profit tastes especially awful.
Marijuana grows easily
The nice thing about cannabis, say illicit horticulturists—disregarding the fact that if caught they can go to jail for years—is the ease of producing bumper harvests in the right climate. An entrepreneur plucks seeds from a smoking supply, then either puts them in a propagation tray with this year’s petunias, or simply scatters them in a secluded field in March or April. He rakes a little earth over them. No harrowing, weeding, fertilizing, or spraying necessary. He returns to mow the crop right after the first light frost.
Last fall, before the reaper could harvest an acre-size pot patch in Virginia, narcotics agents swooped in and plowed under $100,000 worth. The narcos also arrested the 18-year-old pot farmer, who is awaiting trial, pondering the pitfalls of growing your own "grass."
Nearly all marijuana smoked in the U.S.—95 percent, estimates U.S. Deputy Commissioner of Narcotics Robert Gaffney—is smuggled in from Mexico, usually in ingeniously outfitted "tourist" autos.
Pot creates a feeling of omnipotence with distortions of time and space
It was for the transportation of pot across the border that psychedelic drug exponent Dr. Timothy Leary was fined $30,000 and handed a 30-year prison sentence, now being appealed.
Mexican pot has a bigger kick
A kilo ( 2.2 pounds) of pot costs $20 in Mexico, goes for between $80 and $200 in the U.S. Mexican marijuana averages 13 percent resin, while wild U.S. stock is only about half that, according to Dr. Richard E. Shultes, Harvard botanist. Indian cannabis is about 20 percent resin. Recently an even more potent cannabis called kef (Arabic for good humor) has been brought in from North Africa.
Regardless of the strain, the flower-less male plant has virtually no resin; all the good stuff is concentrated in the female’s flowering top and upper leaves. Do-it-yourselfers dry the mixture in the sun, then chop it fine.
A pound is good for more than 1,000 joints (cigarettes). Usually a batch is split into five-dollar "nickel bags" the size of wooden matchboxes, each good for about 12 roll-your-own smokes.
Marijuana is also drunk like tea, or used as an extra ingredient in candies, cookies, and cakes (about one cup for a standard cake mix). It’s even sprinkled over spaghetti sauce. But about 2.6 times more is needed for the same "high" when eaten as when smoked.
Hashish also comes from the cannabis plant, but most connoisseurs put it in a different category, because it has such a wallop—between five and eight times more than that of marijuana. "Hash" is produced only under ultra-fine growing conditions found abroad. There, the female cannabis exudes a sticky, sap like substance that is pure resin. Collected and dried, the hash looks like gray or brown burnt rubber. Often it’s mixed with cow dung so it won’t crumble. In the U.S. it retails for between $50 and $110 an ounce.
Soon there may be a third group of products on the illicit market: synthetic THC. Last August Dr. Raphael Mechoulam of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Dr. Hershel Smith of Wyeth Laboratories, Philadelphia, announced that they had economically synthesized two forms of THC, the first time this had ever been done. The process is relatively easy, and already hippie chemists are reportedly turning some out.
The physiological effects of synthetic or natural THC are rather mild, ordinarily beginning within a minute and lasting less than four hours. THC lowers the body temperature somewhat, sometimes raises blood pressures, slows breathing a little, and increases the pulse rate. It de-creases blood-sugar levels, making the user hungry: and it dehydrates his body, increasing the need to urinate. It also causes a slight reddening of the membranes around the eyes. The pupils di-late, the eyes’ reflex to light change slows, and sometimes daylight seems to hurt the eyes. Also, the breath smells like burnt rope for an hour or two.
Does pot affect your driving?
With all these things going on—even if in small degree—what happens to a man’s driving ability? No specific tests have been run, but according to narcotics ex-pert Dr. Joel Fort, former resident psychiatrist at the U.S. Narcotic Hospital in Lexington, Ky., the way most people use it, "there is no particular effect of the cannabis on the coordination or reaction time, the factors that would be particularly important. With higher dosage the effect would be that of a sort of mild sedative-stimulant. Certain dosages (probably) affect depth perception."
Donald B. Louria, head of the New York State Council on Drug Addiction, says, "The marijuana-using driver behind the wheel of a car is inordinately dangerous because he has a feeling of omnipotence and yet at the same time he has distortions of time and space perception."
Actual marijuana-caused accidents are hard to prove. Bruce Johnson, a New York State University researcher, and past senior consultant for the Arthur D. Little research company, asked law-enforcement officials in nine major cities if they had any specific automobile accidents they felt were caused by marijuana. "I simply was not able to find any evidence," Johnson reported. "That is, no one gave me a case that he could say was caused by marijuana."
One reason, perhaps, is that THC can-not be chemically detected in the body. The big effect is in the mind. Just what it does there is not certain. But speculation is that it interferes with the trans-mission of impulses along the fibers of the nervous system, especially in the brain, and that it affects the way the body handles certain chemical compounds, such as serotonin and norepinephrine, which are important in the functioning of the nervous system.
The mental effects
In a study of 100 people who were given marijuana under laboratory conditions. 74 percent reported euphoria, 12 percent depression. And in another experiment subjects were asked to push a button when 20 seconds had passed. Before smoking they pushed it, on the average, at the 13-second mark. But under the influence of marijuana they waited only eight seconds.
In large doses THC can be a hallucinogen, but researchers place it at the bottom of the psychedelic ladder, way be-low mescaline, peyote, and LSD. A Rand Corp. drug expert, Dr. William McGlothlin, points out that "cannabis reaction … permits a dependable, controlled usage that is difficult to insure with LSD and mescaline." One distinct difference is that cannabis tends to produce sleep, whereas LSD and mescaline usually cause a long period of wakefulness.
Marijuana is not a narcotic: it is neither physically addictive (no withdrawal symptoms), nor does one work up a tolerance to it so that more and more is needed for the same effect. Psychiatrist Fort says, "The marijuana smoker is able to assess the degree of desired effect as he continues to smoke, so that after reaching whatever he is seeking, he ordinarily stops any further inhalation."
Alcohol, on the other hand, point out pot enthusiasts, is addictive, generates tolerance, and may lead to pathology—from vitamin deficiencies to cirrhosis. Alcohol kills (last year, 11,000 people); so far as is known, marijuana doesn’t. And except for an occasional beer or a little wine, most potheads don’t drink.
The violence attributed to pot may he a carryover from the days of Harry J. Anslinger, former U.S. Commissioner of Narcotics, world’s foremost marijuana foe and crusader for punitive legislation. The current commissioner, Henry L. Giordano, continues to follow Anslinger’s lead, as, for example, in this statement, written by him for the government narcotic booklet Living Death: "Never let anyone persuade you to smoke even one marijuana cigarette. It is pure poison." The bureau maintains that marijuana leads to rape, homicide, and other heinous crimes.
How pot users react
Slowly, contrary evidence is accumulating. One California medical study completed last year concluded that the "rowdy" type prefers alcohol, the "non-aggressive" prefers pot. Marijuana users "are not troublemakers and they try to stay away from trouble," the report stated. "They do not engage in delinquent behavior—other than in their use of marijuana."
A massive 1947 study of marijuana users in India—where the drug is smoked or drunk in "taverns" much like our local bars—concluded that because marijuana tends to make a man timid rather than aggressive, its use in India led not to more crime, but less. In today’s hippie communities, in fact, where a perpetual haze of burning hemp hangs overhead, the crime rate is amazingly low.
Another charge is that marijuana some-times turns people into "sex fiends." Actually, instead of acting as an aphrodisiac, THC more often diminishes sexual interest and capacity, says Dr. H. B. M. Murphy of Montreal’s McGill University.
It is also said that marijuana can act as a trigger, bringing on psychosis. And here detractors are on safer ground. One man, in fact, flipped out right under the eyes of researchers at the Federal Addiction Research Center in Lexington, Ky.
The program’s aim was to catalogue brain-wave changes in people smoking marijuana. The volunteer had electrodes’ attached to his scalp, and was told to leisurely puff a cigarette that had been injected with THC. Dr. Harris Isbell, director of the center, says, "The man was being given a brain-wave test when very suddenly and without warning he reached up, ripped the wires off his head, grabbed a pair of scissors and made threatening motions with them.
Pot—through the ages
Marijuana is one of the most ancient drugs known. Assyrians back in the seventh century B.C. called it the "plant of joy"; pharaohs used it to ease the tribulations of pyramid-building; and the Chinese were turning on with it back in 2730 B.C. A few Americans were smoking it around the turn of the century, but nobody really gave it much notice until Mexican laborers began toting grass across the border during Prohibition.
The plant itself, Cannabis sativa, has been grown in this country—legally since 1611, when farmers sowed the first crop near Jamestown. They used the hemp for rope and clothing.
Cotton pushed hemp out of business, but not before cannabis seed had spread across the land.
"`I know what you’re up to.’ he said. `I know what you’re trying to do and you won’t get away with it.’ So we had quite a frightening time. We finally persuaded him to come to the hospital section. The next morning he was all right. He just said, `That was quite a ride I had.’ "
"It is virtually incontrovertible," says Dr. Louria, "that for the unstable person marijuana can lead to neurosis, psychosis, irrational or undesirable behavior."
Adds Dr. Nicholas B. Matteson, a London drug expert: "In ordinary parlance, if a man is about to go nuts, a lot of things will tip him over the edge, and I can believe that cannabis, like alcohol or many other things, will do the same."
The dose has a lot to do with it
"I can make anybody fly with enough THC." says Dr. Isbell. When a 150 pound man smokes a cigarette with 1.520-microgram charge of THC, he feels, giddy, happy, relaxed. Give him four’ times the dose and he’ll see distorted, shapes and colors, and his time sense will be warped. Double it again and most, subjects will undergo "psychotic episodes," says Dr. Isbell. They’ll experience hallucinations and loss of reality.
How do these doses compare to ordinary pot smokes? A cigarette of potent Mexican marijuana, estimates Dr. Isbell probably contains about 6,000 microgram of THC.
As to long-term effects, almost no studies have been made in this area either. Closest to come to it was Dr. Isbell, who had 10 men in a constant "high for a solid month. They smoked at least one marijuana cigarette every waking hour. "At the end of the month they were showing as much effect from the marijuana as they had at the beginning of the experiment," Dr. Isbell reported. No tolerance build-up.
When the 30 days were up, Isbell cut off the marijuana, cold. Nobody showed any withdrawal symptoms, and no physical changes could be detected. In fact, according to the American Medical Association, there is no evidence that marijuana causes "lasting physical and mental changes" except some constipation, diarrhea, and bronchitis among chronic users.
Last September a Greek pharmacologist, Constantinos J. Miras, reported in a University of California seminar that he "can recognize a chronic marijuana user from afar by the way he walks, talks, and acts." Users are characterized by slowed speech, loss of inhibitions, and lowered morality, said Miras, who is being partially supported in his research by the National Institute of Mental Health. "They will even kill," he says.
There is evidence that some chronic marijuana users drop out of society and pull within themselves. But most observers feel that they would have dropped out anyway; if they didn’t use pot as a crutch they’d probably gulp alcohol or Miltown.
Though medical men agree that marijuana is not physically addictive (unlike cigarettes and alcohol), many classify it as "psychologically addictive’"—a term that Dr. Malleson considers "extremely imprecise, misleading, and unuseful. In practice it means nothing more than the statement. `I want.’ "
Doesn’t lead to stronger drugs
Most experts also agree that marijuana does not in itself lead to more potent drugs. But because it is illegal, the criminal underground may be aiding in distribution–the same underground that distributes heroin. So in that sense, some experts call marijuana "crimogenic," a word that is applied, explains Dr. Fort, "to certain laws which through the nature of the law generate crime as a direct consequence of that law."
People in the pot cult feel that sooner or later the laws will change—if not completely to legalize marijuana, then to put it under the same kind of strict supervision as alcohol or untested drugs. According to the Wall Street Journal, a confidential memo written by Dr. James, L. Goddard, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner, and circulated among top officials, "advocates such radical changes as removal of legal penalties for possession of marijuana when it is intended for personal use only."