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Prevention Connection: The Marijuana Decision (Part 1)

Should Massachusetts allow medical marijuana?

The following is a guest column by Marilyn G. Belmonte of the Burlington Drug & Alcohol Task Force:

This year, voters will be asked to decide the fate of marijuana in Massachusetts. There are two distinct sides on this topic.  The PRO side is funded by a handful of billionaires who want marijuana to be the next big industry in our country.  The CON side has little funding because prevention relies on grant money that has been cut back since 9/11.  Money is important for a successful campaign.  But for the voting process to be fair, every voter needs to know all the facts. 

Teen Marijuana Use

The annual Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS), released in late April 2012, showed that past-month use of marijuana rose from 19 percent in 2008, to 27 percent in 2011.  Nearly half of teens (47 percent) have used marijuana in their lifetime – a 21 percent increase since 2008. Nearly one in 10 teenagers smoke marijuana at least 20 times a month, an increase of 80% since 2008.  

Since Massachusetts decriminalized marijuana in a 2008 ballot vote (the law took effect in January 2009), our state has seen a rise in youth marijuana rates.  According to the 2011 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey, the lifetime use of marijuana (have you ever used marijuana?) and the current use (have you used marijuana in the past month?) has begun to increase again after many years of steady decline.  This shows us that prevention efforts in Massachusetts were working until the vote to decriminalize marijuana.

Why are we seeing this rise in teen marijuana use?  Surveys show that teen perception of harm from marijuana use has been dropping since states have begun legalizing marijuana for self-proclaimed medical use.  The general perception is that medicines are safe, therefore if some states consider marijuana to be medicine, then marijuana must be safe.

Natural Medicines

Marijuana is a plant and thus natural versus man-made drugs in a laboratory.  One of the drugs found in marijuana, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), makes people feel “high” when they smoke it.  Some people believe that the THC in marijuana helps cancer patients deal with the nausea and loss of appetite caused by chemotherapy; helps relieve the pressure inside the eye caused by glaucoma; and relieves the pain of migraine headaches.  But there has not been enough research yet to confirm if THC is responsible for easing symptoms, or another drug found in the plant.

Plants have been used for medicinal purposes for centuries.  But today the drugs are extracted from plants and made into medicine.  Aspirin is derived from willow tree bark.  When a doctor tells a patient to take two aspirin, the doctor is not recommending that the patient chew on tree bark. 

Atropine, used for some heart problems, is made from the deadly nightshade plant.  Codeine and morphine, prescribed for pain relief, are made from the opium poppy plant which also gives us heroin.  Digitoxin, prescribed for heart problems, is made from the lovely foxglove plant which is poisonous if eaten. Pseudoephedrine for the relief of cold symptoms is made from ma-huang which causes heart attacks and stroke in high doses. 

All of these drugs were extracted from plants then tested for their effectiveness, safety and dosage.  Once properly tested, the drugs were formulated into medications that can be easily manufactured for consistency of quality and dosage.  Marijuana has not yet been adequately tested like all other medicines in this country.

Stay tuned for Part 2:  Official Medical Opinion on Marijuana

Marilyn Belmonte is a substance abuse prevention expert who founded Healthy Outcomes, Inc., a non-profit organization, to provide prevention services to all communities through grants and charitable donations. Marilyn is Co-Chairperson of the Drug and Alcohol Task Force in Burlington, Massachusetts.   Her work has received national recognition from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for her innovative community programs in 2010 when she was awarded to the “National Service To Science Initiative”.  She also received the “All Star Award” by the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA), makers of over-the-counter medications for educating parents about cough medicine abuse in 2008.

Kevin Sterling August 01, 2012 at 11:44 PM
"Lifetime" use, which by definition includes those who try it and say "yeccch, never again" has fallen from 47% in 2003 to 43% in 2011. Ms. Belmonte is hanging her hat on a dip to 41% in 2007. It was back to 43% in 2009, which was the year that the decriminalization law was actually implemented. Let's not forget that "lifetime" use got to 47% under the prohibition law Ms. Belmonte is so attached to. Let's also not forget that in statistics, blips up and down are called statistically insignificant for a reason. In the "current use" category we find that the 2011 number is 28%, precisely the same as in 2003. It was 27% in 2005, dipped to 25% in 2007, 27% in 2009. Again statistically insignificant blips that Ms. Belmonte hopes to con people into thinking are somehow the fault of the decriminalization law implemented in 2009. Ms. Belmonte does not explain why "lifetime" cigarette use among Bay State high school students declined from 53% in 2003 to 39% in 2011 and current cigarette use from 21% in 2003 to 14% in 2011 despite the fact that tobacco is legal for adults to use. Ms. Belmonte does not explain why "lifetime" drinking alcohol use among Bay State high school students declined from 75% in 2003 to 68% in 2011 and current use from 46% in 2003 to 40% in 2011 despite the fact that drinking alcohol is legal for adults to use.
Gustavo Picciuto August 01, 2012 at 11:49 PM
The ONE and only argument needed to untruth this article is the following; if you were to eat, smoke, vaporize (or which ever method of consuming you prefer) any amount of raw or dried Marijuana (pulled straight from the earth if you prefer), the most you can find, you will NOT die nor will you suffer grave or cause severe harm to yourself (oh and by the way, the same can NOT be said for alcohol, you WILL die if you do that with booze so don't try it please). That's also in comparison with all the other dangerous plants this piece mentions, Marijuana can not be compared to the example mentioned so please try again?
Kevin Sterling August 01, 2012 at 11:52 PM
Recently the Monitoring the Future Surveys for 2011 were published and youth use of cannabis is at 30 year highs nationwide. There's no surprise that Massachusetts youth use is up marginally. But the 2011 MTF survey also showed that youth use of both smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol are at 30 year lows. I submit that the evidence plainly demonstrates that age limits enforced at point of sale work, but ceding the distribution of such a lucrative market to those willing to commit felonies in the normal course of business do not. If we really cared about the children we'd quit trying to link their use to adults who choose to use substances. We'd also quit bald faced lying to kids about the dangers of cannabis. It takes a child about 5 minutes inside my world for him to realize that the propaganda about cannabis is built on a platform of bald faced lies, half truths, and hysterical rhetoric. The true danger of Ms. Belmonte's approach is that youth then decide that if they've been lied to about pot, that people like Ms. Belmonte are also lying to them about cocaine, heroin, crack, meth, and prescription opioids. There is no doubt in my mind that honesty is the better policy. “Never let the facts get in the way of disseminating an effective piece of hysterical rhetoric” ~~The motto of the Know Nothing prohibitionist
Paul Hurteau August 02, 2012 at 03:02 AM
"a handful of billionaires who want marijuana to be the next big industry" I am with you right there. Like a a handful of billionaires who want to keep HEMP illegal??
Rose Johnson August 02, 2012 at 03:45 PM
My son has stage 4 cancer and is suffering all the miserable side-effects of his 24/7 chemo. A friend of his gave him a joint, and it made him feel soooo much better. What is wrong with making marijuana legal when prescribed. The recent NH bill failed because it would have allowed individuals to grow medical weed - that would have been too hard to enforce. So leave the growing out of it and legalize medical marijuana.
Curtis Creek August 03, 2012 at 05:14 PM
So, the perception is that if it is available with a doctor's order that it is safe? Does that go for drugs like Warfarin (a blood thinner, but also the main ingredient in RAT POISON) Chromium compounds (chemotherapy drugs and also deadly poison) and Atropine (derived from deadly nightshade)? Of course not. Every parent in America teaches their children from age two onward that medicines are dangerous. Will you please get serious? BTW, I've never heard myself referred to as a "billionair" before. How'd that happen without me realizing it? Excuse me, I have some elections to buy.
Facts Matter August 03, 2012 at 08:58 PM
Mr. Jones, Your selective use of research from the 1980's is unpersuasive. A review of recently emerging scientific research indicates that marijuana is addictive, causes respiratory illness, is more carcinogenic that tobacco, and is opposed by every major medical organization including the the American Medical Association and the American Cancer Society. "The adverse effects of marijuana are not trivial. Mounting concerns about the impact of marijuana on adolescent brain development and function, suicide risk, and earlier onset of psychotic disorders are of of particular relevance." If you had an addicted kid, you might think differently.
Facts Matter August 03, 2012 at 09:13 PM
Mr. Sterling, I suggest you check your facts. Statistics on use by males age 12-19 has steadily risen, especially in states where marijuana laws have been relaxed. Heavy marijuana use is up 80% among U.S. teens since 2008. Every reputable medical association has concluded that smoking marijuana has is not medicine and has not been found safe or free of adverse health risks.
Facts Matter August 03, 2012 at 09:20 PM
Mr Picciuto -- you demonstrate beautifully the difference between an acute adverse health effect, and a chronic adverse health effect caused by the inhalation or injestion of toxic substances. Public Health advocates generally work to prevent both of these.
Facts Matter August 03, 2012 at 09:23 PM
There are forms of legalized medicine derived from the marijuana plant. One form, marinol, has been approved in capsule form by the FDA. A second form, which is a mouth spray, will be approved in 2013. Your son would be much safer using a scientifically verified, properly dosed, and FDA approved form of this drug.
Facts Matter August 03, 2012 at 09:31 PM
Mr Creek, the point is, marijuana is not safe just because it is a plant. The FDA researches the safety, dosing, and efficacy of plant derived chemicals and approves safe levels of medication. Smoked marijuana is NOT considered safe, nor is it considered "medicine" by either the American Medical Association or the Massachusetts Medical Society. However, purveyors of this addictive plant as a commodity are becoming very wealthy in some states with lax laws while operating outside the basic standards of the medical establishment.
Curtis Creek August 07, 2012 at 04:49 AM
Mr. Matter, marijuana is not safe because it is a plant, it is safe because it is completely non-toxic, has no drug interactions whatsoever, and has very few short lived and easily managed side effects. The FDA researches and approves NEW COMPOUNDS based on efficacy and safety. It does not test known plant based compounds because they are not new. It does not test medications that have been in use for thousands of years. There is no reason, or mechanism (or need, incidentally) to test herbal compounds that have centuries of use behind them. Prove me wrong: show me the record of the FDA approval of ASPIRIN. Marijuana is less addictive than Caffiene and it's withdrawal is similar in severity. It is much less addictive than alcohol, and orders of magnitude less than tobacco. In fact, it is safer than any Medication in the current pharmicopea. I'm to understand that your thesis is that in a country where they consider methamphetamine safe to prescribe to grade schoolers, Doctors should NOT have the power to recommend marijuana to seriously ill adults? Seriously? I mean...those are the best objections you can raise??
Chris O'Hara August 07, 2012 at 09:39 AM
@ facts matter marinol doesnt work.......http://www.opposingviews.com/i/society/drug-law/sen-mitch-mcconnell-marijuana-can-cause-death another of your "facts" debunked am having fun are you?
Chris O'Hara August 07, 2012 at 09:43 AM
@ Facts matter........http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-5614233-503544.html link to AMA real stance on marijuana not your lies.....The American Medical Association on Tuesday adopted a resolution calling for the government to review its classification of marijuana, in order to ease the way for more research into the use of medical marijuana. wow your some kind of liar.......
Chris O'Hara August 07, 2012 at 09:47 AM
@facts matter......American cancer society real position.........http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/sourcefiles/ACSposition.pdf The IOM’s report suggests that there may be a benefit to cancer patients from the chemicals, or cannabinoids, contained within marijuana. These studies appear to show that cannabinoids will help alleviate the nausea, vomiting, wasting, and muscle spasms caused by chemotherapy in some patients. The ACS is supportive of more research into the benefits of cannabinoids. Better and more effective treatments are needed to overcome the side effects of cancer and its treatment. cut and past right off the ACS PDF file again your some kind of liar
Chris O'Hara August 07, 2012 at 09:50 AM
@facts matter ill leave you with this one be cause am out of time and need to get going......From the national cancer institute.......Earlier this month, the National Cancer Institute bowed to a burgeoning legion of studies suggesting that one of the chemical compounds in cannabis slows -- or even stops -- uncontrolled cell growth. In one study, tumors in lab mice shrank once they were exposed to the compound CBD. The NCI updated its Web site accordingly, including a reference to a "possible direct antitumor effect" from pot. and heres the link i just cut and paste from http://blogs.sfweekly.com/thesnitch/2011/03/national_cancer_institute_adds.php
Chris O'Hara August 07, 2012 at 09:56 AM
@ facts matter..........i could keep ripping apart every statement you've made here..........yes facts matter.......yours are just lies and more lies ive provided links to my statements against yours.........everyone is entitled to their own opinion not their own facts........and your just another in a long line of dishonorable liars....I'll be back later to day to continue ripping your statements apart starting with your teen marijuana use numbers hahahahhaha where did you find those? lairs are us hahahahaha in this day in age it still amazes me that people still try to lie and B.S on the internet hahahhahaha facts matter you might want to consider a screen name change hahahahaha
Facts Matter August 07, 2012 at 09:02 PM
Mr. O'Hara -- the burden of proof is on pot proponents to prove, via scientifically valid measures, that smoking pot is safe and not harmful to human health. This is a very high bar. The most recent scientifically valid research studies are showing adverse health effects -- in mental health, adolescent brain development, opiate seeking behavior, cancer risk and more. Bring on the scientifically valid research! It takes years of peer reviewed studies. And let's take a look at public health history: after evidence accumulated in the 30's 40's and 50's, it wasn't until 1957 that the Surgeon General declared it the official position of the U.S. Public Health Service that there was clear evidence of a causal relationship between smoking and lung cancer. It then took 50 years of battling the tobacco industry before we finally saw a decrease in cigarette smoking in this country. During this time tobacco purveyors privatized profits while foisting the health consequences and costs associated with smoking onto the public. Why repeat such a negative historical lesson by repeating it with pot? ...and I am not going to call you names . . . that might suggest I'm feeling paranoid.
Facts Matter August 07, 2012 at 09:26 PM
Mr. O'Hara -- "one of the chemical compounds in cannabis" does not need to be inhaled along with the 33 known carcinogens in pot smoke. IF the compound proves useful, it can be isolated and safely dosed in a medical laboratory and its efficacy monitored by a qualified oncologist. And did you read the study out of Tufts University this summer that showed an increase in opiate seeking behavior in the offspring of mice who were exposed to marijuana during maturation? Lots of research out there. It take years of peer reviewed studies to prove safety or prove harm. You could sit and read research studies all day. Let's look at history: It took 50 years to reduce Americans tobacco smoking habits AFTER there was conclusive evidence that it causes cancer (1964 Surgeon Generals Report on Smoking and Health). Meanwhile, the private tobacco profiteers foisted the public health costs of tobacco onto the rest of us. The century before that was the public health battles in Europe to close the opium dens. In that example, ultimately morphine was extracted from poppies and is used for pain management in legitimate medical practice. And take a look at the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, July 2012, The recovery community, treating an alarming rise in the number of addicted teens, might not agree with your interpretation of the research.
Paul Hurteau August 08, 2012 at 03:47 PM
If you look at the adverse side effects for marinol, all the adverse effects would need marijuana to fight those effects. Chemicals cannot replace natural cures.
Curtis Creek August 08, 2012 at 05:17 PM
"Mr. O'Hara -- the burden of proof is on pot proponents to prove, via scientifically valid measures, that smoking pot is safe and not harmful to human health." Mr. Matter. You are very confused. The burden is NOT on "pot proponents" to prove it is safe. It is quite the opposite, the burden is on the Government to show it is dangerous. We do not impose preemptive bans in this country. And for a drug to be kept off the market, the research needs to show deleterious effects and or lack of effectiveness for the condition. You silly people seem to believe that smoking is the only means of delivery for cannabis. Why should I have to prove smoking anything is safe? I recommend vaporizing or tinctures. Or you can ingest a nice brownie. Oh...and you asked for the research. I have that, too. Fairly complete, these nice folks update their website regularly. You should find it very informative: http://boards.cannabis.com/medicinal-cannabis-health/161539-granny-storm-crows-list.html
Curtis Creek August 08, 2012 at 05:29 PM
"And did you read the study out of Tufts University this summer that showed an increase in opiate seeking behavior in the offspring of mice who were exposed to marijuana during maturation?" To that I will reply with a quote from a well known marijuana researcher: "The drug is really quite a remarkably safe one for humans, although it is really quite a dangerous one for mice and they should not use it." -- J.W.D Henderson Director of the Bureau of Human Drugs, Health and Welfare, Canada
Chris O'Hara August 08, 2012 at 05:29 PM
omg do you ever educate your self even a little before you post? i found you a valid study with a 2.1sec google search is a 20yr study of 5000 marijuana smokers good enough for you? am sorry i called you a liar your just ignorant.....you staked a position based on lies.....well heres your proof....and by the way.....people who are advoocating for legalization aren"t doing it so everyone can become all day stoners just like everyone who enjoys alcohol......i don't drink id rather smoke......and be left alone while i do it.. http://www.suntimes.com/lifestyles/health/9933121-423/moderate-pot-use-doesnt-appear-to-harm-lungs-20-year-study.html
Chris O'Hara August 08, 2012 at 05:33 PM
I have to ask..........why do you care so much about adults who enjoy to smoke rather than drink or any other vice? and please spare me its about the children.......every teenager in america has unfettered 24/7 access to marijuana right now because of people like you.......
Curtis Creek August 08, 2012 at 05:39 PM
Mr. Matter you and your ilk have had 70 years of government funded and supported research and to date you have failed to conclusively link marijuana use to anything negative at all. At the same time the government has continuously obstructed research into marijuana's potential BENEFITS. Yet in spite of that, the evidence of marijuana's medical effectiveness continues to accrue. The public is not ignorant of this, 70 to 80 percent of Americans support MMJ. And a growing majority support it's outright legalization. Furthermore nobody at all is buying the "softer gentler" prohibition being peddled by the treatment industry and their cronies in government. You need to pick your eyes up from your monitor and look around you. You lose.
Chris O'Hara August 09, 2012 at 08:21 PM
This artical is funny adults should go to jail because teens might smoke pot.....lets ban steak because babies can't chew it.......the women who wrote this farce and people like her are the sole reason teenagers have 24/7 access to cannabis......and it would'nt surprise me if facts matter was her
Chris O'Hara August 09, 2012 at 08:24 PM
Facts matter come back.....i enjoy playing prohibitionists.....you people are funny and becoming funnier by the day.....come back with some more of your facts please.......i was having a good laugh......
Chris O'Hara August 11, 2012 at 10:47 AM
yes this is a women who makes a living from forced rehabilitation.......
Richard Hosford (Editor) August 11, 2012 at 08:02 PM
Hi Everyone, enjoying the discussion but had to delete one comment because of name calling/language. Please keep things civil. Thanks
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