Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Possible Surgeon General Sanjay Gupta's tortured logic on marijuana prohibition

Word on the street is that Obama's choice for surgeon general is CNN medical journalist Sanjay Gupta, which is an interesting twist on an otherwise irrelevant cabinet position. The criticism of him on his Wikipedia page ain't too shabby – he's angered The Nation over his healthcare policy coverage and pissed off Michael Moore in his criticism of Sicko.

But reading this article that he wrote for Time in 2006 on marijuana legalization makes me doubt the man's competence. Despite the fact that I know he's not an expert on marijuana, either scientifically or politically, the fact that he would put his name to such an article is disheartening.

First of all, why does he feel that simply stating reasons why marijuana is harmful to your health – not something in and of itself illogical – is enough reason to endorse a political program of prohibition? Why has he not endorsed alcohol prohibition, too? I presume his answer would be that it's been tried and the consequences were too great. But if he's willing to consider the broader social and political consequences of alcohol prohibition, why is "Perhaps." the only thing he has to say to those who argue that marijuana prohibition has similar consequences?

And then there are the factual errors. Quite a number of them, actually. First he states that marijuana can "lead to long-lasting depression or anxiety." This is a very straightforward example of confusing correlation with causation. Many people have noted that while marijuana use and depression are definitely correlated, there is little evidence to believe that marijuana causes depression in otherwise happy people. In fact, even Fox News has acknowledged a study that indicates that some doses of marijuana might be beneficial to depressed people.

Next, he says "smoking anything, whether it's tobacco or marijuana, can seriously damage your lung tissue." He's obviously alluding to the possibility that you'll get some lung-related disease, but the facts don't indicate that marijuana causes lung-related illnesses. A landmark study established that smoking cannabis, "even regularly and heavily," does not lung cancer. Ditto with emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Marijuana might actually have curative effects on asthma and cancerous tumors.

But at the end comes the biggest doozy, when he declares: "And if you get high before climbing behind the wheel of a car, you will be putting yourself and those around you in danger." This is made all the worse as its the last line of the article, giving you the impression that it's the biggest thing you should take away from this all. But marijuana intoxication causing car accidents is an outright falsehood, as reports by the governments and state universities of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia have all shown.

Between his picks of Joe "drug czar" Biden as vice president, über-drug warrior Eric Holder as attorney general, and reformed addict anti-medical marijuana drug warrior Jim Ramstad as drug czar, Obama is proving Marsha Rosenbaum right when she said that he won't "use any political capital" on reforming America's drug laws.

(HT: The Agitator.)

Edit: It looks like NORML has written a pretty extensive article on Gupta's ignorance when it comes to marijuana. However, I don't think they had the strongest possible rebuttal against Gupta's driving-while-stoned argument. They made the mistake of mentioning that a certain input to good driving (lab-measured reaction time) is inhibited by marijuana, without mentioning that the outcome (actual crash rates) remains the same as when the driver is sober.


Shaheen Lakhan said...

Thanks for submitting this post to our blog carnival. We just published the 13th edition of Drugs and Pharmacology and your article was featured!

Thank you.


Anonymous said...

Interesting that you say smoking marijuana doesn't damage your lungs.
Inhaling any smoke is damagig for your lungs!
But that isn't the point here:
Firstly, inhaling tobacco what with tar-and-all is more damaging and so why have illegal cannabis AND legal cigarettes/cigars on that basis? The law is self-contradictory.
Secondly, there are other, more direct ways to ingest marijuana, so the argument falls squarely upon its ignorant face.

Good article, and it would be appreciated if you would have gone into more detail regarding the misconceptions about, and cherry-picking of, data of effects on driving.
Additionally, it should be noted that this only makes regarding illegalisation/legalisation regarding driving! It's irrelevant to normal pedestrian use; on that basis, alcohol should also be outright banned; the law is, again, or at least the arguments, are self-contradictory and reveal a hidden bias/prejudice causing double-standards.

Anonymous said...

Pardon me, sir!

The beginning of that last paragraph should have read:

Additionally, it should be noted that this only makes a case for illegalisation/legalisation regarding driving!