Tales of pot’s dangers may not be just smoke and mirrors

Were you in Oxford, England, you might have already heard this, but since you’re in Oxford, Miss., we’ll let you know: Pot might just be really bad for you after all.

The Independent (newspaper) out of London has recently made an about-face on its 1997 call for decriminalization of cannabis in England. At that time The Independent led a campaign to decriminalize the drug, culminating in a 1998 march on Parliament and eventual softening of drug laws in England, allowing physicians to prescribe cannabis for medical use. The drug was even downgraded in 2004 to a class C drug, making possession illegal, but not arrestable.

Fast forward 10 years, and now The Independent has printed a front-page apology to its readers for its earlier stance. Mounting evidence in British scientific cirlces in recent years has indicated that cannabis use can impair mental health. But the straw that broke The Independent’s back was research published this week in The Lancet, a peer-reviewed British medical journal, that a particularly powerful strain of marijuana called “skunk” is more dangerous than LSD or ecstacy, and has contributed to a large number of cases of schizophrenia in Britain.

This is a watershed moment for opponents of legalized marijuana for several reasons. First, it is additional ammunition in their fight against marijuana. Second, The Independent is a center-left newspaper, and if they think it’s a bad idea, then surely others will follow.

Perhaps most importantly for us, though, it’s a wake-up call to college-aged students in the United States, as well.

The conventional wisdom holds that marijuana is a benign drug, perhaps even moreso than alcohol and tobacco. “It’s impossible to get addicted to pot” you may have heard. That may have been true for our parents’ generation, but chemistry, lower profit margins and resourceful growers have shown that pot can be genetically modified to turn a profit.

The dangerous culprit in the “skunk” stinking up England is tetrahydrocannabidinol — THC. It’s what gets pot smokers high. The amount of THC in skunk can be up to “25 times more powerful than the cannabis used by previous generations,” reports The Independent. Certainly not the same stuff used by the hippies in the days of yore. Even ignoring the super-powerful skunk, a cannabis joint today might contain 10 or 20 percent more THC than a joint from decades past.

What has shaken The Independent so thoroughly, though, is the number of people in England seeking treatment for cannabis addiction — 22,000, up from 1,600 a decade ago. Also shocking is the estimated 25,000 schizophrenics suffering from the disease due to cannabis use.

That is the state of things in England, but what about here at home? Of course, the debate over marijuana legalization continues, and with a field of (research) pot just a stone’s throw away, we feel we’re in a position to comment.

There’s no doubt that marijuana is stronger now than in generations past, but criminalization, even in the face of The Lancet’s evidence, might not be the answer. The moonshine problem during prohibition might shed light on how to handle it.

Home-distilled rot-gut liqour was in high demand during Prohibition. People drank it, and it sometimes blinded or killed them. It was incredibly powerful stuff, but it had to be in order to be profitable. Once Prohibition ended, so did the problem with moonshine.

If pot were legalized, the problems with dangerous levels of THC might also go away. Legalization opens the door to regulation, which means a safer product.

Until that very, very far-off day when marijuana is legalized in the United States, remember that your youthful indescretions might be more dangerous than your parent’s youthful indescretions.

Daily Mississippian Editorial Staff University of Mississippi U-Wire