Around the nation, thousands of veterans and active-duty military personnel are waging their own personal battles against post-traumatic stress disorder. Typically triggered by a horrific incident either witnessed or experienced by the person, PTSD comes with a debilitating set of physical and psychological symptoms.
Many service members are hesitant to seek professional help due to the social stigma surrounding mental illness. Those who do are often dosed with an ever-expanding list of prescription drugs, which, paired with therapy, are frequently the first course of action against certain ailments stemming from PTSD.
“It’s a daunting list,” Dr. Sue Sisley, a psychiatrist in Phoenix, told The Huffington Post about the staggering number of medications available for PTSD.
The Department of Veterans Affairs’ national formulary, a catalog of drugs and supplies commonly prescribed by VA doctors overall, contains more than 1,500 items, ranging from gauze pads to many of the medications listed below. Yet it is not comprehensive. VA doctors can prescribe non-formulary drugs to treat PTSD if they feel that previous treatment regimens have been ineffective or harmful. While these medications have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, that doesn’t mean their specific use as a treatment for PTSD — and particularly combat-related PTSD — is fully understood. Doctors often rely on trial and error to figure out what works for an individual patient.
“When I show this list to our military veterans, they were completely nauseated because they have frequently been the target of so many of these medication trials,” Sisley said.
Many of the medications used to treat serious PTSD symptoms such as anxiety, depression, flashbacks and insomnia come with risky side effects, especially when combined with one another. One of the most dangerous is an increase in suicidal thinking.
There is another drug not prescribed by any VA doctor anywhere. Yet some veterans with PTSD say it has helped them tremendously, even reducing their reliance on prescription medications. The drug is marijuana. While it’s not entirely harmless, it is known to be far more benign than many potent pharmaceuticals already approved for use.
But the government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug with no medical value and explicitly prohibits VA doctors from recommending marijuana to their patients, even in states that have reformed their marijuana laws. Some doctors are now arguing that the federal ban on pot is blocking veterans with PTSD from a valuable treatment option.
During a recent interview on NBC’s “Dateline,” U.S. Army veteran Matt Kahl, who served two tours of duty in Afghanistan, said the VA had prescribed a wide assortment of drugs to treat his PTSD. Kahl said the drugs made him feel like a “zombie,” and 10 months after returning from duty, he attempted suicide. A short time later he began to self-medicate with marijuana.
Kahl, who now lives in Colorado, the first state to legalize marijuana, told “Dateline” that he was able to eliminate many of those prescription drugs once he began using cannabis.
Roughly 20 percent of military veterans who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffer from PTSD and depression, according to a 2012 VA report. A study published earlier this year found that the suicide rate among those veterans suffering from PTSD is 50 percent higher than the national average.
Dr. Deborah Gilman, a recently retired physician who spent 22 years working for the VA, told HuffPost that she sees significant promise for marijuana as a treatment for PTSD.
“The most common symptoms that vets turn to conventional meds for are sleep problems, nightmares, chronic anxiety, intrusive memories (‘flashbacks’), chronic anxiety including social situations and other places, irritability, depressed mood and pain. Pain can be related to combat wounds or not,” she said in an email. “In my opinion, all of them could be benefitted to some degree by various properties in marijuana. Marijuana is useful for pain as well as for psychiatric problems.”
In an open letter to Congress earlier this year, Gilman urged congressional lawmakers to approve a measure that would give veterans easier access to the plant, both for PTSD and other medical conditions. She argued that marijuana poses a significantly decreased risk of dependence as well as fewer side effects than traditional medications. Cannabis may also be effective at reducing patients’ reliance on narcotic painkillers and, in some cases, may be able to replace them altogether, Gilman said.
Shortly thereafter, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved an amendment to a broader military spending bill that would allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to their patients in states that have already legalized the drug for medical use. While the vote was symbolic — and in fact the first time the Senate had ever voted positively on marijuana reform legislation — both the measure and the bill to which it was attached now face a number of hurdles before becoming law.
Not everyone is as enthusiastic as Sisley and Gilman about the potential for marijuana to treat PTSD. Even they aren’t touting it as a miracle drug (though Sisley claims to have seen patients replace their psychiatric medications with marijuana alone, arguably a near-miracle). But the doctors can’t help but notice that while the VA continues to hand out powerful prescription drugs that don’t necessarily help and can harm the patient, marijuana remains a non-starter. Considering the growing anecdotal evidence from veterans who have treated their PTSD with marijuana, they say that’s no longer acceptable.
Here’s a list of prescription drugs that veterans may be prescribed to treat various PTSD-related symptoms. It’s long, but by no means all-inclusive.
Antidepressants interact with the body and brain chemistry in a variety of ways and can treat a number of conditions. For people with PTSD, these drugs are primarily prescribed to combat the effects of major depressive disorder. They are also often prescribed for anxiety disorders and chronic pain.
Depending on which chemical compounds the medications contain, antidepressants can be classified in several categories, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs). While most of these are considered relatively safe, they have been associated with a range of side effects, such as insomnia, weight gain, loss of sexual drive and, most concerning, an increased risk of suicidal thinking. In 2007, the FDA asked makers of the popular medications to strengthen suicide-related warnings on their labels to include young adults, as well as warnings about the possibility of actually worsening depression.
Antidepressants prescribed for PTSD include:
• Amitriptyline (sold under brand names Elavil, Endep, Levate, others)
• Amoxapine (Asendis, Defanyl, Demolox, others)
• Bupropion or bupropion hydrochloride (Wellbutrin)
• Citalopram (Celexa, Cipramil)
• Clomipramine (Anafranil, Clofranil)
• Desvenlafaxine (Pristiq)
• Desipramine (Norpramin, Pertofrane)
• Doxepin (Deptran, Sinequan)
• Duloxetine (Cymbalta)
• Escitalopram (Lexapro, Cipralex)
• Fluoxetine (Prozac, Sarafem, others)
• Flurazepam (Dalmane, Dalmadorm)
• Fluvoxamine (Faverin, Fevarin, others)
• Imipramine (Tofranil)
• Maprotiline (Deprilept, Ludiomil, Psymion)
• Mirtazapine (Avanza, Mirtaz, Zispin, others)
• Nortriptyline (Sensoval, Aventyl, Norpress, others)
• Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva)
• Phenelzine (Nardil, Nardelzine)
• Protriptyline (Vivactil)
• Sertraline (Zoloft, Lustral)
• Trazodone (Oleptro, Trialodine)
• Trimipramine (Surmontil, Rhotrimine, Stangyl)
• Venlafaxine (Effexor)
• Vilazodone (Viibryd)
• Vortioxetine (Brintellix)
Bottles of antidepressant pills are shown in 2004. (Photo illustration by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
These psychoactive drugs, also called anxiolytics, are designed to treat a range of anxiety disorders experienced by veterans with PTSD. The most commonly prescribed are benzodiazepines, which apart from treating anxiety are also used for their sedative, anticonvulsant and muscle relaxant properties. A 2013 report found that almost one-third of veterans being treated for PTSD were prescribed benzodiazepines, despite VA guidelines advising against their use for the condition.
Regular use of benzodiazepines — which include such brand-name drugs as Xanax, Klonopin and Restoril — has been linked to side effects including sexual dysfunction, lost cognition and behavior problems. And studies suggest that chronic users may develop a tolerance, even dependence and addiction. Outside their prescription use, benzodiazepines are recreationally used and abused.
Plus, cessation of benzodiazepine use has been linked to a host of withdrawal symptoms, ranging from comparatively minor issues like insomnia, gastrointestinal problems and spasms, to much more severe symptoms like depersonalization, depression, seizures, psychosis and suicidal behavior.
Anti-anxiety drugs prescribed for PTSD include:
• Alprazolam (Xanax)
• Buspirone (Buspar)
• Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
• Clonazepam (Klonopin)
• Diazepam (Valium)
• Estazolam (ProSom, Eurodin)
• Hydroxyzine (many names)
• Lorazepam (Ativan, Orfidal)
• Midazolam (Dormicum, Hypnovel, Versed)
• Oxazepam (Serax, many others)
• Temazepam (Restoril)
• Triazolam (Halcion, Trilam, others)
Pills of the benzodiazepine Xanax on a table.
These drugs are used primarily for the treatment of the psychotic symptoms, such as intense nightmares, intrusive thoughts, emotional reactivity and hyperarousal, that some veterans with PTSD may experience. There are two primary types of antipsychotics — typical (or first-generation) and atypical (or second-generation) — both of which function by blocking the brain’s dopamine receptors. Some atypical antipsychotics have also been prescribed to treat major depressive disorder.
Antipsychotic medications have been linked to a number of side effects, including headaches, dizziness, lethargy and weight gain. More significant complications like tremors and movement disorders — such as parkinsonism, a syndrome accompanied by debilitating muscular rigidity and loss of mobility, and tardive dyskinesia, a disorder often accompanied by uncontrollable facial tics and other movements — have been more commonly associated with earlier typical antipsychotics.
In April 2010, AstraZeneca, the maker of Seroquel, agreed to pay $520 million to settle federal claims that it had minimized risks and pitched the medication for off-label uses, including to treat insomnia. The drug was removed from the VA’s approved formulary list in 2012 after being linked to a number of questionable deaths and other health concerns. In 2013, however, the Army began evaluating how it could be fit back into approved treatment.
Antipsychotic drugs prescribed for PTSD include:
• Aripiprazole (Abilify)
• Asenapine (Saphris)
• Fluphenazine (Prolixin, Modecate)
• Haloperidol (Haldol, others)
• Iloperidone (Fanapt)
• Loxapine (Loxapac, Loxitane)
• Lurasidone (Latuda)
• Olanzapine, sometimes in combination with fluoxetine (Zyprexa, Zypadhera, or Symbyax)
• Perphenazine (Trilafon)
• Pimozide (Orap)
• Prochlorperazine (Compazine, Phenotil, more)
• Quetiapine (Seroquel)
• Risperidone (Risperdal)
• Thiothixene (Navane)
• Ziprasidone (Geodon, Zeldox, Zipwell)
Several bottles of prescription medications including Seroquel sit on the kitchen table at the home of Iraq war veteran Andrew White, who died in his sleep in 2008 while taking a regimen of powerful drugs to treat PTSD. (AP Photo/Jeff Gentner)
The term “mood stabilizer” refers to a broad set of psychiatric drugs that includes some atypical antipsychotics as well as the anticonvulsant agents listed below. These drugs are often prescribed for the mood swings or coexistent bipolar spectrum disorders that some veterans with PTSD experience. Doctors may also opt for anticonvulsant mood-stabilizing treatment if antidepressants have proven ineffective for a patient.
Mood stabilizers have been connected to a variety of more minor side effects, including dizziness, weight gain and vomiting, as well as more serious symptoms, such as an increased suicide risk.
Mood stabilizing drugs prescribed for PTSD include the following anticonvulsants, as well as some atypical antipsychotics listed above:
• Carbamazepine (Tegretol, Carbatrol, others)
• Divalproex sodium (Depakote)
• Lamotrigine (Lamictal)
• Oxcarbazepine (Trileptal)
• Valproic acid (Depakene, Valproate)
Lamotrigine is a generic anticonvulsant prescribed in the treatment of clinical depression. Its most prominent side effect is a skin rash, which affects 5 to 10 percent of patients. On rare occasions, these skin conditions can develop into life-threatening reactions, including drug-induced hypersensitivity syndrome, Stevens-Johnson syndrome and toxic epidermal necrolysis.
Sedative-hypnotic medications designed to help induce sleep include a variety of drugs listed in previous categories, such as some anxiolytics and particularly benzodiazepines, as well as antipsychotics. There are also other drugs that are prescribed specifically to veterans with PTSD to help with insomnia or other sleeping issues, like nightmares. Among these sleep aids are a newer class of Z-drugs, like Ambien, Lunesta and Sonata, which are largely thought to be safer than benzodiazepines.
Z-drugs and other non-benzodiazepine hypnotics come with their own list of potential side effects, including dizziness, gastrointestinal problems and prolonged drowsiness, as well as less common, though more concerning, effects like parasomnias — activities like sleepwalking or sleep-eating. Concerns have also been raised that these drugs may be habit-forming.
Sleep aids prescribed for PTSD include the following, as well as a number of drugs listed above:
• Butabarbital (Butisol)
• Eszopiclone (Lunesta)
• Prazosin hydrochloride (Minipress, Vasoflex, others)
• Ramelteon (Rozerem)
• Zaleplon (Sonata)
• Zolpidem (Ambien)
Alarms have been raised over Ambien’s list of side effects such as aggressive behavior, confusion, hallucinations and possible worsening of depression.
ORIGINAL STORY HERE:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/23/veterans-ptsd-marijuana_n_7506760.html
Cannabis Can… Decontaminate Radiation.
Activists have been shouting they want an end to GMO foods for more than a decade now, and Cannabis Sattiva L. supporters have been at it for even longer, so why has the US government finally given farmers the right to legally grow industrial hemp, the non-hallucinatory, sister plant of medical marijuana?
It is safe to say that industrialized hemp should have been legalized years ago. With THC levels so low, you would have to smoke more of it than Snoop Dogg to get ‘high’ – and that’s a lot of Cannabis, it is ridiculous that it was classified as a drug at all. It has numerous uses and could replace many crops that require heavy irrigation and pesticides, like cotton, for example. Here’s the most interesting fact though – hemp plants ‘eat’ radiation.
When the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant Reactor 4 accident caused severe radioactive contamination in 1986, families within a 30-kilometer area of the site had to be evacuated. Radioactive contamination was later found at 100 kilometers from the accident site, and Fukushima radiation levels are still to be determined, with the Japanese government planning on dumping their overflowing radiated water tanks into the Pacific as we speak.
As with the Chernobyl incident, scientists are finding radioactive emissions and toxic metals–including iodine, cesium-137, strontium-90, and plutonium–concentrated in the soil, plants, and animals of Japan, but also now throughout the United States and all along the West Coast – from Canada to Mexico. Even the EPA has admitted that any living tissue can be affected by radiation exposure. High levels of thyroid disease and cancer have been reported in Japan, and our ocean is dying by the day. Scientists are also expecting that children born on the US West Coast will suffer a 28% higher incident of hyperthyroidism – a disease that accompanies radiation exposure. Even the livestock that grazed on irradiated grasses grown in contaminated soils developed meat with high concentrations of these unwanted toxins after Chernobyl, and Fukushima is exponentially worse.
Dr. Ilya Raskin of Rutgers University’s Biotechnology Center for Agriculture and the Environment, who was a member of the original task force sent by the IAEA to examine food safety at the Chernobyl site figured out that through phytoremediation utilizing hemp, among other plants, the soil, and thus the food supply could be saved from toxicity.
Phytoremediation is the process whereby green plants remove toxins from the soil. Plants can extract specific elements within their ecosystem and still thrive. They accumulate the toxins in their tissues and root systems but remain undamaged. Sunflowers have been known to do something similar for centuries, eliminating heavy metals and pesticides from damaged soil. Two members of the mustard family are also useful for this process – Brassica juncea and Brassica carinata, but it seems hemp is quite amazing at sucking up radiation.
Granted, the government is probably dumbfounded at what to do with the Fukushima radiation headed our way, but the legalization of hemp just might balance some of the toxicity scientists expect. Fortunately, California, one of the states that will be hardest hit, has already legalized industrial hemp, but it has to wait for the federal government to give states the right before they can actually grow it. The Farm Bill only allows ‘research’ growth at certain institutions in 10 states currently.
George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp. In light of Fukushima, let’s join our countries’ founders to grow it too. You can help clean the soil in your area if hemp or medical marijuana has been legalized in your state, and help it to pass in further states by being vocal with your state and federal representatives.
Watch What Happens When Cannabis Ravages Cancer Cells. This Is Mind Blowing.
It is believed that the Delta 9 THC eradicates cancer cells because they have so many more receptors; they are bombarded, whereas normal cells are treated much more gently.
These three videos are a great example, and even some direct footage, of the THC molecule binding to cells and slaying the cancerous ones.
Portugal decriminalised the possession of all drugs for personal use in 2001, and there now exists a significant body of evidence on what happened following the move. Both opponents and advocates of drug policy reform are sometimes guilty of misrepresenting this evidence, with the former ignoring or incorrectly disputing the benefits of reform, and the latter tending to overstate them.
The reality is that Portugal’s drug situation has improved significantly in several key areas. Most notably, HIV infections and drug-related deaths have decreased, while the dramatic rise in use feared by some has failed to materialise. However, such improvements are not solely the result of the decriminalisation policy; Portugal’s shift towards a more health-centred approach to drugs, as well as wider health and social policy changes, are equally, if not more, responsible for the positive changes observed. Drawing on the most up-to-date evidence, this briefing clarifies the extent of Portugal’s achievement, and debunks some of the erroneous claims made about the country’s innovative approach to drugs.
- Levels of drug use are below the European average5
- Drug use has declined among those aged 15-24,6 the population most at risk of initiating drug use7
- Lifetime drug use among the general population has increased slightly,8 in line with trends in comparable nearby countries.9 However, lifetime use is widely considered to be the least accurate measure of a country’s current drug use situation10 11
- Rates of past-year and past-month drug use among the general population – which are seen as the best indicators of evolving drug use trends12 – have decreased13
- Between 2000 and 2005 (the most recent years for which data are available) rates of problematic drug use and injecting drug use decreased14
- Drug use among adolescents decreased for several years following decriminalisation, but has since risen to around 2003 levels15
- Rates of continuation of drug use (i.e. the proportion of the population that have ever used an illicit drug and continue to do so) have decreased16
- ECATD data taken from Instituto da Droga e da Toxicodependência (2009) ‘Relatório Anual 2008 – A Situação do País em Matéria de Drogas e Toxicodependências’, p. 21 and Instituto da Droga e da Toxicodependência (2013)‘Relatório Anual 2012 – A Situação do País em Matéria de Drogas e Toxicodependências’, p. 32.
- ESPAD data taken from Instituto da Droga e da Toxicodependência (2007) ‘Relatório Anual 2006 – A Situação do País em Matéria de Drogas e Toxicodependências’, p. 14 and Instituto da Droga e da Toxicodependência (2013) op. cit., p. 31.
- INME data taken from Feijão, F. (2011) ‘Inquérito Nacional em Meio Escolar, 2011 – Secundário. Consumo de drogas e outras substâncias psicoactivas: Uma abordagemintegrada. Síntese de resultados’, SICAD, p. 3 and Feijão, F. (2011) ‘Inquérito Nacional em Meio Escolar, 2011 – 3.º Ciclo. Consumo de drogas e outrassubstâncias psicoactivas: Uma abordagemintegrada. Síntese de resultados’, SICAD, p. 3.
Marijuana Prohibition Is Unscientific
A few days before the House of Representatives passed a federal ban on marijuana in June 1937, the Republican minority leader, Bertrand Snell of New York, confessed, “I do not know anything about the bill.” The Democratic majority leader, Sam Rayburn of Texas, educated him. “It has something to do with something that is called marihuana,” Rayburn said. “I believe it is a narcotic of some kind.”
That exchange gives you a sense of how much thought Congress gave marijuana prohibition before approving it. Legislators who had heard of the plant knew it as the “killer weed” described by Federal Bureau of Narcotics Commissioner Harry Anslinger, who claimed marijuana turned people into homicidal maniacs and called it “the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind.” Anslinger warned that “marihuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes” and estimated that half the violent crimes in areas occupied by “Mexicans, Greeks, Turks, Filipinos, Spaniards, Latin Americans, and Negroes may be traced to the use of marihuana.”
Given this background, no one should pretend that marijuana prohibition was carefully considered or that it was driven by science, as opposed to ignorance and blind prejudice. It is hard to rationally explain why Congress, less than four years after Americans had emphatically rejected alcohol prohibition, thought it was a good idea to ban a recreational intoxicant that is considerably less dangerous.
It is relatively easy, for example, to die from acute alcohol poisoning, since the ratio of the lethal dose to the dose that gives you a nice buzz is about 10 to 1. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 2,200 Americans die from alcohol overdoses each year. By contrast, there has never been a documented human death from a marijuana overdose. Based on extrapolations from animal studies, the ratio of the drug’s lethal dose to its effective dose is something like 40,000 to 1.
There is also a big difference between marijuana and alcohol when it comes to the long-term effects of excessive consumption. Alcoholics suffer gross organ damage of a kind that is not seen even in the heaviest pot smokers, affecting the liver, brain, pancreas, kidneys, and stomach. The CDC attributes more than 38,000 deaths a year to three dozen chronic conditions caused or aggravated by alcohol abuse.
Another 12,500 alcohol-related deaths in the CDC’s tally occur in traffic accidents, and marijuana also has an advantage on that score. Although laboratory studies indicate that marijuana can impair driving ability, itseffects are not nearly as dramatic as alcohol’s. In fact, marijuana’s impact on traffic safety is so subtle that it is difficult to measure in the real world.
Last February the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) releasedthe results of “the first large-scale [crash risk] study in the United States to include drugs other than alcohol,” which it described as “the most precisely controlled study of its kind yet conducted.” The researchers found that once the data were adjusted for confounding variables, cannabis consumption was not associated with an increased probability of getting into an accident.
That does not mean stoned drivers never cause accidents. One challenge in assessing the extent of the problem is that many of the drivers who test positive for marijuana are not actually impaired, since traces of the drug can be detected long after its effects wear off. That means marijuana-impaired drivers get mixed in with drivers who happen to be cannabis consumers but are not under the influence while on the road, which would tend to mask the drug’s role in crashes. Still, alcohol is clearly a much bigger factor in traffic fatalities.
Last year, during a congressional hearing on the threat posed by stoned drivers, a NHTSA official was asked how many traffic fatalities are caused by marijuana each year. “That’s difficult to say,” replied Jeff Michael, NHTSA’s associate administrator for research and program development. “We don’t have a precise estimate.” The most he was willing to affirm was that the number is “probably not” zero.
The likelihood of addiction is another way that marijuana looks less dangerous than alcohol. Based on data from the National Comorbidity Survey, about 15 percent of drinkers qualify as “dependent” at some point in their lives, compared to 9 percent of cannabis consumers. That difference may be especially significant given the link between heavy alcohol consumption and premature death.
All told, the CDC estimates that alcohol causes 88,000 deaths a year in the United States. It has no equivalent estimate for marijuana. We may reasonably assume, along with Jeff Michael, that marijuana’s death toll is more than zero, if only because people under the influence of cannabis occasionally have fatal accidents. But the lack of a definitive answer highlights marijuana’s relative safety, which points to a potentially important benefit of repealing prohibition: To the extent that more pot smoking is accompanied by less drinking, an increase in cannabis consumption could lead to a net reduction in drug-related disease and death.
The comparison of alcohol and marijuana presents an obvious challenge to anyone who thinks the government bans drugs because they are unacceptably dangerous. If anything, that rationale suggests marijuana should be legal while alcohol should be banned, rather than the reverse. Judging from this example, the distinctions drawn by our drug laws have little, if anything, to do with what science tells us about the relative hazards of different intoxicants.
Marijuana Prohibition Is Unconstitutional
When dry activists sought to ban alcoholic beverages, they went through the arduous process of changing the Constitution, which prior to the ratification of the 18th amendment in 1919 did not authorize Congress to prohibit the production and sale of “intoxicating liquors.” When Congress banned marijuana in 1937, it did so in the guise of the Marihuana Tax Act , a revenue measure that authorized onerous regulations ostensibly aimed at collecting taxes on production and distribution, with severe penalties for noncompliance. But by the time marijuana prohibition was incorporated into the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, there was no need for such subterfuge. Instead Congress relied on its constitutional authority to “regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several states.”
The Commerce Clause, which was part of the original Constitution, did not change between 1937 and 1970. But beginning with a series of New Deal cases, the Supreme Court stretched its meaning to accommodate pretty much anything Congress wanted to do. In the 1942 case Wickard v. Filburn, for example, the Court said the Commerce Clause authorized punishment of an Ohio farmer for exceeding his government-imposed wheat quota, even though the extra grain never left his farm, let alone the state.
The Court went even further in the 2005 case Gonzales v. Raich, ruling that the federal government’s power to regulate interstate commerce extends even to homegrown marijuana used for medical purposes by a California patient in compliance with state law. That decision, unlike Wickard, applied not just to production but to mere possession. According to the Court, the Commerce Clause encompasses the tiniest trace of marijuana in a cancer patient’s drawer. “If Congress can regulate this under the Commerce Clause,” observed dissenting Justice Clarence Thomas, “then it can regulate virtually anything—and the Federal Government is no longer one of limited and enumerated powers.”
Many conservatives who pay lip service to the Constitution and the system of federalism it is supposed to protect nevertheless seem comfortable with this audacious assertion of congressional authority. In fact, they complain that the Obama administration is not using the Controlled Substances Act to shut down the newly legal marijuana markets in Colorado and Washington. Either they do not really believe in federalism or they cannot think straight when they smell marijuana.
Marijuana Prohibition Is Unjust
Even if marijuana prohibition were consistent with science and the Constitution, it would be inconsistent with basic principles of morality. It is patently unfair to treat marijuana merchants like criminals while treating liquor dealers like legitimate businessmen, especially in light of the two drugs’ relative hazards. It is equally perverse to arrest cannabis consumers while leaving drinkers unmolested.
Peaceful activities such as growing a plant or selling its produce cannot justify the violence that is required to enforce prohibition. In the name of stopping people from getting high, police officers routinely commit acts that would be universally recognized as assault, burglary, theft, kidnapping, and even murder were it not for laws that draw arbitrary lines between psychoactive substances.
The main justification for those laws is protecting people from their own bad decisions. The hope is that prohibition will deter a certain number of people who otherwise would not only try marijuana but become self-destructively attached to it. Toward that end, police in the United States arrest hundreds of thousands of people on marijuana charges each year—nearly 700,000 in 2013, the vast majority for simple possession. While most of those marijuana offenders do not spend much time behind bars, about 40,000 people are serving sentences as long as life for growing or distributing cannabis. And even if marijuana offenders do not go to jail or prison, they still suffer public humiliation, legal costs, inconvenience, lost jobs, and all the lasting ancillary penalties of a criminal arrest.
Note that the people bearing these costs are not, by and large, the people who receive the purported benefits of prohibition. The person who, thanks to prohibition, never becomes a pathetic pothead goes about his life undisturbed while other people—people who never hurt him or anyone else—pay for the mistakes he avoids. Even paternalists should be troubled by the distribution of these burdens.
I am not a paternalist, because I do not believe the government should be in the business of stopping us from hurting ourselves. I am with John Stuart Mill on this:
The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant….Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.
Marijuana prohibition, along with the rest of the war on drugs, is a flagrant violation of this principle. It is a moral outrage built on a mountain of lies.