Marijuana Know-Nothingism


I had a call from a newspaper the other day asking my opinion on the use of marijuana in children as in anyone under 21 years old, either for recreational purposes, or for medication purposes. I might have, if I had had the opportunity to think about it, countered with the question, how about “safe Johnny Walker for children?,” because we have been to this rodeo before.

The drinking laws in almost every state bar young people from consuming alcoholic beverages until they are 21 years old.

The reasons for that proscription date back many generations of young humans, back into prehistory, even before there were written records, probably, and most likely are based on empiric observations of youthful behavioral deficits continuing throughout the adult lives of the young people who began drinking heavily well before they were 21.

Let me make the point that it is critically important for a society that demands that as its young people mature, they be psychologically and physiologically prepared to move into leadership positions, to make informed and effective parenting decisions, and that they be unlikely to make uninformed, defective or damaging decisions. In societies that allowed drunken youngsters free reign, it was noted even that upon reaching “maturity” that these early experimenters were quite immature, and that their judgment was suspect, and that the tasks assigned to them were either poorly done, or not done at all, that lifetime damned foolishness was a clear and present hazard in early onset drinking populations.

The sum total of those multi generational observations back in prehistory led societies all over the world to attempt, with greater or lesser success, to bar young people, those under 21 years old, from consuming intoxicating substances, because the clear and demonstrable result was impaired behavior, often for the rest of their lives.

Now, jump shift to the question of marijuana, which is an intoxicating drug, and if logic has any role in the observations of altered behavior and alter decision-making capacity in early alcohol abusers, then marijuana use/abuse could reasonably be expected, much like alcohol, to be strongly associated with impaired decision-making capacity in young adults who used marijuana in their immature years.

The huge advantage we have now is that we can take MRIs of the brain, and have discovered that the frontal lobe is the site where fine considered decision-making is processed, and we know that that lobe doesn’t finish developing until the age of about 21 years, the imperatives become clear. Anything, be it alcohol, marijuana, or other sedative or hypnotic drug use/abuse, stands a very high likelihood of doing the same permanent damage that early alcohol use/abuse does, namely to prevent the final maturation of the frontal lobe, and thus the maturation of decision-making in the individual being followed.

So, given what we have known for many generations, and what science shows us now, I cannot see how a thinking adult would ignore the comparison between sedating/intoxicating alcohol use, and sedating intoxicating marijuana use in an underage person, who has used substances and exposed their developing brain, a brain which society has every reason to expect to mature. If maturation is delayed or arrested/altered by the use of a substance, why would any observing adult condone its use in young people, whom he/she expects to mature and become responsible adults, parents, reliable employees, and the leaders of the future?

If this seems over simplistic, I plead guilty. There is no scientific peer reviewed evidence that I’m aware of that would indicate alcohol and marijuana do not cause comparable alterations/damages to the developing frontal lobe, and until and unless someone shows me credible scientific evidence that marijuana does NOT permanently damage a developing frontal lobe, my advice to young people and to their parents would be to avoid use of either alcohol or marijuana until the individual has reached 21 years of age. That some young adults have “gotten away with use of either alcohol or marijuana or both,” and appear to have matured normally does not damage the theory that a significant percent of youthful users/abusers of any intoxicating and/or sedative substances will and do demonstrate impaired decision-making throughout the rest of their lives.

Terry Bennett is a physician based in New Hamspshire.

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6 replies »

  1. This is another in a long line of simply irrelevant articles mired in the puritan/temperance inspired misconception of the issues surrounding young people and intoxicants, sex, snapchat et al.

    No one would disagree that heavy alcohol or marijuana or much other medication use (Addaerral anyone?) by young people harms their development, and it doesn’t do adults that much good either.

    But calling 21 the precipice of adulthood is simply wrong. The US is I believe the only country which imposes that age cut off for alcohol. Most European countries use 18m but also allow for controlled use to those 16 or so.

    Growing up in the UK it was pretty common for 16 year olds to sneak down the pub and it was legal for them to have alcohol with their parents at meals, The French have a long history of watering down wine for even young children to drink with meals–and the cardiology benefits are way better than the milk & cookies American kids get.

    Regardless of the law, it’s completely clear that the majority of people who use intoxicants start well before 21 and probably before 18. So what we need is education for them and their parents AND a socially accepted way that light controlled experimentation can begin for those who are going to do it anyway. And of course a system of harm reduction at every stage for those who have trouble

    “Just say no” which is still the primary ethos of those who say 21 is the cut off age & the law in the US is throwing both adolescents and society to the wolves. 100 years of prohibition proves that out

  2. Take a look at a molecular biology graph of CNS receptors and their agonists. It is like a giant tangled ball of yarn that the cat got into. Sticking any drug that is not well characterized into this complexity is like putting a pin through the workings of a fine wristwatch and expecting this to improve its function.
    For faddish reasons, and because of Timothy Leary, we have fallen into a amorous trance about this THC molecule. It is like a perpetual love affair: molecule-o-philia, since the mid-sixties….50 years of incredible clumsiness putting this molecule in our bodies and not knowing what the long term risks really are. Who knows whether this is, in toto, helping people or hurting people? All that can be said is that this behavior is stupid. We are doing a randomized double blind clinical trial on outselves for maybe a hundred years before this fad runs it course. And we do it without a trial leader, without human-use approval, and without a trial protocol. How dumb is this?

  3. Earlier this year, I met with a series of high school seniors as the alumni representative for my prestigious east coast university, which will remain nameless. Many told me that marijuana use has exploded at their schools. Misconceptions on benefits / health risks are widespread. Also interesting based on (admittedly) anecdotal evidence, medical marijuana dispensaries appear to be replacing the campus pot dealer as the source of choice ..

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