The science of getting high

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Jared Stirland | Staff Writer | [email protected]


In March 2014 Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed House Bill 105 giving children suffering from a seizure disorder, called epilepsy, access to the medicinal use of cannabis oil, an extract from marijuana.  Four States and the nation’s capital have voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana and 23 states have voted to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana. Washington and Colorado legalized the recreational use of marijuana in the November 2012 election and in the November 2014 election, Oregon, Alaska and Washington DC also legalized the substance for recreational use, meaning an individual within the borders of those states now has the right to get high, for fun, without any legal repercussions- as far as state law is concerned.


In an interview with 60 Minutes that aired on Jan. 11 the Gov. of Colorado John Hickenlooper spoke about some aspects of the recreational legalization of marijuana in Colorado.  One major point Hickenlooper discussed was the controversy surrounding the financial profits and gains produced from selling marijuana.  The banks in Colorado, and Washington, are concerned with the polarity of state laws and federal laws, because under federal law selling marijuana is still illegal.  The banks worry about the large influx in cash deposits they are receiving from dispensaries- a term used to describe stores vending marijuana- if the federal government decided, they could shut down the selling and buying of marijuana and confiscate the money from the banks.


“If you want to guarantee a fledgling industry becomes corrupt… make it all cash, right?  That’s as old as Al Capone, right?  Cash creates corruption,” said Hickenlooper.


Colorado has plans to benefit from marijuana tax sales.  Hickenlooper proposed a plan, in 2014, called Proposition AA for the 2015 fiscal spending year which delegates $22.9 million dollars from marijuana tax revenue to improve Colorado’s education program.  The $22.9 million dollars is almost half of the $54 million dollars Gov. Hickenlooper requested to fund more programs for substance abuse treatment centers and youth substance abuse prevention programs.


The tax and financial questions are just two questions in the deep issue encompassing the marijuana debate.  This little green plant is the source of a complex, multifaceted issue, but marijuana is more than the stereotypes of hippies with pony tails, peace, love, yoga, and Bob Marley.  In 1970 the 91st United States Congress and President Richard Nixon passed into effect the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which created five classifications to distinguish and classify drugs and substances.  The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) were the two government departments delegated to determine and quantify where on the scale certain substances are placed.  Marijuana was classified as a Schedule I drug. In order to be categorized as a Schedule I drug the substance must show no current acceptable medical use or properties in the United States.

Marijuana does have medicinal purposes.  A study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in 2011 identified a property in marijuana called cannabidiol, which has showed the capacity to promote neurogenesis, meaning the growth of new neurons in the brain.  Neurons are the biological cells in the brain that communicate with each other through a network of electrical impulses and through neurotransmitters like dopamine, a biochemical messenger released in the brain when you eat chocolate, kiss your romantic partner, exercise, see Jennifer Lawrence on the movie screen, or metabolize marijuana.  Once upon a time, science thought people were given a rationed allotment of neurons in their brain and when they died, the neurons went extinct and were gone forever.  As it turns out, science was wrong.


“For me, marijuana has been what some might call a religious or spiritual awakening. It was more than the mind altering euphoria my friends talked about. I was impressed, and prefer the introspective aspect of the drug and its ability to change my perspective in a beneficial way. It has expanded my mind, and I truly believe I am a better person from my experiences with marijuana. Some people try to compare the effects of marijuana to alcohol, but they shouldn’t. It isn’t even like comparing apples to oranges. It is like comparing an orange to a potato, they aren’t even in the same food group,” said Derek Myers, a former veteran marijuana user.

The euphoric clarity Myers experienced was induced by tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a psychoactive property in marijuana, and, most likely, the scapegoat for the prohibition of marijuana.  THC can be dangerous though, especially in high doses, and can induce states of severe anxiety, paranoia and psychosis.

“I was in the living room with my boyfriend and all of the sudden I thought I was trapped in a straitjacket in a mental asylum and I couldn’t move my arms,” said a woman who experienced the negative side effects of THC.


THC may be one reason for the federal government’s reluctance to complete legalization of the drug.  In 2007 a study by the Journal of Anesthesiology noticed participants administered with doses of marijuana containing large amounts of THC experienced dysphoria, pain, and paranoia due to the upregulating effects THC has on the amygdala – the biological mechanism in the brain responsible for moderating fear and other important social emotions.


The general consensus regarding marijuana, from financial, behavioral, physiological, and psychological is mixed, and you can find evidence supporting the legalization of marijuana while on the other hand there is evidence suggesting the dangerous cognitive and mental effects of THC.  Although there seems to be obvious medical benefits and properties associated with marijuana there are also obvious risks, and people who use marijuana or voters in states considering approving the medicinal or recreational use of marijuana should consider both sides of the story.