‘Street Drugs’: The New Addiction Industry
Elaine Walters, OAM
By the same author
The Cannabis Connection (1989) Marijuana: An Australian Crisis (1993) The Cruel Hoax: Street Drugs in Australia (1996) Be Alert and Alarmed: Illegal Drugs — Power, Policy and Propaganda (2015) A contributor to Drugs Dilemma: A Way Forward (2000), edited by Dr Joe N. Santamaria OAM
The Hon. Greg Hunt, Federal Minister for Health (2017–2022)
Elaine Walters, OAM, is a distinguished Australian and renowned voice on cannabis policy. For almost forty years she has contributed to national and international debates on the consequences of legalising cannabis. She has shone a light on the impact of the drug not just on individuals, but also on families and the broader community. This authoritative book marks a turning point in the ever-widening and somewhat polarised literature on cannabis policy-making.
When too many Australians are struggling with their mental health, now is not the time for laws regarding recreational use to be loosened. We know that the regular use of cannabis can contribute to anxiety, depression and psychosis in naïve users and increased psychotic symptoms and dependence in experienced users.
This book also enumerates the adverse physiological and mental health effects of the recreational use of cannabis. Elaine Walters’ book is a rallying cry to the continued sound policy of maintaining legal sanctions. It is a valuable research-oriented resource, one which will sensibly inform the drug debate for years to come.
Foreword by the Hon. Greg Hunt
Table of contents
1: The narrative
2: A brave new world
3: Marijuana and mediocrity
4: Mortality and morbidity
5: The law
6: The ‘ant trade’
7: Justice for all
8: Beware the friendly fire
9: ‘Let’s talk about cannabis’
10: Paper tigers!
11: How to design a blueprint and establish an agenda
12: The genesis of drug law ‘reform’
13: The Anti-Prohibitionist League
14: The loss of a child is the loss of infinite possibilities
15: Protecting the vulnerable
16: Myths and misconceptions
17: The Drug Law Reform Foundation
18: Malice, stock-in-trade
19: My first encounter with the pro-drug elite
20: Drug education
21: Gateway drugs
23: A balanced outlook
24: Deception and duplicity
25: The tobacco industry
26: A sleight of hand!
27: Cultural propaganda
28: The agenda
29: The origins of drug prohibition
30: U.S. prohibition
31. Opium and its derivatives
34: Designer drugs
35: Synthetic drugs
36: Identifying the patterns of drug use
37: The history of drug epidemics
38: A drug-free society
40: The role of the media
41: The role of parents
42: The power of politics
43: Medically-supervised injecting rooms
44: Maintenance programs
46: From needle-exchange centres to needle-and-syringe programs?
47: The ‘rights’ of the citizen
48: Medicinal cannabis?
49: Hallucinogens and psychedelics — mind-revealing?
50: Morally neutral
51: Ethics and values
52: Justifying the policy
53: Parents — a ‘tour de force’
54: Challenging the status quo
55: Drawing a line in the sand
56: A simple lesson
The aim of the following essays is to give you, the reader, an alternative point of view to the one currently promoted by those seeking to remove legal sanctions on marijuana and other street drugs. I prefer to use the term “street drugs” to describe illegal drugs, because it reminds us that they have no place in the home.
To maintain legal sanctions on these drugs, international treaties have been agreed to and reaffirmed since 1909. This is because the international scientific community and over 100 countries have firmly backed global cooperation on the issue. The vast majority of the population still considers, on balance, that:
It is more humane to protect mankind from the ravages caused by street drugs than to permit them to become freely available.
This is in direct contrast to Dr Ethan Nadelmann, founding member of the pro-drug movement in the U.S., and a close associate of Australia’s pro-drug activists, who has urged his followers
… to move slowly but firmly to dismantle the edifice of law enforcement. Start with the possession and sale of cannabis and amphetamines and experiment with different strategies. Move on to hard drugs sold through licensed outlets.
Perhaps Dr Nadelmann and his followers need to be reminded that, in a democratic country, no government has the right to introduce any legislation that will harm its citizens.
I realise that many of my readers won’t necessarily have a background in the health and social sciences, so I have relied on my training as a teacher to convert complex information into a more readable form. Nonetheless, please be assured that I have always sought advice and information from leading scientists, health-care professionals and clinicians with knowledge of the pharmacology of “street” drugs. I have also documented the way in which generations of Australians have been “groomed” for a new “addiction industry”, and how these nefarious enterprises involve international billionaires and multinationals.
The self-appointed “elite” do their best to convince the Australian public that marijuana is a “soft” drug. But, in fact, it is an exceedingly complex substance and can cause irreparable harm to the brain of developmentally immature adolescents and young adults. They also want to convince well-meaning, law-abiding Australians that prohibition is an infringement of people’s rights. But I would contend that it is parents’ rights that we should be protecting. Parents devote their lives to their children and are the principal guides and mentors in their social development. They deserve, more than anyone, to be given an honest account of the serious risks their children take if they use marijuana and other gateway drugs.
People such as myself are often vilified as “moralists” who only wish to maintain prohibition because we believe that using mind-altering drugs is decadent or sinful. I can assure the reader, however, that in principle I am a great believer in freedom of choice. But if drug-users choose to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of others, I cannot in all conscience remain indifferent. I believe I have an obligation to bring to your attention some facts about marijuana and other street drugs that have been deliberately misrepresented and withheld from the Australian public.
Ultimately the decision of whether or not to remove legal sanctions lies with you, the citizen, parent, grandparent, teacher, counsellor, foster parent and, most importantly, the emerging generation of young adults.
Elaine Walters, OAM
“You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time; but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” — Abraham Lincoln
The problem with this saying of Abraham Lincoln, as it applies to the current issue of cannabis/marijuana, is the difficulty in identifying those are doing the “fooling” and those who are being taken for fools. That is not to say that I believe people who support the legalisation of marijuana are fools. On the contrary, I could name hundreds of individuals whom I admire and respect, who disagree with enforcing sanctions. However, based on my experience as a teacher, and of over thirty years working with families whose children suffer from marijuana addiction, I believe I can make a contribution to the public narrative.
I hope I can demonstrate the importance of maintaining legal sanctions on marijuana and other gateway drugs, because these are almost always the precursors to other toxic substances. Needless to say, if we continue to keep in place legal sanctions, this will also result in reducing the use of other toxic substances such as heroin, cocaine, designer drugs, crystal methamphetamine (“ice”), gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), new psychoactive substances (NPS) and others. (See Essay 21: Gateway drugs).
Maintaining the separation of legal drugs from illegal ones, including the use of prescription drugs being used illegally, is the most practical and effective way of reducing the statistics. (See Essay 6: The ‘ant trade’).
In order to maintain prohibition on specific drugs, most countries since 1912 have agreed to, and reaffirmed, various international treaties, which became known as the United Nations drug-control conventions. Furthermore, the international scientific community has recommended and ratified drug prohibition measures. This is because the international scientific community and over one hundred countries believe in global cooperation on the issue.
In other words, governments around the world have weighed the pros and cons of restrictive policies against the damage that would occur if street/illegal drugs being made freely available. The vast majority of them consider that, “on balance”, it is more humane to protect people from the ravages of these drugs, than to permit them to become freely available.
The lessons of history
As a 1988 Churchill Fellow, my assignment was to research the issue of marijuana from a historical, societal and scientific perspective. At the United Nations in Vienna, I had access to a vast library and was able to document the UN conventions and treaties that had been ratified by the majority of the world leaders. During my visits to the Netherlands, Sweden and Spain, I was able to compare and evaluate the effects of differing drug policies. In Egypt, I spent time with medical staff at psychiatric hospitals, where the majority of patients were either in treatment for addiction or suffering from various degrees of mental illness due to the use of hashish/cannabis. It was this fact that prompted the Egyptian delegate to the 1924 International opium conference held in Geneva, Dr Mohamed El Guindy, to insist that hashish/cannabis be classified as a prohibited drug, along with opium and cocaine.
In 1974, Professor Mustapha I. Soueif, from the National Centre for Social and Criminological Research in Cairo, endorsed the clinical observations of Dr El Guindy. He published a major study citing the pernicious effects of centuries of hashish use in Egypt. Soueif described the consequences as “catastrophic”, particularly as it is traditionally used by males between the ages of twenty and forty:
These ages should be ones of high productivity for young men. However, due to the deleterious effects of hashish/cannabis, one of which is a lack of motivation and ambition, there was a decline in the Egyptian workforce.
Inertia and apathy — or, as it is called today, the “amotivational syndrome” — are among the consistent symptoms associated with marijuana use. A stark reminder of this effect was noted by a French army officer when Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Egypt in 1798. He noted in his journal that, owing to the use of hashish, “the mass of [Egypt’s] male population is in a perpetual state of stupor!”
Interestingly, when I was in Cairo in 1988, a thought-provoking article, by renowned Egyptian feature journalist Nagile Majhuz, appeared in the local press. He wrote:
We are still grappling with the basic infrastructure of social and economic activity, struggling with our human rights and trying to stop our institutions from falling apart.
His opinion reflects the concerns of past scholars and historians, who came to believe that the widespread abuse of cannabis is associated with collective apathy and cultural and economic regression.
The genesis of the drug culture
In the 1960s a handful of academics at America’s leading universities were investigating the effects of marijuana, psychedelic substances and other mind-altering drugs as a means of assisting people suffering from various mental illnesses. If they had maintained correct protocols and ethical standards during their research, they might have created some effective new therapies. Instead, they decided that these dangerous substances were great fun and quite harmless.
Not only did these academics experiment with them for their own amusement, but they also influenced young university students to use them for non-medical or so-called “recreational” purposes. As a result, drug use spread like wildfire throughout U.S. universities. It eventually spread into the general population and ultimately became the genesis of a worldwide youth-oriented “drug culture”.
Despite the fact that thousands of families suffer pain and disharmony as a result of young people’s drug use, this culture is still being promoted today by equally irresponsible pro-drug activists, who support “normalisation”, “decriminalisation” and the eventual “legalisation” of marijuana and other illegal drugs.
• The United Nations international control board has made it quite clear it supports the use of psychotropic drugs being used for medical or scientific purposes. However, if these prohibited drugs are used for non-medical purposes, i.e., recreationally, they can undermine and decimate both individuals and societies, particularly in countries that are technologically sophisticated.
• Ironically, studies are now underway into the effectiveness of a number of psychedelic drugs, including psilocybin, which may prove to be effective as a new therapy for opioid addiction and other diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol use in people with major depression.
A brave new world
“Don’t base your decisions on the advice of those who don’t have to deal with the results.” — Kushandwizdom
In his 1932 novel Brave New World, Aldous Huxley depicted an imaginary futuristic society featuring chilling scenarios, some of which are now part of many contemporary societies. These include over-population, the cloning of human embryos and restrictions on civil liberties, particularly speech. Not only were religious and time-honoured traditions outlawed, but even the role of parents dismissed as primeval. Instead, from an early age, the population was conditioned to believe in government-sanctioned “moral” truths.
Needless to say, in Huxley’s “brave new world”, with its morally neutral ideology and lacking the fundamental principles and traditional values that have guided and sustained humanity for centuries, the population slowly descends into a state of hopelessness and despair. In the midst of this bleak culture, the government — after assuring everyone that it is in their best interest — mandates that all citizens use a psychoactive drug called soma. They are given it on a regular basis and, as a result, the population becomes dull, unimaginative and lazy — in other words, “amotivational”.
It makes one marvel at the prophetic powers of Aldous Huxley that enabled him, in 1932, to envisage a society that would normalise a psychoactive drug similar to marijuana, that also causes regular users to become dull, unimaginative and lazy.
Some words of wisdom
The well-known and respected English author and journalist, Malcolm Muggeridge, in the late 1920s taught at Cairo University, where he observed first-hand the results of hashish use among many of the students. He recalled how these particular young men were invariably “stoned” when they arrived for lectures, and how much they were despised by their fellow students. Muggeridge said in his autobiography:
I know of no better exemplification of the death wish at the heart of our way of life, than this determination to bring about the legalisation of hashish, so that it may ravage the West as it has the Middle and Far East.
The destructive effects of marijuana were also acknowledged by Jerry Rubin, an ideologue of the radical students’ movement of the late 1960s. He asserted: “Legalise pot and society will fall apart.” No two people could be further opposed ideologically and politically than Muggeridge and Rubin. However, both agreed that the norms and values of society would be seriously threatened if cannabis use became widespread. (See Essay 29: The origins of drug prohibition).
I appreciate the genuine concern of many people who put forward an argument in favour of removing legal sanctions. However, I believe that the logic used takes us a certain distance and then leaves us with a sense of indeterminacy and incompletion. Many of the proposals rely on frail generalisations and do not consider historical precedents and the experience of other countries. Nor has there been a correct analysis of the “contagion” and “addiction” factors, or the collateral effects, including later complications, e.g., Hepatitis C. In fact, injecting drugs has now become the single most important factor for acquiring Hepatitis C, accounting for 80 per cent of infections.
Advocates of legalisation have also failed to understand the dynamics of the drug market. (See also Essay 36: Identifying the patterns of drug use). If drugs and medications that do not produce “pleasure” were under discussion, the thought of making them freely available would never be considered.
Because of its lingering effects, marijuana poses a special threat to public safety. (See also Essay 56: A simple lesson). Many studies confirm this outcome. A particularly interesting one is a study on airline pilots that demonstrated serious problems of judgment, memory, concentration and reaction for more than 24 hours after smoking one social dose of marijuana. Significantly, the pilots believed they were no longer impaired and were ready to fly.
Obviously, train, bus and taxi drivers, and operators of heavy or complex machinery, are also vulnerable to the long lasting and subtle effects of persistent marijuana intoxication. Such impairment can also affect other skilled professions, including medical practitioners and surgeons.
This raises some very serious and practical concerns. For example, could we be assured that the advice from our legal representatives was sound and the verdicts handed down by the judiciary impartial? Could we feel confident about the medical advice we receive? Would we still feel safe when boarding a plane? It is especially concerning to think that “stoned” schoolteachers and university lecturers may be educating young impressionable students.
As responsible and concerned adults, we should challenge the extremists who are determined to put Australian youth at risk by persuading the general public to accept the use of marijuana as a normal social activity.
Duty of care
One aspect of the drug culture which is continually misrepresented by pro-drug activists is whether marijuana is the precursor to other prohibited substances. For many people this may not necessarily be the case. However, many excellent studies clearly demonstrate that people who are addicted to ice, heroin, cocaine, etc., started their drug habits by using marijuana. (See Essay 21: Gateway drugs).
Just as importantly, using marijuana and other gateway drugs is the link between a legal and an illegal act.
It is hoped that this book will not only provide that information, but also explain why Australians are now among the highest users of marijuana in the world. Most important of all, we must decide whether pecuniary interests or an egocentric ideology justifies the removal of sanctions on this exceedingly complex psychoactive drug. (See Essay 56: A simple lesson).
Before I became involved in assisting parents cope with children who were involved in drug use, I agreed with the idea of legalising marijuana. In the early 1980s I naïvely believed that so long as the health department hadn’t issued any warnings about the health risks associated with marijuana, particularly when used by young people, then there was no cause for alarm. Sadly, I was mistaken, as were all those parents whose children were addicted and experiencing various psychiatric illnesses. It doesn’t matter to parents whether marijuana is the main cause of these psychiatric illnesses, or whether it merely exacerbates pre-existing conditions; the point is that the lives of the children they love and cherish have been destroyed. These are the only “facts” that matter to them.
Although, in Australia, pro-drug advocates are still only a minority, they are nonetheless part of a powerful international consortium that is extremely well funded and organised, and working ceaselessly to bring about legal changes in countries across the world. I believe that the only chance we have to contain Australia’s drug epidemic is to prevent children and teenagers from using drugs in the first place. We must also protect them from the impact of pro-drugs activists and the failed drug policies of the past. We need to find role models in sport and entertainment who can inspire young people in schools and universities to become influencers among their peers through social media. We also need to bring parents and teachers together to support and generate a spirit of unity and goodwill in tackling the drug crisis.
Most important of all, principled politicians must make themselves heard above the clamour of the fanatics and be fearless in opposing their self-defeating policies. Last but not least, we should demand that editors and journalists in the mainstream media take greater responsibility for ensuring that reports concerning street drugs are correct and relevant with up-to-date information.
Our collective aim should be to decrease the use of alcohol and tobacco and keep street drugs illegal.
Marijuana and mediocrity
“Something deep in the human heart breaks at the thought of a life of mediocrity.” — Darren Whitehead and Jon Tyson
In most discussions about marijuana, people focus on the observable problems associated with its use. What is often overlooked are the subtle and lasting problems including the amotivational syndrome, i.e., people who are regular and/or heavy users of cannabis becoming apathetic, socially withdrawn and performing at a level of everyday functioning well below their capacity prior to their marijuana use — or in the words of George Orwell, “dull, unimaginative and lazy”.
In today’s society, with its challenges and sophisticated technology, young people are entitled to be given every opportunity to mature into productive and creative adults. We cannot allow the potential of future generations to be sabotaged by pro-drug activists touting half-truths about marijuana, such as assuring young people that it is only a “soft drug”. There is nothing “soft” about the non-medical, so-called “recreational”, use of marijuana, particularly by developmentally immature adolescents and young adults. On the contrary, it can cause irreparable harm to their health and well-being. Playing sport or reading a good book is an authentic form of recreation, but most certainly not the use of psychoactive drugs.
Our current drug policies risk turning Australia into a second-rate society, with “mediocrity” as the norm. To demonstrate this point, I have included the following summary of a particularly relevant experiment. It is one of the most salutary studies in recent times as it demonstrates a clear correlation between the use of cannabis/marijuana and a decline in achievement and ambition. It also confirms the wisdom of the League of Nations which, although at the time its decision was based solely on clinical observations, decided to include cannabis and cannabis resin with the other narcotics.
The Maastricht experiment
Since the 1970s, numerous clinical studies have indicated that the academic standards of students who were using marijuana declined. The exam results of high achievers often dropped from excellent to average, and the results of average students declined commensurately. Most parents and teachers have long been aware of this, and so it will come as no surprise to them that these “clinical observations” have been supported by an important evidence-based study published by Maastricht University in the Netherlands, in 2015.
The Maastricht study conducted a unique experiment in which students at the university were separated into two groups — those who could buy marijuana and those who could not. The results clearly showed that students who could no longer legally buy marijuana improved their exam results substantially — particularly in classes that required more maths and numerical knowledge. It needs to be understood that the decline in achievement should be seen in substantive academic areas in terms of the student’s previous performance, not in terms of long-term performance.
As Dr Robert C. Gilkeson said in his book, Marijuana: Myths and Misconceptions (1986):
Students need particular skills, and the first of these is memory. This is necessary in order to compare new experiences with past information. A mind also needs to be capable of evaluating and integrating what is learnt. Short-term memory loss has serious repercussions for students, because the accumulation of knowledge is disrupted at a time when previous learning is essential for the understanding of subsequent lessons. These complex developments are impeded if interfered with by mind-altering chemicals. Loss of short-term memory is often underestimated. I have seen young adults, who were once great achievers, slowly compromising their talents and slipping into mediocrity.
When anyone acquires social and intellectual skills, repetition is then necessary in order to store what has been learned in long-term memory. Of course, students must have the desire to “learn” more, and there must also be the reward, or reinforcing part of, acquiring knowledge. If this process is interrupted by drug use, their intellectual and emotional development is also stunted. Over the years it became abundantly clear to me that most of my clients, who were in their late teens or early twenties, had the emotional maturity of a twelve-year-old. There is no way of knowing which children will be the most vulnerable to marijuana, who will lose their potential, who will become addicted or who will progress to other illegal drugs.
Perpetuating the hoax
In Australia the majority of the crucial information about street drugs was expunged from drug literature in the 1980s. Students were not taught about the essential role that epidemiology plays in analysing this modern obsession with drugs. Nor were they made aware of the important lessons to be learned from history, particularly the reasons that certain drugs in the past have been prohibited. (See Essay 29: The origins of drug prohibition). Australian teachers were even prevented from teaching students about the inherent risks of the drugs themselves. Instead, within the guidelines of the policy of “harm minimisation”, they were instructed to teach adolescents that illegal drugs were an inevitable part of society. Not only that, but students were also taught the patently absurd notion that “all drugs are the same unless abused”, and furthermore that “if they “chose” to use drugs, then they should learn how to use them “responsibly”. (See Essay 8: Beware the friendly fire).
The model of harm minimisation, particularly in drug education, was always doomed to fail because it is based on a flawed ideology. (See Essay 12: The genesis of drug law ‘reform’). If Australia is serious about reducing drug addiction, then we need to reintroduce a strategy that has proved to be a success. In 1998, the “Tough on Drugs” campaign was launched, and an abstinence model was introduced into drug education. The policy also placed more emphasis on prevention and treatment programs. The National Drug Strategy included education as an equal partner to health and criminal justice/law enforcement, and prevention of drug use was the key goal.
Unsurprisingly, there was a decrease in drug use. Over the nine years following the launch of the “Tough on Drugs” campaign, Australia reduced the use of all street drugs by 39 per cent. Deaths from overdose decreased from 1,116 in 1999 to 386 or less for each year from 2001 to 2007. However, in 2007, when the “Tough on Drugs” campaign was sidelined after the change of government, drug use increased and overdose deaths doubled.
According to the United Nations:
It has been due to the permissive attitudes of the past that have allowed the drug problem to reach epidemic proportions. The scope of the current narcotic problems goes far beyond law enforcement and public health questions, posing a threat to economic and social order the world over. The problem transcends national boundaries. But there is reason to be hopeful; the nations of the world have recognised that drug abuse has grown at an alarming rate. Progress is being made in areas where intense and concentrated pressure has been applied in all aspects of the problem — abuse, supply production, trafficking and treatment. With active participation of people, organisations and all nations, the problem will ultimately be solved.
Opinion vs. fact
Controversy over the findings of research is a common and appropriate academic activity. However, an enormous gulf exists between the theories and philosophies of many academics and the very obvious human damage which can be observed by doctors working with patients on drugs, and by parents trying to cope with children on drugs. Not only that, but the public needs to be more discerning when reading articles published in the mainstream media. Authoritative-sounding statements are made about cannabis, without any scientific data to support them. If they are uttered by prominent public figures, these opinions are often mistakenly accepted as facts.
By contrast, sometimes commentators or spokespersons seek to avoid controversy and play down the significance of what science really says about drugs. By failing to draw the obvious conclusions, they may convey the impression that scientists are divided and confused on the issue of drugs.
Laypeople do not have easy access to medical literature and too often ignore their own intuition, i.e., common sense. Instead, they all too readily defer to “expert” opinion, not realising that it may conceal a political agenda with a commitment to legalising marijuana. Worse by far is when drug-users themselves don’t really want to know the facts, so that they can rationalise to themselves their continued use of drugs. When such persons occupy positions of authority in society, such as in the medical or teaching professions, or in the media and the public service, their opinions pass right down to the youngest and most impressionable people in their sphere of influence.
Manipulating the data
Recently, an example of misinformation that was declared by pro-drug activists as “sensational research” was published in JAMA Pediatrics, a monthly journal published by the American Medical Association. This study claimed that legalising drugs actually “discourages use” by adolescents. Because the study is peer-reviewed and is published in a medical journal, most laypeople will assume that this validates the results. It certainly provided pro-drug activists and health professionals with the excuses they have been looking for to promote their radical agenda.
However, on close examination, the study’s data is shown to be completely flawed — not only by the omission of accurate information, but because its conclusions also fly in the face of decades of statistics that show completely the opposite result. The JAMA Pediatrics report relied on people who gave their permission to conduct a school survey, whereas the more reliable U.S. National Survey on Drug Use and Health included all people in the household. (This U.S. survey is considered by researchers to be the most consistent and reliable source for drug use and health data and statistics in the world).
• Unsurprisingly, the same academics who produced this paper also made the bizarre claim in a previous publication that marijuana reduces traffic accidents.
• Peer review: — Recent articles published in scientific journals, including The Lancet, by well-known researchers and academics, including internationally-acclaimed biostatisticians and epidemiologists, are expressing concern about the quality and proficiency, and even the ethics, of modern scientific research, especially in the field of illegal drug use. The increasing use of meta-analysis and ecological studies has meant that the time-honoured methodologies that have been used in the past to evaluate the efficacy of scientific research no longer apply.
• In time, the city of Maastricht crime rates tripled compared to those of cities further from the border of Holland and other countries.
• For decades marijuana use and sales have been decriminalised in the Netherlands. The drug may be purchased in coffee shops and various outlets around the region. Unsurprisingly, there has been a massive increase in “drug tourism”.
• Marijuana-impaired personalities have been clearly defined by psychiatrists since the mid-1970s, and the conclusions that were drawn by these clinical studies have since been confirmed and reaffirmed by scientific research.
• Considering that the first signs of impairment to the brain are usually a change in behaviour, “observations”, including those of parents, teachers, employers and doctors, are of great importance.
• If the Australia’s pro-drug “elite” had acknowledged the clinical and scientific research that was available in the 1980s — approximately 10,000 studies — many parents would have been saved a great deal of heartache. Instead, parents were constantly assured by those pushing for drug legalisation that there was no association between marijuana use and the changes of behaviour they were observing in their children who were smoking it. In fact, they were accused of being either neurotic or told that their families were dysfunctional.
• Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) in the United States is making inroads into the push back against the commercialisation of cannabis, similar to the earlier push back against legal tobacco.
Mortality and morbidity
“Suicide does not mean there was no killer.” — source unknown
The question of death from drug use is closely linked to the pharmacology of the particular drug and the user’s level of tolerance to it. Tolerance is also related to the user’s own body chemistry and the length of time, level of concentration of the substance and the frequency of use. Take the case of heroin (diacetylmorphine). Overdose occurs when users exceed their level of tolerance. Because heroin is a depressant drug, the body’s vital functions, especially the lung functions, are depressed to the point where breathing ceases and death ensues. In the case of cocaine, which is a stimulant drug, an overdose is associated with gross over-stimulation of bodily functions, especially of heartbeat that can result in heart attack, heart failure or stroke.
The pharmacology of marijuana includes some stimulant and hallucinogenic properties, but it is primarily a depressant drug. Because it is fat-soluble and is gradually stored in the body in larger and larger quantities, marijuana acts more slowly, so that we do not see either the dramatic shutdown or acceleration of body functions that we see in the case of heroin or cocaine.
There has never been a death directly attributed to marijuana through overdose; but studies are demonstrating that marijuana is a contributing factor, and similar to nicotine and alcohol, the risk of death or disability is attributed to its use.
Evidence clearly demonstrates that there is a relationship between fatal road accidents and the use of marijuana, particularly marijuana used in combination with alcohol. There is also a relationship between marijuana use and suicide. The most commonly implicated mental conditions for suicide are schizophrenia and depression, and substance-abuse disorders are becoming recognised as a major risk factor, especially for young males.
Sadly, I have met many grief-stricken parents whose sons and daughters have committed suicide. Their experiences are chillingly similar. (See the bibliography for numerous studies linking long-term cannabis use with violence).
Dear Mrs Walters
As parents grieving the loss of their eldest son by suicide twelve months ago, two weeks before his 30th birthday, we are more than ever convinced that marijuana was the cause of his state of mind (his own doctor told me so).
We have always been very upset and disturbed because three days before our son’s death we went to our own GP for help and he said don’t worry, it’s not as bad as alcohol. We then rang more counsellors, and upon being asked if it was a possibility that my son would hurt himself, the guy said marijuana doesn’t do that to you. However, we knew better, seeing a clear change of mood in our son since he began smoking and whenever he had been smoking. He often became depressed, moody and always anxious and weary.
Maybe your book will help our family and us and allow us to be of help to someone else.
R.A. — Victoria
Dear Mrs Walters,
I am writing to you as an ex-marijuana smoker who gave up the “habit” only when a close friend of mine, who was diagnosed as being a schizophrenic, committed suicide while being high on marijuana. It was only after this crux event happening in my life that I knew I had to make a change before it was too late. My life was falling apart, I hardly spoke to my friends or family, had no job and knew if I didn’t make a change right then that I would be the next one to go. I consider marijuana use a social disease in epidemic proportions.
S.R — Victoria
One of the problems I and others close to Jason faced in the lead-up to his suicide between 29th March and 9th April was we just did not know what we were dealing with and, clearly, our expectations of the hospital were higher than what they measured up to.
I might add that the source of greatest assistance we have had has been the Victorian Police Force, particularly Operations 222. On reflection, I think Jason would have been in better hands if he had remained in the police lockup at Carlton rather than going back to that bunch of psychopaths masquerading as psychiatrists at St. Vincent’s.
Marijuana is a curse and harming too many. How much longer can this madness go on? The war on drugs cannot be lost at all costs!
D.E. — Victoria
Dear Mrs Walters,
At last!! Someone who agrees with a parent!
I first noticed a change in my son’s behaviour 7 years ago. It was another 2 years before I could find out the cause of this change.
Marijuana cost my son his life.
In the beginning people said “Don’t worry, they all do it.” I was appalled! My son was in danger and I knew it. Over a period of twelve months, three of his friends (all chronic marijuana-users) suicided. All anyone would say, “He’ll grow out of it.”
This drug is ruining our children’s youth and future.
R.N. — Victoria
At the age of 20 our son started showing signs of anti-social behaviour and at a later date began hearing voices and afraid someone was out to get him.
About the same time we became aware that he had been smoking cannabis with his mates on a regular basis.
At the age of 21 he was diagnosed as a schizophrenic. My husband, myself and our three other teenage children were shattered by the experience of seeing someone we love who was intelligent, had a trade and was successful at sports become lazy, suffered severe depression and unable to work.
The doctor treating our son at the time commented he was suspicious of the effects of cannabis.
At the age of 25 our son tried to take his own life with an overdose of anti-depressant. After ten days in hospital, four in intensive care, he was allowed home.
Can you imagine the trauma and worry, we as a family, suffered? After eight years of medication to control his illness and which has to be taken for the rest of his life. We now look at a very damaged person, who can no longer hold down a job or sustain a long-term relationship.
We, as parents, have the added worry of what is going to become of him when we are no longer here to take care of him.
A.R. — Queensland
On the radio a couple of weeks ago the discussion on marijuana made me recall the shocking/devastating/horrific experience my brother’s family went through when Daryl, their son, my nephew, finally developed into a paranoid schizophrenic after years of dabbling in various drugs (he told me he’d used “pot and LSD together”).
In the end he died of exposure in a family paddock not that far from the original family property after fleeing from the imagined people who were “after him”, and doing so in mid-summer heat in fear and panic, collapsing and dying before he was found. He was 26. He was Dux of his high school. He first ran into these drugs at Sydney University. He was never a good mixer. It’s a long story — tragic, pathetic, and frightening and the ripples still go out in the aftermath.
K.R. — Victoria
The suicide of my 20-year-old daughter was the result of mental disturbance triggered by the use of marijuana that we are still trying to come to terms with mixed feeling of anger, guilt and frustration, and time doesn’t completely heal. I guess we shall always have the hurt.
S.N. — South Australia
These are just a small selection from the many letters I have received linking cannabis to acts of violence. There is no doubt that the consequences of cannabis use have been seriously underestimated.
I often wonder how those authorities who have undermined the efforts of those of us who have done our best to disseminate the dangers of marijuana through books, leaflets and speaking engagements, and who have involved ourselves in the public narrative, ever feel any sense of remorse or a sense of responsibility for the havoc and even deaths they may have caused by maintaining their conspiracy of silence.
I wish I could say the above letters represented isolated cases; but over the years I have heard far too many similar stories. The dissemination of information to the Australian public about the risks associated with marijuana and other drugs lags years behind international research. It is too late to redress the damage that such misinformation has already caused to generations of young Australians. It is certainly too late for many families. But it is not too late to acknowledge the failure of permissive “harm minimisation” policies. Or are we destined to continue to drift along in a state of indifference and apathy and allow pro-drug activists (many of whom are political advisors) to unleash even more havoc with their cockamamie theories?