People with views that are impervious to evidence often find reasoned argument a threat, so I must apologise in advance if a rational response causes Clive Bibby’s brain to overheat. In support of his plea to keep cannabis illegal, he manages to marshal just two items of information in his otherwise evidence-free, opinion-bloated column (“Don’t be dopey, keep cannabis illegal”, July 29).
First, he states that cannabis is the entry point for addiction to more potent drugs. If he thinks this provides grounds for making cannabis illegal, it must apply equally to the two most popular and legal drugs, alcohol and nicotine.
Second, he maintains that it is harmful because it “damages brain cells”, so let’s look at what Wikipedia has to say: “Long-term exposure does not lead to decreases in white matter or grey matter volume, but may lead to reductions in volume of the hippocampus (a region of the brain), but there is some uncertainty to this conclusion.”
But even if he were correct in his unsupported assertion, it’s alleged health hazards pale into insignificance in comparison with those of tobacco. This perfectly legal substance causes cancers of the lung, mouth and oesophagus, and also causes emphysema, chronic bronchitis, heart attacks and strokes. Globally, it is the single greatest cause of preventable death; as many as half of people who use it die from its results.
The World Health Organisation estimates that tobacco smoking causes about 6 million deaths annually, 600,000 of these non-smokers killed by second-hand smoke. In the 20th century, tobacco is estimated to have caused 100 million deaths.
As if this were not enough, tobacco smoking in pregnancy increases the chances of miscarriage and contributes to premature birth. The March 5, 2005 issue of the British Medical Journal reported on a study showing that mothers who smoke in late pregnancy risk having children with lower intelligence. The research found that young men whose mothers smoked 20 or more cigarettes a day had IQs that were on average 6.2 points below those of sons of non-smokers.
And then there’s alcohol. In its global status report on alcohol and health 2014, the World Health Organisation said the use of alcohol causes approximately 3.3 million deaths every year (or 5.9 percent of all deaths), and that 5.1 percent of the global burden of disease is attributable to alcohol consumption.
And that’s just the deaths. Among alcohol’s most pernicious effects are foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), which results from drinking during pregnancy but doesn’t kill the foetus. It covers a wide range of effects ranging from birth defects and brain damage to learning difficulties and behavioural problems. There is no cure, the effects are permanent, and there is no safe lower limit to alcohol consumption during pregnancy. The New Zealand publication Alcohol Health watch reports that in New Zealand, at least 1 percent of live births result in FASD.
Mr. Bibby seems to base his feelings on what he considers to be health risks of cannabis smoking. Perhaps he would like to explain why the infinitely more serious health effects of tobacco and alcohol are insufficient to justify prohibition.
I imagine he would say that alcohol and tobacco, though undoubtedly harmful, are too deeply ingrained in our culture to be banned. We know that alcohol prohibition in America didn’t work, and there would be every reason to believe that banning alcohol and tobacco in New Zealand would have similar disastrous consequences.
Amen to that. There’s just one thing, Clive. That argument applies with equal force to cannabis.
■ Martin Hanson is a retired science teacher who lives in Nelson.