Put Out into the Deep

A Dangerous Prescription

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

The New York State Senate Health Committee recently voted to advance the Compassionate Care Act, whose ultimate passage would legalize the possession, acquisition, use, delivery, transfer, transport or administration of medical marijuana by a certified patient or designated caregiver for a certified medial use. If this bill then is approved by the State Senate Finance Committee, it stands a good chance of passing the whole Senate, where it would then require passage in the Assembly before reaching the governor’s desk. Given that the Assembly passed a similar bill last year and that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signaled his support, the Compassionate Care Act will most likely become the law of the land in New York State.

Passage of the medical use of marijuana does not bode well for the State of New York. Other states that have legalized the use of medical marijuana have gone on to decriminalize its recreational use quickly thereafter. The benefits of medical marijuana can be found in substitutes created by the extraction of cannabinoids, cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Pursuing this course would be a safer, less dramatic step than legalization of medical marijuana, which I fear would be the first step on a slippery slope to greater drug problems for our society.

Many chemicals both known and unknown are ingested when the marijuana plant is smoked. There are already medications that are approved by the FDA or are in clinical trials that extract the cannabinoids, CBD and THC, the psychoactive component. More research needs to be done to focus on extracting the CBD component and have it available in a non-smoking form. A person who is suffering seizures, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, etc., should not have to smoke marijuana to obtain its medicinal benefits. There are a few drugs in trials ongoing in the U.S., whereas some have already been approved in Europe and Canada. The appetite stimulant donrabinol (Marinol) combines CBD and THC. Another problem is that the marijuana grown here now has a much higher concentration of THC than the marijuana grown in the 1960s and 1970s.

Unfortunately, the perception of risk is low among both youth and adults. Legalization efforts in other states have increased the tolerance threshold for this drug, which for many leads to addictions to more potent types of drugs. However, the research done using brain scans of adolescents, whose brains continue to develop until their mid-20s, indicates serious damage to areas responsible for executive functioning of the brain. Research shows that early onset and high frequency of use have a direct effect on adolescent IQ scores, which may drop five-to-seven points in adolescents. The Compassionate Care Act does attempt to address this issue somewhat, as only those 21 and over may receive a prescription for smoking medical marijuana. Those younger than 21 may still be prescribed marijuana but not consume it through smoking.

For more information on this subject, I consulted one of the experts at our Program for the Development of Human Potential, which is an initiative run in our schools that encourages the avoidance of drugs and alcohol. Its director, Eileen Dwyer, LCSW, is concerned that the legalization of medical marijuana will, as in other states, lead to its general recreational use. This is very detrimental for any program trying to convince youth that this is a harmful beginning for drug use.

When I first came to the diocese, I asked Catholic Charities to undertake a program whereby families facing drug and alcohol addiction problems could call a hotline to find immediate resources to deal with the problem. Catholic Charities developed a network of programs that are capable of assisting families dealing with addiction. My own experience as a Licensed Social Worker, and one who ran drug programs when I was Catholic Charities Director in Newark, N.J., tells me that anything we can do to encourage the avoidance of any kind of drug use, and the abuse of prescription drugs included, would be a real service to our country and especially our youth.

Addictions are the cause of many ills in our society. Lowering the tolerance for any substance which can become addictive is a dangerous path to follow. Some would say that alcohol can produce the same affect, and it is true that it can; however, alcohol can be used by many without becoming addictive. Stupefacient drugs such as marijuana, however, could truly be a detriment to a whole and sound environment for our youth.

Some might say that our state is putting out into the deep by legalizing medical marijuana. Hopefully, the strict controls stated in the bill will hold, and only those who can medically benefit will have medical marijuana available to them. It is also my hope and prayer that this will not open the way to more detrimental drug addiction, which, unfortunately, has been demonstrated in many studies. Please join me in letting our legislators know of the dangerous course that we are pursuing in our state.

facebook logo   http://www.facebook.com/bishopdimarzio