Wednesday, 16 January 2013

war on _________

Towards the end of last summer, there was somewhat of a landmark study from a Norwegian institute into the developmental effects of marijuana smoking in adolescents, which suggested that routine usage was detrimental to cognitive abilities in later life—measured by changes in the intelligence quotient of subjects. The research was expansive, endorsed by peers and seemed to proffer a sensible outcome—that the brains of teenagers are still plastic and going through important and formative stages that make young people acutely sensitive to the effects of getting stoned.

I am sure the timing was beyond reproach, but the story made the headlines just ahead of some US states voting on decriminalizing marijuana possession, whose decisions were arrayed with a host of mock-worthy, exaggerated public service announcements (propaganda) on reefer-madness. By no means was the project without merit, but the researchers are recanting on their earlier verdict, having realized that when selecting participants to follow and evaluate one significant denominator was overlooked: they neglected to factor in background in terms of affluence and poverty. Growing up in an environment with the stresses of being impoverished and fewer opportunities for intellectual encouragement and stimulation has, patently, grave effects for cognitive skills. Readjusting to this baseline, the study seems to confirm only negligible deleterious effects in terms of intelligence, but without endorsement that getting high is the best way to spend one’s crucial years, since wealth and security suggested that one would be less likely to develop a habit in the first place. Regardless of the flaws, the research does clearly show that policy should be focused much more on the tragic hardships of poverty rather than arbitrary illicitness.