Article: 19980201047

Title: Reader Response

Reader Response
HMH Publishing Co., Inc.
Reader Discussion
Marijuana Myths

Marijuana Myths

In his crusade against medical marijuana, Dr. Eric Voth ("Puff and Stuff," Reader Response, September) grossly misrepresents the scientific evidence. Every study he cites showing marijuana-related harm is contradicted by dozens of other studies.

In our recent book Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts (Lindesmith Center), we review 30 years of scientific evidence based on marijuana research. We conclude that marijuana does not adversely affect sex hormones in humans; does not cause birth defects, lasting memory impairment or cancer; does not impair immune function and is not highly addictive.

The only clear health risk associated with marijuana use is lung damage from smoking, and this risk appears primarily among long-term, high-dose smokers, particularly those who also smoke tobacco cigarettes. Daily marijuana smokers experience slightly more respiratory symptoms than do nonsmokers. However, two recent studies, one conducted in the U.S. and the other in Australia, indicate no evidence of the lung disease emphysema among those who smoke only marijuana.

All effective medications produce unwanted side effects. Marijuana is no exception. Some people find marijuana's psychoactivity to be extremely unpleasant. But contrary to Dr. Voth's assertion, this adverse effect is less common with smoked marijuana than with the oral THC capsule, which has been approved by the FDA and is available by prescription. True, crude marijuana is sometimes contaminated with fungal spores, which is a problem for people with suppressed immune systems. However, this problem could be eliminated with proper quality control, under a system of legal distribution.

Both smoked marijuana and oral THC have the potential to produce psychomotor impairment. But a recent driving study, funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, shows that impairment from marijuana is less substantial than that caused by many widely used medications. Even if driving impairment from marijuana were more substantial, that would hardly be a reason to forbid marijuana's use as a medicine--unless we are also prepared to forbid, on similar grounds, the use of many painkillers, antihistamines, tranquilizers, sleeping pills and over-the-counter cough syrups.

Voth's assertion that the availability of other "safe and effective medications precludes the need for marijuana or pure THC" is contrary to the principles of good medical practice. His own survey of oncologists indicates that 12 percent have recommended marijuana to patients undergoing chemotherapy. Other surveys of oncologists show even greater support for marijuana's use as an antinauseant. Physicians and patients need the maximum number of effective medications--not just those that work best in the majority of patients. The fact that marijuana is effective in some patients for whom other medications have failed makes it a valuable addition to the pharmacopoeia.

In a 1982 letter to the Journal of the American Medical Association, Congressman Newt Gingrich wrote that "the outdated federal prohibition" of medical marijuana was "corrupting the intent of state laws and depriving thousands of glaucoma and cancer patients of the medical care promised them by their state legislatures." According to Gingrich, "the hysteria over marijuana's social abuse" has prevented a "factual and balanced assessment of marijuana's use as a medicant." Voth seems committed to perpetuating the hysteria, regardless of the suffering it causes.

Lynn Zimmer Associate Professor of Sociology Queens College New York, New York

John Morgan Professor of Pharmacology CUNY Medical School New York, New York

God Squad

As a parent and lifelong resident of Alabama, I am appalled that the parents of those Little League players did not first investigate the sponsorship of their teams ("Irrational Pastime," The Playboy Forum, November). Until our daughter is an adult, my wife and I will always investigate the particulars of her activities. It is not only our right but also our duty as parents. Raising objections to immoral influences a season later? Come on, guys! If we had been talking drugs, your kids would be long gone by now.

Fennigan Spencer Birmingham, Alabama

Robert Wieder's "Irrational Pastime" is not just an example of what happens when God takes the field; it also gives us more reason to doubt the existence of a supreme being. Surely if there were one, he wouldn't operate on such a mundane level.

A recent Yankelovich poll found that 90 percent of Americans believe in the existence of God, compared with just 48 percent of Britons; 76 percent of Americans think hell is a real place, compared with just 16 percent of Germans. More than 100 million Americans attend church each Sunday, which is a vastly higher number than in Europe. Radio and television teem with evangelists, while Americans donate an astounding $70 billion annually to churches and ministries--more than the national budgets of most countries. That's a colossal commitment to the supernatural.

But if 90 percent of the population believes in God, the other ten percent must be skeptics like me. Since America has 200 million adults, there must be about 20 million of us doubters. The agnostic viewpoint rarely gets media coverage, but we deserve a chance to toss our beliefs into the national stew. Free speech includes the right to raise doubts.

Agnostics operate from the point of view that no reliable evidence can be found of a spiritual realm. Among university faculties and research lab staffs and the like, religious believers have become oddities.

Not long ago, Yale professor Stephen Carter wrote a book, The Culture of Disbelief, protesting the spread of this skepticism among America's trendsetters. Carter called it a symptom of moral decay. I call it a sign of rising integrity.

Over the years, bold nonconformists have dared to doubt. Thomas Edison said, "Religion is all bunk." Sigmund Freud compared religion to a childhood neurosis. Albert Einstein wrote that he couldn't imagine a personal God or a hereafter, "although feeble souls harbor such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egotism." Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to John Adams: "The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter."

That day has obviously arrived for much of Europe. I hope that it comes to America.

Jim Haught, Editor The Charleston Gazette Charleston, West Virginia

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For The Record

Sex Respect

"Over the past 12 years, I've observed that the more uncomfortable a woman is with her sex life, the more outraged and irritated she is by porn and the women who are proud to make it. The angrier she is at 'the patriarchy' and the more she blames men for the ills of the world, the more she wants to punish men for their ability to become easily aroused through visual stimulation. In their efforts to remove the injustices of rampant sexism in the public arena, some women have become overzealous and extended their prohibitonary efforts to the bedroom, exactly where privacy and tolerance should be extended most. Speaking as one at whom a lot of their anger has been directed, it seems like they've cut off their clits to spite their orgasms."

--Porn Star Nina Hartley In The Book Whores and Other Feminists (Routledge)

Forum F.Y.I.

Postal Daze

Hackers rule! And not just in cyberspace, as evidenced by artists Michael Thompson and Michael Hernandez de Luna. Their designs of fake postage stamps depict images not likely to receive approval from the postmaster general, yet several of the stamps passed postal scrutiny and were delivered. Though Thompson and Hernandez de Luna feared arrest at the opening of their gallery exhibit, celebrity status at their local post office appears to be worth taking the risk.