By Jill Richardson
Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently called marijuana use a “life-wrecking dependency” that is “only slightly less awful” than heroin.
If that were true, maybe my little brother would be alive.
I don’t know the full story of my brother’s drug use. He kept it a careful secret from our family. I can only piece together the details from his autopsy and what his friends told me after his death.
My brother had a severe anxiety disorder, with daily panic attacks. If you’ve never had one, all you need to know is that people often respond to their first panic attack by calling 911 because it feels like they’re dying.
He went through that every day.
In a better world, he would’ve gone to therapy and sought appropriate medical help. But he didn’t. Deep down, he thought he was so awful that all a therapist would do was confirm that he was a repulsive freak who deserved no love. He couldn’t face that.
As a teenager, he found a Band-Aid for his anxiety: marijuana.
It wasn’t healthy. It didn’t address the root of his problems. But it provided some comfort and it got him through the day.
He smoked pot for years. He preferred it to alcohol, although he drank too. His friends told me he dabbled in other drugs as well. But mostly he liked marijuana.
In his first year of college, he was arrested for marijuana possession. He was given two years of probation and kicked out of school. That probably didn’t improve his prospects any.
At age 23, my brother did heroin for the third time in his life. His friends knew, but our family did not. He didn’t answer his phone for five days after that. Then his landlord found his body.
I’ve known people who use marijuana recreationally and medicinally for years. I’ve known cancer patients who rely on it to quell their nausea over the months I’ve watched their bodies waste away.
I had a friend who smoked it daily while double majoring at an elite university and then reduced his habit while pursuing a PhD at Stanford.
I know people who smoke it casually and rarely, just for fun, but with no interruption to their lives.
And I’ve known people who don’t smoke at all, but suffer from alcoholism, slowly killing themselves legally.
The people I’ve observed who had pot habits that harmed their lives all had underlying problems, like my brother’s anxiety. Their drug use was a symptom. They needed treatment, not punishment.
Many others used pot either medicinally, to relieve nausea, anxiety, or pain, or they used it recreationally without much interruption to their daily lives.
One could smoke an entire field of marijuana, as my brother probably did, without dying from an overdose.
The same could not be said of heroin, which killed 13,000 Americans in 2015.
My baby brother, my best friend in the world, a kid who was hurting so bad on the inside he was looking to anything he could find to relieve his pain, died alone in his favorite chair, just the third time he ever tried heroin.
My brother would’ve had a hard road ahead if he’d lived. He needed years of therapy, and recovery would’ve been painful and difficult.
But the same isn’t necessarily true of others. Each person who relieves pain with marijuana instead of opiates takes a path that won’t lead to a debilitating addiction and potentially a deadly overdose.
The attorney general is wrong. Pot is a relatively mild and harmless drug compared to deadly, addictive heroin. Treating users like criminals is a threat to their safety — and so is perpetuating the lie that some drugs are no less harmful than others.
Jill Richardson is the author of “Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It.” She is a columnist for OtherWords.org See her previous column, “Sorry, I Can’t Give Trump a Chance.”
Richard Smith says
Marijuana is not deadly, heroin is because it has killed thousands including Jill’s brother. However, it has been proven in many cases but not all that extensive marijuana use eventually leads to using a stronger drug such as heroin to escape the pain.
The Ghost of America says
Big surprise, a klansman appointed to a position of power has issues with a substance that was originally made illegal for no other reason than to harass hispanics.
ed james says
pot is a gateway drug to harder drugs..virtually no one who uses harder drugs didnt start with pot..its illegal and must stay that way..
Wishful thinking says
GOD does not create anything illegal. MARIJUANA U
.. pot.. weed.. grass is created by God to help his human creations deal a little easier sometimes with our lives. What is illegal in my eyes is punishing innocent God fearing people for benefiting from fruits created by God
It’s legal deal with it
The Ghost of America says
No, pot isn’t a gateway drug any more than alcohol or tobacco is. Do your research.
Raleigh St. Claire says
@Ed James and @Richard Smith, you’re conjecture with regard to Marijuana as a “gateway” drug is a myth. Sure, some heroin users at one point smoked Marijuana. I’m guessing they also consumed soda that has caffeine, or maybe had a beer which contains alcohol at some point.
There is no legitimate research which links Marijuana use as a “gateway,” to heavier drugs. To make that leap negates the underlying issues which afflict the majority of those who use heavier drugs.
There is a lot of legitimate research available that completely debunks the “Reefer Madness” ideals of the 1950’s. Use google. And be mindful of the sources and their motivations.
(Disclaimer – I am not at all suggesting that the inhalation of smoke (of any kind) is harmless to the human body. In fact, it is not, and long-term use of any smokeable product can be very detrimental to your health.)
Show me proof of a single death attributed to the toxicity of marijuana. I’m not looking for opinions based on conjecture, I’m looking for hard evidence in writing by an unbiased scientist or medical examiner. 3…2…1…GO! I’ll wait…
Unfortunately, thanks to the Reagan administrations ridiculous effort to gain notoriety through the “War On Drugs”, science and rationality is fighting another losing battle trying to break through the misinformation and propaganda used throughout many decades to package all drugs together in a neat little box that many people believe is equally as harmful as putting a gun to your head.
I’m 26. I didn’t grow up so much with abstract PSAs and nonsense propaganda films like Reefer Madness like a lot of people that live here did. My first exposure to the threat of drug use was probably in elementary school where a DARE officer attempted to sell us the idea that drugs are all bad and can have nothing good come from them. Including marijuana, which not only helped build this country through the hemp industry but has always offered a comforting reprieve from the stressors of daily life in the same way alcohol does except alcohol is legal. Fun fact: alcohol related deaths are the fourth leading cause of preventable deaths in the US, as an estimated 88,000 people die annually due to alcohol related incidents. Please fact check me I like that.
Marijuana related deaths? Well, there’s no census for those. For a couple reasons. Its not legal, so its not like people readily advertise use where its not condoned and also, related deaths are typically due to an underlying condition such as asthma that was triggered during inhalation.
The problem is that people will readily demonize this substance because its grouped in with other illegal far more harmful substances statistically but in doing so this also limits our scientific study of said substances. Its not like scientists get a special pass to research this and it can take ages to get a permit to research these things as well. The cure for cancer could be right under our noses. Its doubtful, but I think you guys catch my drift. The next time you want to jump on the say no to pot bandwagon, look in the mirror and at that bottle of wine in your fridge. At least pot probably wont kill you.
CBD in marijuana is responsible for it’s legitimate use for pain control, seizure control, and to alleviate nausea and vomiting. The THC in marijuana is the one that produces the high. I wish a more rational policy be made on how it is regulated. The first step is to take away the supply and profit from criminals.
None of these band-aids seemed to help her brother. May the root of her ‘best friend’s’ problem was emotional support. So let Jill blame certain drugs or the rest of the world, and never take any responsibility.
Oh, my brother used to smoke pot to get through the day. One day the stuff he got was laced with pcp. He died that day. Never had the chance to try heroin.
The Ghost of America says
*wipes crocodile tear from eye, says sad story about pcp laced marijuana*
Bullshit. If someone was selling weed laced with PCP, the buyer would know it. They’d charge more for it.