jasonbwatson

June 11, 2014

Lower IQ and Brain Damage

It is no secret that several states in the U.S. have legalized the recreational use of marijuana. It still violates federal law, and federal law trumps state law when there is a conflict…but that’s not what I really want to write about today so I won’t go down that path. What I want to write about is that the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana is an excellent example of what can happen when laws are changed to allow people to do what they want whether doing so is a good idea or not…especially when the long-term effects are either not known or indicate that allowing it is not a good idea.

There have long been those who argue that marijuana is not addictive even though you can find plenty of people who will you from first hand experience that it is. There have long been those who argue that there are no serious side effects or marijuana use even though there is plenty of anecdotal and scientific evidence to say otherwise. It has long been known that marijuana functions as a gateway drug, often paving the way for users to move on to harder drugs.

Additionally, there are a number of scientific studies suggesting that the regular use of marijuana does indeed have serious and lasting consequences. In the April issue of The Journal of Neuroscience contains a study conducted by researches from Northwestern University in Illinois, Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital on the effects of marijuana use on the brain. The researchers used MRI to measure “the volume, shape and density of the amygdala and nucleus accumbens, two brain structures related to emotion, reward and motivation” according to an article by Daniel James Devine. What did the MRI scans reveal? That smoking marijuana at least weekly produces abnormalities in these parts of the brain.

In the words of Hans Breiter, one of the co-authors of the study, “People think a little recreational use shouldn’t cause a problem, if someone is doing OK with work or school. Our data directly says this is not the case.”

This study is but one of several scientific studies showing the damage that marijuana can do to the brain. There is one study that indicates that people who begin smoking marijuana heavily as teenagers will lost an average of eight IQ points by age 38. Other studies indicate that there are fewer brain connections in the regions of the brain responsible for memory and learning among marijuana users.

Despite this evidence, Washington and Colorado are now allowing the legal use of marijuana for recreational purposes and the trend is likely to continue. It saddens me to say that I know a young man who moved from the east cost to Colorado specifically because he could use marijuana legally there. There are twenty-one states that allow the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes but none of us are naive enough to believe that it is used only for medicinal purposes and only by those with legitimate medical need for it.

One of the problems with the legalization of marijuana is that teenagers in particular will see that as proof that using it is perfectly safe, even harmless. The same article by Daniel James Devine reports a December 2013 study by the Department of Health and Human Services indicates that only 40% of high school seniors believe regular marijuana use is harmful and 25% of seniors have smoked marijuana in the past month (with 7% reportedly smoking it daily).

I can recall sitting in a seminar a number of years ago in which one of the nation’s leading experts on working with youth who had stabbed or shot an adult described the reality that most of the medications being prescribed for behavioral disorders (including, but certainly not limited to, ADD/ADHD) were developed for and tested on adults and there was absolutely no indication of what the long-term effects of the use of these drugs by children would be. I think in many ways we are still waiting to find out. In this instance–the recreational use of marijuana–it seems that we do know what the long-term effects will be: lower IQ and brain damage.

Are we being responsible as a society when we allow the legalization of something known to cause these results? Should the will of the people be followed even when what they want is not in their own best interest? Interesting questions which could yield a healthy and vigorous debate, no doubt.

Of course, one might argue–somewhat tongue in cheek–that those who use, or want to use, marijuana regularly already have brain damage and/or low IQs. Perhaps that’s all the more reason to “just say no”–they don’t have any brain cells to spare.

January 29, 2013

Free Speech

I was amused as I read through the January 12 issue of WORLD Magazine to find that two of the magazine’s articles–located just three pages apart–were completely contradictory. I was further amused to discover that I thought both articles were wrong. Here’s the situation…

On page 59, Daniel James Devine wrote a piece entitled, “Speech impediments.” In it, he argued that Facebook, YouTube and Apple are guilty of online censorship and that everyone (but Christians in particular) should be concerned about the decisions being made by these companies. He cites examples such as Facebook’s deletion of a photo showing “an unveiled Arab woman in a sleeveless top, holding, in a call for liberation, a passport photo of herself wearing the hijab“, and Facebook’s temporary censorship of Mike Huckabee’s “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” held last year in support of Dan Cathy. According to Devine, Facebook apologized for both instances and “claimed the content had been removed by mistake.” Devine also cites Apple’s permanent removal of applications from Exodus International and Manhattan Declaration on its AppStore, and YouTube’s removal of Pastor Ryan Faust’s video warning against gay marriage, since YouTube considered the video to be hate speech.

Three pages later Mark Bergin wrote a piece entitled “Switch hitters” in which he took to task sports journalists for straying from reporting and commenting on sports to commenting on social issues and politics. He cited Bob Costas’ arguments for tighter gun control laws during a halftime show on Sunday Night Football following the murder/suicide by Kansas City Chiefs’ linebacker Jovan Belcher and sportswriter Jason Whitlock’s comments on the same incident. Bergin also mentioned ESPN’s reprimand of golf analyst Paul Azinger criticizing President Barack Obama for playing too much golf while devoting so little attention to job creation. Bergin cited ESPN’s policy that its reporters and personalities are to “avoid being publicly identified with various sides of political issues.” Bergin concludes the column by pointing out that sports journalists have a responsibility to provide “relief from greater concerns” and that “when the sports pages carry reports of murder and suicide, all notions of fantasy and escape are lost….” In other words, Bergin wants sports journalists to stick to talking sports and avoid discussing their opinions on anything else.

So the irony comes from Devine lamenting censorship from social media companies while Bergin is asking for censorship of sports journalists. Here’s why both are wrong…

First, the social media platforms that Devine is concerned about are the creations of companies that have chosen to provide a service. But Apple, Google (which owns YouTube) and Facebook are not public utilities (which, by the way, Devine does acknowledge). His suggestion that “users should be free to publish whatever they choose, like newspaper editors” is foolish and naive. Newspapers are protected against censorship from the government, but not from their own editors or owners. A newspaper editor can exclude anything he or she wants from a newspaper. Who in the world would suggest that newspapers should print everything that is submitted to them, whether by reporters or by the public? Devine says that “platform providers…should serve all customers even if they disagree with the content provided.” That’s just silly. WORLD has a web site, and it is free for anyone to access. But I guarantee you it would not allow or leave up comments that it deemed inappropriate or offensive. It’s not as if Google, Apple and Facebook are the only ways in the world for people to get out their messages. If they choose to censor content, so what? Let them. If it troubles you, find another outlet to make your voice heard. if it troubles you enough, stop using their services. If it troubles you to the point that you just cannot sleep at night, and you have the wherewithal to do so, start your own platform and let people post, publish and share anything they want without guidelines or censorship of any kind.

Devine quotes Craig Parshall, the director of the John Milton Project for Free Speech at National Religious Broadcasters, expressing concern that these companies, because of company policies, can remove user-generated content they find offensive, “even if it would otherwise be lawful.” Of course they can; they created and/or own the platform, so they can create any policies they want. We, the users, volunteer to abide by them when we choose to use the services they provide. The fact that the speech may “otherwise be lawful” does not mean any company must allow it to be disseminated through its service(s). I am sure Parshall would not suggest that Christian radio stations should be required to air radio content its owners found offensive, so why should Facebook or YouTube be required to leave up content their owners find offensive? Our country is full of places that have established their own censorship rules, and many of them are religious–schools, camps, colleges, etc. There are some things students at the school where I serve cannot say or where or advertise without having consequences–possibly as severe as expulsion–even if their speech would “otherwise be lawful.”

Mr. Bergin, on the other hand, is suggesting that sports journalists should be prevented from sharing opinions that are not within the narrow parameters of “sports journalism.” First of all, if the on-air commentators of sporting events stuck to talking solely about the games being broadcast, there would be a lot more silence during the games. That would probably not be a bad thing, actually, but my point is that they stray often from “the subject at hand.” Should they be censored for doing so only when what the talk about is potentially offensive to someone? Second, sports journalists work for companies or at least have to sell their work to companies; shouldn’t the companies have the say in whether or not to censor them? If I don’t like what Bob Costs or Jason Whitlock or Paul Azinger has to say, I do not have to listen to read them. But am I really sure I want to suggest that they should not be allowed to say those things?

As I said, it was incredibly ironic to find these two articles just pages apart, since one argues that companies providing public platforms should not censor the content contributed by the public, while the other suggests that companies providing platforms for information to be disseminated to the public should censor the opinions being disseminated. And, as I said at the outset, I think Messrs. Devine and Bergin are both wrong. I guarantee you I want the right to censor or regulate that which I have created and/or own. Why? Because that in and of itself is free speech!

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