Marijuana: a gateway drug

Wednesday, June 20, 2001 – When I say, “Been there! Done that!” I ain’t talking through my hat. At 3 a.m. Sunday, I read an article about the insanity of Colorado’s new medical marijuana law. (Before continuing, I think I should become anonymous. So forget my byline.)

This is not a confessional, and I want to make it clear that I abhor the use of illegal drugs, especially marijuana. It leads people – especially children and teenagers – to believe it is harmless. It truly is a gateway drug.

I took a “hit” from a joint years ago, when I was in college. As opposed to some, I did inhale. Yucksy! As a cigarette smoker, a habit begun at an earlier age, I found the taste was worse than terrible. Also, it was a “downer.” I liked the “upper” I got from nicotine.

Three days after I received my medical degree from Ohio State University, I said goodbye to Columbus, Ohio, and left for New York City.

I have an old snapshot of me partying on fashionable East 80th Street. I was trying to get a drink while everyone else was high on pot, heroin, or cocaine. You see, in those days, the “law” didn’t care about us black folks using drugs.

I visited a barmaid friend at her apartment. She had a pile of marijuana on the table and was rolling joints to sell. I castigated her for exposing me to arrest if her place was raided, and to the possibility of losing my medical license. Selling drugs was still against the law.

Years later, around 1969, I went to a mansion in Sausalito, Calif., with friends. This time I was with upper-class white folks who were zonked out on marijuana, heroin and the most popular drug of that time, LSD. There was not a drink in the house. Disgusted, I napped in a gorgeous bedroom until we piled into a windowless van to return to San Francisco. Back then, the “law” didn’t care about you, either, if you had money and smoked in the privacy of your home.

Even before I became a psychiatrist, my sub-specialty was the treatment of alcohol and drug addiction. Sometimes I was successful with alcohol addiction. I was mostly unsuccessful with drugs.

While in general practice in Harlem, I attempted to treat a young black teacher, a user of pot and heroin. Naively, I thought his sincerity and my treatment would pull him through. No way! Both of us lost.

A musician friend from Washington, D.C., stopped by my office one day and begged me for Dolophine (methadone), saying he had to have a fix. He left crying, partly from my refusal to do so and partly from cold-turkey withdrawal from heroin. I knew he smoked pot, but I was surprised he was a doper. The next day, he was found in his hotel room, dead from an overdose of something he’d bought on the street. Years later, I was confronted by his son, who quietly but angrily accused me of killing his father.

During my tour of duty in Vietnam, I spent most of my time setting up drug treatment programs for heroin addicts, from the DMZ to the Mekong Delta. The military had ignored the fact that approximately 70 percent of soldiers entering Vietnam were already using marijuana. How easy it was to make the transition to smoking pure heroin, which was readily available in that country, often sold by Vietnamese children for $3 an ampule. By January 1971, we were sending 6,000 troops per month back to the United States for addiction to heroin.

After years of research, I have concluded that you can, in fact, become addicted to marijuana. The friend who had taken me to the mansion in Sausalito all those years ago had denied that pot was addictive, or that it could lead to the use of harder drugs. Recently, when we spoke by phone, she admitted that she had been wrong. Although successful in her profession, she had never been able to give up marijuana.

The use of marijuana for any reason should never be legalized, medically or otherwise. Prohibition of alcohol could not work because it is part of our culture. If we legalize marijuana, it too will become part of our culture.

Clotilde Bowen is a physician, a psychiatrist and a retired U.S. Army colonel.

Source: The Denver Post 06-19-01

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