No bogart esa cigarillo mi amigo pasarlo a mí

The legalization of marijuana in Uruguay and some states within the United States of America raises some important ethical and medical issues. One of the most basic question from within a bio-ethical framework is why would any governmental body or agency legalize a drug which causes harm to our physical, psychological and cognitive wellbeing when we already have alcohol for that purpose? One of the most bandied around arguments for the legislation of marijuana is that it will undermine the illegal drug trade as well as limit the drug trafficking trade carried out by major drug cartels. Given the psychological make-up of the individuals in the criminal cartels it will only be a matter of time before they finance their trade through other illicit activities anyway, so it’s hardly a compelling argument.
I think we need to focus more on the effects of marijuana on the human body, mind and spirit to seek a better understanding of why legalizing the drug is a mistake. But first let’s take a retrospective look into Aztec culture and how it dealt with illicit drug usage-perhaps there’s a lesson here for Mexico’s drug cartels and the States and Countries who propose to legalize marijuana?
The Aztecs as a people were fully acquainted with alcohol and its deleterious effects both on the persons who consumed it and on their communities in general. Their Emperor clearly warned his people against drinking alcohol
“That drink which is called octli, is the root and the origin of all evil and of all perdition; for octli and drunkenness are the cause of all the discords and of all the dissension, of all revolt and of all troubles in cities and in realms. It is like the whirlwind that destroys and tears down everything. It is like a malignant storm that brings all evil with it. Before adultery, rape, debauching of girls, incest, theft, crime, cursing and bearing false witness, murmuring, calumny, riots, and brawling, there is always drunkenness. All those things are caused by octli and by drunkenness.” (Fresno County Hispanic Commission on Alcohol & Drug Abuse, 2012)
The penalties for drunkenness were severe, especially for young people as they were the future of the community and culture, and often punishments resulted in their death. Now, I’m not advocating such a harsh response for drug usage in the 21st century but simply pointing out that an awareness of the loss of control over the mind, body and spirit to a chemical substance caused deep concern within one ancient cultural community so much that its sanctions against alcohol use and abuse were severe, and perhaps disproportionate if viewed from a revisionist perspective today.
Marijuana on the other hand is a drug which has been around from antiquity and there hasn’t been the same harsh historical sanctions on its use. Archeological records of hemp goes back to 8000 BC, it was used for medical purposes in China around 2700 BC, it had a religious use in India around 2000 BC and was used by the Arabs in 1000 AD. The West learned of its bio-chemical activity in the 1800s and in 1937 the United States government introduced a marijuana tax act. In the mid 1990s marijuana was legalized for medical use in California and Arizona (Julien, 2001, p. 203).
However what we do know today about marijuana usage and its powerful pharmacological habit forming effects is sufficient to questions the ethics and standards governments are setting in legalizing the drug. The key chemical substance in marijuana which disturbs the fine tuning of the human body, mind and spirit is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This chemical disturbs the natural rhythms in the central nervous system and distorts one’s sensory stimulation and ability to perceive reality in real time and space. In other words it creates a kind of fictitious, distorted augmented reality as it travels around disrupting the body’s subtle finely tuned neuro- circuitry. It is distributed throughout the various organs of the body too and easily penetrates the blood-brain barrier. It is also known to breach the placenta barrier in pregnant women and new born babies are known to suffer withdrawal symptoms of THC. It is claimed by bio-chemists that users experience a number of physical and psychological experiences while under the influence of the drug, including acute depressive reactions, panic attacks, paranoia, and a loss of mental control (Julien, 2001, p. 204). It’s hard to understand why anyone would want to put themselves through such a nightmare scenario and why any government would support them in doing so.
One of the most alarming effects of the drug is on the cognitive, learning and memory functions of our brain, and it is claimed that irreversible damage may occur with heavy use of the drug over an extended period of time. In terms of the affective domains and one’s ability to function on a daily basis the evidence suggests that poor routines in daily life including apathy and a lack of motivation are the short term effects of the drug (Julien, 2001, p. 211).
The myth which grew out of the 1960s that marijuana is a harmless drug that promotes and nurtures peace filled and loving feelings is simply not true. I have lived and worked in Papua New Guinea and knew of the ‘Rascal Gangs’ who got high on marijuana and then robbed, raped and pillaged their way through local and expatriate communities. Marijuana usage may leave one open to future problems too, as is evidenced in the use of the drug amongst adolescents throughout the world where preoccupation with its acquisition and compulsive use of the drug see them drop out of school and college, engage in petty crime while lacking the requisite skills to become free, independent and civil members of their communities and societies.
From a medical perspective marijuana has been known to help cancer and HIV sufferers through stimulating appetite, reducing vomiting and nausea following cancer treatment, and there’s further research being undertaken to look at small doses of the drug acting on the peripheral cannabinoid receptors in the heart to help those vulnerable to heart attacks (Julien, 2001, p. 213). But to date there seems to be no validity in the claims that marijuana usage supports immunosuppression as a causative agent in disease control-this is simply a myth.
The legalization of marijuana without regulation is a mistake and can only send its users and the societies whom introduce it as a drug of choice down the slippery slope to further substance abuse, co-dependence and chaos.
Fresno County Hispanic Commission on Alcohol & Drug Abuse. (2012, January 1). The Aztecs and Alcohol. Retrieved from Fresno County Hispanic Commission:
Julien, R. (2001). A Primer of Drug Action. New York: Henry Holt & Co.

Prisoner 46664: The Last Great Statesman

The death of Nelson Mandela leaves a more obvious vacuum in the international and humane leadership of the world today-perhaps it’s safe to say given recent history in South Africa, since he stepped down as President of the Republic, there’s been no-one with an equal amount of moral and political character to replace him. But, we live in hope for others to emerge like him.
I visited Robben Island several years ago-and spent some time in the tiny cell (7 foot by 8 foot) in which Mandela had been held captive for nearly two decades. It was bare except for a pot and mat. It was here he was able to confront his demons and make peace with himself I thought. It was here that the seeds of forgiveness and reconciliation were first nurtured and grown, so when he was eventually released he was capable of leading his country down the path of peace and forgiveness rather than civil war. He proved beyond any doubt that the pen is far mightier than the sword. Mandela, along with Ghandi and Martin Luther King all stand like giant Colossi before humanity and our world leaders showing and demonstrating to us the moral and ethical way to live and be governed-but all too often we turn our backs seeking a quick hit or fix to our problems.
One of the most powerful stories shared in Nelson Mandela’s autobiography “Long Road to Freedom” is the recount of a prison officer on Robben Island. He describes this basic human experience of interaction with him in detail in recalling the sadistic and brutal Commander’s behaviour toward him at the prison where he had been held for 18 of his 27 years of imprisonment:
Badenhorst had perhaps been the most callous and barbaric
Commanding officer we had had on Robben Island. But that
day in the office, he had revealed to me that there was another side
that had been obscured but that still existed. It was a useful
reminder that all men, even the most seemingly cold-blooded,
have a core of decency, and if their hearts are touched, they
are capable of changing. Ultimately, Badenhorst was not evil;
his inhumanity had been foisted upon him by an inhuman system.
He behaved like a brute because he was rewarded for brutish
behavior. (Mandela,1994, p.549)

This is not a new idea and tends to reflect ancient wisdom from all cultures, which encourage love; tolerance, compassion and the rubric of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. And it was this reflective wisdom which turned Mandela, by his own admission into a forgiving, honourable and just human being able to lead his country out of the darkness of racism, brutality and oppression into the light of democracy and optimism for the future. Let’s hope and pray other countries will follow such an enlightened example of political and moral leadership

Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela, 1994 (MacDonald Purnell Publishers)