Political Commentary

Marijuana imitates politics

The shelves in the marketplace of ideas are filled with intellectual junk food, man.

by T. Nelson

Political Commentary

Marijuana imitates politics

I tried marijuana once, many years ago, when I was a college kid. In those days, kids still thought hippies were kinda cool. They wanted to be like them, except that they would still maybe bathe once in a while so they wouldn't get kicked out of school. And they all smoked marijuana. So you had a choice: either you smoked marijuana along with them, or you went through four years of college with no friends. And to be honest, I was influenced by all those neuropharmacology books I read in high school, and was hoping to learn a little about the brain.

But by God, what an awful drug. At one point I even started thinking maybe it would be okay for the government to raise taxes. Whoo-o-o-a! This stuff's bad for you. Maybe I just got some bad stuff, but I decided I'd rather go without friends, if that's what it took, than inhale this shit.

Alcohol makes you feel uncoordinated, but marijuana is just plain unpleasant. Decades later I still shiver in horror when I remember it. It makes your world seem small and phony, like that movie, Cool World, where a cartoonist accidentally falls into his own cartoon world and can't escape.

Maybe that's why our politicians keep trying to legalize marijuana. They want to trap us in their cartoon world.

That's why it was so groovy to see some new articles [1,2] talking about how marijuana shrivels up your nucleus accumbens and amygdala. The nucleus accumbens is part of the reward mechanism in your brain, and the amygdala regulates our response to threatening situations. Recreational users had greater gray matter density in the left nucleus accumbens extending to subcallosal cortex, hypothalamus, sublenticular extended amygdala, and left amygdala. What this means is that the brain cells may not necessarily be dying in these regions, but there is less white matter, which means less processing going on and less communication with other parts of the brain. Other researchers have found evidence that cannabis use alters the course of brain maturational processes in such a way as to resemble schizophrenia [3]. Far out, man.

The findings make sense, because marijuana users are known to have inappropriate responses to threatening stimuli. Either they run away in mindless panic or they don't react at all. Their judgment is impaired because their ability to assess danger and distinguish friend from foe (or for that matter, friend from Ford Fiesta) is impaired.

As the brain develops and people make the transition from teenage fantasy to adult reality, their points of view gradually mature. Scientists have also found that in people who call themselves liberals those same general brain regions—mainly the amygdala but perhaps also the nucleus accumbens—remain relatively undeveloped. In essence, parts of the brain remain immature and relatively unused. The same thing that happens, in case you have forgotten what this article is about for some reason, when you smoke too much marijuana.

So, in terms of what it does to your brain, being a liberal is very much like being stoned on marijuana. Well, that explains our foreign policy.

In other words, cannabis use interferes with brain development. Or as they used to say about coffee, cannabis stunts your growth. Which is cool, right? Being a kid forever! Who wouldn't want that? It would be fun to remain a teenager one's whole life, to drive your car (or better, somebody else's car) at 100 miles an hour, live off your parents' credit cards without having to pay the bill, and never have to understand the awful reality of an 18.2% APR.

How groovy would it be to also imagine, as fools, children and politicians do, that believing that something should be true makes it true? That the only reason our enemies hate us is that we're not nice enough to them? That making people in the cities hate each other will give us justice? Or that “leading from behind” is a meaningful expression? It'd be groovy, too, to eat squid-flavored ice cream and hang on to speeding cars while on roller skates one's whole life. It would be even more groovy if most of these things didn't so often end in disaster.

Does this mean marijuana use affects one's political views? There's no evidence of that. But if not, how can we explain why people voted for the goofs we've got in power now? Some on the right say it's because they wanted free stuff, or because they wanted absolution for their supposed guilt over race. But I think the reason is deeper than that.

The brain doesn't just grow by itself. It requires meaningful input: accurate information about what's happening. If a person is blind for the first few years of their life, and then gains the power of sight, they may never be able to do ordinary tasks like crossing the street because their brain cannot process the visual information. Converting those 2D images from the retina into a 3D model of the world and then calculating which muscles to move, which we do automatically, is actually a very difficult task.

So when we're cut off from factual information and meaningful debate, our brains get lazy. We fall back on pre-packaged ideas—intellectual junk food. If there's a problem, we think someone else should solve it, preferably by passing a law to proclaim the problem solved—i.e., by using brute force. We listen to people who tell us the money can never run out because we can always print more, never questioning whether it's really true. We vote for people who act like they're perpetually stoned because we think they look cool, and we vote for people whose idea of foreign policy is to be cool and the bad guys will see our good intentions and be cool back, because it's how we'd like the world to be.

This is not how a superpower should conduct its business, and if it does, it won't remain one for long. The mind cannot live in a vacuum of ideas. This country needs to bring back meaningful, balanced, intelligent debate. The Internet can't provide that, because readers select what they read based on what they already believe. Bloggers, mostly writing in isolation, receive little meaningful feedback, and become even more extreme because no one's listening. The mainstream media are complacent, portray only a single side of an argument, and deal with dissent by character assassination. As a result laziness and mushy thinking prevail. Reason is replaced by hysteria and hatred. Special interest groups try to block free speech. What passes for ideas is often little more than parrot-like squawking.

One could say the shelves in the marketplace of ideas are filled with junk food. This might sound great if you're stoned. But in fact it's a bad thing. A country starved for ideas may forget that good ideas exist. They lose touch with their intellectual roots. And yes, America has them.

Until 1999 there was a TV show called Firing Line which reflected the idea that the only way to convince people is to have an intelligent debate with them. Behind this was the conviction that other people could have ideas that were worth discussing. People have forgotten how to do that. We need it now more than ever. Because the Left is bogarting our intellectual donuts, man.

[1] J Neurosci. 2014 Apr 16;34(16):5529-38. Cannabis use is quantitatively associated with nucleus accumbens and amygdala abnormalities in young adult recreational users. Gilman JM, Kuster JK, Lee S, Lee MJ, Kim BW, Makris N, van der Kouwe A, Blood AJ, Breiter HC. Pubmed

[2] Neuroimage. 2012 Feb 15;59(4):3845-51. Grey matter alterations associated with cannabis use: results of a VBM study in heavy cannabis users and healthy controls. Cousijn J, Wiers RW, Ridderinkhof KR, van den Brink W, Veltman DJ, Goudriaan AE. Pubmed

[3] Psychol Med. 2011 Nov;41(11):2349-59. Cerebellar white-matter changes in cannabis users with and without schizophrenia. Solowij N, Yücel M, Respondek C, Whittle S, Lindsay E, Pantelis C, Lubman DI. Pubmed

See also:

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