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Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding - Table of Contents

National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse

Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding

Chapter III

Social Impact of marihuana use

Confusion and Fact

One of the primary sources of confusion surrounding the use of marihuana and other psychoactive drugs is the ambiguity of the term "drug abuse." In many quarters the excessive use of any drug is considered drug abuse, regardless of the effect of the drug on the individual or his behavior. In order to clarify this issue the Commission defines psychoactive drug abuse as follows:

Drug abuse is the use of psychoactive drugs in a way likely to induce mental dysfunction and disordered behavior.

It should be emphasized that demonstrable pathology of organ systems, including the brain, is not a necessary characteristic of psychoactive drug abuse. There are numerous non-psychoactive drugs which can induce extensive organ pathology but do not modify behavior; such drugs leave their imprint primarily on the individual, not on society. The Commission believes that many of the perplexing issues relating to psychoactive drugs, including marihuana, can be clarified if drug abuse refers only to the impact of drug-induced behavior on society.

Three types of such drug-induced behavior are considered unacceptable in most organized societies: (1) aggressiveness leading to violence; (2) loss of psychomotor control; (3) mental or physical disorder leading to social and economic incapacity or dependency.

This is not to say that society is unconcerned about the harmful effects of psychoactive drugs on the individual, or that such effects do not merit the attention of public health officials. Cigarette smoking, although affecting primarily the individual, is surely a matter of public health concern. We believe, however, that the term drug abuse, with its attendant societal disapprobation, should be reserved for drug taking which has a more direct effect on society through disordered behavior.

Beyond the confusion surrounding the term drug abuse, a rational evaluation of the public health impact of marihuana use is also inhibited by extensive misinformation about the drug. Recently, a great deal of research has increased significantly our knowledge about marihuana. Further research data are necessary before ;a conclusive statement about marihuana and public health can be made. However, enough is known today to discuss some of the public perceptions in detail. And sufficient data are presently available to allow for rational decision-making.


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