Clearing the air around marijuana use

Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk

 A June 2014 article in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), written by researchers from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institutes of Health, points out that marijuana is not the harmless drug that many imagine. Rather, it is associated with “substantial adverse effects, some of which have been determined with a high level of confidence.”

These negative outcomes include the risk of addiction, symptoms of chronic bronchitis, an elevated incidence of fatal and non-fatal motor vehicle accidents, and diminished lifetime achievement and school performance in cases of long term use, especially beginning in adolescence. We can add that the decision to use a drug recreationally for the purposes of dissociating ourselves from reality through induced euphoria raises significant moral concerns, and, like all unethical human choices, can be expected to correlate with significant adverse ramifications.

Part of the unethical character of drug abuse flows from the fact that we are treating something good, namely our personal, conscious experience as if it were an evil to be avoided. Recreational drug users seek to escape or otherwise suppress their lived conscious experience, and instead pursue chemically-altered states of mind, or drug-induced pseudo-experiences. Any time we act in such a way that we treat something objectively good as if it were an evil by acting directly against it, we act in a disordered and immoral manner.

The decision to pursue inebriation and drunkenness, similarly, is a choice directed against the good of our human conscious experience that raises serious moral concerns. The responsible enjoyment of alcohol, meanwhile, presupposes that a moderate use of the fruit of the vine can aid us in the pursuit of certain aspects of friendship and interaction by stimulating conversation with others, and by diminishing the hesitations that people may have when they interact with each other. The moderate use of alcohol also appears to offer positive physiological effects on health. The notion of the “responsible enjoyment of marijuana and other mind-altering drugs,” meanwhile, is a dubious concept, given that the more powerful and varied neurological effects of these substances readily take us across a line into alternate states of mind, detachment from reality, “getting stoned,” etc.

Whenever we look at alcohol, marijuana, or other more powerful drugs, additional moral concerns arise due to the risk of addiction, which threatens authentic freedom and constitutes a serious form of human bondage. Alcohol, of course, poses a significant risk of addiction for some people, and the responsible use of alcohol may become nearly impossible for them, necessitating complete abstinence to maintain their freedom. Marijuana, despite some contentious debates about the matter, similarly has a significant addictive potential, as noted in the NEJM article:

“Approximately 9 percent of those who experiment with marijuana will become addicted…. The number goes up to about 1 in 6 among those who start using marijuana as teenagers and to 25 to 50 percent among those who smoke marijuana daily. According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 2.7 million people 12 years of age and older met the DSM-IV criteria for dependence on marijuana, and 5.1 million people met the criteria for dependence on any illicit drug (8.6 million met the criteria for dependence on alcohol)…. Indeed, early and regular marijuana use predicts an increased risk of marijuana addiction, which in turn predicts an increased risk of the use of other illicit drugs.”

The NEJM article also notes that adults who smoke marijuana regularly during adolescence have decreased neural connectivity (abnormal brain development and fewer fibers) in specific brain regions. Although some experts have disputed a cause-effect relationship for this phenomenon, studies of brain development in animals strongly suggest a causal effect. The authors surmise that the effects of marijuana on brain development may help to explain the association between frequent marijuana use among adolescents and significant declines in IQ, as well as poor academic performance and an increased risk of dropping out of school. These deleterious effects speak to us of the fundamentally unethical character of inhaling, injecting or otherwise ingesting harmful chemical substances into our bodies.

The litany of marijuana’s adverse health effects raises major doubts about the wisdom of promoting its legalization for recreational purposes. The authors note that the health effects of a drug (whether legal or illegal) are related to its “availability and social acceptability.” They conclude, “In this respect, legal drugs (alcohol and tobacco) offer a sobering perspective, accounting for the greatest burden of disease associated with drugs not because they are more dangerous than illegal drugs but because their legal status allows for more widespread exposure,” leading to more abuse and more harmful effects. It’s critical for us to acknowledge these negative effects rather than seeking, like drug addicts, to dissociate ourselves from this reality.

 

 

 

 

COMING UP: Vietnamese parish community raises $80,000 for storm relief

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About 800 Vietnamese refugees, immigrants and their relatives gathered on Veterans Day at Queen of Vietnamese Martyrs Catholic Parish event center in Wheat Ridge, raising more than $80,000 for survivors of recent storms in Texas, Florida and central Vietnam.

“We dedicate this event to God, and to Mary,” said co-organizer Viet Hua. “We’ve been praying and asking for help, in God’s way, to glorify him in our effort to help those who suffer.”

It was an evening of food, music, dance and auction goods that sold for thousands more than market value in the spirit of exceeding an ambitious $75,000, one-night fundraising goal. Half the money will go to Gulf Coast recovery, and half will go to Vietnam.

Hua, a member of the parish’s Knights of Columbus chapter, said at least 100 men, women and children volunteered to organize and operate the event.

Denver-area businesses with Catholic and Vietnamese owners, managers and employees minimized overhead with donations of food, beverages, services and auction items.

It touches my heart now to help others – from a place where I can exercise my faith, where I can succeed, and where I can gather with community.”

“This is faith, fellowship and compassion at its finest hour,” said Sang Truong, marketing director of Denver’s Beverage World Specialties, which donated cases of Chilean Paso del Sol wine.

Two major hurricanes wreaked havoc along the Gulf of Mexico this year. As of Veterans Day, 12 tropical storms and typhoons had devastated parts of Vietnam.

Typhoon Damrey struck central Vietnam November 4, destroying nearly 3,500 homes, flooding 138,000 homes, killing 123 people and leaving 395,000 Vietnamese in need of assistance.

The scene is painfully familiar to most who head the 1,800 families that comprise Queen of Vietnamese Martyrs. They endured killer typhoons in the 1960s and ’70s, as communists invaded.

“Communists took over in 1975, and these people came here because they love freedom and they want to practice their faith,” said Pastor Louis Ha Pham, who escaped Vietnam in 1975 with 350 other members of the Congregation of the Mother Co-redemptrix religious community. “They want to use their freedom and faith to help others who suffer and lack the advantages of everything we have here.”

Co-organizer Hua barely survived a typhoon that slammed into his South Vietnamese village when he was a young child in the 1960s.

As water filled the family’s bamboo hut, Hua escaped with his mother and siblings to a neighboring residence. Water soon rushed into that hut, forcing Hua and other occupants to punch through the roof.

“We’re yelling for our lives in the middle of the night,” Hua recalled.

South Vietnamese soldiers pulled them from the water and onto a boat, but the suffering had only begun when Hua and his family reached dry ground in the mountains.

“You have no clothes, no food, and no fresh water. You have nothing,” Hua said. “So it touches my heart now to help others – from a place where I can exercise my faith, where I can succeed, and where I can gather with community.”

Hua escaped Vietnam by himself as a sophomore in high school in 1975. Communists had killed his father. They had threatened him and his family with machine guns.

“I remember they had us lined up, and my grandfather stood there telling them to shoot him,” Hua said. “He lifted up his dirty white t-shirt and said ‘shoot me. Just do it.’ I’m glad they didn’t, because that would have really messed me up as a child.”

Hua built his American life around Our Lady of Vietnamese Martyrs, thanking God each day for liberties the communists took from his homeland.

“I thank God, and I thank Americans for the opportunity to be here with resources to help people back home,” Hua said. “We thank you Americans so much for helping the Vietnamese to migrate here and live free.”

Que Truong, lead organizer of the event, said all Hurricane recovery is hard. It is worse in a dictatorship.

Items were auctioned off as part of a fundraiser held at Queen of Vietnamese Martyrs Parish on Veteran’s Day to help raise money to provide aid to Vietnam, Florida and Texas, which were all recently hit by storms. In total, the parish raised over $80,000 in one evening. (Photos by Dede Laugesen)

“It is terrible over there,” Truong said. “In south Vietnam, we are not free to do anything. There, most people are poor. It’s a different story here, so we are very eager to help.”

Joining the Catholic parishioners were Vietnamese dancers and others from Denver’s Nhu Lia Buddhist Temple. Vietnamese from a Baptist church also participated.

“This is the first time we have all sat down and had dinner together,” said parish Vice President Hung Vu. “Refugees of any religion know how it is to have nothing – to have empty hands and empty stomachs.”

Vu’s father starved to death after a typhoon devastated the family’s village in 1978. Communists ruled the family’s church. Everyone in Vu’s life suffered deprivation of basic needs.

At age 8, Vu fled while working on a fishing boat.

“The boat next to ours planned to escape,” Vu recounted. “They waved me over. In an instant, without a moment to think about it, I jumped out and swam to their boat. They pulled me up and we started sailing out of the China Sea.”

The narrow, 35-foot vessel contained 97 “boat people” crammed together in fetal position. They quickly ran out of food and water, finally obtaining supplies from a passing ship.

“We wanted freedom of religion, and opportunity, and were willing to die trying to get it,” Vu said. “We have suffered. Now, we are so blessed to be here in the United States with all we have. We are so thankful for the veterans who have defended this way of life. This church is my family, and this family is blessed to help those trying to recover in Texas, Florida and Vietnam.”