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Psychiatrist: Prohibition makes pot more harmful

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The prohibition on marijuana makes its use a more addictive habit, says a prominent author and psychiatrist.

Dr. Julie Holland, a psychiatrist at the New York University School of Medicine and author of Weekends at Bellevue, told Matt Lauer of NBC’s Today Show that the feelings of shame and suspicion associated with an illegal habit, as well as the adrenaline kick it fuels, all make marijuana use more habit-forming and harmful than it needs to be.

“The fact that [marijuana is] illegal is a very big deal,” Holland said. “People have to hide and they feel like criminals and there’s a lot of shame and guilt, and it ends up making … it decreases self-esteem a little bit and it makes [the habit] more adrenalized. The fact that you add adrenaline into it, and you have to hide and you have shame, can make it more addictive and more dangerous.”

Holland and Lauer were discussing a recent article in Marie Claire magazine that argues marijuana use is gaining social acceptability among female professionals, a trend that bucks the common perception of potheads as young and lacking in ambition.

That article cites a study from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in stating that eight million women in the United States have smoked pot in the past year. That figure, as Lauer pointed out, did not include teenagers experimenting with the drug.

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Marie Claire editor-in-chief Joanna Coles disagreed with Holland’s view that there is a large social stigma attached to smoking marijuana.

“I have to say, that’s not what we are hearing from readers,” she said on the Today Show. “First of all, it’s decriminalized in 13 states, and I don’t think this is a generation of people who get excited about the fact that it’s illegal.”

The inspiration for the article, Coles said, was “hearing from readers that they were feeling stressed. Clearly, the economy is a great deal of stress for people and they wanted a way to unwind. And they found more and more of them were doing this [smoking marijuana] and they found it had less impact on them when they were going to work the next morning. So they didn’t want to drink. It’s cheap and they felt they could do it in the privacy of their own home, and it was a very effective way to calm down.”

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Holland agreed that marijuana may be a less harmful drug than alcohol, saying that marijuana has “psycho-therapeutic” properties that booze lacks.

“It’s more of a mind drug,” she said. “Alcohol’s sort of a deadening, numbing… maybe more like a body drug.”

On pot, “people are unwinding and they’re relaxing, but they’re also able to think and maybe analyze or think clearly … I think cannabis is … more functional than alcohol, certainly in terms of anxiety. It can be a treatment or a medicine.”

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Coles added that the Marie Claire article seems to have struck a nerve with readers.

“Feedback from our readers is really that they’re very pleased that they recognize themselves” in the article, Coles said.

This video is from NBC’s Today Show, broadcast Sept. 30, 2009.

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