Stop Calling it Intoxication

in·​tox·​i·​cate | \ in-ˈtäk-sə-ˌkāt
1.  : to excite or stupefy by alcohol or a drug especially to the point where physical and mental control is markedly diminished
b : to excite or elate to the point of enthusiasm or frenzy
2 : poison

intoxicated; intoxicating
Similar: inebriate

What is Intoxication?

The above definition states that intoxication is a ‘markedly‘ diminished state of mental and physical control.

Drunk Emoticon
This is what intoxicated looks like.

The same above definition is also the legal definition of being under the effect of cannabis. Intoxication is toxic. Toxic is the root word. It is poison. Alcohol is poison. Cannabis is not. That’s been proven by now. Alcohol can kill you. Cannabis cannot.

Don’t misunderstand me; Consuming cannabis, while not “intoxicating” by the definition above, is still a form of inebriation. Reaction times are slowed down, the same as alcohol. Judgement can be impaired. One should never drive while under the influence of either alcohol or cannabis. It’s just not a good idea.

Why do most laws about cannabis call partaking our favorite plant, cannabis intoxication? The answer is not entirely clear, but it is buried someplace in the 1930s when Harry Anslinger was the chief instigator of demonizing cannabis. Anslinger’s demonization was very successful at spreading lies, many of which persist to this day. It’s been 85 years since he perpetuated these lies. Lies are lies and it doesn’t matter whether Hitler is telling them to ravening German crowds or Anslinger is telling them to a ravening senate (of white Anglo-Saxon men). Perhaps because of his very racist beliefs (he apparently hated musicians and entertainers as well), Mr. Anslinger apparently believed his own lies.

The Basics of Intoxication…but not for Cannabis

The root of intoxication is toxic. To apply this definition to cannabis is just plain wrong. What we frequently call “high” revolves around the effects of cannabis. Cannabis creates a heightened sense of our surroundings and how we see them. That’s what being high means. Instead of intoxication, we should maybe call it heightened reality. Oh, a shortened form of heightened is high!

Intoxication just does not describe the effect of cannabis. To be sure, there are downsides to cannabis effects. Cannabis does affect vision, reaction times and judgement, but in different ways from alcohol.

There’s a Reason it’s Called High!

Someone who has been smoking or otherwise ingesting cannabis is usually referred to as ‘high’ or ‘stoned’. But not intoxicated. Why? Well, high works, especially if you consider that cannabis enhances your senses…or seems to. It heightens them…maybe! It certainly sees that way at times. You cannot call effects that present like this, intoxication. People who have consumed cannabis are “legally” called intoxicated. This is patently untrue.

If we compare the effects of alcohol and cannabis, there is little similarity. To be sure, cannabis is not benign. It has its effects as well, although they haven’t been as widely studied as the effects of alcohol consumption.

Cannabis Affects Vision

There has finally been enough research on vision and cannabis to know that cannabis affects vision…but science does not yet know how or if cannabis might be bad for your vision. Cannabis lowers pressure in your eye and dilates the blood vessels in your eyes. Is it harmful? No research. Cannabis also affects the way we see the world around us. Do we know how? No research.

Other Sensory Issues

Yes, cannabis does affect the senses. But does it really lower reaction times, or coordination or a host of other things that alcohol does to our bodies, we cannot classify it as intoxication. High as in heightened sensory awareness, possibly, but not intoxicated.

While there’s no conclusive evidence that cannabis is harmful, there is absolutely no evidence that cannabis is an intoxicant…at least as far as the dictionary definition of intoxication tells us. Yes, you can turn into a couch potato, but it takes more cannabis than most want to consume.

Fact Checks

Using Google query “does cannabis reduce reaction time?” finds that there is evidence of impairment (at least for “high potency” marijuana:

“Human performance studies have usually relied on low-potency marijuana (4% THC) for determining THC-induced impairment. The present study was designed to assess the effects of high-potency marijuana (13% THC) on human performance. In all, 20 recreational users of marijuana participated in a double-blind, placebo controlled, three way cross-over study. The treatments consisted of single doses of 0, 250, and 500 μg/kg THC. Performance tests were conducted at regular intervals between 15 min and 6 h postsmoking and included measures of motor control (Critical tracking task), executive function (Tower of London) motor impulsivity (Stop signal task), and risk taking (Iowa gambling task). THC significantly impaired performance in the Critical tracking task and decreased the number of correct decisions in the Tower of London task. In addition, THC significantly increased stop reaction time and the proportions of commission and omission errors in the Stop signal task. THC-induced impairments lasted up to 6 h postsmoking as indicated by the absence of a THC × Time after smoking interaction. Effect sizes for performance impairments produced by THC 250 μg/kg were relatively low but generally increased by a factor of two in case of THC 500 μg/kg. These data suggest that high potency marijuana consistently impairs executive function and motor control. Use of higher doses of THC in controlled studies may offer a reliable indication of THC induced impairment as compared to lower doses of THC that have traditionally been used in performance studies.”

There’s also  this study:

“In this research were analyzed the effects of marijuana on human reaction time and on performance for motor responses involving both linear and rotary serial arm movements aimed at a target. A total of six experienced marijuana users served as subjects and three drug conditions (dose levels) were used, i.e., 0, 6.5, and 19.5-26.0 mg delta9-THC. The results showed that (a) (simple and complex) reaction time was not significantly affected by marijuana or by the interaction between drug conditions and the amount of information transmitted during the task, (b) linear movement time was significantly reduced after smoking marijuana, while rotary movement time was not significantly affected, (c) interaction between drug conditions and task complexity was insignificant in the case of both linear and rotary movements, and (d) error rates for the two types of motor movements increased significantly and especially for linear movements as the dose level increased.”

Also here are references to similar articles, including Human performance effects of marijuana. and High-potency marijuana impairs executive function and inhibitory motor control.

While it’s clear that performance is at some point affected by cannabis, all the studies have used “high potency” marijuana and in none of them is the dosage recorded, just that people consumed “high potency marijuana.”

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