On drug addiction and marijuana
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - December 9, 2018 - 12:00am

I have avoided writing about the “war on drugs” until today. I believe most people would agree that drug addiction must be stopped. Even the United Nations launched a ten-year global war on drugs in 1998. I think the different opinions lie in the methodology. Also, I view drug lords and drug pushers as criminals. I see drug addicts as victims of a sickness that is curable with the proper care. 

My interest in writing about this topic was sparked by an article I recently read: “The War On Drugs: A Conflict As Old As Humanity” by Ian Morris. In his article he says: “Ancient Peruvians were using the San Pedro cactus, which contains mescaline, 9,000 years ago. Excavators suspect that the oldest evidence of bread production, at Shubayca, in Jordan about 13,000 years ago was a by product of brewing beer, and archaeologists have long speculated that Ice Age cave painters, some dating back 40,000 years, under hallucinogens. Given the difficulties of detecting drug use in the archaeological record and the fact that fully modern human behavior began only 60,000 years ago, it’s probably safe to say that drugs have always been with us.”

Drugs, like opium, have also influenced history. China is now said to be one of the major sources of drugs. But it was the British who introduced opium to China. In the late 18th century, the British East India Company started smuggling opium from India into China. The Chinese Emperor passed several edicts against opium in 1729 to 1831. But the trade flourished and even the Americans joined by bringing opium from Turkey to China. Opium trade is estimated to have resulted in four to 12 million Chinese drug addicts and devastated the large coastal cities. In 1839, the Chinese Emperor sent a letter to the Queen of England asking to halt the opium trade. His plea was ignored and he issued an edict ordering the seizure of all opium in Canton.

These acts eventually led to the Opium War of 1856-1860 wherein British forces fought for the legalization of the opium trade. The British were able to force China to grant more treaty ports under the control of foreign governments and the opium trade continued to flourish.

Drugs are actually chemicals that can affect the body and the brain. Different drugs have different effects. Some drugs have health consequences that are long lasting or permanent. All misused drugs can affect the brain. They cause large amounts of dopamine – a neurotransmitter that helps regulate our emotions, feelings and motivations of pleasure to produce a “high”. Drugs can change how the brain works and change behavior. Over time this behavior can turn into substance dependence or drug addiction.

Can addiction be treated successfully? According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), addiction is a treatable disorder. Can addiction be cured?  Like other chronic diseases such as heart or asthma or kidney, treatment for drug addiction usually is not a cure. But addiction can be managed successfully. Treatment enables people to counteract addiction’s disruptive effects on their brain and behavior and regain control of their lives. 

If after treatment or recovery, there is a relapse to drug use, does this mean it has failed? No, because the chronic nature of addiction means that for some people, relapse or a return to drug use after an attempt to stop, can be part of the process. If people stop following their medical treatment plan, they are likely to relapse. According to NIDA, the relapse rate for drug use are similar to the rates for other chronic medical illnesses.

The most important thing to remember about treatment of drug addiction is that like treatment of chronic diseases, it involves changing deeply rooted behaviors. For example, heart or kidney disorders mean changing diets, alcohol, taking regular medication and having regular check ups. When a person recovering from an addiction relapses, it means that the person must immediately speak with their doctor or psychologist to resume treatment, modify it or try another treatment.

Since drug addiction is an illness, NIDA states that research has shown that when treating addiction, medication is the first and necessary line of treatment. This should be combined with some form of behavioral therapy or counselling. 

Several other organizations, like the American Medical Association (AMA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) consider drug addiction as a disease. 


Whether as a joke or not, President Duterte’s comment about marijuana has brought this subject  to public attention. Firstly, marijuana is a name for the cannabis plant. Secondly, the legalizing of cannabis  has become a global topic. While the use of cannabis for recreational purpose is prohibited in most countries, many countries have adopted a policy of decriminalization. This means that simple possession is a non-criminal offense. The medical use of cannabis have been legalized in many countries – Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom including 33 states in the United States. Uruguay, Canada and ten states in the United States have fully legalized the consumption and sale of cannabis for recreational use. 

There have been many reasons advanced for legalizing cannabis. Two of the most compelling are the following. First, cannabis has legitimate medical benefits. Among the afflictions that cannabis has been shown to alleviate are epilepsy, pain from AIDS, nausea from chemotherapy, Crohn’s disease, muscle spasms related to multiple sclerosis. The other reason  is that cannabis is less harmful than alcohol or tobacco; and is even less addictive. The New York Times explains that cannabis has never been directly linked to any serious disease the way tobacco has with cancer or alcohol with cirrhosis. Perhaps it is time for the Philippines to consider legalizing marijuana or cannabis at least for medical use. 

Creative writing classes for kids and teens

Young Writers’ Hangout (1:30pm-3pm; stand-alone sessions) at Fully Booked BGC. For details and registration,  email writethingsph@gmail.com.

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Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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