Scientists Say Stephen Harper Doesn’t Know Shit About Getting High

Pot science is more complex than the Prime Minister thinks.

Aug 12 2015, 6:16pm

Image: Flickr/michael_swan

"Do I seem like I smoke marijuana?" Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper asked a room full of reporters in 2013, before explaining that asthma has prevented him from toking up his entire life. A likely explanation—and also more evidence that our prime minister is really a robot without lungs or the ability to feel love—but I believe Harper when he says he doesn't smoke. Why? Because Stephen Harper doesn't know shit about getting high, and scientists agree.

Apropos of Harper's claim last week that Canadians don't want to legalize marijuana—which is patently false, according to recent polls—the International Centre for Science In Drug Policy released two reports on Wednesday debunking many oft-repeated claims about marijuana use and policy.

One of the reports—the other is a companion reader—critiques some of Harper's own talking points, which are, of course, against legalizing pot. Legalization, Harper has said, would result in more kids getting their hands on the stuff, cause more people to become addicted, and put the health of Canadians at risk.

"There is a serious danger that the repetition of false claims, especially by our country's leaders, will lead to policies that further put our youth at risk"

In the ICSDP report, which assessed the strength of the claims based on a review of pot science literature, the authors point out that the risk of addiction to marijuana is much lower than that of nicotine, alcohol, and heroin. A lifetime of pot smoking has an estimated dependency risk of just 9 percent, compared to 67.5 percent for nicotine, according to a commonly cited 2011 study.

As for more kids getting getting high on a legal supply, the ISCDP report points to a 2014 study by the United Nations Office on Drug Control, which suggests that marijuana use under prohibition in the US has remained more or less stable over the years. A 2014 report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse also found that every year since 1975, more than 80 percent of grade 12 students they surveyed said they could score weed with ease.

As for health concerns, the report states there is "moderate" evidence to support the claim that marijuana causes some impairment to cognitive function, but there's not enough evidence to definitively say that smoking up can do things like cause lethal damage to the heart. Although such a claim that was put forward last year by the World Federation Against Drugs, it was based on a study that found just 1.8 percent of cannabis-related health reports in France had to do with cardiovascular issues, and 9 out of nearly 2,000 reports resulted in a death.

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As Canada continues towards an October federal election, marijuana legalization has become a key point of concern for many Canadians. While Harper has long been bearish on pot—during his tenure, thousands of young people have been locked up for possession charges each year, and Health Canada's medical marijuana program stopped people from growing their own bud—all three of the opposition parties support some measure of decriminalization or even full legalization.

"Given that policy decisions are influenced by public opinion and media reports, there is a serious danger that the repetition of false claims, especially by our country's leaders, will lead to policies that further put our youth at risk," ICSDP director Dr. Dan Werb said in a statement, referring to Harper's recent comments about drug policy.

The report is a good reminder that pot science is still a budding field, even though people have been smoking the stuff since forever. Although researchers across the world are investigating the impacts of weed on the brain and body, we're still trying to figure out basic things (to the layperson, at least) like why smoking up makes you want to eat a pizza.

While researchers continues to investigate marijuana and a body of evidence grows in kind, like any science, it doesn't do much good to make definitive claims before a consensus forms in the literature—especially when political stakes are high.