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Tuesday, Feb 20, 2024

Op-Ed: Brain instead of ’caine now

Just say no. That’s what I was told from the very beginning about drugs. I progressed through school and was forced to attend various anti-drug programs, from which I remember absolutely nothing. Except don’t do drugs. That was the message conveyed to me, and I wasn’t really the rebellious or experimental type, so it took me a while before I started to wonder, “Wait. Why?”

First, a brief diatribe on what I think constitutes good teaching: the best teachers and professors I’ve ever had are the ones who convey their material in a way that makes it evident and applicable to my life. They give me the tools and skills to make connections across their course material and often across other subjects, too.

Their classroom manner says, “It is out of respect for you and your intelligence that I make you struggle with this material, that I refuse to give you any answers,” and the result is empowering for both teachers and students.

That is not what my health teachers were like. From what I remember, grade school drug education was designed to instruct students to say no, but not to actually teach us.

It was the equivalent of abstinence-only sex-ed: many people will experiment regardless of what they are told. But because our teachers only focused on warning us to say no, we were not informed how to be safe if we or someone we knew said yes.

Really, we were not even educated. How many of us know how long THC stays in the body after smoking a joint? How many of us know how much pot it takes to overdose? Or how a birth control pill affects the body’s ability to process alcohol? What alcohol does in the male reproductive organs? How heroin affects the respiratory system?

In honor of Bicycle Day (yes, I know about Bicycle Day), I want to call out the entire Middlebury College community on our lack of knowledge about drugs, and about how nobody seems to be doing much about it. I’ve read countless op-eds on changing the legal drinking age, on the infuriating new alcohol policy, on how to have good sex and even on abortion.

Why is no one angry about our abysmal drug education? We have courses here on drug law, we have courses on “The Wire,” we have that Alcohol Edu course we had to take before arriving for first-year orientation (and I don’t remember much from that either), but the only classes on the effects of drugs on the body that I can think of are restricted to neuroscience majors, and are not accessible to students who are simply curious.

If you are curious, here’s some information I didn’t learn in class: Bicycle Day occurred on April 19, 1943, when the inventor of LSD took twelve times the threshold dose and had, shall we say, a very colorful ride home from work. THC affects mental functioning for up to three days after smoking.

Current research suggests that it is not possible to overdose on marijuana, and that the liver eliminates alcohol more slowly from women who take birth control than from women who don’t.

Chronic alcohol use can lower sperm counts, and chronic heroin use is associated with permanently low levels of oxygen in the blood.

It’s a start, but I should probably know more than I do.

I want to know what to do when my roommate is writhing on the floor in a seizure from a bad inhalants trip. I want to hear an intelligent argument for or against legalizing marijuana that is grounded in scientific research. I want to know how Percocet (oxycodone) affects my entire body when my surgeon prescribes it to me after he yanks out my wisdom teeth. I want to know how to discern physical signs of cocaine abuse, how a doctor becomes willing to prescribe morphine as a painkiller when she is trained to understand its addictive properties or how a coach works with an athlete who can’t get to his desired body mass and learns that GHB releases growth hormone.

I was taught none of this in any health class I’ve ever taken. I was only told to say no.


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