By Ruth Guerrero
Randy Haveson, the new manager for UCI’s Center for Student Wellness and Health Promotion, was unashamed to admit at Thursday’s “Let’s Get Blunt” town hall meeting that as an adolescent, he “smoked a lot of weed.”
He continued by adding that now, as an adult, he realizes more than ever the effects that cannabis has on the brains of people under 24, which prompted his orchestration of this event.
A clear supporter for the legalization of recreational marijuana use, Haveson still explained with savvy detail the reason he believes college students ought to delay their use of marijuana as long as possible.
“Here’s the cruel joke of nature,” Haveson explained. “Our prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for making decisions, does not develop until we’re 22 to 25 years old. Our hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that says ‘yeah, let’s go have fun now!’ develops when we’re 16. So we get the [fun] without the reasoning.”
Since the final stages of puberty occur around the age of 22, the brain is not thoroughly developed until then, making it susceptible to long-term mental impairment during an age that people experiment the most with cannabis.
Haveson stated that the non-partisan purpose of “Let’s Get Blunt” was “not to be negative, positive, pro, con; this is about information.” He then introduced the members of the “joint” discussion panel.
The panel was made up of three UCI professors who weighed in from three very different perspectives regarding cannabis.
One of the guests in the discussion panel, Dr. Daniele Piomelli, Professor of Anatomy & Neurobiology in the School of Medicine at UCI, weighed in from a neurological perspective, teaching attendees about cannabinoid receptors.
After calling cannabis a “respectable plant” whose stocks were used in the early 1500s to make rope with and whose seeds are good for eating, Piomelli gave an intriguing example regarding the receptors that become hyperactive through interaction with a cannabinoid, such as the one found in cannabis, THC.
It is during adolescence–a phase Piomelli explained is associated with “goofing around”– that these cannabinoid receptors are at their peak. Hence, they are more sensitive to its interaction with cannabinoids. No one knows why exactly cannabinoid receptors are at their peak at this stage, but scientists assume that because they’re at their optimum during the teenage years of a person’s life, this particular stage is important.
Piomelli then explained how scientists have engineered rats through mutation to have hyperactive cannabinoid receptors, and have studied the development and behavior of these rats. They found that long-term hyperactive cannabinoid receptors resulted in rats that “goofed around” all their lives, and remained “perpetual adolescents.”
The second member of the discussion panel, Dr. Alfonso Valdez, a retired Gang Unit supervisor for Orange County and professor at UCI known for his classes on gangs, taught visitors from a law enforcement standpoint.
Valdez advised students that today, one ounce is the most marijuana one can possess without getting arrested, as long as the possessor is at least 21.
Driving under the influence is illegal, but Valdez added that driving impaired by any controlled substance could get a driver arrested.
He continued by comparing being drunk to being high and pointing out that both impair your driving equally, warning, “If you get involved in an accident, it’s not just you and the vehicle; it’s maybe a child you kill… and you can’t bring that life back.”
The last member of the discussion panel was licensed marriage and family therapist Dr. Jerry Brown, whose private practice is located in Costa Mesa.
After opening with a few cannabis-related puns, Brown opened by calling himself a “marijuana-holic,” adding that he had smoked a great deal of marijuana in the past, “Every time I could get a hold of it.”
But today, Brown sits 38 years sober from both cannabis and alcohol, which caused an uproar of applause throughout the room at his admission.
Brown’s perspective on cannabis came from a family and relationship standpoint. He is not against the use of either marijuana or alcohol, but the people he works with “are people that have taken this to an extreme.”
Brown explained that a person seeking an escape from anxiety ought to stay away from cannabis because it triggers anxiety. Marijuana, in addition, should not be used simply to escape boredom, he said. Boredom flees with marijuana use because it causes mundane activities, such as class lectures to become more interesting. Marijuana also triggers hunger, also known as the “munchies.” These interesting phenomena brought on by marijuana create a sense of dependency in users, sometimes causing depression with withdrawal, said Brown.
Adrian Delariva, a junior at UCI and a criminology and psychology double major, expressed at the close of the event, “It’s a conversation a lot of people need. It would’ve been a good event for the community, outside of UCI.”
Whether students who attended “Let’s Get Blunt” expected the event to champion marijuana use or not, attendees like Delariva left with an understanding of marijuana’s true colors.
“Why play Russian roulette?” Dr. Valdez reiterated the last time the mic was passed to him. “In my opinion we are losing the next Michael Angelo’s and the next Steve Jobs.”