Editorial: Miscategorization obscures the benefits of certain drugs

Rachel Vin, Opinions Editor

How many of your peers are on psychiatric drugs? Ritalin, Prozac, Ativan: there are many different drugs, and far more adolescents taking them.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 7.5 percent of youth were on psychostimulant medication as of 2014, and those numbers are rising.

The brain is an organ that can respond to any form of chemical stimulant in unpredictable ways. However, as made evident by the number of adolescents using psychiatric drugs (and the ease at which they are prescribed), these medications are not considered high-risk drugs; concerns regarding their side effects are low.

This stance of mental health professionals, doctors and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on psychiatric drugs is starkly different from their stance on “recreational” chemicals that influence one’s brain, such as marijuana.

Marijuana has been classified by the federal government as a “Schedule I” drug, meaning it cannot be used for scientific testing on humans and is considered to be high risk for abuse. It is among Quaaludes, heroin and LSD in the schedule one category. Meanwhile, prescription drugs such as Xanax and Adderall are ranked in lower categories, indicating that they are less dangerous and more acceptable for medical use than cannabis.

In reality, psychiatric drugs can be incredibly harmful. Medications used to treat Attention Deficit Disorder are abused and used recreationally. Serotonin inhibitors such as Prozac can increase mental instability and suicidal ideation, while sedatives like Xanax are illegally permeating youth culture and causing young adults to die of overdose. The list of red flags goes on and on.

On the other hand, despite the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) stance on cannabis use, marijuana is not highly dangerous when compared to many legal prescription drugs. It is not psychologically addictive according to the American Addiction Centers and cannot cause an overdose. However, it can be used to treat mental illnesses such as anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

We as a culture are preventing a future with safer mental health treatments when we ignore the dangers of prescription psychiatric drugs and disregard marijuana as a medicine.

In response to the rising prevalence of prescription psychiatric drugs and their subsequent abuse and negative effects, it is our responsibility to call for a more regulated, stringent approach to the prescription process. At the same time, we must also support the push for more clinical research into the medical uses of marijuana. If there is any possibility that changing our understanding of marijuana use can save lives, if there is any possibility that the effects of marijuana on the brain are more suitable for an individual than those of psychiatric pills, we must be willing to fight our biases and devote resources toward seeking those answers.