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Scientist: Trayvon Martin's Marijuana Use Had Nothing to Do with the Night He Died

A researcher at Columbia University debunks some of George Zimmerman's attorneys' flawed logic.
 
 
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Associate professor of psychology at Columbia University Dr. Carl Hart writes in the New York Times why the small amounts of marijuana found in Trayvon Martin's body are irrelevant to George Zimmerman's murder trial. Dr. Hart, who has a new book out called High Price: A Neuroscientist's Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society, explains how his research and expertise make it clear that Martin's marijuana use had nothing to do with the night Zimmerman shot and killed him.

Zimmerman's lawyers have attempted to argue that Martin's pot-smoking may have made him "agressive" and "paranoid," but Hart says that logic is seriously flawed. Here's why:

As a neuropsychopharmacologist who has spent 15 years studying the neurophysiological, psychological and behavioral effects of marijuana, I find this line of reasoning laughable. The toxicology exam, which was conducted the morning after Mr. Martin was killed, found a mere 1.5 nanograms per milliliter of blood of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, in his body. This strongly suggests he had not ingested marijuana for at least 24 hours. This is also far below the THC levels that I have found necessary, in my experimental research on dozens of subjects, to induce intoxication: between 40 and 400 nanograms per milliliter. In fact, his THC levels were significantly lower than the sober, baseline levels of about 14 nanograms per milliliter of many of my patients, who are daily users. Mr. Martin could not have been intoxicated with marijuana at the time of the shooting; the amount of THC found in his system was too low for it to have had any meaningful effect on him.

Some observers of the case note that the toxicology test also found 7.3 nanograms per milliliter of THC-COOH, one of the main metabolic byproducts formed as the liver breaks down THC. But these metabolites of marijuana have no psychoactive properties, and they have no effect on behavior. They can also remain in the body, like THC itself, for up to four weeks. This is why their presence does not reveal when — or exactly how much of — the drug was used.

Dr. Hart continues:

There is a broader point to be made, though. Regardless of how intoxicated Mr. Martin was, the research tells us that aggression and violence are highly unlikely outcomes of marijuana use. Based on my own work, during which I have administered thousands of doses of marijuana, I can say that its main effects are contentment, relaxation, sedation, euphoria and increased hunger, all peaking within 5 to 10 minutes after smoking and lasting for about two hours. It is true that very high THC concentrations — far beyond Mr. Martin’s levels — can cause mild hallucinations and paranoia, but even these effects are rare and usually seen only in very inexperienced users.

Read the rest here

For more on Dr. Carl Hart, check out AlterNet's Q&A with the researcher, or read the prologue to his book. 

 

Kristen Gwynne is an associate editor and drug policy reporter at AlterNet.  Follow her on Twitter: @KristenGwynne

 
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