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Reading the North: Marijuana research; 'Pup and Pokey'

Marijuana: The Unbiased Truth About the World's Most Popular Weed

By Kevin P. Hill, M.D.; Hazelden Publishing; $14.95.

The blurb: Marijuana -- or weed, pot, grass, reefer or cannabis among dozens of other names -- has a long and colorful history as one of the most sought-after mood-altering substances in the world. Societal opinion about the drug has dramatically swayed over the years, and now the heated debate over its legalization has divided opinion makers, the medical community and the public alike. The myths and misinformation about marijuana have only multiplied as the controversy over recreational and medical marijuana grows.

In his timely book, Kevin Hill, a nationally recognized clinical expert and researcher on marijuana, provides science-based information to help you sort through what you hear on the street and in the media. Whether you're a parent concerned about your child's use, someone with an illness considering treatment with medical marijuana, a user who has questions about marijuana's health effects, or if you're trying to make up your mind about legalization, this book will give you the most current and accurate information you need to make informed decisions.

Kevin P. Hill, M.D., M.H.S., is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard's McLean Hospital and an addiction consultant with a number of professional sports organizations.

Excerpt: Marijuana Myth No. 1: Marijuana is not harmful.

Most people today do not consider marijuana to be a harmful drug like heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine. Our perception of marijuana is colored by our own experiences -- and many of us have had experiences with marijuana without major consequences. We are not alone. (In fact), just 9 percent of adults and 17 percent of adolescents will develop an addiction to marijuana.

Problems are much more likely to arise if someone uses marijuana daily or nearly every day, or if someone begins regular use as an adolescent. Occasional use of marijuana is unlikely to be harmful in the same way that drinking in moderation is unlikely to be harmful. I can go out on a Saturday night and drink four glasses of wine over the course of four hours or so, have my wife drive home, and my drinking is not likely to cause problems. The same holds true for occasional marijuana use. When people begin to smoke marijuana multiple times a week, however, they often continue on to daily or near daily smoking, and that's when the problems begin.

Regular use -- daily or nearly every day -- often leads to marijuana addiction. "Addiction" -- use that qualifies as a marijuana use disorder -- means repeated use despite harm. According to the American Psychiatric Association's most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, those who have a marijuana use disorder continue to use marijuana although their marijuana use has already caused major problems in many important areas of their lives, such as in school, work, or relationships. As noted earlier, there are 2.7 million Americans addicted to marijuana right now who could benefit from treatment. That large number is probably why our research team does not have much difficulty recruiting participants for our studies to develop treatments for marijuana addiction. Catastrophic events -- overdoses, assaults, arrests -- are often what lead people into treatment for the "hard drugs." No one fatally overdoses on marijuana, and dramatic events rarely lead people to get treatment for their marijuana use. Problems from marijuana tend to creep up gradually -- someone may not be performing well at work or may be withdrawing from loved ones in order to spend more and more time smoking. Regular use of marijuana can affect many aspects of the lives of users and their loved ones.

Patients routinely come to see me to help them stop using marijuana because they are on the verge of getting kicked out of school or fired from their job. Excellent scientific research shows that regular marijuana use affects the ability to think, can increase feelings of anxiety and depression, and increases the odds that one will develop psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia.

Pup and Pokey

By Seth Kantner and illustrated by Beth Hill; Snowy Owl Books; $14.95.

The blurb: A boisterous wolf pup and an awkward young porcupine are unlikely allies in this tale of friendship set on Alaska's tundra. When the pair are brought together by a trapper's snare, they must learn what it means truly to be friends. Young readers will learn about living in the wilderness and the sometimes unexpected connections that arise in our lives. "Pup and Pokey" is the first children's book from Alaska author Seth Kantner, an occasional We Alaskans columnist from Kotzebue. It's a touching outdoor adventure that only an Alaskan can tell.

Excerpt: Quickly, Pokey climbed down from the tree. He brushed spruce needles out of his hair. He stood as tall as he could on his short bowed legs. In a rustle of leaves, Pup sprang over a log, launched himself into the air, and came down with his jaws clamped on Pokey's forehead.

"Ow!" said Pokey. "Stop! Stop biting me!"

Without letting go, Pup smiled extra big to show off his new ivory. Finally, he relaxed his jaws. He grinned.

"That wasn't biting. I was just resting my teeth."

Pokey rubbed at the tooth marks in his temples. He held up his other paw, covering his embarrassing yellow front teeth. "I can climb really, really high," he said from behind his paw.

Pup glanced up the big tree. Near the top he saw Pokey's mom's belly, flat and hairy. Pup grinned. Suddenly he pretended to sniff the air. He lifted his ears and whiffed his nose. "Moose!" he whispered. "Need to tell Mom!" In a rush of air and silver hair, he vanished into the brush.

Wistfully, Pokey sighed and stared up the hill after him. Pokey's mom peered down.

"Eat your bark," she said softly.

Pokey wiped wolf slobber off his forehead. Slowly, he heaved himself up the tree and began to eat his bark.