The figurative green haze settling over many major media outlets in the past year was impossible to ignore.
Marijuana — a drug that has been around for thousands of years and contributed to more epic parties than Hugh Hefner — has been baking in a recent revival of cultural relevance.
Between the introductions of Spice, the synthetic marijuana copycat, and California's Proposition 19, the buzz regarding marijuana has lived up to its "weed" nickname and spread across the nation.
As time went on, the headlines changed but the questions remained the same — is Mary Jane really that dangerous, and should she be legalized?
Now, I have no intention of jumping on my soap box and preaching about why marijuana should or shouldn't be legalized. However, with all the media attention marijuana has received in our recent past, one would only assume the drug is a major problem in the United States.
In many ways, it simply isn't the case.
Marijuana is still the most widely used drug in the nation. As reported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, 16 percent of people ages 12 and older reported using marijuana within the last month. This number more than doubles the percentage of Americans in the same age bracket that reported recreational use of prescription medications — 7 percent.
Misuse of prescription medications like painkillers and diet pills is a more noteworthy problem. And no, those cool new bat
h salts aren't included in this group.
However, frequency of use does not necessarily translate into the severity of a problem. More people die every year from prescription-drug overdoses than do from smoking marijuana.
In 2009, 627,000 people died from misuse of prescription drugs, a number that has nearly doubled since 2004. And more recently, in 2010, SAMHA reported a 400 -percent increase in treatment of addiction to prescription painkillers.
Soon — and this is already the case in some states — fatality rates of pharmaceutical misuse will be higher than that of vehicular accidents.
Think about the last time one of our beloved rock stars or entertainers fell victim to a tragic and untimely demise. The cause is never marijuana alone. Most of the time, we hear about drugs like Oxycontin, Vicodin and other pharmaceuticals.
Consequently, of the number of emergency room visits reported to be drug related, there are two incidents involving more serious prescription drugs for every incident related to marijuana use.
Why the increase? Just like anything, drugs are evolving. It's just like adolescent boys taking advantage of the Internet — instead of stealing issues of National Geographic and Sports Illustrated, the "War on Drugs" is changing and the enemy is evolving.
No longer do people have to associate with shady drug dealers to get high. Almost half of admitted prescription drug abusers admit they are given the drugs by a friend who has them left over from a legitimate prescription, and only about 15 percent of users admit to receiving the drugs from one doctor.
But wait, it gets better.
As a society that has embraced the anonymity bestowed upon us by the Internet, there are now "online pharmacies" that allow patrons to purchase foreign versions of certain pharmaceuticals — sometimes without a prescription.
So in a time clouded by the marijuana debate, I ask only that you, my fellow students, do one thing with this column — hit it up and pass it on.
Dominic Trueheart is a 20-year-old sociology senior from New Orleans. Follow him on Twitter