Despite the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s clear denunciation of drug use, except for strictly medicinal purposes, many Catholics have become ambivalent about the legalization of drugs. However, Dr. Vince Fortanasce is not one of them.
The Yale-trained neurologist has seen, not only in academic studies but also in patients, how drug use—marijuana in particular—is detrimental to health. In fact, brain images of chronic drug users resemble those of Alzheimer’s patients. This is one of the alarming findings that has prompted Dr. Fortanasce, an expert in Alzheimer’s prevention, to wholeheartedly reject Proposition 64 in California—a measure that would legalize marijuana use.
Dr. Fortanace recently spoke about the importance of voting—and about his upcoming EWTN shows and his newest books, with Register correspondent Trent Beattie.
You’ve been on EWTN before and are filming more shows for the network later this month. What will those be about?
The series of shows will be about Catholic healthcare and ethical issues and I will be on them with Father Kirby attorney Charles LiMandri and Dr. William Sears. We deal with various health problems and issues from conception to death—in a specifically Catholic way. The Church really is the leader in the world regarding the dignity of the human person, body and soul, and how that should guide our response to medial issues.
The first show will be about Alzheimer’s prevention and treatment, which is also summed up in my book, The Anti-Alzheimer’s Prescription. There are some aspects of the onset of Alzheimer’s that are not in our control, but there are many things we can do to delay or even, depending on when we end up dying, eliminate it. They can be summed up in the acronym DEAR, which stands for “Diet, Exercise, Accentuating brain reserves” and then “Rest and recovery.”
You also have more books on the horizon, right?
There are two books that will likely be out in the first half of next year. One is called Modern Eugenics and the other is called The Twin Legacy. The second might be made into a movie, and they both differentiate between the troubling practice of eugenics that seeks to experiment on and even destroy human beings, and the acceptable practice of epigenetics, which seeks to “adjust” genes already present in humans who are actually treated as such.
Eugenics comes from the Greek words meaning “wellborn” or “good race.” It is an attempt to create a superior race of people through practices such as contraception and abortion among “genetic defectives,” the experimentation on and killing of human embryos and the killing of human adults so their organs can be used by people thought of as more “fit” to be kept living. All of these practices are in themselves evil, and, as such, are not morally permissible—even if some good were actually to come about.
Margaret Sanger thought a lot of good would follow contraception—a practice no Christian church approved of until 1930—so she started the organization that today is called Planned Parenthood. She especially wanted contraception among the poor and minorities. She saw them as less “fit” to be living and therefore in need of strict controlling. Abortion naturally grew out of this anti-life mindset. If preventing the conception of a child that would otherwise occur is okay, it’s only one step further to thinking that the elimination of a child who is conceived, is okay.
The Nazis shared Sanger’s appreciation for eugenic practices and viciously experimented on some humans for the sake of others. This continues today in research labs in our own country. Many people don’t see the Nazi-biotech link because humans before birth are not considered by them to be human. Aside from the ignorance of basic biology, what they don’t realize is that this same “not human” mindset was shared by the Nazis, who considered the Jews and certain others as subhuman and therefore good only for scientific material.
What exactly is epigenetics?
Epigenetics is a word formed with the prefix “epi-” which means “upon” or “over”—indicating that the process does not alter the genetic code itself, but changes how certain genes are activated. Instead of abusing or destroying small humans in a lab in the hope of finding cures or even creating a new species, epigenetics adjusts or redirects genes that are already in place.
For example, if I have a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s, the onset of the disease could be delayed or “turned off” through an epigenetic process that respects the integrity of the human person already existing. The same could be possible for all kinds of diseases as breast cancer but epigenetic research is still in its early stages.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 2291) makes it clear that drug use is morally acceptable only for medicinal purposes, so shouldn’t it be easy for Catholics to vote against legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes?
Like any moral teaching of the Church, it is clear in principle, but is becoming less clear to us in practice. We have ways of making ourselves believe what we want to believe, and this process is facilitated when misinformation abounds, as we see in Proposition 64 here in California. You can find pro-pot propaganda all over, but you will have a tough time finding the truth amid the haze.
Even the National Catholic Bioethics Center’s site, which has a lot of great pro-science, pro-life, pro-family information, you’ll only find one entry if you search for “marijuana.” There’s just a lack of information for people to make an intelligent decision when voting. As a doctor, I’ve had access to more information than most people, and it paints a devastating picture to our youth.
I’ve offered to speak at parishes in Southern California on the serious problem of legalizing drugs, but so far I’ve had exactly zero requests. Catholics don’t see that by their indifference they could be helping to create enormous health problems for an entire generation of people. It’s sad because the west coast is really becoming the death coast. Assisted suicide is already legal in Washington, Oregon and California, and marijuana is legal in Washington and Oregon, with California possibly following suit.
Why are some people for Prop 64?
Prop. 64 is pushed by people who want to legitimize their drug habit with an official law and make their drug more accessible and cheaper. It is also pushed by people who want to get into the drug industry and make money. Then there are others who think that drug use will be made safer if it is legalized. However, smoking marijuana is inherently dangerous and legalizing it will not change that. It will only make it worse. It is most dangerous to those under 24 years old. As it decreases the size of the memory learning and motivational areas of the brain while increasing the anxiety and agitation areas as the amygdala.
Chronic marijuana users have reduced volume in the hippocampus, the region of the brain primarily responsible for memory and learning. They become less interested in the world around them, less motivated, and more forgetful. Social isolation becomes common and this only serves to perpetuate the problem. Users become more reliant on their drug and often take other drugs to counter the aftereffects of marijuana. It’s a process that erodes their freewill more and more.
The brains of chronic marijuana users resemble those of Alzheimer’s patients. Both conditions are associated with anxiety, confusion, poor diet, lack of exercise, insomnia, isolation and depression. Heavy drug use could very well bring about the perfect storm for Alzheimer’s when combined with poor diet and the other troubles mentioned.
Alzheimer’s is bad enough, but it is only one of the major problems that could occur. Drug use can hasten the onset of mental illness or, if already present, intensify it. Schizophrenia is a well-known example.
The bottom line is that marijuana is a dangerous drug that is not meant for recreational use, particularly since levels of THC, the most harmful part of the drug, have increased sharply in recent years–up to30 fold. Marijuana should be studied and, if approved for limited use, regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, just like other dangerous drugs are. In fact, if approved, special care should be taken with it, because of the way it is used. Smoking does not affect merely the smoker, but those in his household, and marijuana does more damage the younger someone is.
What are healthier alternatives for someone who may be tempted to use drugs?
People who experience anxiety or are in other ways troubled by life should engage in healthy activities, but most important of all exercise and meditation that can give a integrated spiritual outlook. People who consistently act on religious beliefs are physically and mentally healthier as a group than people who do not have religious beliefs or who only act on them occasionally.
Regular prayer, church attendance and volunteer work are all beneficial to health. Prayer puts us in touch with our Creator, focuses our minds on what’s important, and strengthens our resolve to do the right things. Church attendance fills the need we all have to honor and thank God and it connects us with other believers. Volunteering puts wings on our beliefs and helps us to forget ourselves—one type of memory problem that is good—and serve others.
The Rosary is an excellent form of prayer, not only from a theological standpoint, but from a physiological one. It puts us into a routine that diminishes negative thoughts and replaces them with a sense of calm. MRI tests show that people who mediate the most have the greatest benefits in brain functioning. It also increases healthy neurotransmitters Seratonin and Dopamine that help with sleep and positive motivation . I call them the graceamine transmitters. It’s easy to see, then, that the more our spiritual side is active, the easier it is to eat, sleep, and exercise well.
Again, the Catholic Church is a leader when it comes to medicine. Years ago we couldn’t put forth scientific data that show the physiological benefits of prayer—an activity the Church encourages us to do daily—but today we see that, even in something that most people consider purely spiritual, there are indeed material health benefits. The Church and science work very well together when that combination is tried.
Do you think more Catholics need to combine their beliefs with public action?
Absolutely—especially now in this voting season when we have an opportunity to make a great difference. The Church’s teaching is clear on drug use, so we should take that with us to the voting booth. We should also take the Church’s teachings on abortion, assisted suicide, and the freedom to practice our religious beliefs in the public square, to the voting booth. Voting is a great gift that we have the serious duty to make use of. God will demand a return on our talents, and I’m guessing He won’t look kindly upon those who refused to vote for the right things when they could have. What valid excuse would we have if He asks us, “I gave you a brain, why didn’t use you it?”