As early as 1960, Dr. Franz E. Winkler began to speak publicly against the use of psychotropic drugs for nonmedical purposes, in magazine articles, in lectures at colleges, and most recently on television. In a one-hour TV interview, called "What’s Happening to the Family?" produced by Capital Cities Broadcasting Corporation and now being seen in cities throughout the nation, Dr. Winkler speaks especially of the use of marijuana. He also mentioned it in his appearance in February on WNBC TV’s program "For Women Only." The letter printed here was written in response to one of the thousands of inquiries received by Dr. Winkler following his recent appearances.
Franz E. Winkler was born in Austria and came to New York as a young doctor. He received his medical degree from the University of Vienna and studied under Sigmund Freud and the Nobel Prize winner, Wagner-Von Jauregg, both of whom were family friends. He specialized in internal medicine and psychiatry and, before leaving Austria, was head of a hospital in Graz for internal and neurological diseases. In New York City, Dr. Winkler has a private practice and serves on the teaching staff of Clinical Medicine at the New York Medical College. He is medical adviser to the Waldorf School in Garden City and a trustee of Adelphi University.
Dr. Winkler’s book, Man: The Bridge Between Two Worlds, was published by Harper & Row in New York in 1960, and has since appeared in German, Dutch, and Russian editions. Recently, the book was republished by Gilbert Church, Publisher, 475 Fifth Avenue, New York, N. Y. 10017.
Dr. Winkler has been President of the Myrin Institute since its foundation in 1953.
This material, Copyright 1970 by the Myrin Institute, is reprinted here by permission.
February 13, 1970
Dear Mrs. K.,
Your call was greatly appreciated. There exists no transcript of my remarks on marijuana in the TV panel discussions held during the first week of this month, but I shall try to answer your question by briefly summarizing my view.
Although the existing laws clearly indicate that the majority of scientists are aware of the damage the drug causes to the physical, mental, and genetic organism, years may pass before a sufficient number of case histories can be collected to offer irrefutable proof. Then it will be too late for millions.
Unfortunately, a group of (let us hope) well-meaning but certainly misguided individuals declares publicly that marijuana is harmless, without possessing either the training or the opportunity for a valid judgment on the matter. Knowledge in sociology or other nonmedical sciences, significant as it may be, simply does not count in areas to which it does not pertain. Yet the American public is so authority-conscious that it will readily accept from a person prominent in one subject views on other matters of which he knows nothing.
The failure of the medical profession to become fully aware of the subtle but in my opinion disastrous effects of marijuana may have the following reason. The old-fashioned family doctor would have been quick to notice these effects and to eliminate their cause. And even today the general practitioner would still be in a position to observe the destructive effects of marijuana, were he not too busy to deal with psychological problems. The psychiatrist, on the other hand, sees the already psychologically disturbed patient at a time when it is no longer possible to distinguish between preexisting psychotic tendencies and marijuana effects.
Since my main interest in medicine happens to be the health of the personality as a whole, I have tried for thirty-eight years to make friends with very young children and to keep their confidence and friendship through their adolescent and adult years. Moreover, my experience includes a steady stream of young people who have heard a lecture, read a publication, or seen a TV program of mine. They do not come as patients but merely to discuss their views on life with an older man. Thus, I have known many people for a long time, not just as a physician but as a friend. Among them there are those who have taken marijuana at one time or another, giving me a chance to observe its effects on the deeper strata of the personality, strata well hidden from a casual observer.
In this long experience, I have come to the conclusion that the abuse of marijuana is one of the major tragedies of our time. While hard drugs cause far more obvious physical and mental harm, they are mostly used by people already defeated by life, who seek in them a way to oblivion. What makes the use of marijuana tragic is that it appeals not only to the neurotic and already defeated but to healthy young people who seek in it nothing worse than diversion or an expansion of consciousness. Unknown to themselves and unnoticed by a generation of parents, teachers, and physicians often too busy or uncaring to pay real attention to anyone but themselves, some of the finest young people are thus condemned by sheer ignorance to a gradual disintegration of their personality.
An early effect of marijuana and hashish use is a progressive loss of will power, already noticeable to the trained observer after about six weeks of moderate use. The loss of will power weakens the ability to resist coercion, so that marijuana users too often fall victim to hard drug pushers, extortionists, and deviates. Soon all ability for real joy disappears, to be replaced by the noisy pretense of fun. While healthy teen-agers will eagerly participate in all kinds of activities, such as sports, hiking, artistic endeavors, a marijuana user will show an increasing tendency to talk endlessly of great goals, while doing nothing about them. Athletic abilities invariably fall off with the use of marijuana. Artistic achievements become meaningless and lose all originality. Instead of developing strong feelings toward others, the marijuana user is apt to wallow in sentimental emotions. Since the drug removes inhibitions, sex life may be stimulated for a brief period but invariably declines within a few years, leaving men all but impotent and women frigid.
Aware of the fact that most dedicated pot smokers would refuse to accept my views on faith, I usually offer them the following proposition: "Conduct an independent investigation of your own. Pick any individual among your classmates, friends, or relatives who has been taking marijuana for at least a year but whom you had known well before he started taking the drug. Then compare his present personality with his former self. If you do not find that he is turning into an empty shell, that he is on the way to becoming a pitiful caricature of his earlier self, I shall make no further effort to convince you." I do not remember one single high school or college student seriously undertaking this investigation who did not return deeply shocked by his experience. Most of them not only made a resolution never to take the drug but became most effective crusaders against it among their contemporaries. Unfortunately, people are not observant enough to notice the weird but elusive changes in themselves or others unless their attention is directed to them.
The often-heard argument that alcohol is just as bad as marijuana is meaningless, since the lasting effects of moderate amounts of alcohol are minimal in contrast to the harmful effects of even a couple of reefers daily. An illness does not become more attractive by the statement that another one is just as bad. Moreover, a great number of marijuana users have turned to alcohol when their drug habit no longer suffices to mask the growing despair of inner emptiness.
Franz E. Winkler, M. D.
Of interest to readers of Dr. Winkler’s letter will be the report written in November, 1969, to a commission of inquiry impaneled in Canada to inquire into the nonmedical use of drugs. In it Dr.Keith Yonge, president of the Canadian Psychiatric Association, writes:.. the use of these drugs does indeed induce lasting changes in personality functioning, changes which are pathological in so much as they impair the ‘mental and social well-being.’…
"The harmful effects are of the same order as the pathology of serious mental illness (psychosis), namely, in distorting the perceptual and thinking processes and in diverting awareness from reality, impairing the individual’s capacity to deal with the realities of life.
"The argument that marijuana is no more harmful than alcohol is specious. Although alcohol does constitute a serious health hazard in our society because of its readiness to intoxication, its action on the mental processes cannot be simply equated with that of marijuana. The primary action of alcohol is that of a relaxant. Impairment of mental functioning occurs when intoxicating quantities are taken. Marijuana, as with all the psychotropic drugs, on the other hand, acts solely as an intoxicant, its effects being primarily the distortion of perception and reasoning.
"In psycho-social development man grows from the prevalence of self-gratification and dependency, with little regard for reality, to the prevalence of self-determination and self-abnegatory involvement in his society. Against this progression, the trend toward ‘instant’ self-gratification and artificial self-exploration (by the use of psychotropic drugs) is distinctly regressive—a reversion to the immature, the primitive. The regression is further evidenced in the other trends in group behavior with which the nonmedical use of drugs tends to be associated—reversion to the crude or primitive in speech, in sexual expression, and in taste for music forms—however much these may be rationalized as emancipation from socio-cultural oppression."
(as quoted in the New York Post, February 24, 1970.)