Gabriel G. Nahas

Gabriel G. Nahas

As posted on the New York Times website.


Dr. Gabriel G. Nahas, Marijuana Opponent, Dies at 92

By DOUGLAS MARTIN
Published: July 7, 2012

Dr. Gabriel G. Nahas, a controversial medical researcher who became a prominent crusader against marijuana after being shocked to hear, at a PTA meeting in 1969, about the drug’s widespread use, died on June 28 in Manhattan. He was 92.

The cause was a respiratory infection, his family said.

Dr. Nahas did research to find the physiological effects of smoking marijuana, wrote 10 books on the drug and became a leader of antidrug organizations. He was a visible ally of Nancy Reagan in her “just say no” to drugs campaign as the first lady in the 1980s.

Dr. Nahas saw his antidrug campaign as nothing less than a continuation of the fight against totalitarianism, which for him began during World War II as a decorated leader of the French Resistance; like totalitarianism, he believed, drugs enslaved the mind. He was awarded the Legion of Honor by France, the Presidential Medal of Freedom by the United States and the Order of the British Empire for his wartime heroism.

His research, which he did as a professor at Columbia University and reported in more than 700 articles in scientific journals, suggested that marijuana contributed to cancers of the head and neck, leukemia, infertility, brain damage and a weakening of the immune system. He also wrote two books on cocaine, which he contended could cause irreversible brain damage.

Dr. Nahas became known as much for his advocacy as for his science. He was the chairman of the scientific advisory committee of the National Federation of Parents for Drug-Free Youth, now the National Family Partnership. He was a consultant to the United Nations Commission on Narcotics in the 1980s and ’90s. In 1985, he appeared at an antidrug rally with Mrs. Reagan and the actor William Shatner, who was in costume as his best-known character, Captain Kirk of “Star Trek.” Dr. Nahas testified frequently at government hearings.

His critics in the scientific community sometimes assailed his methodology, questioning the large judgments he made often based on small samples. Organizations promoting the decriminalization or legalization of marijuana painted him as a villain. The New England Journal of Medicine once described his work as “psychopharmacological McCarthyism that compels him to use half-truths, innuendo and unverifiable assertions.”

But Robert L. DuPont, drug czar in the Nixon and Ford administrations, called Dr. Nahas “the Paul Revere of drug abuse,” saying, “He alone lit the beacon warning of the threat of the modern drug abuse epidemic.”

Gabriel Georges Nahas was born in Alexandria, Egypt, on March 4, 1920, the son of a French mother and a Lebanese father. As a boy, he asked his family about the people he passed on the street who appeared intoxicated or lethargic and was told they were addicted to hashish.

He was a medical student at the University of Toulouse during World War II when the Germans occupying France found an anti-Nazi pamphlet in his room. He was brutally beaten and imprisoned but refused to talk. He joined the Resistance against the Nazis and helped convey some 200 downed Allied airmen to safety.

After the war, he traveled to the United States for further scientific training and earned master’s degrees from the University of Rochester in New York State and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. He completed a doctorate in cardiopulmonary physiology at the University of Minnesota.

Soon after he joined the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University in 1959, he published research on a new drug to alter the acidity or alkalinity of cells in the human body. In 1969, after hearing a police sergeant describe the marijuana menace at a PTA meeting in Englewood, N.J., he began seeking scientific evidence to show that marijuana was “dangerous to man and society.”

In 1972, he published his first book about the dangers of the drug, “Marihuana: Deceptive Weed.” In 1974, he announced that he had discovered a link between the drug and the body’s immune system. “The findings represent the first direct evidence of cellular damage from marijuana in man,” he said in a statement.

But scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studied the chromosomes of volunteers who smoked marijuana, found no deficiency in immune responses and no chromosome abnormalities, which Dr. Nahas had also predicted. Nevertheless, Dr. Nahas suggested that the results prompt reconsideration of a recent government report that marijuana’s dangers were less than those of alcohol.

His willingness to make strong political and social judgments was again evident in his more popular 1976 book, “Keep Off the Grass,” which contended that every marijuana user was a “pusher” of the drug.

Dr. Nahas’s conservatism extended beyond narcotics. In the 1970s, he marshaled his newly public persona to sign newspaper advertisements criticizing opponents of the Vietnam War.

Dr. Nahas is survived by his wife, the former Marilyn Cashman; a sister, Helene Nahas Peters; three children; and seven grandchildren.

A version of this article appeared in print on July 8, 2012, on page A16 of the New York edition with the headline: Dr. Gabriel Nahas, Marijuana Opponent, Dies at 92.


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