While marijuana legalization is certainly a hot button topic in recent years, the discussion about the drug seems to have switched from sensationally negative to sensationally positive. We see people make bold claims that suggest that smoking the substance may cure cancer, that it is the greatest thing on earth, that it may make prescription medication obsolete, along with many other bold claims.
First, we want to address the fact that cannabis is placed in the same group as heroin. Even though we argue that smoking cannabis can be addictive, it certainly does not lead to the same issues that people experience with heroin, methamphetamine or other extremely dangerous substances. However, just because a kick to the body is less dangerous than a kick to the head does not mean that a kick to the body is good for us. We can apply the same logic to cannabis use.
The world-famous pop star Lady Gaga even recently suggested that she had a serious problem with marijuana addiction. She admits that the drug provided her with a way to self-medicate and deal with anxiety. She now admits to numbing herself to the point where she felt like she was disconnected from many other people around her.
Medical Marijuana Changes the Discussion
Part of the problem is that the medical marijuana discussion has led to a shift in perception. People assume that because it is medicine, it somehow has to be safe to use. While most people may assume that anything for medicinal use is safe, the available research suggests otherwise. For example, the Institute of Medicine suggested in 1999 that cannabis is in fact not medicine. In fact, the medically beneficial ingredient could be extracted from the plant without smoking. They also argued that because smoking is a harmful drug-delivery system, the patient’s health might suffer as result.
The Institute of Medicine also argued that for even those chronically ill, there is no scientific evidence that smoked marijuana has medical benefits. The conclusion from the Institute was that when it comes to using smoked marijuana as a medically approved medication, there is little future in it. This includes patients with glaucoma, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, other movement disorders and treating the wasting syndrome in AIDS patients.
THC Relief – What We Know
According to the research from the Institute of Medicine, the primary psychoactive ingredient (THC) did provide temporary relief from intraocular pressure. This is an issue commonly associated with glaucoma. However, what most people who cite this source fail to mention is that in order to achieve consistent results, the user would need to smoke cannabis 8 to 10 times throughout the day. If we consider that intraocular pressure has other medical alternatives (once- or twice-a-day eye drops) that provide the same medical benefits; it is easy to see why some proponents would want to leave that information out.
The report also recommended against use of the drug for pain and nausea. The Institute of Medicine did recommend further studies related to THC, but suggested that smoked marijuana would not offer any increased benefits. Before manufacturers are able to market a medication in the United States, it has to undergo a clinical evaluation and undergo rigorous scientific scrutiny. For those unaware, the FDA did approve a capsule form of synthetic THC for vomiting and nausea associated with cancer chemotherapy. However, these pills do not have the same highs or euphoric feelings, which is why they are not as interesting for those who want to promote recreational use.
It Can Lead to Significant Health Issues
There is a number of significant health problems associated with smoking cannabis. The drug contains more than 400 chemicals. Out of those 400 chemicals, 60 are cannabinoids. When compared to a filtered tobacco cigarette, users ingest about three to five times as much tar into their lungs when smoking cannabis. Add in the fact that they leave the smoke in their lungs a lot longer to increase the effects of the THC, you may begin to understand why this is unhealthy.
Long-term users of the drug may have the same health problems as people who frequently use tobacco. This includes chronic bronchitis, chest colds, wheezing and chronic coughing. The effect of smoking three or four joints daily may be comparable to a full pack of cigarettes. It is also important to remember that cannabis smoke contains 50 to 70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons. In short, those who suggest that this is a ‘safe’ product because it grows in the wild are intentionally misleading people. The moment that people light it to get the euphoric effects, it has serious carcinogenic effects.
It Can Lead to Mental Health Problems
Frequent consumption of the drug may also lead to social withdrawal, depression, panic attacks and increased anxiety. These issues are especially prevalent in teenagers. When compared to non-users, teens ages 12 to 17 that use the drug at least once a week are three times as likely to have suicidal thoughts.
The use of marijuana may also lead to serious cognitive impairment. This includes issues with problem solving, critical thinking, memory loss and distorted perception. Studies have shown that those students with a ‘D’ average or below were upwards of four times as likely to have used marijuana in the past year as ‘straight A’ students. For those young adults whose brain is still developing, the effects of cannabis use are especially problematic. Because their brains are developing, it may make it impossible for them to achieve their full potential.
Honesty is the Best Policy
The truth is that marijuana use has a lot more issues than most people realize. While the days of ‘Reefer Madness’ are over (demonizing the use of the drug), we are now in an era where advocates are suggesting that this is a breakthrough in modern medicine or a tremendous way to get out of the national debt. The truth is that legalization is not something that should be on the agenda right away, especially if we consider what we know already. While it is true that the penalty for marijuana possession needs to change and we have to re-classify it, promoting legalization as though there are no negative consequences to using this drug is not an acceptable alternative.