Dangers of marijuana
Unless you have been living in a cave in the wilds of a national forest, you know that proponents of cannabis use have been pushing hard for the decriminalization—and, in some cases, the legalization—of cannabis in the United States. No doubt you have heard anecdotal testimony about the benefits of using cannabis for medicinal purposes. You have probably heard arguments that cannabis is less harmful than most other recreational drugs, including alcohol. Moreover, whether the discussion centers around recreational use or medicinal use, you have also likely heard arguments that cannabis is simply better than most drugs people use for those purposes, because it is natural: a plant that grows from good, clean soil with some wholesome, loving care.
These arguments have merit. While anecdotes are no replacement for carefully controlled, long-term studies, we should still listen when our veterans, our elders, and our family members suffering from chronic pain tell us that cannabis really helps them. A recent study published in The Lancet showed experts ranking cannabis as one of the least harmful recreational drugs in common use, and most professionals agree that cannabis seems much less harmful than alcohol. And, of course, cannabis is a naturally occurring plant, which humans have been using for hundreds, possibly thousands of years.
However, if someone tells you that cannabis use is completely safe, your skept-o-meter should immediately hit the red.
While it is true that cannabis is a naturally occurring plant, the cannabis grown and sold in the United States is not the same as cannabis that grows in the wild. Decades of selective breeding and hybridization have seen cannabis plants’ THC levels significantly increase over levels found in naturally occurring plants. We want the most bang for our bucks, so we gravitate to the latest, most potent strains of selectively bred plants. Furthermore, some people who use cannabis are finding novel methods of consuming the plants’ intoxicating chemical compounds in concentrated forms.
The long-term effects of consuming these unnaturally high concentrations of THC are not well understood, but there is some evidence to suggest that higher dosages of THC puts users at increased risk of developing psychosomatic disorders like schizophrenia later in life. This risk might be even higher for those who start using cannabis in their teenage years, while the brain is still in its developmental stage. Additionally, the most common method of consuming cannabis is via smoke inhalation, and many experts agree that inhaling smoke of any kind is generally not good for a person’s lungs; however, we do not yet know if cannabis smoke is linked to increased likelihood of developing cancer of any sort. Cannabis use, like alcohol use, also seems to make drivers dangerous to themselves and to others. Cannabis highs lower inhibitions, slow reaction times, and affect perceptions of speed and time.
As you read this, you may notice that a lot of the information here is hedged with words like “might,” “appears,” and “seems.” Unfortunately, cannabis is still classified as a Schedule I substance by the DEA, along with drugs like heroine and bath salts, which makes study of the drug and its effects on users extremely difficult. (The DEA treats cannabis as more dangerous a substance than drugs like cocaine and meth, which are classified as Schedule II substances.) Ultimately, that classification may prove to be the greatest danger posed by cannabis, because without many rigorous, large scale, long-term studies no one can make an informed decision about the drug and its appropriate uses. If you, like me, think this is a dangerous and unnecessary barrier to our understanding of the effects of cannabis, please contact your federal representatives to ask that they put pressure on the DEA and the FDA to reclassify cannabis so that it is no longer a Schedule I substance.