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We’re Living With A False Sense of Security About Marijuana

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May 29, 2019

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How many times have you heard that smoking marijuana is healthier than puffing on cigarettes, that it’s more organic, and has practically no side- effects? Such rhetoric has increasingly accompanied legalization and subsequent commercialization of marijuana use worldwide. But the little, not-so-credible research done into the use and effects of marijuana use doesn’t say any of the positive things people spout off about marijuana use— some of it even says the opposite, according to a report published by the National Academy of Medicine.

Here are the things we know: 

With almost 100% certainty: 

Marijuana use helps with chronic pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea and spasticity symptoms resulting from multiple sclerosis. On the flip side, researchers are very sure smoking marijuana exacerbates respiratory symptoms, causing chronic bronchitis. Marijuana use increases the risk of motor vehicle accidents, could lower the birth weight of offspring, and saving the big blow for the last: smoking marijuana could cause schizophrenia and other psychoses, especially amongst high frequency users.

In Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence written by Alex Berenson, a psychiatrist specializing in schizophrenia reported that older patients from stable middle-class backgrounds and professions, who only smoked marijuana and no other drugs seemed to be developing a mental disorder that looked like schizophrenia, but the symptoms were worse: their paranoia did not respond to antipsychotics, the New Yorker reported. The article further states that in the book, Erik Messamore, the psychiatrist, said that THC, a common component found in marijuana, damaged nerve cells and blood vessels in the brain.

The New Yorker further reports that the first state in the U.S. to legalize marijuana, Washington, witnessed a 17% hike in rates of aggravated assault, a 44% increase in murder rate, since legalization. “Berenson, though, finds it strange that, at a time when Washington may have exposed its population to higher levels of what is widely assumed to be a calming substance, its citizens began turning on one another with increased aggression,” the New Yorker states.

Another study published in the The Lancet found that “the odds of psychotic disorder among daily cannabis users were 3.2 times higher than for never users” and  “the odds among users of high-potency cannabis were 1.6 times higher than for never users.” They also found that in cities with the highest consumption of potent cannabis (i.e., marijuana with high THC levels), the odds for psychotic disorder increased exponentially: four times in Paris, five times in London, and nine times in Amsterdam. These findings, however, don’t predict a causal relationship between marijuana and psychosis, just a correlation, which begs more research into connection.

With a moderate level of confidence:

Marijuana may help to improve sleep apnea symptoms and fibromyalgia; marijuana smoking has almost no association with lung, head and neck cancer; it probably doesn’t make schizophrenia any worse if you have it. As for the negatives: Smoking marijuana might increase the risk of overdose injuries amongst kids; it may impair memory, attention and learning skills; bipolar people who smoke it might have more manic episodes; it may increase suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and deaths by suicide; marijuana use can increase the risk of developing a social anxiety disorder (contrary to popular belief); and can enable people to increase their abuse of tobacco, alcohol and other hard drugs.

With some evidence, which is not completely reliable:

There’s limited evidence to prove marijuana use impairs educational achievements, social functioning, and increases rate of employment. We also can’t confidently say that smoking marijuana improves Tourette’s, anxiety symptoms, or post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.

With zero evidence, despite widely held beliefs in popular culture:

Popularly held beliefs that marijuana helps deal with symptoms of cancer, epilepsy, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, and immunity-related issues are baseless. There is no credible research done into these particular diseases and their relationship with marijuana use.

The only thing we know is the cannabis compound called cannabidiol (CBD) could have therapeutic value for seizures due to epilepsy. But CBD is not present in most strains of marijuana consumed daily, and is devoid of THC, according to the World Health Organization.

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There is a big push to legalize marijuana in India, with prominent police figures such as Shashi Tharoor speaking out in favour. In August 2017, the government issued a license to grow medical marijuana, following which Uttarakhand became the first Indian state to grow it industrially, Scroll reported. While there is a concern that legalizing medical marijuana will promote the drug’s use amongst Indian youth, most advocates believe that the drug’s advantageous effect on reliving medical symptoms is a given. Currently, pro-marijuana amendments to the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, proposed by a Member of Parliament from Patiala, Dharam Vir Gandhi, are pending. 

As politicians all over the world wrestle with legalizing marijuana and how to control its use amongst the public, it is imperative to fund a research framework to understand the effects of cannabis. Without more information, we won’t ever know exactly what it is we’re legalizing.

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Written By Rajvi Desai

Rajvi Desai is The Swaddle’s Culture Editor. After graduating from NYU as a Journalism and Politics major, she covered breaking news in New York City. Back in the homeland, she spends her free time trying to dismantle societal beauty standards, laughing uproariously at comedy shows, and fervently following her football team, Arsenal.

  1. Rave Slave

    According to data from the Denver Police Department, violent crime (including homicide, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault) fell by 6.9% in the first quarter of 2014 AFTER legalisation…
    I can’t find any evidence of crime rates rising in NY anything to back up this claim?

  2. Fuck you

    You have nothing better to do with your life than persaud people to believe in your ridiculous rhetoric. Kill yourself

  3. S ledingham

    I disagree with pretty much everything said in this article. These are the same negative topics that have been promoted for years (and many disproven). I would strongly suggest the author look outside much of the research that has been funded in the U.S.-97% of which is funded only if it demonstrates harm.

  4. Allan

    Correlation does not equal causation. It’s so important to keep this in mind. Lots of media outlets like to spout ‘facts’ without tying them to supporting evidence.

    I agree there needs to be adequate research so the public can be educated about what they’re doing to their bodies. A big reason there is so little research is because it is still widely illegal in most parts of the world.

    Legalization should be a non-issue in my opinion. People who currently smoke illegally will continue to do so. Those who don’t smoke probably won’t change their habits if it becomes legalized. They may try it, but they’ve most likely already formed their opinion about it.

    I live in Canada where it became legal last Fall. We’ve seen virtually no change so far whether positive or negative. Whether it’s legal or not it will continue to be a personal choice for everyone.

    I find it so funny that people get up in arms about marijuana when big pharma continues to ruin so many more lives than marijuana ever could.

  5. John T Petersen

    I find that this article has obviously been written by someone who has had no first-hand experience smoking marijuana. While some of the information is true most of it is way off base. Perhaps you should interview some longtime marijuana users and get some real feedback! Or better yet try it yourself, that is your not going to have a psychotic episode and jump off the building you can find !

  6. Don

    Poor Rajvi, you made a fool of yourself with this one… This needs to be removed from Quora btw. Get it removed quickly. Quora is not the platform for this nonsense. You will just get more hate from people who know more

  7. Mondon

    This article is completely based on bias research & yellow journalism. The statements about marijuana causing higher crime rates, psychosis, & even killing off braincells are all false in terms of how the author portrays the information. It is often a popular practice to manipulate data & use persuasive measures (especially, in journalism) in order to help legislation pass or to be granted control over, say, a substance such as marijuana. Most evidence that might try to back this article seems to be based on the same false & manipulated mechanisms used to initially make marijuana illegal.
    If the author of this article took the time to do a little research, the author would have learned that there has been extensive research done on marijuana, from social aspects to economic effects, as well as it’s medical value.
    To be a well written author, one must first be creditable because throwing false facts around will harm people, laws, beliefs, & advancements in medicine & science. It is also counterproductive & causes negative & non-progressive outcomes.

  8. Jenny

    Great article. We need real research on this, not anecdotal accounts. I’m sure some people rely on it for whatever reason, medical or otherwise, but if it is in fact that wonderful, research will sort the facts. I noticed some people get really rabid about any criticism – logical or not.

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