Don't Be a Dope! (some disturbing facts about recreational marijuana use)
Recreational marijuana use has now been legalized in eight states and medicinal marijuana is available in more than half the nation despite the federal government's continuing legal statute against possessing, selling, growing or consuming the drug. Canada, led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, appears to be on the precipice of becoming the most populous country in the world to fully legalize (as opposed to decriminalize) marijuana, as legislation concerning the regulation and taxation of the drug was introduced Thursday (April 13) and widely expected to pass. Many of the details regarding the regulatory structure, including safety protocols, have yet to be finalized, but if all goes according to Trudeau's plan, marijuana will be available for purchase as easily as cigarettes and alcohol in the United States' northern neighbor as early as the summer of 2018.
How do I feel about this development? First off, there must be a clear distinction made between medicinal and recreational marijuana. I am all for medicinal marijuana being prescribed by licensed health care providers for patients that are properly diagnosed with a condition whose symptoms can be demonstrably alleviated with the drug, e.g. seizures not controlled by usual anticonvulsants, cancer, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, and chronic pain (the list is not intended to be exhaustive), especially as an alternative to narcotic painkillers, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and morphine, which are extremely addictive and have become the source of an epidemic of opioid-related, overdose deaths, either directly or through the progression to street narcotics like heroin and fentanyl. For people with chronic and/or terminal illnesses, marijuana can be a safer choice than narcotics, since it is less addictive and does not cause fatal overdoses. Still marijuana is not entirely benign, which is why medicinal marijuana is not smoked, but rather comes in pill or an oil-based form, which lacks the hallucinatory and other mind-altering effects of smoking a joint or bong.
Some of the states that have legalized marijuana have provided good, real-world case studies of the detrimental effects of recreational pot use. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana can "impair judgment of time and distance, and decrease coordination... Research studies have shown negative effects of marijuana on drivers, including an increase in lane-weaving, poor reaction time, and altered attention to the road. Use of alcohol with marijuana made drivers more impaired" (from NIDA's website: www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/drugged-drivers). The state of Washington's legalization of recreational marijuana went into effect in 2013 and "the percentage of drivers who had used pot within hours of a crash doubled between 2013 and 2014, according to a new study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Study" (reported by Andrea Noble of The Washington Times, May 10, 2016). In the first three years after legalization in Colorado, "marijuana-related traffic deaths increased 48%, over 20% of all traffic deaths were marijuana-related compared to 10% six years ago, marijuana-related ER visits increased 49% and hospitalizations increased 32%" (study by the Denver office of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, reported by the Denver news station CBS4 on August 31, 2016). Not surprisingly, the same study reports that Colorado is now the number one state for marijuana use among teens, college-age students and adults in the nation.
Furthermore, advances in neuroanatomy stemming from the use of more advanced neuroimaging techniques have shown that adolescent brains undergo rapid changes in development, and the human brain does not complete maturation until the early-mid-20s. Thus teens and young adults are more susceptible to the harmful psychoactive effects of marijuana. Indeed, MRIs and PET scans of teenager's brains have provided evidence that the "frontal cortex (the part of the brain located behind the forehead)- the region critical to planning, judgment, decision-making and personality- is one of the last areas to develop... In the short term, marijuana use has been shown to impair functions such as attention, memory, learning and decision-making. Those effects can last for days after the high wears off. Heavy marijuana use (defined as smoking weed five times a week or more) in adolescence or early adulthood has been associated with a dismal set of life outcomes, including poor school performance, higher dropout rates, greater unemployment and lower life satisfaction" (reported by the American Psychological Association in the feature article, "Marijuana and the Developing Brain," Monitor on Psychology, November 2015 located at www.apa.org/monitor/2015/11/marijuana-brain.aspx).
A study in Pittsburgh looked at the effects of marijuana use on fetal brain development, when the most significant brain architectural construction and neuronal connections are transpiring. In this study, "6-year-olds born to mothers who had smoked one joint or more daily in the first trimester showed a decreased ability to understand concepts in listening and reading. At age 10, children exposed to THC in utero were more impulsive than other children and less able to focus their attention. Most troubling, children of mothers who used marijuana heavily in the first trimester had lower scores in reading, math and spelling than their peers" (reported by Catherine Saint Louis, New York Times, printed in The Buffalo News on February 3, 2017).
A group of adults smoking weed while attending a rock concert or lounging at home listening to music or watching TV, as long as none of the tokers drives afterwards, is one thing, but adolescent marijuana use is different. Wherever marijuana has been legalized there should be strict prohibitions against the sale of weed to minors. However, just like tobacco and alcohol, even strong regulations can't prevent drugs from falling into the wrong hands. I am not going to take a strong stand against the legalization of marijuana even though personally, I think it does more harm than good. Canada is likely to serve as another case study for the harmful effects of widespread availability and impunity of marijuana use. The most important aspect I want to emphasize is the need for people to educate themselves. Whether a government legalizes recreational marijuana or not, it is up to each individual to know the risks and side effects. Most importantly, fetuses in the womb, infants, teens and drivers must be protected before their health and future goes "up in smoke."