This isn't going to be a particularly popular post, particularly given the President's recent assertion that it would be a waste of time going after recreational pot smokers. It seems like the tide is truly changing in America, with new legalization legislation taking hold in Colorado and Washington and a push to make weed legal in Rhode Island, Montana, New York, amongst a number of other states. There are many, excellent arguments for the legalization of marijuana, and I'm not against it by any means. However, there is a serious argument to be made that the drug is most certainly not without risk, and the rush to legalize it and make it a routine part of life is somewhat premature.
Firstly, let's take a look at the positive aspects of Marijuana - as there are many:
1. No serious physical health risks associated with its use. There hasn't been a single death related to cannabis in the history of its use. Conversely, according to the World Health Organization, alcohol causes nearly 4 percent of deaths worldwide, more than AIDS, tuberculosis or violence. Alcohol consumption has been linked to cirrhosis of the liver, epilepsy, poisonings, road traffic accidents, violence, and several types of cancer, including cancers of the colorectum, breast, larynx and liver. Cannabis has never been linked to any serious physical illness. Tobacco is also incredibly dangerous. According to the Mayo Clinic:
Nearly 21 percent of adults smoke, creating a much-increased risk of lung cancer — 22 times higher for male smokers and 12 times higher for female smokers compared to those who never smoked.
In addition to being a strong factor in the development of lung cancer, cigarette smoking also increases the risk of a number of other cancers, including mouth and throat cancers, bladder, pancreatic, cervical and kidney cancer.
2. Cannabis smokers are rarely if ever violent when using the drug. Pot smokers generally placid in the first place, and more docile when they smoke weed (and they also tend to laugh a lot).
3. There are many medical benefits of using marijuana. It can be used to prevent blindness from glaucoma, increase lung capacity (big bong rips may look ridiculous, but they apparently have some benefits), control epileptic seizures, stop cancer from spreading and help prevent Alzheimers disease amongst many others.
4. Legalization would create a gigantic source of much needed revenue for the government.
5. Legalization would also deal a serious blow to the narcotics trade, putting many dealers out of business.
However, while there are clearly many benefits from using the plant, there is an increasing amount of evidence that shows marijuana to be incredibly dangerous if smoked at a young age. As the Independent reported earlier this year:
Teenagers who smoke cannabis regularly could be permanently damaging the development of their brain and are likely to end up with significantly lower IQ scores than teenagers who do not use the illicit drug, a major study has found.
People who started smoking cannabis as adolescents were found at the age of 38 to be still suffering from a drug habit they had started more than 20 years earlier, scientists said.....
The study suggests that weekly cannabis use before the age of 18 results in an average decline in IQ score of eight points, which is enough to move someone of average intelligence into a category that is well below average.
Scientists said that the study is the first to show that cannabis use in adolescence – but not cannabis use that begins in adulthood – can cause a significant long-term decline in IQ that does not appear to be reversible when people stop using cannabis.
More worryingly, there is now a clear indication that marijuana use, particularly during adolescence can induce psychosis and result in severe schizophrenia. According to Harvard Health:
Evidence is mounting that regular marijuana use increases the chance that a teenager will develop psychosis, a pattern of unusual thoughts or perceptions, such as believing the television is transmitting secret messages. It also increases the risk of developingschizophrenia, a disabling brain disorder that not only causes psychosis, but also problems concentrating and loss of emotional expression.
In one recent study that followed nearly 2,000 teenagers as they became young adults, young people who smoked marijuana at least five times were twice as likely to have developed psychosis over the next 10 years as those who didn’t smoke pot.
Another new paper concluded that early marijuana use could actually hasten the onset of psychosis by three years. Those most at risk are youths who already have a mother, father, or sibling with schizophrenia or some other psychotic disorder.
I have personal experience with this as a very close friend of mine went through a severe psychosis, then developed full blown schizophrenia. He also smoked a lot of pot as a teenager. While it is impossible to say one way or the other whether marijuana was directly responsible for his illness, he has mentioned to me on occasion that he believes it was. I also have many other friends who used pot and suffered pretty severe depression. A White House study concluded that teenagers using marijuana as a form of self medication for depression actually made their illness worse and were far more likely to have suicidal thoughts than non smokers.
This is not to argue that marijuana should remain illegal. On balance, it is far, far safer than other legal drugs and it is ridiculous that in 2012 people are not allowed to ingest a plant that has existed naturally for thousands of years. However, people should be alerted to the risks, particularly the psychological ones given the alarming rise in mental illness in recent times. And I would definitely go as far as arguing that it should be illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to smoke - a stance I understand people may take extreme exception to. We know that brain development continues well into your twenties, so taking the risk of ruining that development with a psychoactive substance is pretty dangerous. And anyone who has had experience with psychosis or schizophrenia will tell you that it certainly isn't worth the risk.