Cannabis, more commonly known as marijuana, weed, or pot, is the most widely smoked illicit substance in the world. Since 2012 when the states of Colorado and Washington became the first to legalize recreational marijuana, this party of two has grown like a weed reaching a total of twenty-five states and the District of Columbia who now have laws legalizing pot for either recreational or medical use. On November 8, five more states (Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada) are giving voters the option to vote yeah or nay for legalization of recreational pot adding to the haze of madness.
Is legalization of marijuana in our country’s best interest? The current Obama Administration doesn’t think so. It continues to oppose legalization of marijuana along with other illegal drugs which are a major public health and safety threat to all of us. Legalization will only increase their availability and normalization of its use undermining preventative health programs.
Here are some current facts on how marijuana use places a strain on our health care system from the Office of National Drug Control Policy:
· Long-term chronic use beginning at a young age can lead to dependence and addiction.
· In 2011, approximately 4.2 million people met the diagnostic criteria for abuse or dependence on marijuana.
· Marijuana use is associated with addiction, respiratory illnesses, and cognitive impairment
· Marijuana is the second leading substance for which people receive drug treatment and a major cause for visits to emergency rooms.
· Today’s marijuana is not the same of yesteryear. The concentration or potency of the main active ingredient - tetrahydrocannabinol or THC - has risen since the 1970s raising serious concerns particularly for adolescents linking long-term use with lower IQ by as much as 8 points later in life. The human brain is not fully developed until about age 25. Marijuana use during the teen years can impair judgement and critical thinking skills that could lead to more risk taking.
· Some of the new edible marijuana products from cookies to chocolates can be 10 times stronger than traditional joints. They also pose a danger to children who ingest these products not realizing what is in them.
· Emergency room doctors are treating more children for accidental overdoses of marijuana and more babies are being born with THC in their system from the mother’s use of marijuana during pregnancy.
· Marijuana has been associated with a variety of lung problems including inflammation of the airways, symptoms of chronic bronchitis and an increased risk of pneumonia and respiratory infections.
· Other side effects cited as potential problems associated with marijuana use include dry mouth, dizziness, increased appetite, memory impairment, lack of motivation, paranoia/anxiety, and depression.
To be fair, when it comes to medical marijuana, the marijuana plant itself is not recognized or approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating diseases. But, there are chemicals in marijuana called cannabinoids that may treat various illnesses or symptoms thereof such as increasing appetite, reducing nausea, or reducing pain and inflammation. A more thorough discussion about the use of cannabinoids can be found on the National Institute of Drug Abuse website.
The continued creep of recreational marijuana legalization throughout the U.S. is disturbing to say the least. As more and more states vote to make pot available to its citizens, the increased availability and acceptability of marijuana will only likely increase consumption. This increased consumption will result in higher public health and financial costs for society which will likely not be offset by the revenue it generates from taxation. It is yet to be seen if marijuana legalization will eliminate the black market for the drug.
This trip of legalizing one more form of medicating ourselves through drug use means more money required to focus on drug prevention, treatment, support for recovery and ways to break the cycle of drug use and crime.
All of us need to ask ourselves how important is it to legalize recreational marijuana in our country? What are the benefits we as a nation will gain from it and would you approve of your children smoking pot?
Let’s answer these questions with honesty and integrity and let’s contemplate the health impact it will have on our country years from now if more and more states legalize recreational marijuana. When we do that it can help us make the best decision.