Straight, No Chaser: Marijuana Facts and Fiction, Part 1

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The truth of it all is that politicians are generally a terrible source of scientific and medical information. There are actually legitimate concerns about the use and legalization of marijuana. There is also real value to be obtained from the use and legalization of marijuana. This and the next post will provide you information without the bias you’ve become used to. You can check this Straight, No Chaser post for basic information on marijuana use and intoxication.

1. Does the research on marijuana prove that it’s safe?

Of course it’s not “safe.” The air we breathe and the water we drink aren’t “safe.” The better question is “How harmful is it and is that level of harm/risk acceptable?”

Research on marijuana has actually been limited and is largely under the control of the governmental entity charged with identifying risks and harm – instead of benefits. The relative unavailability of marijuana for research has been a source of complaints from the medical community for years, as it has largely limited medically reasonable use and limits.

The research that has been conducted suggests that marijuana is relatively safer than alcohol, tobacco and other illicit drugs. This is not the same as saying it is safe. Marijuana smoke contains carcinogens, just as tobacco smoke does. However, available research concludes that even heavy marijuana use doesn’t lead to lung cancer. Specifically, even the heaviest marijuana smokers don’t seem to consume enough to lead to a positive association with cancer. Any association that does exist with cancer seems to be due to the additives and the smoke itself, not the marijuana.

2. Smoking marijuana really doesn’t place you at risk for harm, does it?

The really big problem with marijuana is you’re doing other things while intoxicated. Car accidents occur in those who drive while high. The fact that it occurs at a lower rate than accidents from drunk drivers should NOT be reassuring. Being intoxicated from marijuana increases risks for many other injuries, which is why users really need to be kept in a safe environment.

Similarly, in the instances when individuals are using marijuana while drinking or using other drugs, the risks for injury and illness become compounded by this simultaneous use. Given that the injuries don’t care where they came from, data gets skewed because of the association with marijuana use.

3. Is it true that more teens smoke pot than cigarettes?

In 2011, for the first time, use of marijuana by teenagers exceeded cigarette use. Overall, one out of every 15 high school students reported they smoke most days.

4. Marijuana doesn’t affect kids any differently than adults, does it?

Teen exposure on a regular basis does appear to lead to a permanent decrease in IQ. The developing brain should not be exposed to it. Given that more teens are now using pot than smoking cigarettes, this is an immediate area of concern.

5. Does marijuana cause mental illness or long-term brain deficits?

This doesn’t appear to be the case, with the caveat that regular exposure to marijuana in the developing brain leads to a permanent decrease in IQ.

6. Marijuana leads to more serious illicit drug use.

The premise that marijuana is a “gateway drug” is a horrible one, regardless as to which side of the political spectrum you reside. Here are some facts:

  • Currently, legal drugs, specifically alcohol and tobacco, are more widely used and more often lead to use of additional illicit drugs than marijuana. As an additional consideration, talking about “gateway drugs” misses the point when currently legal drugs are much more dangerous than marijuana.
  • The majority of marijuana users never use other illicit drugs, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A report by the Institute of Medicine found “no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.” It is likely more accurate to say that the same factors that drive marijuana use lead to the use of other illicit drugs.
  • On the other hand, it’s irrelevant that the majority of marijuana users never use other illicit drugs. A statistically significant number do, and if that’s based on having developed a sense of complacency due to marijuana use without significant ill effect, those individuals will suffer the consequences of that decision. From a public health standpoint, it’s not an either/or consideration.

Check back for questions on addiction, medical complications and other questions regarding marijuana use.

Feel free to ask your SMA expert consultant any questions you may have on this topic.

Order your copy of Dr. Sterling’s new book Behind The Curtain: A Peek at Life from within the ER at jeffreysterlingbooks.com, iTunes, Amazon, Barnes and Nobles and wherever books are sold.

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