Marijuana refers to the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds from the hemp plant Cannabis sativa, which contains the psychoactive (mind-altering) chemical delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), as well as other related compounds. This plant material can also be concentrated in a resin called hashish or a sticky black liquid called hash oil (DrugFacts). There’s been a lot of back-and-forth talk about the medical effects of marijuana and whether it should become nationally legalized or not; just earlier this month, Washington, D.C. voted to allow the recreational use of marijuana, so it’s just a matter of time until it becomes legal across the nation.
According to DrugFacts, marijuana is the most common illicit drug used in the United States. After a period of decline in the last decade, its use has been increasing among young people since 2007, corresponding to a diminishing perception of the drug’s risks that may be associated with increased public debate over the drug’s legal status.
Yes, there are some extremely beneficial factors such as economics. Let’s use Colorado for example, just from January through June 30, 2014 , sales after legalizing marijuana reaped nearly $18.9 million in state taxes, with a certain percentage to go to local governments. If each state brought in revenues like that, our national debt would decrease a substantial amount, and quickly. However, there are always two sides to every story. Legalizing marijuana does propose some adverse effects on user’s health. According to Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, legalizing pot will lead to the sort of nationwide health problems that are currently attributed to alcohol and tobacco use. However, there’s no denying that tobacco and alcohol have a far greater impact on health in the U.S. than illicit drugs, as they are legal and conveniently available for use.
“By making marijuana legal, you have more widespread use and many more health implications,” Volkow said. “We don’t need a third legal drug. We already have enough problems with the two we have” (HealthDay News).
There’s a couple of different adverse effects associated with marijuana use. According to a National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA) review, science has established that marijuana can be addictive and that this risk for addiction increases for daily or young users. It also offers insights into research on the gateway theory indicating that marijuana use, similar to nicotine and alcohol use, may be associated with an increased vulnerability to other drugs. Another main issue with marijuana use is that it impairs driving, which more than doubles the risk of automobile accidents; these risks are further enhanced when people combine marijuana with alcohol. Today, these health effects are increased because marijuana potencies are higher than “back in the day.” Marijuana potency is determined by the THC it contains.
Scientists, from NIDA, considered areas in which little research has been conducted. This includes the possibility of secondhand marijuana smoke health concerns; the long-term impact of prenatal marijuana exposure; the therapeutic potential of the individual chemicals found in the marijuana plant; and effects of marijuana legalization policies on public health. All of these areas are likely to increase as state and local policies quickly move toward legalizing marijuana for medical or recreational purposes.
“It is important to alert the public that using marijuana in the teen years brings health, social, and academic risk,” said lead author and NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow. “Physicians in particular can play a role in conveying to families that early marijuana use can interfere with crucial social and developmental milestones and can impair cognitive development.”