The health risks of marijuana legalization

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Ia dramatic example of a government that yields to public opinion the The Senate has introduced legislation to legalize cannabis at the federal level. While approval before the November elections is unlikely, this long-awaited legislative action seeks to update a statute that has been [pun intended] of the demonized image of marijuana as portrayed in the 1936 documentary “Reefer Madness” and better reflect public opinion and liberal social trends. Currently, under federal jurisdiction Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1970, cannabis is considered to have “unaccepted medical use” and a high potential for abuse and physical or psychological dependence. This federal statute contrasts with claims of therapeutic benefits from the biochemical constituents of cannabis, such as cannabidiol and THC (tetrahydro-cannabinol), when the FDA’s only indication for their use is a rare childhood seizure disorder (Lennox- Gasteau).

While scientific information is lacking to officially endorse cannabis products as having therapeutic benefits, a recent Pew Research Center survey found that 88% of Americans thought marijuana should be legal for medical or recreational use. This wave of popular opinion led to the approval of marijuana in 38 states for medical use, in 24 states for recreational use, and decriminalization in an additional seven states.

Who could have predicted that in less than two decades, a naturally grown recreational intoxicant, cannabis sativa, would move from demonization to the mainstream, and generate a tsunami of popular demand for legalization and a commercialization gold rush fueled by U.S. $61 billion? of investment. Some may see this as an impressive demonstration of social progress, while others consider it the result of reckless and ill-conceived policies that have created a tangled matrix of contradictory laws and incentives based on confused logic and incomplete knowledge.

Americans now have access to a recreational intoxicant that is probably no more dangerous than alcohol or tobacco, without fear of the disproportionately harsh punishments previously meted out to those arrested for possession and use. But at the same time, there are numerous inconsistencies and cross-purposes essential to the legalization and commercialization of cannabis products. The most obvious of these is the fact that federal law considers the use, sale, and possession of marihuana illegal.

See more information: What Marijuana Reclassification Means for the United States

The consequence of the latter was not only that the exaggerated therapeutic claims were not born of scientific research, but also that it served as a “Trojan Horse” to galvanize public opinion and promote the cannabis advocates’ ultimate goal of unrestricted access. This came to fruition when the state legislatures of Colorado and Washington voted to legalize the commercial production and sale of cannabis products in 2012. This triggered an impressive display of states’ rights, in which most states followed suit, liberalizing their laws. about cannabis, despite federal legislation. prohibitions.

Legislative conflict between federal and state laws is not ideal, but it is not a serious problem, largely because the conflict is tolerated rather than enforced. More costly is the conflict that has arisen between legislative reform and public health. By adhering to public opinion and false claims of salutary effects, state governments are exposing their voters to health risks. Compounding this misguided policy is the fact that state governments are encouraged by the prospect of increased tax revenues.

In a recent and egregious example of governmental errors, on March 17, Governor Kathy Hochul declared New York State’s commercialized cannabis licensing and distribution system “a disaster” and announced “a complete review of the NYS Cannabis Control Board and its system for regulating legal cannabis products.” The main goal of the review was to process orders faster and allow more cannabis vendors to open. Just weeks before Hochul’s executive order, which aimed to give New Yorkers greater access to cannabis, the The American Heart Association issued a warning about the higher risks of cardiovascular events associated with heavy cannabis use. This was based on a National Institute of Health Study funded by (NIH) of nearly 435,000 American adults reported last November that found that “daily use of cannabis –– was associated with a 25% increase in the likelihood of heart attack and a 42% increase in the likelihood of stroke when compared to not drug use.”

Before that, the The NIH issued the following warning: “Regular users of recreational marijuana experienced psychotic disorders at a higher rate than any other recreational drug. More than cocaine, methamphetamine, amphetamine, LSD, PCP or alcohol. The risk of negative mental health effects increases about fivefold with regular use of high-potency marijuana.” High potency refers to the fact that the marijuana marketed and sold legally today is not the same herb grown naturally and smoked by counterculture constituents.

Such health risks are not an abstract possibility or unconfirmed scientific speculation, but a growing current reality. As a practicing psychiatrist, I have witnessed these effects firsthand, as an increasing number of cannabis-induced medical and mental health disorders – especially in young people – appear in our hospital emergency rooms and are referred to me for consultation. And although the increasing number of adverse effects following legislative reform is disturbing, it is not surprising. Instead, they were preempted.

Early in the movement to liberalize access to cannabis in 2014, Roger Dupont, founding director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and I published a paper in the medical journal Science that predicted such adverse effects. the decriminalization and medical use of marijuana in the United States lacks essential information: scientific evidence about the effects of marijuana on the adolescent brain,” we wrote. “Much is known about the effects of recreational drugs on the mature adult brain, but there has been no serious investigation into the risks of marijuana use in younger users.”

Part of the argument for legalizing cannabis was that it was no more dangerous than other legal recreational intoxicants such as alcohol and tobacco. However, as Kevin Sabet, National Drug Control Policy Advisor in the Bush and Obama administrations, pointed out in his book SmokeScreen: What the Marijuana Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know, lawmakers did not consider the possibility that the marketing of cannabis would lead to inconceivably high potencies (with THC concentrations in some products approaching levels of up to 99.9%, compared to less than 10% in naturally grown marijuana sold on the black market).

This was revealed in an NBC News report on states that have enacted legislation to legalize cannabis in April 2022: “We didn’t know when we were voting [in 2012] that we were voting for anything but the plant,” he said Dr. Beatriz Carlini, a research scientist at the University of Washington’s Institute on Addiction, Drugs and Alcohol. She led the effort in Washington state to research high-potency marijuana and is now exploring policy options to limit access. Her team concluded in 2020 that “high-potency cannabis can have lifelong mental health consequences.”

Thus, although possible therapeutic value was the lever, tax revenues for states and profits for new industries – resulting from broad access – clearly became the objective, with unsuspecting users as potential victims. This is the model that now drives the rapid legalization of a number of previously banned recreational drugs, including MDMA (ecstasy) and psychedelic substances.

There are reasons to believe and support the therapeutic potential and safe recreational use of cannabis. However, it is imperative that accurate knowledge derived from research conducted with scientific rigor, objectivity, and impartiality inform legislation and policies that will affect the lives of millions of Americans, and particularly young people. Until we have this knowledge, we must be prepared to temper the irrational exuberance of advocates of unrestricted recreational use and prevent commercial interests from expanding the user base and potency of cannabis products. The government is responsible for this. Governors and legislators must hold the line and not succumb to public pressure and the temptation of additional tax revenue.

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