I've heard a lot of people talk about reasons why marijuana should or should not be legalized and regulated so I thought it was about time I checked into some of their claims. I feel it is important to educate ourselves on the facts before we decide whether or not we agree with an idea or not.
Here are some common statements I've heard about marijuana and what I was able to discover about their accuracy.
- Marijuana is a "gateway drug" and people who use it often go on to try more dangerous drugs. I'm fairly sure I heard this in school and I certainly have heard this recently. Unfortunately, we don't seem to have a good proof one way or another on this issue. Some studies seem to suggest that it is. Other studies seem to indicate that it isn't. The Rand Corporation has an interesting take on this. Still, the only thing we can say is that we aren't sure, as dissatisfying as that answer is. It is certainly not cut and dried.
- Marijuana causes cancer. Marijuana smoke does contain cancer-causing agents, however, an extensive 2006 study surprisingly shows no link at all between lung cancer and smoking pot. One theory of why this is so is that people who smoke marijuana - even heavily - don't smoke as much as a tobacco smoker does. Another theory is that the THC contained in a joint kills off cancer-causing agents. In any event, it appears this statement may be false. We should keep in mind that we are only talking about the effects of smoking marijuana not consuming it. There seems to be no increased risk of cancer from ingesting cannabis.
- Marijuana is addictive. Well, it seems it can be but not on the level that heroin or even nicotine are addictive. Studies indicate that only 10% of marijuana smokers become addicted compared to 32% of tobacco users and 23% of heroin users. But yes. Some people will become addicted to marijuana.
- You can not overdose on marijuana. This appears to be a fact. Scientists have decided that a lethal does of marijuana is about 1/3 your body weight consumed at one time or 1500 pounds consumed at once - depending on which study you quote. Thing is, these dosages seem impossible to accomplish. Most striking is the fact that there has never been a reported death from marijuana use.
- Use of marijuana by teenagers can cause a drop in their IQ. Studies seem to indicate that this is true. This is why any legislation should make it legal for adults to consume - not children or teens. It is interesting to note that some studies show that alcohol use by teenagers might be more harmful to their brains than pot is. Clearly we don't have all the answers so we should err on the side of caution.
To be honest, I'm not sure that I can think of any reason NOT to legalize marijuana based on what I've found thus far and I've not even delved into what decriminalization will do for our police departments and judicial system. Of course we need to try to keep the drug away from teenagers and children but this is not very different than the task of keeping cigarettes and alcohol away from children.
Marijuana use might not be entirely without health risks but as long as we educate adults as to the possible risks/side effects it shouldn't be very different from using over-the-counter medications. The key is to educate the public about appropriate use and provide factual information without the rhetoric.