People have called for legalization of Marijuana mostly because of its medical abilities but studies show the negatives might outweigh the positives.

There has been much marketing for cannabis products of late.  CBD, medical marijuana and even recreational marijuana are available in many states now. Some of the proponents are those who profit from the sales. While that is the way of things in our culture, I think it important to provide additional information so policy makers and concerned citizens can make more informed decisions.

The Cannabis plant (aka pot, marijuana, ganga, reefer) has a long history in our world. It contains many substances called cannabinoids that have effects on animals. The one that gets the most attention is THC. It is the molecule that causes a high among several other effects. CBD is another ingredient but it does not cause a high.

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The plant was deemed to have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use in 1970 when it was declared illegal federally. That has not changed despite state laws allowing use under local jurisdiction.

Consequently, because the plant has been decriminalized in many states, the potency of the drug has increased dramatically. It is not the pot of my youth. The average THC level rose from about 4% in 1995 to about 12% in 2014. The plant can be cultivated to produce levels of THC nearing 30%. Various ways to extract THC in the forms of oil or wax can produce levels around 80%.

The proponents of legalizing such a potent drug make claims of medical necessity. There are studies with variable results. Recent studies looking at the effectiveness of marijuana in cancer pain, for example, found no difference compared with placebo but with a higher risk of adverse effects. No study shows that cannabis is the only way to treat a condition even if effective.  

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A new study in JAMA Psychiatry suggests that marijuana legalization leads to “more cannabis use and perhaps addiction…Long term heavy use is linked to psychological and physical health concerns, lower educational attainment, decline in social class, unemployment and motor vehicle crashes.”   

Among the top preventable causes of death in our country are smoking, obesity, and alcohol abuse. As a culture, we struggle to consume mood altering substances responsibly. I don’t think making another one widely available is in anyone’s best interest.

Greg Elam is the Medical Director of National Toxicology Specialists.

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