Pubdate: Tue, 02 Aug 2016
Source: Washington Times (DC)
Copyright: 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.
Author: Richard Berman
Note: Richard Berman is the president of Berman and Company, a public 
affairs firm in Washington, D.C.


Marijuana Is Anything but Harmless

Voters in at least five states, including California, will be asked 
whether they want to legalize marijuana for casual use on Election 
Day. Four states and Washington D.C. have already taken this step. 
"This is really a watershed year for marijuana legalization," said F. 
Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry 
Association. Proponents like the Drug Policy Alliance claim that 
legalization should occur partially for "health" reasons. The 
Marijuana Policy Project has called pot "harmless." Others say it is 
"safe" and even "healthy." Nearly all proponents seem to deny or 
minimize its risks. Popular culture reinforces this view portraying 
use generally as a risk-free endeavor. And big business looking to 
cash in on legalization is all too happy to propagate this claim.

But here's the problem: This view is out of step with the medical 
literature. In fact, a scientific consensus exists that marijuana has 
serious health implications - even for casual users. Voters 
considering legalization on Election Day shouldn't overlook these risks.

Start with marijuana's impact on users' IQ and motivation. A major 
New Zealand study that tracked users over many years found that 
chronic use starting in adolescence is associated with an average 
8-point drop in IQ in mid-adulthood. That is a big percentage drop 
not to be taken lightly. The study found that even those who quit in 
adulthood were not able to recover these IQ points. Several other 
large studies conclude that use can cause impairment of cognitive 
ability at any age, though to a lesser degree.

Research also shows a link between marijuana use and amotivational 
syndrome - characterized by reduced determination and drive. It is 
reaffirmed by several studies that have linked marijuana use to 
criminal behavior, unemployment, lower incomes, greater welfare 
dependence, and lower life satisfaction.

Marijuana's negative effects go beyond slacking. Research shows that 
it disrupts the brain areas that regulate posture, coordination, 
balance and reaction time. These side effects are why several large 
studies find that that drivers high on marijuana are three to seven 
times more likely to be responsible for a car accident.

"Disrupts" is medical lingo for shrinks. I don't want to be 
associated with the fearmongering "This is your brain; this is your 
brain on drugs" commercials from last century, but their underlying 
message was essentially correct. According to research published in 
the medical journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: 
"Someone who uses marijuana regularly has, on average, less gray 
matter in his orbital frontal cortex."

Another study finds that the hippocampus - the part of the brain 
responsible for long-term memory - is abnormally shaped in daily 
marijuana users. Here's the kicker: Studies show even casual 
marijuana use causes abnormalities in the density, volume and shape 
of the brain.

Potentially because of its impact on the brain, marijuana use doubles 
the risk of developing psychotic disorders like schizophrenia for 
those already prone to them. A 2013 review concluded: "It is now 
known beyond doubt that cannabis acts as a component cause of psychosis."

Perhaps the biggest marijuana myth is that it's not addictive. Not 
true, says the medical literature. The National Institute of Health 
finds 30 percent of users form some sort of dependence on the drug, 
with about 10 percent of those users becoming addicted. These rates 
are far higher for those starting earlier in life. That's not a 
lottery we'd play.

So what is responsible for this disconnect between popular opinion 
and medical reality? A big part of it may have to do with the fact 
that marijuana today is much stronger than it was in previous 
generations. The average THC level in today's marijuana is 
approximately three times that of 1990, with some experts saying it's 
up to six times more potent. This isn't the marijuana of the 
Woodstock generation.

There's no question that marijuana does have medicinal benefits. Its 
antiinflammatory and pain-relief effects are well-documented. And 
animal studies have shown that it kills certain cancer cells, reduces 
the size of others, and increases the effects of radiation 
treatments. But this isn't an argument for legalization of casual 
use. Opium also has medicinal benefits, and no one is saying that we 
should legalize heroin.

Voters considering legalizing marijuana on Election Day should look 
past vested interests' view that marijuana is safe. They should make 
their vote with the clear eyes of the scientific community, not the 
bloodshot ones of pot proponents.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom