• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
3m 57s

Marijuana isn’t harmless, top health official says

By Dennis Thompson / Healthday 2:00 PM June 5, 2014

States joining the march toward marijuana legalization need to take a step back and consider the drug’s adverse effects on health, the U.S. drug “czar” argues in a new paper.

Marijuana is potentially addictive, proven to contribute to fatal motor-vehicle crashes, and can disrupt the brain function and learning of young users, says Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Legalizing pot will lead to the sort of nationwide health problems now attributed to alcohol and tobacco, said Volkow, lead author of a review article in the June 5 New England Journal of Medicine.

Tobacco and alcohol have a far greater impact on health in the United States than illicit drugs, as their legal status make them more widely available for use, she noted.

“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.”

The pro-marijuana advocacy group NORML agrees that pot “is not a harmless substance,” Deputy Director Paul Armentano said.

“But its potential risks to the individual and to society do not warrant its present schedule I illicit status under federal law, a classification that improperly argues that the plant lacks any accepted therapeutic value and that its risks equal those of heroin,” Armentano said.

Volkow is making her argument as the political winds continue to shift toward pot legalization.

Last week, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of preventing the federal government from interfering with states that allow marijuana use for medical reasons. Medical marijuana is legal in nearly half the states.

“Public opinion is shifting,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., said at the time.

In the new article, Volkow and colleagues said marijuana is addictive, contrary to popular opinion. Research has shown that 9 percent of people who try pot will become addicted, she said. Pot’s effect is even stronger among young people, addicting 17 percent of users under 18, she said.

“This is something that a lot of people who are pro-marijuana deny. The evidence shows otherwise,” Volkow said.

Marijuana also poses a public safety risk. People intoxicated by pot are 3 to 7 times more likely to cause a car crash than someone sober, Volkow said.

Most troubling is the tendency for teens and young adults to use pot and alcohol at the same time, which increases the risk of a wreck more than if they used either drug on its own, she added.

Pot also appears to affect brain development in young users. Scans have shown that teenage pot users suffer from decreased brain activity and impaired connectivity between key brain areas, Volkow said.

“During adolescence, there is a tremendous amount of neuroplasticity,” she said. “Regular use of marijuana is likely to have an adverse effect on the way the human brain gets connected and organized.”

This may explain why frequent use by teens is linked to lower IQ and higher odds of dropping out of school, the report noted.

Volkow said other research has shown marijuana can:

  • Serve as a “gateway” drug.
  • Impair school performance.
  • Exacerbate mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.
  • Increase the risk of health problems such as chronic bronchitis and cardiovascular disease.

Legislators considering marijuana legalization should consider these effects, as well as all the gaps in current knowledge of pot’s impact on human health, Volkow said.

“What is unfortunate in my view is that the information that’s being presented is not objective. It’s very subjective,” she said. “We all want to think there is this drug that could make us feel relaxed and good with no harmful effects. That’s a lovely fairy tale we all wish were true.”

However, Armentano argues that “the ongoing criminalization of marijuana is a disproportionate response to what, at worst, is a health issue, not a criminal justice issue.”

The adverse health consequences associated with alcohol, tobacco, and prescription drugs are far more dangerous and costlier to society than the responsible adult use of cannabis, he said. “It’s precisely because of these consequences that these products are legally regulated and their use is restricted to particular consumers and specific settings,” he said.

Legalization and regulation of marijuana will “best reduce the risks associated with the plant’s consumption or abuse,” Armentano said.

Copyright © 2014 HealthDay. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Latest Stories

  • News

    You ate it, now negate it: Burning off Halloween candy calories

    by Heather Hintze on Oct 31, 19:53

    With trick-or-treating done for another year, many families have a massive stash of candy. Even the little fun-sized pieces can pack on the calories. Heather Poe, a registered dietician with the Alaska Club, said parents need to be mindful of the sugar as well. She took her two boys to a harvest festival instead of […]

  • Crime

    Man charged with pulling down telephone pole

    by Associated Press on Oct 31, 15:51

    A Fairbanks man suspected of shearing off a telephone pole when his truck pulled down an overhead wire has been issued a reckless driving summons. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (http://bit.ly/1pb91pU) reports 58-year-old James Knopke on Sept. 12 was pulling a trailer behind a 7.5-ton military surplus vehicle, which had a 16-foot homemade boom attached to […]

  • News

    Federal agency releases Arctic drilling review

    by Associated Press on Oct 31, 14:21

    The federal agency overseeing offshore petroleum development has released a revised environmental review of drilling off Alaska’s northwest coast, and critics say it shows the risk is too great. Mike LeVine of Oceana says it’s the third time the government has tried to justify offering leases in the Chukchi Sea based on an unfair evaluation […]

  • Politics

    Campaign 2014: Byron Mallott

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Oct 31, 13:30

    This week, KTVA is running a series of interviews with the main candidates for office. KTVA’s Rhonda McBride brings us interviews with the candidates for lieutenant governor, starting with Byron Mallott — who has worn a number of hats, from mayor of Juneau and Yakutat to director of the Permanent Fund Corporation. For Mallott, however, […]

  • News

    Virgin Galactic spaceship crashes in Calif.; 1 reported dead

    by CBS/AP on Oct 31, 12:28

    Last Updated Oct 31, 2014 4:18 PM EDT MOJAVE, Calif. – A Virgin Galactic space tourism rocket, the SpaceShipTwo, exploded and crashed Friday during a test flight, killing one person aboard and seriously injuring another, witnesses and officials said. Wreckage was spotted in Southern California’s Mojave Desert. The spacecraft was carrying a crew of two. The Kern […]

  • News

    Fatal crash closes Seward Highway near Girdwood

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Oct 31, 11:37

    One person has died and another sustained serious injuries after a multiple-vehicle collision on the Seward Highway Friday, Alaska State Troopers say. The crash — which occurred just before 11 a.m. north of Girdwood near Mile 96 — closed traffic in both directions as first responders assisted the victims, said AST spokeswoman Megan Peters. Beth […]

  • News

    Former Guard member speaks out about her assault

    by Emily Carlson on Oct 31, 11:23

    A former Alaska National Guard member says it wasn’t what Guard leadership did, it’s what they didn’t do that nearly killed her after she was sexually assaulted. In the wake of the September report that revealed claims of misconduct and mistrust within the Guard, Spc. Melissa Jones is speaking out. It’s agonizing, she says, but […]

  • On-Air

    Frost project hides art throughout Anchorage parks

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Oct 31, 11:10

    The dark woods can be a scary place, so some local artists are helping to brighten them up this season. You can see new art installations popping up throughout Anchorage, if you know where to look. Every few weeks throughout the winter a new piece will be hidden in a local park and Daybreak will […]