• 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

    First Alaskans hope changes to ballot will increase Native voter turnout

    by Dave Leval on Oct 19, 19:18

    Tomorrow, the annual Elders and Youth Conference, put on by the First Alaskans Institute, kicks off. Held at the Dena’ina Convention and Civic Center in Anchorage, this year’s event will feature an extra message. “Get out that Native vote,” said Liz Medicine Crow, who leads First Alaskans Institute. Medicine Crow is also helping to attract […]

  • Weather

    Evening News weather, Oct. 19

    by KTVA Weather on Oct 19, 18:38

    Could tonight be the night we see our first official snowfall in Anchorage? The moisture is available, but the big question lies in whether temperatures will get cold enough. We may see some flurries flying across the Anchorage Bowl but not in the way of significant accumulation. Temperatures will bump up by Monday afternoon, allowing us […]

  • News

    Ketchikan officials to consider prayer at meetings

    by Associated Press on Oct 19, 17:54

    The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly is set to consider whether to begin its meetings with a prayer. A public hearing and vote are scheduled for Monday. The Ketchikan Daily News reports (http://bit.ly/1whLulU) that there was disagreement at an earlier meeting about whether non-religious speakers would be allowed to deliver invocations and how much time would […]

  • News

    Parnell has closed meeting at JBER with Guard members

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Oct 19, 15:49

    Gov. Sean Parnell met with Alaska National Guard members today. Parnell, who is commander-in-chief of the Alaska National Guard, held the meeting to addressing changes that are being implemented within the Guard. This comes after the Guard’s administration has withstood harsh criticism for allegations of sexual assault, fraud and other misconduct. An investigation into the Guard resulted […]

  • News

    Restoration plan taking longer than expected

    by Associated Press on Oct 19, 14:08

    Government attorneys say a restoration plan for addressing lingering effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill is taking longer than expected to complete. The six-step plan includes testing of possible bioremediation technologies. The attorneys, in a recent court filing, said it will be necessary to apply what was learned from the testing to all known […]

  • News

    Record number registers for White Mountains ultra race

    by Associated Press on Oct 19, 12:54

    A record number of people have signed up for the White Mountains 100-mile ultra race north of Fairbanks. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports (http://bit.ly/11S3k5v) 155 people signed up for 65 slots in the race, scheduled for March. A lottery determines the roster and wait list. There are three divisions: biking, running and Nordic skiing. Ninety-six […]

  • News

    Fraternal organization covers the doctor’s bill for children in Alaska

    by Sierra Starks on Oct 19, 12:00

    Free, state-of-the-art healthcare can be hard to come by for any family. But a local fraternal organization has made it a mission that Alaskan children get the treatment they need, no matter the cost. This weekend, dozens of children were flown into Anchorage from all over the state. Some of the families came from places […]

  • News

    Thanksgiving Blessing in Mountain View needs contributions now

    by Lauren Maxwell on Oct 19, 10:46

    Those who organize one of Anchorage’s biggest food drives for the holidays are gearing up to feed more needy families than ever. At the Thanksgiving Blessing project on Nov. 24, families can pick out food at six different sites to make their own meals on Thanksgiving Day. Organizers are asking for the public’s help to […]