• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
News Alert: APD confirms James Dale Ritchie as killer in 5 murders - Read More
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

    Trump order seeks to limit federal role in K-12 education

    by Associated Press on Apr 26, 11:03

    WASHINGTON (AP) – President Donald Trump has signed an executive order that aims to reduce the federal government’s role in K-12 education. Trump is giving Education Secretary Betsy DeVos 300 days to identify where Washington has overstepped its legal authority in education issues. The secretary will then be able to modify and repeal regulations and […]

  • APD confirms James Dale Ritchie as killer in 5 Anchorage murders

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Apr 26, 10:38

    More than five months after the public heard James Dale Ritchie’s name, the Anchorage Police Department confirmed Wednesday that he was responsible for the murders of five people in the summer of 2016. In November, Ritchie was killed in a downtown Anchorage shootout with police, following his solo attack against APD officer Arn Salao. It was a chance […]

  • Point Hope walrus hunters put on probation for violating Marine Mammal Protection Act

    by Davis Hovey / KNOM on Apr 26, 10:15

    Late last week, four point hope men were sentenced for the illegal taking of walruses that occurred near Cape Lisburne in 2015. According to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s office on Thursday, Adam Sage, Jacob Lane, Guy Tuzroyluk, and Michael Tuzroyluk, Jr., pled guilty to violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act in two separate […]

  • Lifestyle

    Spacecraft flies between Saturn and rings in historic 1st

    by Associated Press on Apr 26, 7:19

    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) – NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has ventured into the never-before-explored region between Saturn and its rings. But flight controllers won’t know how everything went until Thursday when they are back in touch with the craft. Cassini was out of radio contact with Earth early Wednesday as it became the first spacecraft to […]

  • News

    Southeast Alaska hatchery to reopen with new owner

    by Associated Press on Apr 26, 6:58

    PETERSBURG, Alaska (AP) – A hatchery in a small southeast Alaska community that closed down under a mountain of debt in 2014 has been purchased by a nonprofit organization that plans to produce chum and Chinook salmon at the site. KFSK-FM reported he state foreclosed on the Gunnuk Creek hatchery’s $22 million debt and put […]

  • Lifestyle

    Pope warns powerful to act humbly or risk ruin in TED talk

    by Associated Press on Apr 26, 6:49

    VATICAN CITY (AP) – Pope Francis has warned the powerful to act humbly or risk ruin, in a TED talk urging the world to show more solidarity with the poor and weak. Francis delivered a videotaped talk to a TED conference in Vancouver on “The Future You,” the first by a pope. The Vatican released […]

  • Antarctica’s penguins are in trouble, new report shows

    by CBS News on Apr 25, 21:39

    In the rapidly warming Antarctic, two species of penguins are in dramatic decline. That’s the news out of a new study published by Oceanites, a nonprofit organization that closely monitors penguins and other Antarctic seabirds, in collaboration with researchers from NASA and Stony Brook University in New York. Relying on satellite photos and on-the-ground analysis […]

  • ‘Fearless’ feline hangs out with rattlesnake

    by KTVA Web Staff on Apr 25, 21:33

    Authorities in Texas are calling this feline “fearless” after it was pictured inches away from a rattlesnake. The Laguna Vista Police Department posted an image of the pair late last week on its Facebook page alongside a warning to residents of the South Texas town about rattlesnakes following a spotting. “LV Residents, earlier today Laguna […]