How Safe is Marijuana?

A recent link to Malcolm Gladwell’s article in the New Yorker: Is Marijuana as Safe as We Think? One of my sons informed me of this article.

Excerpt from Malcolm Gladwell’s analysis:

A few years ago, the National Academy of Medicine convened a panel of sixteen leading medical experts to analyze the scientific literature on cannabis. The report they prepared, which came out in January of 2017, runs to four hundred and sixty-eight pages. It contains no bombshells or surprises, which perhaps explains why it went largely unnoticed. It simply stated, over and over again, that a drug North Americans have become enthusiastic about remains a mystery.

For example, smoking pot is widely supposed to diminish the nausea associated with chemotherapy. But, the panel pointed out, “there are no good-quality randomized trials investigating this option.” We have evidence for marijuana as a treatment for pain, but “very little is known about the efficacy, dose, routes of administration, or side effects of commonly used and commercially available cannabis products in the United States.” The caveats continue. Is it good for epilepsy? “Insufficient evidence.” Tourette’s syndrome? Limited evidence. A.L.S., Huntington’s, and Parkinson’s? Insufficient evidence. Irritable-bowel syndrome? Insufficient evidence. Dementia and glaucoma? Probably not. Anxiety? Maybe. Depression? Probably not.

Then come Chapters 5 through 13, the heart of the report, which concern marijuana’s potential risks. The haze of uncertainty continues. Does the use of cannabis increase the likelihood of fatal car accidents? Yes. By how much? Unclear. Does it affect motivation and cognition? Hard to say, but probably. Does it affect employment prospects? Probably. Will it impair academic achievement? Limited evidence. This goes on for pages…

Several points discussed in article:

  • Marijuana may increase the risk of psychiatric illnesses. “Many people with serious psychiatric illness smoke lots of pot. The marijuana lobby typically responds to this fact by saying that pot-smoking is a response to mental illness, not the cause of it—that people with psychiatric issues use marijuana to self-medicate. That is only partly true. In some cases, heavy cannabis use does seem to cause mental illness”…
  • Marijuana may increase aggression,  In the state of Washington was the first U.S. jurisdiction to legalize recreational marijuana. “Between 2013 and 2017, the state’s murder and aggravated-assault rates rose forty per cent—twice the national homicide increase and four times the national aggravated-assault increase”
  • Does cannabis serve as a gateway drug?  Like e-cigarettes, cannabis is being formulated into products attractive to youth: gummy bears, bites, and brownies.

My take (borrowed in part from author): “Permitting pot is one thing; promoting its use is another.” We really don’t know that much about marijuana.

CDC Link: Marijuana and Public Health

Related blog posts:

 

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