Chuck, I appreciated your column last week about the comparative dangers of using alcohol and marijuana, especially in light of President Barack Obama’s saying he doesn’t think marijuana is more dangerous than alcohol. But what about health risks to our bodies, minds and even relationships? – “A Mile High but Not High” in Denver
Last week, I showed how alcohol use and marijuana use compare in terms of addiction, withdrawal and using motorized vehicles. This week, I will discuss how they measure up in their effects on our minds, bodies and relationships. (Of course, there are many other arenas that will be impacted by pot’s easier accessibility if it’s legalized, such as the workplace and health care.)
CNN recently reported on multiple studies on alcohol and marijuana use. Of course, we know that long-term drinking can lead to neurological and psychiatric problems, liver disease and increased risks of many forms of cancer. But not always apparent is the fact that compared with cigarette smoking, marijuana smoking increases by fourfold the concentration of tar chemicals, which can cause lung cancer, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Studies also show how both drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana lower inhibitions and therefore can increase risky behavior, including unprotected sex, which can lead to catching sexually transmitted diseases and having an unwanted pregnancy. Studies on men show that marijuana use promotes greater rates of sexual dysfunction, too, including loss of sexual pleasure and erectile dysfunction.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, excessive alcohol use kills roughly 88,000 Americans a year. Though an overdose of marijuana is highly unlikely, cannabis users have a 4.8-fold increased risk of a heart attack during the first hour after smoking. And again, as I pointed out last week, a study published in the British Medical Journal showed that marijuana users who drove within three hours of smoking nearly doubled their chances of causing a crash compared with sober drivers.
Regarding relationships, in the Psychology Today article titled “Weeding out your significant other? Marijuana and relationships,” Adi Jaffe, Ph.D. – the executive director of Alternatives addiction treatment and a lecturer at UCLA and California State University, Long Beach – demonstrated how there can be a direct relation between adolescent pot smoking and later relational conflicts, irrespective of social upbringing, personal hardships or other potential conflict exacerbations.
Jaffe explained: “A recent study conducted by Judith Brooks at NYU School of Medicine has revealed that one of those experiences, smoking marijuana (weed) may be associated with more relationship conflict later in life. What’s amazing about this study is that the drug use here occurred earlier in life for most of the 534 participants, while the relationship trouble was assessed around their mid- to late-twenties.”
That is why one of my biggest concerns regarding the legalization of marijuana is its pervasive impact upon younger generations.
Ruben Baler, a health scientist at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, explained that for young people, smoking marijuana also affects brain development by meddling with connections in the brain “at a time when the brain should be at a clear state of mind, and accumulating, memory and data and good experiences that should be laying out the foundation for the future.” Baler exhorted young souls by noting that every time they smoke marijuana, they’re “cumulatively impairing (their) cognitive function. What’s going to be the ultimate result, nobody can say.”
Moreover, seven other studies show, according to CNN, that “high doses of marijuana can also cause temporary psychotic reactions, such as hallucinations and paranoia in some people. Younger people with a family history of schizophrenia are at a higher risk of developing the disorder after using marijuana.”
Even on the White House’s own website, the form titled “The Public Health Consequences of Marijuana Legalization” explains the health detriments of marijuana smoking:
“Marijuana use is associated with addiction, respiratory illnesses and cognitive impairment.
“Marijuana is also the second leading substance for which people receive drug treatment and a major cause for visits to emergency rooms.
“Studies also reveal that marijuana potency has almost tripled over the past 20 years, raising serious concerns about implications for public health – especially among adolescents, for whom long-term use of marijuana may be linked with lower IQ (as much as an average 8 point drop) later in life.”
With the preceding health risks in mind – as well as past-month use of marijuana rates, which, among 12- to 17-year-olds, climbed from 6.7 percent in 2008 to 7.9 percent in 2011, went from 13.8 percent in 2008 among 10th-graders to 17.6 percent in 2011 and rose from 18.3 percent in 2006 among 12th-graders to 22.6 percent in 2011, and illicit drug use increases by 43 percent among Hispanic boys and 42 percent among African-American teen girls since 2008 – society must give greater consideration to the implications of marijuana legalization (and its subsequent increases in availability, acceptability and use) upon the youth of America. Are adult smokers of cannabis really willing to risk every last one of our posterity so that they can smoke it legally?
I’m not making a case for or against the medicinal use of marijuana. However, it’s very difficult for me to believe that America, average healthy Americans and particularly our younger generations would be better off with pot’s legalization.