Alcohol, tobacco, or marijuana?
The truth about marijuana is concealed by a rapidly growing industry that is out to get your kids. In “Unwatched Pot” (The New Yorker, 14 January 2019), Canadian journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell tackles the thorny issue of cannabis legalization. He asks, “Do We Know Enough About Marijuana?”
Canada recently legalized the recreational use of marijuana – despite experts testifying before the Canadian Parliament that far too little is known about the health consequences of the cannabis products likely to be sold in non-medical markets. “Unwatched Pot” is not just disturbing. It echoes the denial and obfuscation of the tobacco industry throughout the 20th century which continues even today.
And it’s not just about smoking or vaping the weed. Gladwell notes that a visit to the first recreational-marijuana facility in Massachusetts found a menu of suck it and see products “laced with large amounts of a drug, THC, that no one knows much about”: strawberry-flavoured chewy bites; large, citrus gummy bears; delectable Belgian dark chocolate bars; assorted fruit-flavoured chews; assorted fruit-flavoured cubes; raspberry flavoured confection; raspberry flavoured lozenges; chewy, cocoa caramel bite-sized treats; raspberry and watermelon flavoured lozenges; and chocolate chip brownies.
THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is one of many compounds found in the resin secreted by the marijuana plant. It is the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects. THC attaches to receptors in the brain and activates them, affecting a person’s memory, pleasure, movements, thinking, concentration, coordination, and sensory and time perception.
A panel of 16 leading medical experts convened by the US National Academy of Medicine has said, “Cannabis use is likely to increase the risk of developing schizophrenia and other psychoses; the higher use, the greater the risk.” That’s not all. In 2013, an independent study produced evidence from a survey of 12,000 high-school students indicating that those who used marijuana were three times more likely to be physically aggressive than abstainers. In other words, there is likely to be a causal link between aggression and marijuana.
In 2018, Canada became only the second country in the world to pass legislation condoning a nationwide marijuana market. In the USA, nine states and the District of Columbia already allow recreational marijuana use, and 30 allow its medical use. Uruguay was the first country to legalize marijuana’s production, sale and consumption in late 2013.
The biggest marijuana myth is that it’s not addictive. The US National Institutes of Health has found that 30% of users form some sort of dependence on the drug, with about 10% of those users becoming addicted. The earlier a user starts, the more likely addiction will follow. One problem is that the average THC level in today’s marijuana is approximately three times that of 1990, with some experts saying it’s up to six times more potent.
There is no question that marijuana has certain medicinal benefits. Its anti-inflammatory and pain-relief effects are well-documented. And animal studies have shown that it kills certain cancer cells, reduces the size of others, and increases the effects of radiation treatment. Opium also has medicinal benefits, but it would be insane to legalize its recreational use.
In “If Weed Is Medicine, So Is Budweiser” (The Wall Street Journal, 18 January 2019), Peter B. Bach, a pulmonary physician at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, writes:
“Decades passed before we took on smoking and drinking with education, labelling and other forms of regulation. But it worked, and deaths from lung cancer, heart disease and alcohol-associated accidents are in sharp decline. We need the same approach with marijuana. Acknowledging that it is not a medicine is a necessary first step.”
In the face of a lack of systematic evidence of its effects, the Canadian government has legalized the consumption of recreational marijuana without fully assessing the impact on young people and on their development as adolescents, on their families, or on society in the longer term. Many consider such a decision negligent if not immoral.
Do we know enough about marijuana to permit the lucrative cannabis industry to risk ruining thousands of lives? The clear answer is no, but few seem to be listening.