Cannabis has been a touchy subject in the United States for nigh on a century. What was once a respected medicine for the treatment of all sorts of diseases and disorders (even, in one case, asthma) has today become a symbol for everything contentious in the U.S. policy on recreational–and in some cases, medical–drugs.
To date, 23 states now have laws in some way legalizing the use of marijuana, whether for purely medical purposes, with a prescription, or for wide-ranging recreational use, most famously in Colorado and Washington State. But the federal government remains intractable, though state after state decides against holding on to the increasingly difficult-to-defend ban on the plant and its extracts.
Though the national mood seems to be changing, albeit slowly, there are still several major arguments against legalizing cannabis. Let’s look over these arguments, and see if they hold up in the harsh light of close scrutiny.
Though hordes of hazy-eyed pot smokers will tell you otherwise, there are some physicians, and even some addiction specialists, who believe that marijuana poses a serious risk of addiction, at least for a subset of sensitive people.
Dr. Drew Pinsky is one of these anti-marijuana spokespeople, and he claims that marijuana has a host of unpleasant side effects, many of which are not noticeable at first. In particular, he claims that children who begin smoking around the age of 12 can suffer disproportionately from their elder counterparts who use the plant. Furthermore, the cycle of addiction for marijuana can be slow, and so it can be years before users notice that they have become addicted, and that they are suffering from problems like short-term memory loss.
But studies repeatedly show that, among the recreational drugs that exist, the risk of addiction for marijuana is extremely low, and reflects a character more like that of chocolate or shopping than of a dangerous drug like heroin or cocaine. The risk of addiction is real, but it is also real for a variety of other activities, none of which we’d ever consider abolishing (like shopping).
“It’s Bad for You”
Cigarettes are way worse than cannabis, right? Not so, according to the American Chemical Society, which found that marijuana smoke contains high levels of hydrogen cyanide, as well as several other toxic compounds present in lower amounts in cigarette smoke.
Additionally, it’s believed that marijuana smoke can shave points off your IQ–and that even a little bit of the stuff can cause temporary sterility, and promote the incidence of birth defects.
This may just be a case of scientists finding what they were already looking for, but another study–this one conducted at Emory University–found that even adults who smoke a joint a day for 20 years or more still have approximately the same lung capacity as those who never used at all. As far as the other claims go, those about IQ come primarily from a Duke University study rife with problems, most notably their use of a tiny sample size, leading to questions about whether the findings can really be useful. In other words, while countless other studies find few problems with IQ and marijuana smoke, the one prominent study that did find a correlation did so under rather suspicious circumstances.
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