Wednesday, July 30, 2014

What Science Says About Marijuana

By PHILIP M. BOFFEY, NYT, JULY 30, 2014

For Michele Leonhart, the administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, there is no difference between the health effects of marijuana and those of any other illegal drug. “All illegal drugs are bad for people,” she told Congress in 2012, refusing to say whether crack, methamphetamines or prescription painkillers are more addictive or physically harmful than marijuana.

Her testimony neatly illustrates the vast gap between antiquated federal law enforcement policies and the clear consensus of science that marijuana is far less harmful to human health than most other banned drugs and is less dangerous than the highly addictive but perfectly legal substances known as alcohol and tobacco. Marijuana cannot lead to a fatal overdose. There is little evidence that it causes cancer. Its addictive properties, while present, are low, and the myth that it leads users to more powerful drugs has long since been disproved.

That doesn’t mean marijuana is harmless; in fact, the potency of current strains may shock those who haven’t tried it for decades, particularly when ingested as food. It can produce a serious dependency, and constant use would interfere with job and school performance. It needs to be kept out of the hands of minors. But, on balance, its downsides are not reasons to impose criminal penalties on its possession, particularly not in a society that permits nicotine use and celebrates drinking.

Marijuana’s negative health effects are arguments for the same strong regulation that has been effective in curbing abuse of legal substances. Science and government have learned a great deal, for example, about how to keep alcohol out of the hands of minors. Mandatory underage drinking laws and effective marketing campaigns have reduced underage alcohol use to 24.8 percent in 2011, compared with 33.4 percent in 1991. Cigarette use among high school students is at its lowest point ever, largely thanks to tobacco taxes and growing municipal smoking limits. There is already some early evidence that regulation would also help combat teen marijuana use, which fell after Colorado began broadly regulating medical marijuana in 2010.

(More here.)

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