Marijuana Legalization: Adverse Health Effects


Legalization of recreational marijuana consumption has garnered much support in recent years as the movement spread across several states in the US. Countering this movement is frequently perceived as conservative and old-fashioned; however, it is important not to lose sight of the medical evidence that suggests that further impact studies are necessary to evaluate the long-term neurological, physical, and mental effects of marijuana consumption.

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The purpose of the present paper is to review the argument put forward by the supporters and opponents of legalization of marijuana. The main finding of the report is that marijuana consumption is, in fact, linked to mental health and brain development issues, which has important broader implications for the field of psychology. At the same time, the author acknowledges the merits of marijuana as a medical aid and reviews the plant’s alternative uses in production and construction. Nevertheless, the author concludes that further research is necessary before marijuana fully establishes itself as a market commodity.

Main Body

Legalization of recreational marijuana consumption has recently gained momentum in the United States, as its advocates claim that cannabis does not yield any adverse health effects and cite economic considerations to legalize marijuana trade. As the support for legalization spreads wider and wider, it is less common to encounter such articles as “Legalizing of Marijuana Raises Health Concerns” that appeared in The New York Times’ consumer section in January 2013.

The author of the article warns about the danger of legalizing a substance that has not yet been fully researched. Her primary argument concerns the increased potency of marijuana that contains double the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol, its main psychoactive ingredient, in comparison to the 1993 levels. She claims that consumption of such marijuana can produce long-term consequences for the brain, especially those areas that are responsible for memory, pleasure, and concentration. Having interviewed several medical specialists, the author concludes that, in order to protect the consumers’ health, thorough medical research is necessary before marijuana becomes a commodity (Rabin, 2013).

My initial reaction to the article was to immediately dismiss the claims presented by the author, without giving them much consideration and thought. Certain opinions, including support for marijuana legalization, have become a norm in the society not because people always have genuine reasons to believe them, but because they have become broadly accepted and fewer and fewer people challenge them. Moreover, those who do oppose such ideas are perceived as old-school or otherwise “uncool,” especially by the more liberal younger generations.

Prior to reading the article, I could say that I was supportive of marijuana legalization, even though I realize I did not have a well-informed opinion about the medical consequences of its consumption. What made the author’s argument convincing is that she cites several medical professionals, especially the researcher from Boston’s McLean Hospital whose occupation does not presuppose any conflict of interest, which could cast a shadow on the validity of the claims made by other people being interviewed. Upon further research, I have come to agree with the article’s claim that additional studies of marijuana are necessary before its release on the market.

According to an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, marijuana smoking can lead to a range of adverse physical, neurological, and mental effects. In particular, brain development, especially in adolescents, has been found to be affected by the exposure to tetrahydrocannabinol, marijuana’s main psychoactive element (Volkow, Baler, Compton & Weiss, 2014, p. 2220). As far as one’s mental health is concerned, consumption of marijuana has been linked to anxiety, depression, and other disorders, and it is believed to exacerbate schizophrenia in patients already affected by it (Volkow et al., 2014, p. 2221).

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Because of its influence on brain development, the use of marijuana can result in poor school performance and increase the risk of road accidents, because the substance affects a person’s ability to process information critically (Volkow et al., 2014, p. 2221). Even though there is no definitive research detailing marijuana’s long-term physical effects, there is scientific evidence suggesting that smoking marijuana can contribute to the development of respiratory and vascular disorders such as chronic bronchitis, myocardial infarctions, lung cancer, and strokes (Volkow et al., 2014, p. 2222). While marijuana addiction is less common than alcohol or tobacco addiction, as many as 9% of all marijuana users and up to half of all daily users can become addicted and experience a range of withdrawal symptoms upon quitting (Volkow et al., 2014, p. 2219).

This issue thus has important broader implications for the evolution of psychology. There is strong evidence suggesting that marijuana consumption affects brain development. While it may take years, if not centuries, for such developments to become systemic and impact humans as a species at the level of genetics, premature legalization of marijuana can have negative consequences on the current development of the society.

First of all, it can both create new and exacerbate the existing mental health problems among its users: in turn, mental health issues can impact a person’s physical health. More importantly, the widespread use of marijuana can produce far-reaching consequences as far as performance and productivity are concerned: given the substance’s popularity among young people, it can create an entire generation of people who are less apt to deal with school and work-related challenges.

I still cannot say that I am against the legalization of marijuana, but I do think that taking certain precautions will be highly beneficial. Those who speak in support of marijuana often compare it to tobacco and alcohol, claiming that cannabis is not worse than those two substances (Finegold, 2013). However, I think that “not worse” is not the standard to go by: for instance, tobacco smoking had a huge momentum in the 1950s and 1960s until people fully realized its damaging consequences. Clearly, research on marijuana should be a top priority, especially when it concerns the plant’s alternative uses such as its biofuel potential, paper and clothes production, and manufacturing of innovative construction materials (Finegold, 2013).

Most importantly, the potential for marijuana’s medical use should be thoroughly explored, which is recognized even by the opponents of legalization of recreational marijuana. Currently, marijuana has been found to alleviate pain and control nausea in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. It can also help deal with severe weight loss which is common in patients with AIDS, as well as decrease intraocular pressure in glaucoma patients (Volkow et al., 2014, p. 2223).

Symptoms of certain neurologic and movement disorders, such as Tourette syndrome and epilepsy, can be alleviated thanks to cannabis (Volkow et al., 2014, p. 2224). However, currently, it is difficult to assess marijuana’s medical potential because of the existing regulations.

To sum up, it is clearly beneficial to consider the health side of marijuana consumption before it becomes fully accepted and institutionalized. At the same time, the potential of other uses of cannabis should be further explored.

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Finegold, C. (Executive Producer). (2013). When we grow, this is what we can do. Web.

Rabin, R.C. (2013). Legalizing of marijuana raises health concerns. Web.

Volkow, N.D., Baler, R.D., Compton, W.M., & Weiss, S.R.B. (2014). Adverse health effects of marijuana use. New England Journal of Medicine, 370(23), 2219-2227. Web.

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