Pot isn't harmless, top U.S. health official says

by Dennis Thompson, Healthday Reporter
Pot isn't harmless, top U.S. health official says
Addiction, brain changes in young users are proven concerns, according to head of National Institute on Drug Abuse.

(HealthDay)—States joining the march toward marijuana legalization need to take a step back and consider the drug's adverse effects on health, the U.S. drug "czar" argues in a new paper.

Marijuana is potentially addictive, proven to contribute to fatal motor-vehicle crashes, and can disrupt the brain function and learning of young users, says Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Legalizing will lead to the sort of nationwide health problems now attributed to alcohol and tobacco, said Volkow, lead author of a review article in the June 5 New England Journal of Medicine.

Tobacco and alcohol have a far greater impact on health in the United States than illicit drugs, as their legal status make them more widely available for use, she noted.

"By making marijuana legal, you have more widespread use and many more health implications," Volkow said. "We don't need a third legal drug. We already have enough problems with the two we have."

The pro-marijuana advocacy group NORML agrees that pot "is not a harmless substance," Deputy Director Paul Armentano said.

"But its potential risks to the individual and to society do not warrant its present schedule I illicit status under federal law, a classification that improperly argues that the plant lacks any accepted therapeutic value and that its risks equal those of heroin," Armentano said.

Volkow is making her argument as the political winds continue to shift toward pot legalization.

Last week, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of preventing the federal government from interfering with states that allow marijuana use for medical reasons. Medical marijuana is legal in nearly half the states.

"Public opinion is shifting," Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., said at the time.

In the new article, Volkow and colleagues said marijuana is addictive, contrary to popular opinion. Research has shown that 9 percent of people who try pot will become addicted, she said. Pot's effect is even stronger among young people, addicting 17 percent of users under 18, she said.

"This is something that a lot of people who are pro-marijuana deny. The evidence shows otherwise," Volkow said.

Marijuana also poses a public safety risk. People intoxicated by pot are 3 to 7 times more likely to cause a car crash than someone sober, Volkow said.

Most troubling is the tendency for teens and young adults to use pot and alcohol at the same time, which increases the risk of a wreck more than if they used either drug on its own, she added.

Pot also appears to affect brain development in young users. Scans have shown that teenage pot users suffer from decreased brain activity and impaired connectivity between key brain areas, Volkow said.

"During adolescence, there is a tremendous amount of neuroplasticity," she said. "Regular use of marijuana is likely to have an adverse effect on the way the human brain gets connected and organized."

This may explain why frequent use by teens is linked to lower IQ and higher odds of dropping out of school, the report noted.

Volkow said other research has shown marijuana can:

  • Serve as a "gateway" drug.
  • Impair school performance.
  • Exacerbate mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.
  • Increase the risk of such as chronic bronchitis and cardiovascular disease.

Legislators considering marijuana legalization should consider these effects, as well as all the gaps in current knowledge of pot's impact on human health, Volkow said.

"What is unfortunate in my view is that the information that's being presented is not objective. It's very subjective," she said. "We all want to think there is this drug that could make us feel relaxed and good with no harmful effects. That's a lovely fairy tale we all wish were true."

However, Armentano argues that "the ongoing criminalization of marijuana is a disproportionate response to what, at worst, is a health issue, not a criminal justice issue."

The adverse health consequences associated with alcohol, tobacco, and prescription drugs are far more dangerous and costlier to society than the responsible adult use of cannabis, he said. "It's precisely because of these consequences that these products are legally regulated and their use is restricted to particular consumers and specific settings," he said.

Legalization and regulation of will "best reduce the risks associated with the plant's consumption or abuse," Armentano said.

More information: For more information on marijuana, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

NIDA offers tools for talking to teens about marijuana

May 20, 2014

Two updated booklets about marijuana for teens and their parents will help families sort out marijuana myths from science-based facts. The revamped tools come from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), ...

Survey: US teens using synthetic drugs less often

Dec 18, 2013

Fewer teens are trying fake marijuana known by such names as K2 and Spice, apparently getting the message that these cheap new drugs are highly dangerous, according to the government's annual survey on drug ...

US House moves to end raids on medical marijuana

May 30, 2014

Reflecting growing public support for easing marijuana laws, the House of Representatives voted Friday to bar federal authorities from raiding medical marijuana facilities or growers in states that have legalized its use.

Recommended for you

Blending faith and science to combat obesity

26 minutes ago

Science and religion may seem like uneasy partners at times, but when it comes to promoting healthy lifestyles, one UConn Health researcher has shown they can be an effective combination.

Research project puts stroke patients back on their feet

32 minutes ago

Finding the will to exercise routinely can be challenging enough for most people, but a stroke presents even more obstacles. Yet aerobic exercise may be crucial for recovery and reducing the risk of another ...

Air quality and unconventional oil and gas sites

3 hours ago

Research suggesting air pollutants released by unconventional oil and gas production are well over recommended levels in the US is published today in the open access journal Environmental Health. High levels of benzene, hydrog ...

FDA cautions against 'undeclared' food allergens

15 hours ago

(HealthDay)—Some food labels may not reliably list all possible food allergens, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The agency added that these "undeclared allergens" are the leading cause ...

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

ForFreeMinds
2.9 / 5 (9) Jun 04, 2014
Isn't this expected from a bureaucrat whose budget depends on drugs being illegal? Or authors who get paid by the government to product such propaganda?

How good has the information we've gotten from the US government on marijuana been? Why it's so good, the movie they produced on the subject, Reefer Madness, is now considered comedic entertainment, because this government propaganda was so ridiculous. I'm surprised that Vokow didn't repeat the allegations in Reefer Madness, that marijuana will make men sex crazed rapists.

What's crazy is making it illegal to use a drug, even if you don't harm others. Locking people up for using drugs, harms them more than the drugs. It also harms taxpayers who have to pay for the bureaucrats who enforce the law. It also harms innocents who suffer harm from the stray bullets of the gang wars. And about 10,000 Mexican citizens are being killed every year from the violence that results because drugs are illegal.
Sikozu
3.8 / 5 (8) Jun 04, 2014
"Marijuana is potentially addictive"

Patently false. Mental Dependence (which is exceedingly rare) is the closest to addiction marijuana use gets. The "withdrawl" from this "addiction"? Less severe than caffeine withdrawl.

"proven to contribute to fatal motor-vehicle crashes"

Car radios have caused more fatal motor vehicle crashes. Besides which driving while stoned has been studied and the results found that NEW users of cannabis showed SLIGHT impairment on the road while experienced users actually show slight IMPROVEMENT in their driving.

"can disrupt the brain function and learning of young users"

No one wants young people using any drug to begin with. Least of all the pro-pot movement who hold legalization up as a measure to curb youth drug use. As the oft-repeated mantra goes: drug dealers don't check ID.

After all is said and done, in this day and the age, prohibition era propaganda really needs to end. Volkow's arguments hold no water.
Anonym
4.2 / 5 (5) Jun 04, 2014
Quoting that crone on the subject of cannabis is like quoting Himmler on the subject of Jews. Seriously. Ever seen her on TV? She even speaks with a German accent. Apparently she would have us believe that jail time is healthier for the average American than the use of a substance that has anti-tumor and anti-seizure properties, fights glaucoma, and repairs nerve damage (among other positive benefits).

The car crash claim is particularly disingenuous: the study found that inexperienced drivers are more dangerous when stoned; experienced drivers, HOWEVER, were found to be unimpaired. And given your druthers, experienced drivers, would you rather share the road with a stoner or someone driving dead drunk? It will be interesting to see whether road fatalities rise or fall in Washington and Colorado as a result of legalization.

snowman_4
4.4 / 5 (7) Jun 04, 2014
I'm sorry but isn't it our life and our choice how to live it? Just because some people use it irresponsibly doesn't mean it can't have positive effects on others.
Sinister1812
5 / 5 (4) Jun 05, 2014
Of course it is. Nothing is completely harmless.

@Anonym You could use the same argument with drink driving. Encouraging drug driving is stupid imo. Police do regular drug checks, and why should it stop with alcohol?
Drjsa_oba
1.6 / 5 (7) Jun 05, 2014
As long as it is illegal to smoke upwind of anybody else. It doesn't matter to me. I think Heroin and opium should be not only LEGAL but supplied to all unemployed for discounted price if they want it.
holoman
3.2 / 5 (5) Jun 07, 2014

This advertisement paid for by the Alcohol Beverage Board.

Shootist
3 / 5 (2) Jun 08, 2014
Top US health officials work for Obama and cannot be trusted to tell the truth.
210
2.3 / 5 (3) Jun 08, 2014
Quoting that crone on the subject of cannabis is like quoting Himmler on the subject of Jews. Seriously. Ever seen her on TV? She even speaks with a German accent. Apparently she would have us believe that jail time is healthier for the average American than the use of a substance that has anti-tumor and anti-seizure properties, fights glaucoma, and repairs nerve damage (among other positive benefits).

Aspirin has positive effects and NEGATIVE. Stop acting like there are NO NEGATIVES to the use of POT! Yes, Pot has all those beneficial effects YES, and every thing YOU listed that IT does is fixative, a solution to a PROBLEM - just going out and using it to accelerate your good-time-mood does NOT solve what got you into your BAD-Time-mood. You have NOT dealt with the problem and sooner than later, the drug, POT, starts to lose its efficacy and you will need SOMETHING stronger - that is not hate just human biochemistry. You are on the slippery slope. POT is a drug not toy!
210
1 / 5 (1) Jun 08, 2014
Top US health officials work for Obama and cannot be trusted to tell the truth.


Oh HEY, "work for" ..." cannot be trusted to tell the truth..." those are, ARE human conditions, looks like you had better leave this planet for some undiscovered paradise where there is nothing but POT, a bunch of 'free' and open drug stores, and you.

word-
bearly
4 / 5 (1) Jun 08, 2014
If Pot is so bad why oh why do they allow and consume alcohol which we all know is far worse?
Mankind has used recreational "drugs" since they could, why do governments feel it is their right to restrict them? Get a damn life politicians and leave us alone!
210
1 / 5 (2) Jun 08, 2014
I'm sorry but isn't it our life and our choice how to live it? Just because some people use it irresponsibly doesn't mean it can't have positive effects on others.

Believe it or not, the extremely VAST majority of drugs were made to....not entertain your desire to feel like you can fly or beat up Godzilla...but to solve a problem, in MOST cases. They were made for the " POSITIVE EFFECTS " they bring and many government and private officials make sure that the drugs do what they claim they will do and do NO HARM - and - in most cases they get it right. But to intentionally abuse a drug to satiate a desire to elevate a 'high' or SELL IT without a proper diagnoses is an act of supreme stupidity and arrogance. To BIND a human being to just another need beside food, water, and shelter for financial gain or callous disregard is criminal. Hell, you use the drug for illness or to fix a mental issue - someone CERTIFIED to administer should be involved, or MANY, not one, is endangered!
chrisn566
not rated yet Jul 10, 2014
"This study paid for by big Pharma".

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.