Are recreational drugs really harmful? Marijuana harm analysis

Marijuana, the herb found on King Solomon’s grave (the wisest man that ever was),- at least that’s how the story goes-, has for a long time been at the center of questions regarding its potential benefits and potential harmful effects on the human body. Generally considered a gateway drug to other more serious and harmful drugs like: methamphetamine, cocaine, heroine etc. the perception and regulations as it concerns marijuana use have begun to fizzle away in recent times.

A great deal of time, effort, and financing has been put into changing the general perception of marijuana. The use of the drug, and the manner in which the state treats drug users has also begun to change gradually with time.

Also known medically as cannabis, and by other ‘slang’ terms like: ganja, weed, pot, dope, grass and a host of other terms, it’s the most widely used illegal drug in the UK.1 Cannabis occupies a unique place in the spectrum of drugs which have been classified as illegal in most jurisdictions around the world. Its medicinal benefits and properties are being discovered as we write this text. However, its negative impact, especially on the youth has rarely ever been questioned.

The Dangers of Marijuana

As large scale investment continues to be made into the growing cannabis industry, with more and more research being done as to the best way to decriminalise and eventually legalise the drug, it’s without question that there are still dangers. Knowing the compounds contained in the plant and understanding the potential dangers of it use is of critical importance to a user.

Cannabis is considered still very dangerous. According to UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid there is still strong evidence that the drug can “harm people’s mental and physical health and damage communities”. 2. Even with the substantial degree of investment and advocacy in favor of the legalization of marijuana, notably the recommendation by former Foreign Secretary Lord Hague to legalize the drug 3 among others, it is still accepted that cannabis has its dangers.

Dangers of regular (chronic) marijuana use include:

  • The potential for dependency Research has shown that at least 10% of regular marijuana users develop a dependency for the drug. Although this may appear to be a relatively small number, the fact that chronic dependency is something that can happen is a cause for concern.
  • Increased Risk of Cancer – Smoking marijuana can prove hazardous. Research and careful scientific analyses 4 have identified at least 6,000 of the same chemicals in marijuana smoke as there are in tobacco smoke. A problematic discovery, especially considering the massive state effort to reduce the use of tobacco.
  • Increased risk of developing psychotic illness – Research has confirmed that marijuana use from an early age can result in the increased likelihood of psychotic illnesses, from Schizophrenia to other more mild but also very problematic psychotic episodes like: anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations etc.
  • Increased risk of Bronchitis – After all, smoking marijuana is still smoking. The potential for lung related illnesses drastically increases when one smokes any substance. Bronchitis occurs when the lining of one’s lungs becomes irritated and inflamed. Similar to smoking tobacco, marijuana smoke can put your lung health at risk.
  • Increased risk of lung cancer – Similarly to bronchitis, lung cancer comes as a result of smoking, regardless of whether its tobacco or marijuana. Marijuana users are extremely unaware of the fact that marijuana smoking is almost just as harmful to one’s lungs as is tobacco smoking.

Are there any marijuana benefits?

The debate continues to rage on as to the benefits of marijuana, and the question of whether the potential benefits of the drug outweighs what has historically been considered as its negative impacts. One detailed research concerning the therapeutic benefits of cannabis by doctors Charles W. Webb and Sandra M. Webb advocate marijuana as beneficial, according to their research. They note that: “The Hippocratic Oath reminds to “first, do no harm.” It cannot be over-emphasized that there has never been a death from overdose attributed to cannabis. In fact, no deaths whatsoever have been attributed to the direct effects of cannabis. Cannabis has a safety record that is vastly superior to all other pain medications.”5

The argument has consistently been made that cannabis can’t be worse than so many other drugs used for pain relief. With that being said however, it does come across as a somewhat low bar for accessing the potential benefits of a drug. As research has expanded and cannabis has become more commonly used and accepted in society overall there have been personal testimonial experiences which have noted the benefits of the drug for therapeutic uses.

Marijuana as pain relief?

The most convincing argument in favour of the decriminalisation of marijuana and its sanctioned use is that it provides a great deal of pain relief. For example, American football players are some of the the most prominent advocates for the use of marijuana as a pain reliever. American football is a sport where athletes are subjected to a great deal of physical harm on a regular bases, there overwhelming advocacy of the drug as a pain-reliever has heightened interest in researching the topic.

One particular NFL (National Football League) player and Championship winner Martellus Bennett went as far as to estimate that some 89% of NFL players use marijuana 6. A remarkable number which, if correct or even close, can give some credence to marijuana as a legitimate pain reliever.

Other benefits of Marijuana

Although marijuana has shown signs of providing substantial relief for pain it has also shown to have benefits in other areas, like:

Anxiety treatment (in low doses)

General consensus is that marijuana is used by many as a means of finding relaxation, however it is proven that too much smoking of marijuana can result in extremely high levels of anxiety. With this in mind, research was conducted so as to find the ideal balance. Researchers at the University of Illinois did research and find out that THC or tetrahydrocannabinol – the main psychoactive compound in marijuana -in low doses can reduce anxiety 7.

Muscle spasms

Although seen as somewhat anecdotal in nature, marijuana’s health benefits as it relates to physical pain relief also extends to alleviating muscle spasms.

Help in treating epileptic seizures (and other forms of seizures).

One of the other major compounds found in marijuana – cannabidiol – CBD seems to help people with treatment-resistant epilepsy, according to research 8.

May slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease

Although the evidence for this is still very minimal, the leading authority on Alzheimer’s in the UK – the Alzheimer’s Society UK, have confirmed that some studies do show that cannabis can help treat certain behavioural symptoms of dementia 9. However, there is not concrete evidence whatsoever that it can treat the disease.

Legalizing Cannabis in the UK

The road to legalising cannabis in the UK straddles between being a political issue on the one hand while also being a question of health and morality – depending on what side of the political spectrum one happens to be on.

Cannabis was made illegal in the UK in 1928 as an addition to the Dangerous Drug Act of 1920. It was only until 2004 that Prime Minister Tony Blair moved the drug from being a class B to a class C drug with substantial political support – thus reducing the severity of punishment. Later on, Gordon Brown moved back the drug to the level of class B, after numerous concerns were raised on the public level about the drugs connection with mental illness – most notably schizophrenia.

With cannabis being a class B drug in the UK, this means it is illegal to possess, grow, or distribute. Anyone caught in possession of the drug can face a maximum of five (5) years in prison and an unlimited fine. If caught distributing the drug the potential jail time is up to fourteen (14) years.

There has however been some compromise as it concerns the state’s position toward medicinal incarnations of cannabis. As of November 1 2018, medical cannabis oil has been available via prescription throughout the UK.

Marijuana and its ‘artistic properties’?

Although not considered to be a health benefit, many artists in numerous different fields have advocated marijuana as a means of spurring on creativity. Considered to be one of the few ‘safer’ psychoactive drugs, cannabis has been the subject of a great deal of praise and attention from musicians and creators. It has been credited for some special moments of artistic brilliance.

One of the most famous users and advertisers of cannabis is the reggae legend and music icon Bob Marley. Known for his conscious lyrics and commitment to anti-colonialism and freedom fighting, Robert Nesta Marley was a devout adherent to the rastafarian religion. A prominent part of the rastafarian religion is the central use of marijuana as a means to create a trance-like state when performing rituals. Marijuana is usually referred to by rastafarians as ganja.

Marijuana and Hip Hop

The use of marijuana is central to one of the most popular musical artforms in the world today – hip hop’. Known best within hip hop circles by the slang-term of weed, cannabis is used prominently in music videos and by the most popular hip hop artists like: Snoop Dogg, Jay Z, Meek Mill, Drake, Lil Wayne and others.

In fact, many influential hip hop artists have actually invested a great deal of their earnings from music into the burgeoning legal cannabis industry. From Snoop Dogg, and Wiz Khalifa to TI and Xzibit, the hip hop stars of current notieriery and the generation prior have begun to play an important role in the legal cannabis industry if not already having been important players in it’s illegal movement – most likely as users.

So is there a verdict on marijuana?

As time continues to pass and the groundswell of support in favor of marijuana legalization gets even stronger, it becomes clearer how little we do know about the potential dangers of cannabis in general. Former investigative reporter for the New York Times, Alex Berenson in his latest book “Tell Your Children” 10, argues that there is sufficient credible research which strongly connects cannabis use and mental illness.

In his book, the author goes on to cite the non-profit group – National Academy of Medicine which note that: “Cannabis use is likely to increase the risk of developing schizophrenia and other psychoses; the higher the use, the greater the risk…” 11.

The clear and direct recommendation against marijuana use stands in stark contrast to the general trend of the public discussion around the globe. Actually, in Canada, recreational marijuana was recently legalized throughout the entire country 12. Canada was however only the second country in the world after Uruguay to legalize the drug.

Will Cannabis be legalized soon at home?

In the UK , the trajectory toward the legalization of marijuana seems intermittently positive and on the other end of the spectrum, generally quite negative. For example, Theresa May as recently as 2017 voiced her steadfast position that the UK would continue in its so-called war on drugs, noting the “incredible damage [drugs] can do to families and the individuals concerned.” 13

One of the major issues when it comes to marijuana advocacy, as obvious as it may actually appear, it should be noted that strong advocates of marijuana and its users are prone to exaggerate marijuana usage and its benefits.

Marijuana’s potential economic benefits

Although, according to the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), the black market in cannabis is worth some 2.6 billion pounds annually and services some 3 million odd customers, the political will on the part of numerous influential figures in UK politics is either negative or quite passive. Only the Liberal Democratic Party, through its leader Nick Clegg has come out directly in favor of the legalization of cannabis.

What is certain however, is the fact that there needs to be more research as it concerns marijuana and its medicinal benefits. A great deal has been placed on anecdotal evidence which cannot be considered dependable. On the other hand, it is clear that there has been too much attention placed on reprimanding those convicted of marijuana possession and use, with too much emphasis on incarceration and less on rehabilitation.

Society, the Individual & Marijuana

The argument can be made that the potential for greater economic benefits through the taxation of marijuana, once made legal, would be enormously beneficial to the UK. Couple this with the ease on the institutions of the judiciary and prisons by reducing prosecution of these rather innocuous crimes (ie. marijuana possession, marijuana use etc.) and the weight placed on the state in dealing with these issues can be massively reduced.

Nevertheless, it is important that a balance must be had in weighing the benefits and negative impacts of marijuana, on the individual level and on the overall society. Ensuring that marijuana does not get into the hands of minors, while also ensuring that the information necessary for its effective use (as it concerns medicinal uses) are widely available and accessible.

Even its recreational use, ideal amounts to be used, branding, quantities etc. are all topics for consideration if marijuana ought to become widely available and legal. What is certain is that there is a greater need for more information and comprehensive research so that marijuana can be made from being considered a harmful and generally useless drug (that the law presently sees it as) to an economically beneficial and useful (health-wise) drug.

  1. Cannabis: the facts – NHS
  2. Cannabis: What are the risks of recreational use?
  3. Cannabis: What are the risks of recreational use?
  4. Does Marijuana Cause Cancer?
  5. Therapeutic Benefits of Cannabis: A Patient Survey
  6. Martellus Bennett: ‘About 89%’ of NFL players use marijuana
  7. Low-dose THC can relieve stress; more does just the opposite
  8. Cannabidiol in patients with treatment-resistant epilepsy
  9. Cannabis and Dementia
  10. Link between marijuana and schizophrenia
  11. The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids
  12. Canada just legalized recreational pot. Here’s what you need to know
  13. Cannabis legalisation in the UK

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