Adolescents Category in Blog

Just the Facts, Man

Pothead

A Look at Marijuana Legalization
by
Peter Lazar, LCSW

Peter Lazar, LCSW, is Freedom Institute’s Senior Director of Strategic Development. For more than 21 years, Peter has served as a therapist and clinical outreach specialist in various treatment organizations and maintained a private practice with a focus on addiction.  As part of the leadership team at Freedom Institute, he is responsible for overseeing marketing, business development and customer relations, as well as contributing to strategy and organizational development.

There has been a lot of talk about the legalization of marijuana in recent years. There are a variety of scholarly opinions, which range from a resounding “no” to an absolute “yes”, all made by experts who are much smarter than I am.

Willie Nelson, a member of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws’ (NORML) Advisory Committee, may argue issues like the economic advantage for society due to tax revenue while others may raise questions about the potential societal economic burden of rising health and auto insurance costs due to the adverse effects of recreational marijuana abuse. Other committee members include actors Tommy Chong (no surprise there), Woody Harrelson, comedian Bill Maher, former NFL star Mark Stepnoski, and Nadine Strossen, Esq., current president of the ACLU. Of the 19 members of the Board of Directors and the 18 Advisory Board members, only two are medical doctors, neither of whom are members of the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry. The AAAP “advocates for clinical scientific research and federal regulatory oversight of medical marijuana prior to its practice application”, however they also are clear about the dangers associated with the recreational use of marijuana.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine asserts the dangers of recreational marijuana use while also stating “there may be some therapeutic potential in the use of cannabis and cannabinoids”. Memorial Sloan Kettering states, “While commercially available cannabis compounds are FDA-approved to reduce cancer treatment-related side effects such as nausea and vomiting and to improve appetite, no clinical trials have shown that cannabis products treat cancer.” The American Cancer Society confirms “studies have long shown that people who took marijuana extracts in clinical trials tended to need less pain medicine.” The ACS goes on to state that “…(cannabinoids) do not show that they help control or cure the disease.” In my research on the subject, I find only conflicting studies that either try to prove or disprove the efficacy of marijuana or cannabinoids for the treatment of any medical condition. What a mess.

In 2014, 4.176 million people in the U.S. abused or were dependent on marijuana; (1) 138,000 voluntarily sought treatment for their marijuana use (2). Recent data suggest that 30 percent of marijuana users may have some degree of marijuana use disorder (3). People who begin using marijuana before the age of 18 are 4 to 7 times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder than adults (4). According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2011-2013), people who are addicted to marijuana are THREE TIMES more likely to become addicted to heroin and two times more likely for alcohol abuse. One thing we do know for sure is that because there is tolerance and withdrawal (and therefore, dependence), and over time will adversely impact one’s normal level of functioning, smoking marijuana IS addictive and it does lead to abuse of more dangerous drugs such as opioids. Because marijuana adversely impacts judgment and reaction time, driving under its influence is ill advised. National legalization of marijuana will bring about more cases of DUI-related injury and death; of this I am certain.

So at the end to the day, does it matter if the recreational use of marijuana is legal or not? Adults, teenagers too, are going to smoke it regardless, right? I think it matters. The American Academy of Pediatrics, vehemently opposes the recreational use of marijuana, as does the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Robert DuPont, head of the Institute for Behavior and Health and the first director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse asserts, “We are at a crossroads. Legalizing marijuana will have lasting negative effects on future generations. The currently legal drugs – alcohol and tobacco – are two of the leading causes of preventable illness and death in the country. Establishing marijuana as a third legal drug will increase the national drug abuse problem, including expanding the opioid epidemic.”

  1. Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality (CBHSQ). Behavioral Health Trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; 2015. HHS Publication No. SMA 15-4927, NSDUH Series H-50.
  2. Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality (CBHSQ). Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS): 2003-2013. National Admissions to Substance Abuse Treatment Services. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; 2015. BHSIS Series S-75, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 15-4934.
  3. Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality (CBHSQ). Behavioral Health Trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; 2015. HHS Publication No. SMA 15-4927, NSDUH Series H-50.
  4. Winters KC, Lee C-YS. Likelihood of developing an alcohol and cannabis use disorder during youth: Association with recent use and age. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2008;92(1-3):239-247. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2007.08.0