The biggest problem with marijuana advocacy is the refusal of most cannabis supporters to admit that there are negative aspects of the drug that must be addressed during public discourse on the subject of legalization. Unfortunately, many who claim that marijuana has no negative effects are likely either the lazy or unwitting victims of a significant amount of misinformation about the drug. Refusal to acknowledge problems facing marijuana users impedes the cannabis supporter’s cause and bolsters that of the prohibitionists. It’s critical that marijuana advocates understand the potential and proven negative effects of pot so that they can argue factually when making their case.
These 6 marijuana facts are ones that are often omitted or denied by pot advocates – a move that could be costing them legitimacy despite the growing movement to legalize the drug. All of the following are derived from actual peer-reviewed studies of marijuana use.
If you’d like to learn more or arm yourself with information to factually debunk the items laid out in this article, there are comprehensive references listed below. This entire piece was based on these references, so please study them carefully if you doubt any points described herein.
1.) Marijuana can cause Dependence and Addiction
4.3% of Americans have been dependent on marijuana at some point in their life according to guidelines laid out by the DSM-IV-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Overall, 9% of marijuana users will become dependent. These figures are supported by the fact that marijuana causes tolerance. This means that with regular use it takes more pot or pot of higher quality in order to achieve the desired effect. Tolerance is one of the first critical stages in developing a true addiction. In fact, the average pot-dependent person has used the drug regularly for more than ten years and tried seriously at least 6 times to quit without success. These people admit to wanting to stop for various reasons, but being unable to despite significant efforts.
The rate of occurrence of dependency for marijuana is not nearly as high as rates for other drugs, but it is a possibility that cannot be ignored. However, look at it this way: because marijuana use is so widespread, dependence on pot is twice as prevalent in the United States as dependence on any other substance, including heroin, prescription drugs, meth, etc.
2.) Some of Today’s Marijuana Strains are as Potent as Opium
Marijuana growers have primarily focused on increasing the THC potency of their plants in the last 40 years, and they’ve done an excellent job of it. From approximately 1970 to the 1990’s, marijuana had an average THC potency of 1% – 4%. Today’s pot has an average of 13%, with many strains coming in at around 25%. Recently authorities have seized marijuana with THC potency as high as 37%.
Let’s face it; there’s some unbelievably strong cannabis going around these days. Strains being produced today are as potent as or even more potent than opium – the drug of legend and raw ingredient of highly addictive substances like morphine, heroin, and most of the pain medications that so many are addicted to. Because much of the marijuana people are smoking today is so strong, dependence and addiction to pot is becoming more prevalent, whereas in the past the potency level was low enough that dependence wasn’t something the public considered to be a possibility.
Another problem is the fact that studies have shown that humans have a natural tendency and preference to select and use marijuana of the highest potency possible when they can reasonably acquire it. This tendency is echoed throughout the animal kingdom and is another hallmark of dependence and addiction.
3.) Marijuana Smoke Damages Cells, Promotes Some Types of Cancer
The jury is still out on whether marijuana smoke causes cancer. It is known that cannabis smoke does indeed promote the growth of some cancers, but it also has protective properties and has been shown to reduce other types of cancer.
But what we do know is that marijuana smoke causes damage to the airways at a cellular level. This can lead to respiratory dysfunction and may set the stage for cancers to develop later in damaged areas.
Clearly, more research in this area is needed. However, many marijuana supporters claim that all of these types of concerns can be quickly and easily mitigated by vaporizing the plant instead of smoking it. The primary difference is that vaporizing marijuana does not bring the pot to the point of combustion, at which harmful carcinogens and other toxins are released.
The problem with this argument is that vaporizing pot does not release what are known as “lower cannabinols,” which are theorized to be a significant part of the overall “high” experience. Consequently, many regular users are unable to stick with vaporizing and return to smoking the drug in order to obtain the full effect.
4.) Sperm Damage and Infertility is a risk for Regular Marijuana Smokers
Both decades-old and modern studies have shown the effect on human sperm that marijuana has for long-term, chronic users. (Essentially, daily smokers) Men who smoke regularly and for long periods of time could damage their sperm, resulting in sperm that swims too fast and cannot subsequently attach to an egg, or sperm that is otherwise abnormal, including those that swim aimlessly.
5.) Developmental Problems can be caused by Marijuana use in Adolescents
The brains of adolescents who smoked pot frequently are subject to changes that could cause significant developmental challenges. Studies have shown that during the teen to mid-late twenties period, the brain is still forming in structure and function. Marijuana can interrupt and alter this process in such a way that the user experiences serious difficulties emotionally, socially and/or intellectually.
6.) Marijuana Use Exacerbates & Causes Anxiety
Fascinating studies have been conducted on marijuana and anxiety, and there are some important correlations. Some evidence indicates that marijuana use can lead to the development of an anxiety disorder or exacerbate an existing one. Ultimately, what we know for certain is that marijuana significantly amplifies emotional responses. This can have serious implications for people with mental disorders and for marijuana users who suddenly become anxious or paranoid while on the drug. It could also push borderline mental illnesses into a full-blown active case.
Interestingly, the anxiety-producing effects of marijuana generally do not occur with lower doses. But as the dose is increased, anxiety is ratcheted up. This indicates that some cannabis users who titer their dosage may be able to avoid these effects, but for the 9% who become addicted and the unknown numbers who suffer from existing mental conditions, this isn’t likely an option.
Despite the negative side effects of marijuana, the plant is almost certainly less harmful than most other drugs, and without question is safer and less destructive than alcohol. Unlike alcohol, heroin, meth, cocaine and many other street drugs, a death from marijuana has never been recorded. But whether you are for or against the legalization of marijuana, knowing the truth about potential and demonstrated negative effects is important in order for everyone to make their own informed decisions about what they do – or do not – put into their bodies.
After all, prohibition has never worked; people have been using cannabis for thousands of years and will continue to do so regardless of the legal restrictions. Shouldn’t they at least know the potential risks, however “benign” they might be? Aren’t we the same nation that forces such disclaimers as “hot beverage” to be printed on coffee cups, health warnings on cigarettes and beer, and so on? If we are going to legalize marijuana, isn’t it our responsibility to educate people with the truth?
Unfortunately, there are two primary factions involved in the marijuana legalization debate; the marijuana supporters who largely claim that marijuana is completely harmless, and the marijuana detractors who tout that the drug is an evil menace. As with all things, we must strike the balance honestly and impartially.
Evidence Indicating Marijuana is Addictive & Studies on Marijuana Dependence:
Alan J. Budney, Ph.D., Roger Roffman, D.S.W., Robert S. Stephens, Ph.D., and Denise Walker, Ph.D.
Marijuana Dependence and Its Treatment Addict Sci Clin Pract. 2007 December; 4(1): 4–16. PMCID: PMC2797098 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2797098/
Haney M, Hart CL, Vosburg SK, Comer SD, Reed SC, Foltin RW. Effects of THC and lofexidine in a human laboratory model of marijuana withdrawal and relapse. Division on Substance Abuse, New York State Psychiatric Institute and Department of Psychiatry, College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University
Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2008 Mar;197(1):157-68. Epub 2007 Dec 27.
Brent A. Moore, Alan J. Budney Relapse in outpatient treatment for marijuana dependence
Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment Volume 25, Issue 2 , Pages 85-89, September 2003 02/07/2003 http://www.journalofsubstanceabusetreatment.com/article/S0740-5472(03)00083-7/abstract
Evidence Supporting The Increased Potency of Marijuana & Human Preference for High Potency Cannabis:
Mahmoud A. ElSohly, Ph.D. Quarterly Report: Potency Monitoring Project Report 104 December 16, 2008 – March 15, 2009. National Institute on Drug Abuse https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ondcp/mpmp_report_104.pdf
Chait LD, Burke KA. Preference for high- versus low-potency marijuana. Department of Psychiatry, MC3077, Pritzker School of Medicine, University of Chicago Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 1994 Nov;49(3):643-7.
References Indicating Marijuana Smoke may be Carcinogenic & Harmful to Health:
Rajpal S. Tomar, Ph.D., Jay Beaumont, Ph.D., Jennifer C. Y. Hsieh, Ph.D. Evidence on the Carcinogenicity of Marijuana Smoke Reproductive and Cancer Hazard Assessment Branch
Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment California Environmental Protection Agency August 2009
Robert Melamede Cannabis and tobacco smoke are not equally carcinogenic Harm Reduction Journal 2005 2:21 National Centers for Biotechnology Information
Paul Armentano Cannabis Smoke and Cancer: Assessing the Risk NORML Foundation http://norml.org/component/zoo/category/cannabis-smoke-and-cancer-assessing-the-risk
Evidence Indicating Marijuana Damages Sperm & Sexual Function:
M. Rossato, F. Ion Popa, M. Ferigo, G. Clari, and C. Foresta Human Sperm Express Cannabinoid Receptor Cb1
, the Activation of Which Inhibits Motility, Acrosome Reaction, and Mitochondrial Function Department of Medical and Surgical Sciences, Clinica Medica 3 (M.R.); Department of Biological Chemistry (F.I.P., G.C.);and Department of Histology, Microbiology, and Medical Biotechnologies, Center of Male Gamete Cryopreservation (M.F.,C.F.), University of Padova The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 90(2):984 –991
Beth A. Mueller, Janet R. Daling, Noel S. Weiss, Donald E. Moore Recreational Drug Use and the Risk of Primary Infertility Epidemiology > Vol. 1, No. 3, May 1990
Baker, Lois Sperm from Marijuana Smokers Move Too Fast Too Early, Impairing Fertility, UB Research Shows University at Buffalo October 13, 2003
Evidence Supporting Marijuana-Slowed or Stunted Development in Youth:
Manzar Ashtari, Brian Avants, Laura Cyckowski, Kelly L. Cervellione, David Roofeh, Philip Cook, James Gee, Serge Sevy, Sanjiv Kumra Medial temporal structures and memory functions in adolescents with heavy cannabis use Volume 45, Issue 8 , Pages 1055-1066, August 2011
Elaine Gottlieb Cannabis: A Danger to the Adolescent Brain – How Pediatricians Can Address Marijuana Use Massachussetts Child Psychiatry Access Project August 2012
Evidence Indicating Marijuana-induced Anxiety:
A. W. Zuardi, I. Shirakawa, E. Finkelfarb, and I. G. Karniol Action of Cannabidiol on the Anxiety and Other Effects Produced by -THC in Normal Subjects DeDartamento de Psicobioloeia da Escola Paulista de Medicina and Departamento de Psicologia Mtdica e Psiquiatria da – FCM – UNICAMP, Rui Josh: Theodoro de Lima. 44. 13.1OU Campinas SP. Brasil
Richard C. Pillard, Douglas M. McNair, Seymour Fisher Does Marijuana Enhance Experimentally Induced Anxiety? Psychopharmacologia (Berl.) 40, 205-210 (1974)