This blog post is the second in a series of posts from Dr. Kamal Morar, co-founder of Duber Medical and interventional pain specialist. In this series, Dr. Morar examines current day hurdles and solutions that medical marijuana can offer patients as they seek alternative and effective solutions to their chronic medical conditions.
The dialogue for or against cannabis legalization has been going on for decades and we are just starting to see the turning tide in many states as they legalize it for medicinal or recreational use.
As a physician who has seen many patients use medical cannabis with great results, and through my continued research, several societal benefits have become apparent.
Reduced or steady use of other drugs – The US authorities collect data for drug overdose and deaths, between 2013 and 2017. Thirty-five states had significant increases in deaths over that period. Out of those states where cannabis has been legalized, only Alaska has experienced an increase amongst the list of the 35 states, however Washington, Colorado and Oregon have not .
Restore Faith and Trust in the Criminal Justice System – The current excessive punishment and damaging effects of an arrest often leads offenders (and people close to them) to lose faith and trust in the criminal justice system. Being processed through the justice system, from initial contact with police to completion of a sentence, is stressful, frustrating, and often seen as unjust . By decriminalizing marijuana, people can have access to a legitimate source of medical benefit without the potential damaging life implications that we’ve seen in the past.
Death and Crime Rates Do Not Increase – One of the most pointed concerns with legalization is whether it will lead to more young people to use the drug and whether more people will be dying in car crashes caused by impaired drivers. Data from Colorado and Washington, states which were among the first to legalize the drug, show little change in either area .
Potential Tax Revenue – Should marijuana become legal on a federal level, the benefits to the economy could be exceptional: according to a report from New Frontier, federally legal marijuana could generate $105.6 billion in aggregate federal tax revenue by 2025 , as well as creating new jobs within an emerging and booming industry.
So what are the reasons why some are against its use and how do we continue to drive scientific research in a space where access to data has been limited?
Documented and unknown side effects when used with other medications – While the effects of marijuana do not pose an immediate health threat as many other drugs do, when combined with other substances, it can be dangerous. Cannabis is not a single drug; it’s a complex plant comprised of numerous compounds from cannabinoids to terpenes. Undesired interactions between marijuana and other medications have been already described. For instance, mixing marijuana with other drugs such as depressants (alcohol, barbiturates, and benzodiazepines (e.g. Xanax)) can cause the heart rate to decrease to a very low rate and can lead to neurological compromise.  .
High THC products can be dangerous – The potency of the marijuana available for sale on both the black market and in legal dispensaries around the country is significantly higher than it was decades ago. When cannabis contains high levels of THC, it can cause a feeling of overwhelming anxiety, which can generate a feeling of extreme panic .
Potential Marijuana effects on mental development and IQ effects in youth and adolescents- Ongoing studies are investigating how long-term usage of marijuana changes brain development and function. Teenagers seem to be more prone to long-term negative effects: Cannabis may impair thinking, memory, and learning functions. However, those who start using marijuana later in life did not show such notable IQ declines .
These concerns are founded and continued research is needed to thoroughly investigate and understand both the benefits and potential risks of cannabis as a legitimate medical option.
(1): “Opioid Data Analysis and Resources” https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/analysis.html
(2): “How marijuana legalization would benefit the criminal justice system” https://www.boisestate.edu/bluereview/how-marijuana-legalization-would-benefit-the-criminal-justice-system/
(3): “Impaired Driving: Get the Facts” https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/impaired_driving/impaired-drv_factsheet.html
(4): “Cannabis Taxes Could Generate $106 Billion, Create 1 Million Jobs by 2025” https://newfrontierdata.com/cannabis-insights/cannabis-taxes-generate-106-billion-create-1-million-jobs-2025/
(5): “How Drugs Affect the Brain and Central Nervous System” https://americanaddictioncenters.org/health-complications-addiction/central-nervous-system
(6): “Cannabis and the Anxiety of Fragmentation—A Systems Approach for Finding an Anxiolytic Cannabis Chemotype” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6204402/
(7): “Pennsylvania Poll On Marijuana Legalization Reveals An Opportunity For Republicans” https://www.marijuanamoment.net/pennsylvania-poll-on-marijuana-legalization-reveals-an-opportunity-for-republicans/