Legalize Pot?…Do We Really Understand the Impact?
By Dr. James Palermo // June 10, 2014
ABOVE VIDEO: Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey sat down with SpaceCoastDaily.com to discuss the ramifications of the medical marijuana bill, and the upcoming vote in November for its legalization. Sixty-three of the 67 sheriffs in Florida oppose the bill, which will require a 60 percent approval for passage on November 4. The Florida Sheriffs Association has launched a staunch anti-Amendment 2 campaign called “Don’t Let Florida Go to Pot.” The FSA put up a public safety page on its website detailing reasons why it opposes the passing of Amendment 2.
NEW RESEARCH AND LESSONS LEARNED RAISE LEAGALIZATION RED FLAGS
There is a growing list of politicians and noted celebrities coming out in favor of legalizing recreational pot, but recent published medical research, as well as grave concerns voiced by the Colorado medical and law enforcement communities about the detrimental effects of legalization highlight cautionary lessons for other states considering relaxing marijuana laws.
RECREATIONAL MARIJUANA HARMFUL TO YOUNG PEOPLE’S BRAINS
According to a new study recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers from Harvard and Northwestern used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to compare the brains of 18- to 25-year olds half of whom smoked pot recreationally and half who didn’t.
What they found was rather shocking: Even those who only smoked a few times a week had significant brain abnormalities in the areas that control emotion and motivation.
“There is this general perspective out there that using marijuana recreationally is not a problem — that it is a safe drug,” Anne Blood, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and a co-author of the study, told Time.com. “We are seeing that this is not the case.”
“This study suggests that even light to moderate recreational marijuana use can cause changes in brain anatomy,” said Carl Lupica, PhD, who studies drug addiction at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and was not involved with this study. “These observations are particularly interesting because previous studies have focused primarily on the brains of heavy marijuana smokers, and have largely ignored the brains of casual users.”
FINDINGS CHALLENGE NOTION THAT CASUAL POT NOT HARMFUL
The research team found that the more the marijuana users reported consuming, the greater the abnormalities in the nucleus accumbens and amygdala, the areas that control a brain region known to be involved in reward processing. The shape and density of both of these regions also differed between marijuana users and non-users.
Another co-author of the study, Hans Breiter, MD, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University, said, “This study raises a strong challenge to the idea that casual marijuana use isn’t associated with bad consequences.”
MEDICAL, LAW ENFORCEMENT COMMUNITIES FEEL IMPACT OF LEGAL POT
Although not associated with anatomic cerebral changes, other consequences have become reality over the past 5 months of Colorado’s legalized recreational pot culture.
The New York Times reports that “five months after Colorado became the first state to allow recreational marijuana sales,” some “law enforcement officers…emergency room doctors and legalization opponents increasingly are highlighting a series of recent problems as cautionary lessons for other states flirting with loosening marijuana laws.”
According to the Times, “Some hospital officials say they are treating growing numbers of children and adults sickened by potent doses of edible marijuana,” while law enforcement reports marijuana ending up fueling violence or drug trafficking, or in the hands of children, and “sheriffs in neighboring states complain about stoned drivers streaming out of Colorado.”
Opponents and proponents continue the ardent debate, and the Times points out that “there is scant hard data,” so “it may take years to know legal marijuana’s effect — if any — on teenage drug use, school expulsions or the number of fatal car crashes.”
In the meantime, Colorado provides a fish bowl for objective observation of the psychosocial, medical and criminal aspects of a legal marijuana culture, the lessons-learned of which we can only hope will be heeded. (Hoder, 4/15, Time.com; Shim, 4/16, Policy.com; Healy, 6/1, NYTimes.com)