The Question of Marijuana
By Peter N. Landless and Allan R. Handysides
My teenage son has been watching and reading the news. There have been many reports regarding legalization of marijuana in numerous parts of the world, and even reports stating health benefits. Are there dangers related to its use?
You have asked a most important question! Legalization of marijuana is in the news worldwide. There’s pressure for legal use for recreational purposes, and also recommendations by some for use for certain medical conditions. Currently marijuana is one of the most commonly used illegal drugs in the world. In the United States about 12 percent of people 12 years of age or older have reported using it in the past year. Rates of use are particularly high in young people.*
Regular use of marijuana by teenagers and adolescents is especially
concerning because young people are particularly vulnerable to its dangerous
side effects and consequences of use.
So what are the dangers?
- Long-term use can lead to addiction. Some studies show that approximately 9 percent of those who experiment with marijuana will become addicted. This is a similar percentage to those who become alcoholics after experimenting with alcohol. This number rises dramatically the younger the age of debut, and if there is any family history of alcoholism. This is a particularly significant problem in adolescence as the brain actively develops during this stage of life.
- Marijuana use negatively affects nerve-connection development within the brain. These effects continue into adulthood and can become permanent.
- Like tobacco, marijuana has been shown to be a gateway drug, meaning that those who use it are at higher risk for use of other and even more dangerous recreational drugs.
- It has been associated with an increased risk of mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.
- Marijuana impairs thinking and reasoning functions of the brain. Youth who are regular users underperform at school.
- It impairs driving ability and is related to increased vehicle accidents, including fatal events. The risk of accidents increases significantly with the use of marijuana and alcohol at the same time.
- It leads to lung damage with long-term problems such as chronic bronchitis. There’s a possible association with lung cancer, but the risk isn’t as significant as with smoking tobacco.
- Marijuana use has been associated with blood vessel diseases, causing heart attacks and strokes. How this occurs, however, is not yet fully understood.
There’s much current research in trying to harness positive health
benefits that may derive from the
tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in
certain conditions such as cancer, HIV and AIDS, nausea, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy. As well as attempting to ascertain and prove benefits, much research is also being directed toward avoiding the negative effects of the substance, especially with the method of delivery. There’s no doubt that smoking marijuana is detrimental to the lungs and vascular system, in addition to the negative effects on the brain. As more studies become available and as delivery systems improve (for example, the development of tablets, sprays, injections), we will become better informed as to whether there are meaningful methods of application with which benefits exceed the dangers in given disease situations.
In summary, marijuana is a dangerous drug that should be avoided. It’s addictive and significantly affects the mind, psyche, personality, and body. The only avenue through which the Holy Spirit connects with us is our mind, and we must keep it clear and unclouded. The push for legalization of marijuana doesn’t indicate safety of use. We need only look at the severe harm caused by tobacco and alcohol, both of which are legalized poisons.
We do well to remember that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and that true temperance encourages us to use wisely those things that are healthy and to avoid all things harmful. n
Some information in this article was based on “Adverse Health Effects of Marijuana Use,” New England Journal of Medicine 370, no. 23 (June 5, 2014): 2219-2227.
Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department.
Allan R. Handysides, a board-certified
gynecologist, is a former director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department.