With Washington State running full steam ahead to implement the voter-approved initiative legalizing small amounts of marijuana, there are plenty of those advocating the positive uses of cannabis (the Latin name for marijuana.) Washington State has had legalized medical marijuana for a number of years, and it does help in specific situations and conditions. But with the potential for so many to start using it now, it is probably a good idea to learn what you can about the dark side of cannabis on your health.
The most significant negative impacts of cannabis use affect adolescents and young adults. Under the recently passed law in Washington adolescents are not permitted to legally use marijuana. However, a sizable percentage of middle school and high school youth already have access to illegal sources of weed in Washington, so I would not anticipate having more of it available through legal channels will reduce the number of users. In addition to the fairly commonly known impact of marijuana use leading to harder drugs, there are three other disturbing impacts on youth and young adults reported from important studies on cannabis use. These are: 1) a permanently reduced IQ in youth who use chronically through their teen years. (See my 6/3/13 blog) 2) Increased incidence of cannabis-induced psychosis. 3) An increase in cases of psychosis - as though cannabis use encourages psychosis.
Cannabis-induced psychosis is characterized by problems with motivation, hearing voices, a distorted sense of reality, hallucinations, and difficulty thinking rationally. While many users of cannabis might say, "Well duh," these are symptoms much more significant and often require hospitalization when they last longer periods of time than just for the duration of a typical high. In addition to these mental issues directly linked with cannabis use, other psychoses like Bi-polar disorder and Schizophrenia appear at much high rates in cannabis users aged 14-24 than in non-users. Research has not determined the causation association here, so I can not go so far as to say cannabis directly causes these problems, or that it simply unmasks what is already there. It could most accurately be said that using marijuana when you are between 14-24 years old is like playing Russian Roulette with your mental health. Is it worth the risk? There is also a strong association with the potency or frequency of cannabis use. High potency or very frequent use increases the chances that a problem with psychosis will occur.
I am not opposed to recreational use of marijuana presuming it's used in a safe way much the same way as alcohol. However, if the use becomes a daily or frequent crutch to escape life issues and stress, or to maintain a peer group then some caution is prudent and a consultation with a health care professional advisable.
NatureWords for Your Health
(1) University of York. "Reclassification of cannabis linked to cannabis psychosis." ScienceDaily, 18 Jul. 2013. Web. 21 Jul. 2013.
(2) BMJ-British Medical Journal. "Cannabis use precedes the onset of psychotic symptoms in young people, study finds." ScienceDaily, 3 Mar. 2011. Web. 21 Jul. 2013