Marijuana: A Public Health Concern

By: Jason Biegel – Hofstra Law School – Law Student Contributor

As marijuana laws grow increasingly less strict around the United States, and with some countries legalizing the drug completely, it has placed many legal ramifications into the spotlight. One of these legal issues in particular is the public health concern surrounding marijuana. Although many people choose to refer to their own personal usage to justify that their health remains intact, scientific evidence may suggest otherwise.

One area that creates a public health concern is how marijuana affects the brain. Scientific evidence has suggested that the brain is not fully formed until an individual reaches their mid-20s.[1] This can lead to negative effects on the brain, specifically the parts that are responsible for memory, learning, attention, and reaction time.[2] The United States Government must be inherently sure that it is not impeding citizen’s brain development by legalizing marijuana throughout the nation.

Another area that creates a public health concern is what is actually in marijuana. Many of the components that make up marijuana are still unknown, however the most prominent component is Tetrahydrocannibinol, THC. The presence of THC in marijuana aids in increasing the drugs negative side effects, such as impeding brain development.[3] As evidence shows, the increasing number of people who visit emergency rooms across the nation as a result of marijuana use, even though the amount of marijuana users has generally remained constant over the past 20 years.[4]

Some of the most prevalent reasons that individuals find themselves in emergency rooms as a result of marijuana use include: 1) heart related issues; 2) lung related issues; 3) mental health; and 4) pregnancy complications. The heart related issues stem from the increase in the risk of heart attack after ingesting the drug, or chest pain in individuals who suffer from heart disease.[5] The lung related issues stem from the vast amount of carcinogens in marijuana, albeit scientists have been unable to link lung cancer to marijuana use.[6] The mental health issues include individuals that battle mental illness, including but not limited to psychosis, depression, and anxiety.[7] The pregnancy related issues show that mothers who engage in marijuana usage give birth to children that are slightly underweight, most likely from the effects of carbon monoxide on the developing fetus.[8] Although, each of these findings must the taken with a grain of salt because the results are not completely conclusive, as scientists have yet to confirm beyond a reasonable doubt that marijuana use is the sole cause for these public health concerns.

In addition to medical health concerns, researchers have found links between marijuana use and driving related incidents. Due to the potential damage to areas of the brain that are important for driving, such as, fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination, and reaction time, marijuana use could lead to an increased amount of motor vehicle incidents while driving under the influence.[9] While this theory is still being constructed, it is not one that can entirely be ignored. It would be a great disservice to the American people to legalize marijuana use, while driving related incidents skyrocket due to marijuana usage.

Lastly, another public health concern related to legalization of marijuana includes the link between marijuana use and performance in education and employment settings. In a 2012 study, it was determined that marijuana use has the ability to reduce an individuals IQ by as many as 8 points by the time an individual reaches the age of 38.[10] These findings are somewhat troubling because this could lead to the idea that individuals are not fully reaching their full potential. Furthermore, studies have concluded that people that use marijuana are more likely to have increased absences from work and school, are increasingly late, have more accidents, file more workers’ compensation claims, and have a higher potential for job turnover than those individuals who abstain from marijuana use.[11] Again, these results are somewhat troubling as a public health concern because as a nation we want to keep people focused on reaching their full potential.

Although, many other public health concerns exist, the concerns listed above begin to highlight what continued effect legalizing marijuana might have on our nation. However, while many studies have been conducted, few have come so far as to name marijuana as the sole driving force behind these public health concerns. For instance, marijuana use is not the only factor that can be associated with depression. Depression can be hereditary, caused by chemical imbalance, and by actual events in a person’s life. Therefore, it is extremely important for the United States Government, as well as the public it governs, to understand what the public health concerns surrounding legalizing marijuana are regardless of whether they are against or for marijuana legalization and reform.

[1] Giedd. J. N. (2004). Structural magnetic resonance imaging of the adolescent brain. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1021, 77-85

[2] Hall W & Degenhard L (2009). Adverse health effects of non-medical cannabis use. Lancet, 374:1383-1391.

[3] Id.

[4] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2011). Drug Abuse Warning Network, 2008: National Estimates of Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits. HHS Publication No. SMA 11-4618. Rockville, MD.

[5] Hall W & Degenhard L (2009). Adverse health effects of non-medical cannabis use. Lancet, 374:1383-1391.

[6] Tetrault, J.M., et al. Effects of cannabis smoking on pulmonary function and respiratory complications: a systematic review. Arch Intern Med 167, 221-228 (2007).

[7] Moore TH, Zammit S, Lingford-Hughes A, et al. Cannabis use and risk of psychotic or affective mental health outcomes: A systematic review. Lancet 370(9584):319–328, 2007.

[8] Hall W & Degenhard L (2009). Adverse health effects of non-medical cannabis use. Lancet, 374:1383-1391.

[9] Li, M., Brady, J., DiMaggio, C., Lusardi, R., Tzong, K. and Li, G. (in press). Cannabis use and motor vehicle crashes. Epidemiologic Reviews.

[10] Meier et al. (2012). Persistent cannabis users show neuropsychological decline from childhood to midlife. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

[11] National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). (2011). Research Report Series: Cannabis Abuse. Accessed November 2011 at http://www.drugabuse.gov/ResearchReports/Cannabis/cannabis4.html.

2 thoughts on “Marijuana: A Public Health Concern”

  1. I find the argument that legalizing marijuana could lead to an increase in motor vehicle accidents while driving under the influence to be tenuous at best, and at worst, furthering a restrictive agenda akin to propaganda. This assertion assumes that legalizing marijuana will spur marijuana users to disregard the law, facing similar penalties to drinking and driving.

    Legalizing marijuana does not inherently promote nor encourage citizens to drive while impaired, as citizens are still subject to significant penalties for such. Further, a 2015 federally funded study concluded that alcohol has a more extreme impact on drivers than marijuana. (http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/24/politics/marijuana-study-drivers-impact/) While testing for precise THC levels in drivers does present many unique challenges, this is a separate issue to the cause and effect relationship between legalization and subsequent motor vehicle accidents. Whenever I hear someone (usually older person) assert this argument to support their anti-legalization standpoint, I find it somewhat disingenuous, as motor vehicle accidents stemming from alcohol consumption are systematic and catastrophic, yet no politician would be so tone death as to suggest in earnest we criminalize all otherwise legal alcohol consumption.

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  2. I find the argument that legalizing marijuana could lead to an increase in motor vehicle accidents while driving under the influence to be tenuous at best, and at worst, furthering a restrictive agenda. This assertion assumes that legalizing marijuana will spur new drivers to disregard the law, facing similar penalties to drinking and driving.

    Legalizing marijuana does not inherently promote nor encourage citizens to drive while impaired, as citizens are still subject to significant penalties for such. Further, a 2015 federally funded study concluded that alcohol has a more extreme impact on drivers than marijuana. http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/24/politics/marijuana-study-drivers-impact/. While testing for preciseTHC levels in drivers does present many unique challenges, this is separate issue to the cause and effect relationship between legalization and subsequent motor vehicle accidents. u

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