The medical community, cannabis advocates, and lawmakers have long debated the health impact of marijuana use and the drug’s ability to provide therapeutic value. Now, a recent comprehensive report is casting doubt on marijuana’s potential to treat many health conditions.
The report, published by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, reviewed over 10,000 studies that examined marijuana’s association with a number of health issues, including cancer and mental conditions as well as car accidents. The majority of the studies examined were published after 1999.
Marijuana is often touted as a miracle symptom reliever of many health conditions such as cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, and Parkinson’s disease. Even so, the scathing federal marijuana report contradicts these claims, stating there is currently no solid evidence that support any such health benefits associated with marijuana use. In addition, the researchers could not definitely confirm the plant helps people suffering from epilepsy, which is one of the most common reasons for using medical cannabis.
The authors, a panel of 16 health experts, also note that frequent marijuana use may even cause heart attacks and schizophrenia, yet there is absolutely no clear connection as of yet. According to the report, long-term weed smoking is associated with recurring episodes of chronic bronchitis and other respiratory problems. Additionally, pregnant women who use cannabis are more likely to give birth to underweight babies.
However, the report does reveal some definitive medical benefits. The authors concluded that marijuana can help relieve chronic pain and help people sleep. Using cannabis can also help cancer patients with nausea after chemotherapy treatment and certain symptoms of people suffering from multiple sclerosis.
The statistical link between marijuana use and increased vehicle accidents was also examined. The researchers concluded there is definitely “substantial” data that proves driving under the influence of marijuana does lead to more crashes.
However, the report does indicate that young men, who are more likely to smoke pot and get behind the wheel, are also more likely to be involved in car accidents. Currently, there is no precise method to measure the amount of THC, the marijuana ingredient linked to the infamous euphoria, in someone’s blood needed to impair a driver’s skill, the experts stated.
Overall, the report indicates that marijuana is a drug that affects different people in different ways, some potentially dangerous and some exceptionally beneficial. There simply has not been enough research done on marijuana use that unquestionably determines who can benefit, the potential harms, and how dosage or method of administration may make the difference.
“What do we really know for sure? Mainly it’s anecdotes or very poor evidence,” said Dr. Marie McCormick, a health expert at Harvard’s School of Public Health who chaired the National Academies panel, as cited by the LA Times.
The federal government still considers marijuana a Schedule I drug, placing it in the same category as drugs like heroin and ecstasy. As long as this classification stays in place, further research of the plant will be extremely limited. A research lab that wants to study the effects and any health benefits of marijuana must weed through a mound of paperwork and bureaucracy to get approval from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and other agencies before any analysis can even be considered.
“The federal government continues to enforce restrictive policies and regulations on research into the health effects or harms of cannabis products that are available to consumers in a majority of states,” the report said, as reported by the LA Times.
Over 22 million Americans over 12-years-old used marijuana last month. Of those, 90 percent used the drug for recreational purposes, according to the fed report. Cannabis is legal for recreational or medicinal purposes in 28 states as well as Washington, D.C., and at least five more states are considering marijuana legalization in 2017. Nationwide, legal sales of the plant reached over $7 billion in 2016.
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