Marijuana legalization could be more dangerous than tobacco and alcohol, according to Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. But what does the marijuana research say about this claim?
In a related report by The Inquisitr, during the George Zimmerman trial, it was argued by the defense that Trayvon Martin’s marijuana usage made him violent, and this debate is still raging all over the internet today. While Denver’s crime rates have dropped since Colorado’s marijuana legalization bill went into effect, the Florida Sheriff’s Association claims that marijuana is linked to violent crimes, and even Pope Francis is leading the charge against marijuana legalization. Unfortunately, the repercussions of this debate has had a real effect on people’s live, with one teen facing a life sentence over pot brownies at the same time that veterans are being denied using cannabis to help their problems with PTSD.
Now what worries the National Institute on Drug Abuse the most is the unknowns. Volkow believes marijuana legalization is a threat precisely because we do not know the long term outcome:
“Look at the evidence. It’s not subtle — it’s huge. Legal drugs are the main problem that we have in our country as it relates to morbidity and mortality. By far. Many more people die of tobacco than all of the drugs together. Many more people die of alcohol than all of the illicit drugs together. And it’s not because they are more dangerous or addictive. Not at all — they are less dangerous. It’s because they are legal…. The legalization process generates a much greater exposure of people and hence of negative consequences that will emerge. And that’s why I always say, ‘Can we as a country afford to have a third legal drug? Can we?’ We know the costs already on health care, we know the costs on accidents, on lost productivity. I let the numbers speak for themselves.”
Part of the reason there are so many unknowns is the fact that marijuana studies have been limited due to the Federal government defining cannabis as a controlled substance. Although the DEA has asked the FDA to consider rescheduling marijuana from a schedule I drug, this long-standing policy has prevented a lot of marijuana research. For example, Harvard claims pot smoking causes brain malformations, but they have not done enough research to determine whether or not these changes are positive, negative, or perhaps even neutral. At the same time, back in 2008, a British research foundation concluded that marijuana is less harmful than tobacco and alcohol.
But the mere possibility that marijuana may have negative effects on the brain has Volkow worried:
“I think that what we are seeing is a little bit of wishful thinking in the sense that we want to have a drug that will make us all feel good and believe that there are no harmful consequences. When you are intoxicated, your memory and learning are going to go down. When you are intoxicated, your motor coordination is going to go down.”
She even claims that consuming marijuana may lower your IQ and have a higher risk of “long-lasting decreases in cognitive capacity.” Because of this supposed danger, she argues that marijuana smoking is more dangerous than tobacco:
“Nicotine does not interfere with cognitive ability. So if you are an adolescent and you are smoking marijuana and going to school, it’s going to interfere with your capacity to learn. So what is worse, as an adolescent right now? To have basically something that is jeopardizing your development educationally or to smoke a cigarette that when you are 60 years of age is going to lead to impaired pulmonary function and perhaps cancer?… I would argue that you do not want to mess with your cognitive capacity, that that is a very large price to pay.”
Of course, the head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse admits she has never consumed or smoked marijuana. She says she is “curious” but she believes her fight against marijuana legalization is right because she doesn’t “like to contaminate my perception of the world. I have too much respect for my brain.”
Do you think marijuana legalization could be more dangerous than other legal drugs like tobacco and alcohol? Why or why not?