Americans remain divided about the issue of legalizing recreational marijuana use. Reasonable arguments exist for both sides of the issue. Pro arguments include the various documented health benefits of medicinal marijuana and the economic benefits to society from taxation of the sales of it. In addition proponents point to the benefits of reducing the incarcerated population by decriminalizing recreational marijuana possession and use. One of the economic con arguments heard from the anti-legalization camp is that if marijuana is made legal to use recreationally, then our country will become inundated with new marijuana smokers and potentially harder drug-users causing overall economic decline decline as the nation succumbs to a drug-fueled lack of productivity . Could this happen?
Researchers at both Northwestern University and Harvard have investigated the effects of casual marijuana usage on two specific brain regions – the nucleus accumbens and the amygdala – both part of the brain’s “reward circuit” and associated with motivation and reward. Using brain scanning techniques, researchers discovered abnormalities that suggested significant deficits in both of these areas of the brain in marijuana users, and the extent of the abnormality was correlated to how much the subject had smoked. What’s most interesting and potentially worrisome about this study is that it was done on casual smokers – individuals who would only smoke once or twice a week. This provocative finding ought to be considered by even those who smoke occasionally and still manage a successful life as it does seem to suggest that those interested in peak brain performance sure should probably stay away from marijuana.
In 2004, a review was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry which concluded that discouraging cannabis smoking would result in the rate of schizophrenia decreasing by 8%. In 2007, a review published in the Lancet concluded that “there is now sufficient evidence to warn young people that using cannabis could increase their risk of developing a psychotic illness later in life.
Nora Volkow, MDPhD , the head of the National Institute for Drug Abuse states about 9% of those who experiment with marijuana overall — and nearly 17% of those who use it as teenagers — will become addicted, according to the definition of addiction used in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders . Up to half of people who smoke marijuana daily become addicted. According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2.7 million people over age 12 meet criteria for addiction to marijuana.
So while there are certainly good legalization arguments from the pro legalization camp based on prison reform , crime reduction , and taxation , the benefits of legalizing marijuana should certainly be considered in the light of the potential health burden to our society and the clear health risks to the individual even from casual use. They may be no worse overall than alcohol or nicotine, but they are not insignificant.