Is marijuana good or bad for your health?

by Claudio Tamburrino - 2013.01.29
Is marijuana good or bad for your health?
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On marijuana, we, humble readers, are like Buridan’s ass. We can’t understand whether it is good or bad for our health, whether it is only a drug or also a medicine. The world scientific community is likewise constantly divided on these questions.

The latest querelle concerns cannabis effects on teenagers’ intelligence quotient. Several studies seem to suggest that its habitual consumption in young adults causes long-term effects on brain and learning abilities. In particular, a research published on the American Journal ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’ found out a strong relationship between the use of this substance and irreparable neurologic damages, attention, memory and intelligence problems that teenagers usually show.

This conclusion has been contested by another team of scientists at the Ragnar Frisch Centre, that highlighted the limits of sample choice.

By the way, this is not the only scientific squabble on the theme. Studies on marijuana, highlighting its ability to create addiction and cause effects on humans psyche gather with studies highlighting its therapeutic, and more generally healthy, effects.

Its harmful effects were reported, for example, by a report presented at the National Conference on Cannabis in Brisbane. According to this report, the more people use it, the higher the possibility of suicidal thoughts. Also, figures published by the Australian National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre, say that cannabis use interruption corresponds to typical withdrawal symptoms. The American Society of Addiction Medicine is then considering of including cannabis addiction in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

In contrast, the American Medical Association, inviting the government to review cannabis classification, and the California Medical Association, asking its full legalization, took an opposite stand.

There is no clear information on the effects that cannabis consumption has on the brain. A group of research, through magnetic resonance, identified pre-frontal cortex damages, similar to those caused by schizophrenia. However, it was not able to exclude that these were previous damages, that the link to cannabis was direct or that some of its substances did not have healthy or protective qualities against brain damage.

The same goes for the relationship between cannabis and lung cancer. The California University calculated that smoking cannabis every day for 20 years has a possibility not to cause any damages, while a study dating back to 2008 even suggests a positive interaction between cannabis consumption and cancer prevention.

The truth is that cannabis has different narcotic psychoactive substances, but also therapeutic properties useful in medicine and for which it is deemed particularly useful against pain, nausea and vomit associated with diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, cancer, AIDS or even autism (a family from Oregon is using medical cannabis to treat autism temper tantrums).

The only people to have clear ideas on cannabis evaluation are consumers. In the US only, they increased from  14.4 million in 2007 to 18 million in 2011. In contrast, politics hesitates without certain figures.

Even if different statistics, and recent figures on the closing of Dutch coffee shops to foreign tourists (obliging Amsterdam to a new change of route in terms of liberalization), show how prohibitionism often leads to more income for crime organizations rather than protection for population’s health. The debate continues to see an opposition between parties in favour and against cannabis, with no solutions in the middle.

In the US, while the federal government hesitates to take a clear position, recent referendums on the theme added Arkansas, Massachusetts and Montana to the 17 States that already allowed the medical use of ganja. In the UK, the publication of the study ‘Drugs: break the cycle’ re-opened the debate on how to fight the general use of drugs. Even in Italy, a policy review on this theme seems to be taking place (although slowly) and, even if the Government contested the Regional Law of Liguria on therapeutic cannabis before the Constitutional Court, other regions such as Toscana, Liguria, Friuli and Puglia gave the go ahead to deliver cannabinoid-based drugs and preparations for therapeutic goals.