Is marijuana a harmless way to relax or a dangerous gateway drug? The science says “no” and “we don’t know,” respectively. Arguments for and against legalization often misrepresent the medical effects of cannabis, some experts say.
Several bills proposed in the 2017 session of the General Assembly would make recreational use of marijuana legal in Connecticut.
As it stands now, marijuana is legal in California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Colorado, Nevada, Massachusetts, Maine, and Washington, D.C., for recreational purposes.
Mark Litt, professor of behavioral sciences at the University of Connecticut Health Center, discussed his cannabis addiction treatment program with Collen Shaddox of C-HIT.
Here are some of the facts, pulled from the interview:
Is marijuana a gateway drug?
That’s unproven, according to the National Academies of Science. The group has called for more research to answer that question.
The National Academies recently reviewed 10,000 studies to determine what we do and do not know about marijuana. Its report found that evidence was “limited” to suggest that marijuana causes users to go on to try most other drugs, though the association with tobacco smoking was stronger. The panel also found that cannabis users were more likely to be heavy drinkers, but it did not find that marijuana causes heavy drinking. Some people who use marijuana do progress to using other illegal drugs—but most don’t.
Can you get addicted to marijuana?
Yes, according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA).
Cannabis use disorder is included in the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. A 2015 study shows that 30 percent of users may have some level of the disorder, with people who start at a young age being more likely to become dependent.
Does marijuana cause cancer?
No, according to multiple studies reviewed by the National Academies.
Some believe that since marijuana is commonly smoked, it would contribute to all the same illnesses that cigarettes do. The National Academies’ review did not find a conclusive link between pot smoking and cancers. It also found strong evidence against a connection to lung cancer, as well as head and neck cancers. But use can lead to a chronic cough and other respiratory illnesses, the report concludes.
Does marijuana have medical uses?
Yes, but scientists say much more research is needed.
“It’s like trying to do a study with heroin,” said Mark Litt. He runs a treatment program for people addicted to marijuana. Because marijuana is illegal at the federal level, it has been difficult to get funding to do clinical trials with the drug, let alone legally obtain it, though rules are relaxing. There have been studies showing its usefulness in relieving chronic pain, the spasms associated with multiple sclerosis, and vomiting and nausea caused by chemotherapy.
Medical marijuana is already legal in Connecticut for adults with a long list of debilitating illnesses, ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder to cancer. The list of qualifying illnesses for people under 18 is much shorter.
Is marijuana bad for your brain?
Yes. “Short-term use of marijuana is associated with short-term memory deficit. So even if you use it just a bit, your short-term memory is going to be affected,” Litt said. “Long-term use is associated with a variety of cognitive impairments, particularly frontal-lobe issues, which involve executive functions -- decision making, problem solving, judgment, and inhibition; that is, ability to inhibit oneself, which is a major part of emotional control and behavioral control.”
Research shows marijuana users earn less than their peers, are more likely to be involved in workplace accidents and are less likely to graduate from high school or college.
This story was reported under a partnership with the Connecticut Health I-Team (c-hit.org).