While it does offer some benefits, the risks of marijuana use are high, say researchers in a new report from The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
In investigating the available literature on the effects of marijuana, a group of top researchers found substantial evidence that cannabis use is associated with the development of schizophrenia and other psychoses. The more frequently people use cannabis, the report said, the higher their risk.
The researchers also found substantial evidence of a correlation between the use of cannabis and an increased likelihood of motor vehicle crashes.
For the report, titled “The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research,” the researchers examined the available literature to reach 100 conclusions about the use of cannabis or products derived from it.
“Whether smoking or otherwise consuming marijuana has therapeutic benefits that outweigh its health risks is still an open question that science has not resolved.”
Nora D. Volkow, M.D.
Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse
Among the conclusions, the team found both benefits and dangers.
One benefit they found is that, in accordance with popular belief, there’s substantial evidence that marijuana does in fact help reduce chronic pain in adults. It also aids in the reduction of nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy, and it helps improve symptoms of multiple sclerosis, according to the report.
But dangers also abound. It’s important to note these, because according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, fewer young people these days think marijuana is risky.
In addition to higher incidence of car crashes and the development of psychological disorders, the report also found other negative effects of marijuana:
- There is substantial evidence that mothers who smoke cannabis while pregnant will have children with lower birth weight.
- There is substantial evidence that smoking cannabis can lead to worse respiratory symptoms and more frequent episodes of bronchitis.
- Moderate evidence exists that users of marijuana are at greater risk of developing depressive disorders, experiencing social anxiety disorders, thinking about suicide (especially among heavier users) and committing suicide.
- There is moderate evidence that cannabis use is associated with impairment in learning, memory and attention.
- There is moderate evidence that cannabis use is associated with an increased risk of overdose injuries, including respiratory distress, among pediatric populations in states where cannabis is legal.
- There is moderate evidence of a connection between the use of marijuana and the development of addictions to alcohol, tobacco or illicit drugs.
Recreational use of marijuana is legal in Washington state, along with seven other states and the District of Columbia. Twenty additional states have legalized marijuana for the treatment of medical conditions.
“The growing acceptance, accessibility, and use of cannabis raise important public health concerns,” wrote Marie McCormick, chair of the committee that authored the report, “and there is a clear need to establish what is known and what needs to be known about the health effects of cannabis use.”
While there’s a lot still to be learned about the effects of marijuana, the fact that it’s legal certainly does not mean it is free of risks. Whether it’s smoked, eaten or used some other way, marijuana can present problems.