Editorial: Honest Conversations About Cannabis

Editorial: Honest Conversations About Cannabis

The fight to legalize cannabis products in Connecticut was a long one, with advocates advancing a compelling case for why the substance should be looked at in the same vein as alcohol or cigarettes.

It’s a case that has been made in many other parts of the country and often with equal effect. Currently, 21 states have decided to legalize the sale of recreational cannabis and another 10 have decriminalized its use. The clear momentum has been with those fighting for, not against, marijuana.

But that doesn’t mean the case for legalization equals a case for habitual use. In the early part of the 20th century, America passed prohibition laws making the sale and consumption of alcohol illegal. It was in response to growing levels of concern within the populace over violence stemming from alcohol use and a rise in alcoholism, particularly amongst men.

The law turned out to be a disaster, leading directly to the rise of organized crime which met the demand of the people for alcohol through other means. Eventually, prohibition laws were repealed, but the issues that spurred the movement did not magically subside. Prohibition may have failed but it didn’t mean those concerned about the impacts of habitual alcohol use were in error.

So it is with marijuana.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), using marijuana can cause permanent IQ loss, especially in younger people who can experience a decrease of as much as eight points. Use of marijuana while pregnant can “cause fetal growth restriction, premature birth, stillbirth, and problems with brain development, resulting in hyperactivity and poor cognitive function.” Harmful chemicals can also be passed on to a healthy baby after birth through breast milk, if the mother has begun using marijuana.

Of course, just as with alcohol, there is serious concern over how marijuana use will impede individuals behind the wheel. Those driving a vehicle can have, according to SAMHSA, “slower reactions, lane weaving, decreased coordination, and difficulty reacting to signals and sounds on the road.” And then there is the possibility the substance can act as a “gateway drug” for use of more powerful and ultimately harmful drugs. This has been a source of controversy over the years as advocates have insisted that there is little evidence to show that those who use cannabis products move on to using “hard” drugs with great frequency. The National Institute on Drug Abuse agrees with that assessment, stating that the “majority” of marijuana users do not move on to stronger substances. However, the group also cites studies that have shown that those who use marijuana, especially from an early age onward, may be more at risk of falling into addiction. The Institute explains on its website that animal experiments over the years have shown that THC, the primary psychoactive cannabinoid found in the marijuana plant, ‘primes’ the brain for enhanced responses to other drugs.”

Does all of this mean that the legalization of recreational cannabis was the wrong decision? Not necessarily. As advocates long pointed out, unregulated marijuana had been easily attainable for members of the general public and, despite health concerns, the drug has proven to be far less dangerous than many others. It’s also true that legalizing cannabis allows for oversight, meaning less dangerous products circulating in the general public.

But while cannabis legalization advocates have won the day, at least in Connecticut, all should join together to encourage responsible use of the substance and to vehemently discourage its use amongst teens and young adults. In the name of their cause, advocates too often portrayed marijuana as a safe almost “cool” substance to use. That, however, is the wrong message to send, especially to younger people.

Eventually, cannabis products will be as common as alcohol, and there are some positives with that. Yet, like with alcohol and tobacco, the truth about the dangers of marijuana overuse must be stressed.


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