Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States, and many states are legalizing it for recreational purposes. This widespread legalization could have many negative consequences for individuals and society as a whole. Marijuana is associated with various cancers, including lung, oral, testicular, and bladder cancer. Individuals who use marijuana may form an addiction or dependence to the drug and experience agonizing withdrawal effects upon cessation of its use. In addition, marijuana can cause other problems in society, including an increase in violent behavior, criminal behavior, automobile accidents, and other illicit drug use. By examining the devastating effects this drug can have on individuals and society, individuals can better understand the need to prevent widespread legalization.
Is Marijuana Good for Society?
Marijuana, also known as cannabis, is a drug that is quickly taking center stage in America’s culture. According to the Encyclopedia of Juvenile Violence, marijuana is “the most commonly used illegal drug in the United States” (186). Due to this drug’s widespread use, recent efforts to legalize marijuana in the U.S. have been effective. Colorado, Alaska, Washington, and Oregon are four states that have recently allowed its citizens to use the drug legally for recreational purposes, and many other states are considering allowing its citizens to vote on the issue. This rapid legalization could have serious consequences for America—consequences that may be irreversible. Although marijuana is a drug that is often considered harmless—sometimes even healthy—by individuals who use it for recreational purposes, evidence reveals that it can have devastating effects on both an individual’s health and on our entire society.
Marijuana Use and Cancer Risks
Although some proponents of recreational marijuana use claim that the drug is relatively harmless, this drug is strongly associated with an increased risk of numerous cancers, as this report will later cite. Few people would argue that smoking marijuana once or twice could cause an increased cancer risk, but many research studies suggest that prolonged recreational use increases the risk for many different cancers, especially lung and oral cancers. Given the seriousness of a cancer diagnosis, marijuana poses a significant threat to the health of individuals who use this drug on a regular basis.
Lung Cancer Risks and Marijuana Use
Lung cancer is perhaps the most obvious cancer when considering the potential carcinogenic effects of smoking marijuana. After all, it is a well-documented fact in today’s society that smoking tobacco leads to an increased risk of lung cancer, as well as several other cancers and health problems. Packages of tobacco cigarettes come with bold warnings from the Surgeon General, and in recent years, the government has promoted many commercial campaigns that show videos of tobacco users whose bodies have been ravaged by cancer and other irreversible health effects. These examples lead to a clear conclusion: The human lungs are best suited to breathe clean air, not smoke containing various chemicals and carcinogens. Much like tobacco users, individuals who use marijuana often do so by smoking “joints,” which consists of dried marijuana leaves rolled into a paper cigarette.
Given the fact that marijuana legalization may become widespread within the United States, it is imperative to determine whether marijuana can also lead to an increased risk of lung cancer when smoked regularly. According to various research studies, smoking marijuana does lead to an increased risk of lung cancer. One research study found that smoking marijuana could more than double the risk of developing lung cancer (Callaghan, Allebeck, and Sidorchuk 1811). This study is significant because proponents often suggest that many lung cancer studies concerning marijuana contain flaws, especially since they often fail to take into account possible tobacco usage and other respiratory problems of the research participants. However, this study accounted for tobacco usage and respiratory problems when considering the risk of lung cancer from marijuana use, and the researchers still found a statistically significant increase in cancer risk.
Another worrisome fact is that marijuana cigarettes (“joints”) do not contain filters to reduce the amount of toxic chemicals entering the lungs, but tobacco cigarettes do contain filters. Proponents of recreational marijuana often minimize this fact by arguing that there are other forms of marijuana consumption. Alternative methods of marijuana consumption do exist, including using bongs, vapor inhalers, ingesting foods laced with marijuana, and other similar methods that may bypass the lungs or reduce the toxic effects of smoke inhalation. However, even though these other methods do exist, they do not appear to be the most popular form of marijuana consumption. According to Budney, Moore, and Vandrey, “Smoking is the primary method for use of cannabis, and almost all chronic users smoke either marijuana cigarettes (“joints”) or use pipes to smoke marijuana or hashish” (253). This proves that smoking is still the main form of marijuana consumption, even among heavy users. Thus, a lung cancer threat is very real for chronic users.
Furthermore, marijuana appears to be even more dangerous and cancerous than tobacco. “Marijuana contains up to 50 percent more carcinogens and results in substantially greater tar deposits in the lungs than filtered tobacco cigarettes,” according to Budney, Moore, and Vandrey (253). In a study comparing marijuana and tobacco toxicity, marijuana was found to be significantly more cytotoxic, mutagenic, and chromosomally damaging as compared to tobacco (Maertens et al. 1413). All of these observed facts and research studies strongly suggest that regularly smoking marijuana increases the risk for lung cancer, and marijuana appears to be even more carcinogenic and dangerous when compared to tobacco—a known cancer-causing agent.
Oral Cancers and Marijuana Use
Aside from the increased risk of lung cancer, marijuana use has also been associated with various head and neck cancers, especially oral cancers of the tongue and soft palate. This should not be surprising considering the fact that tobacco users also experience a similar increased risk for these cancer types, and as stated previously, marijuana is more carcinogenic than tobacco. In a unique study performed by Ahrens and Bressi, researchers divided subjects into two groups based on cigarette smoking and marijuana use. The purpose of the study was to determine if researchers could isolate marijuana as a factor in causing oral cancer. Using a sophisticated process of adding oral dyes designed to pinpoint malignant lesions, Ahrens and Bressi examined the subjects and found that smoking marijuana led to an increased risk of oral cancer (118). They concluded their study by saying, “we get evident signs that marijuana smoke has to be considered as a risk factor for oral cancer. It is important to sensitize the public opinion about this risk…” (Ahrens and Bressi 119). This study clearly reveals that marijuana is associated with an increased risk of oral cancer. Even more worrisome is the fact that these cancers appear to be quite aggressive, often having a low chance of survival within a five-year period (Ahrens and Bressi 118).
Testicular Cancer and Marijuana Use
Lung and oral cancers may seem like an obvious risk to individuals who smoke marijuana chronically. After all, these cancers are strongly associated with smoking tobacco, and marijuana contains similar toxic chemicals. However, many people might find it surprising that researchers have linked marijuana to other serious cancers types. One type of cancer that is associated with marijuana use is testicular cancer, which often affects young men.
But how much of an increased risk of testicular cancer do men using marijuana face? In a study of marijuana use and testicular cancer, Lori Whitten writes, “The researchers found that the odds of having testicular cancer were 70 percent higher among men who reported current marijuana use compared with nonusers. In addition, the research observed 80 percent higher odds of testicular cancer among men who started to use marijuana before age 18 compared with nonusers” (11). These figures are astonishing on their own, but the study found another troubling fact: The type of testicular cancer associated with marijuana use was the worst possible kind—nonseminomas, which grow faster and cause higher mortality rates than other types of testicular cancer (Whitten 12). This study reveals that marijuana is not only responsible for a wide range of cancers (even cancer types that may seem improbable), but it is also responsible for very aggressive types of cancers with low probabilities of survival. These studies are alarming, and chronic marijuana users—as well as state and federal legislative bodies—should take action against legalization.
Bladder Cancer and Marijuana Use
Another improbable cancer associated with marijuana use is bladder cancer, which is also associated with cigarette smoking. Citing a study by Chacko et al., doctors found that marijuana use was the only variable that bladder cancer patients did not have in common with the control group, and the doctors concluded that “smoking marijuana may be as bad as—or worse than—cigarette smoking as a risk factor for bladder cancer” (“Marijuana Use Associated” 3). Chacko et al. noted that physicians were prompted to initiate this study after discovering an alarming trend among younger bladder cancer patients: “We noticed several younger patients who had developed transitional cell carcinoma were similar in that they all shared a history of marijuana smoking” (qtd. in “Marijuana Use Associated” 3). These findings corroborate the emerging trend of marijuana use as a factor for increased cancer risks.
All of these cancer risks warrant a serious discussion on the safety of marijuana when used for recreational purposes over long periods. Cancer is a serious disease, and researchers have linked many of the cancers listed above with marijuana use. This should come as no surprise since researchers have linked tobacco with many of these same cancer types. Perhaps even more serious is the fact that many of the cancers linked with marijuana use appear to be more aggressive than other cancer types not connected with marijuana use.
It is ironic that the United States government requires warning labels on cigarettes and employ copious ad campaigns warning against the dangerous effects of long-term tobacco use (and with good reason), yet many states are putting measures on the ballots to allow recreational uses of marijuana, including allowing individuals to grow their own plants at home. It would clearly be a mistake to legalize marijuana for recreational use given the associated cancerous effects, not to mention the other serious health effects listed later in this report. Although many studies have found a link between marijuana and these cancers, it is possible that other unknown cancer risks exist. Additional studies are needed to determine if other cancers—such as pancreatic cancer or breast cancer—are also associated with marijuana use.
Marijuana and Other Health Risks
Aside from the numerous cancer risks associated with marijuana use, researchers have observed many other detrimental health effects, as well as a few minor effects. Popular culture has humorously portrayed some of these minor health effects in movies, television, and other forms of entertainment media. These commonly known minor effects can include the following: reddening of the eyes, increased appetite (“the munchies”), dry mouth (“cotton mouth”), increased heart rate, increased humor perception (“the giggles”), and a feeling of euphoria or relaxation (“being stoned”).
Nevertheless, what does current scholarly research report about the negative health effects of marijuana? Are there other serious health concerns besides cancer? Yes, according to many different lines of independent research, marijuana can cause many other concerning mental and physical health problems, including suicidal tendencies, depression and mood changes, memory problems, cardiovascular risks, non-cancerous lung damage, weakened immune system, infertility, and more, as examined below. These research findings undoubtedly contradict some of the proponents’ claims, which often suggest that marijuana is relatively safe, or in some cases, healthy.
Marijuana and Suicide Risks
One of the most troubling health associations with chronic marijuana use is that of suicidal risks. In one study regarding marijuana use and suicide within a twin population, Zickler notes that “Men and women who smoked marijuana before age 17 are 3.5 times as likely to attempt suicide as those who started later. Individuals who are dependent on marijuana have a higher risk than nondependent individuals of experiencing major depressive disorders and suicidal thoughts and behaviors” (12). This study was unique because it used identical and fraternal pairs of twins to help isolate any link between marijuana and suicidal thoughts and tendencies. Moreover, this study is notable because it also points out, as other unrelated studies have, that individuals who begin smoking marijuana at an early age are at a much greater risk for dangerous health effects. This is alarming because many of the states that are legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes are doing so at the young age of 21, an age dangerously close to the one cited in Zickler’s study.
Considering that the twins study cited above found such a strong association with marijuana use and an increased risk of suicide, it seems that marijuana would be associated with other similar mental health disorders. After all, if smoking a “joint” can alter your mood, it also appears that prolonged use could cause permanent changes. However, does research support this hypothesis? Indeed it does. Most scholarly research studies have found significant links between marijuana and depression, as well as other mood disorders.
Marijuana, Depression, and Mood Disorders
Various scholarly journal articles have cited a link between marijuana and specific disorders such as depression or anxiety. For example, in a study by Cheung et al., individuals who used marijuana chronically (defined as daily) were found to have the most significant level of anxiety and mood disorders (120). In this same study, individuals who abstained from marijuana use experienced a far less risk of reporting anxiety and mood disorders, even when removing other factors (Cheung et. al 120). This corroborates Zickler’s observations, and this study clearly suggests that there is a strong association between marijuana use and many different types of mood disorders.
Furthermore, several other studies have reported a correlation between marijuana and severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia or psychosis (Budney, Moore, and Vandrey 263). Some of the symptoms of psychosis, as reported by Budney, Moore, and Vandrey, include the following: “hallucinations, delusions, confusion, amnesia, paranoia, hypomania, and labile mood…” (263). Marijuana users who develop schizophrenia do so at an earlier age and tend to have more severe cases that are resistant to treatment (DeLisi 141). These studies are unable to explain the common connection between marijuana use and schizophrenia, but all acknowledge the dramatic influence this drug has on individuals who develop these disorders.
Since marijuana is strongly associated with an increase in mood, mental health, and anxiety disorders—even among unrelated research studies—a connection between the two must exist. Given the fact that more severe forms of mood or mental health disorders such as depression or schizophrenia can lead to suicide, society should consider these troubling facts when voting for marijuana legalization.
Marijuana’s Effect on Memory and Brain Tissue
Aside from the depression, anxiety, and mood disorders associated with marijuana use, marijuana has also been associated with various memory problems. Popular culture has often referenced this via many television shows, movies, and other entertainment sources, which depict marijuana users as being stereotypically forgetful. However, is the popular stereotype of memory problems among marijuana users supported by scientific research? According to most research, marijuana is associated with both acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) memory and cognitive problems.
In a study by Battisti et al., researchers administered neurocognitive ability tests to marijuana users and measured the results against a control group (321). The study found significant differences in the neurocognitive abilities in marijuana users as compared to the control group, leading the researchers to conclude that “These findings represent evidence that chronic use of cannabis is related to altered patterns of brain function that underlie poor memory performance…” (Battisti et al. 326). Other unrelated scientific studies echo the same conclusions drawn by this study, which adds credibility to the mounting evidence that marijuana affects memory.
For example, in the Handbook of the Medical Consequences of Alcohol and Drug Abuse, Budney, Moore, and Vandrey cited a series of repeated studies by Solowij, in which marijuana users had far worse cognitive results as compared to the control groups (268). This same text also cited up to nine other studies that published similar conclusions, including studies that reported poor results in academic performance among students. The authors concluded: “literature strongly suggests that chronic marijuana use can impair performance on various types of cognitive tests, specifically those thought to involve complex cognitive processes” (Budney, Moore, and Vandrey 270). These studies reinforce the common stereotype that marijuana can cause short-term and long-term problems in memory and other important cognitive brain functions.
Perhaps even more disturbing, however, is that marijuana can alter brain tissue, even among occasional users—not just heavy users. According to one study, Gilman et al. noted changes in the gray matter in the brains of recreational marijuana users, summarizing their results by indicating that they found “greater gray matter density in marijuana users than in control participants” (qtd. in “Even Casual Cannabis” 13).
Marijuana and Cardiovascular Problems
Aside from memory problems and changes in brain tissues, researchers have also linked marijuana use with cardiovascular problems. This is not surprising since tobacco use has also been associated with cardiovascular problems, and marijuana has a greater level of toxic chemicals and carcinogens than tobacco, as noted previously in this report. However, what kind of damage can marijuana cause to the cardiovascular system?
Marijuana is commonly known to cause acute symptoms when smoked, including a substantially increased heart rate (tachycardia) among most users. These effects are usually only temporary and not life threatening for those in good health, but the increased heart rate could lead to cardiac arrest, angina, or cerebrovascular accidents (strokes) in individuals with pre-existing cardiac disease (Budney, Moore, and Vandrey 258). This is important to note because marijuana is rarely dangerous when used only a few times throughout one’s life, but in instances where individuals have pre-existing cardiovascular disease, even smoking one single joint could induce death or other debilitating health problems. When considering the large number of Americans suffering with heart disease, this is a cause for concern.
Besides the acute cardiac effects of smoking marijuana, researchers have also cited chronic cardiovascular health effects. These chronic effects include decreased blood pressure, lower oxygen levels for the heart, increased risk for heart attacks, increased risks for strokes, heart rate abnormalities, and even amputation of the extremities due to reduced blood supply (Sidney 66S). Sidney concluded his study by saying, “a prudent recommendation can be made to a patient who either has or is at risk for ischemic cardiovascular disease to avoid the use of marijuana…” (68S). These acute and chronic cardiovascular effects of marijuana use should be taken seriously by individuals with pre-existing cardiovascular disease, and it would be a mistake to legalize a drug that can cause such effects, especially when considering all of the other health risks reported thus far.
Respiratory Disease (Lung Damage) from Marijuana Use
In addition to the dangerous cardiovascular health effects associated with marijuana use, researchers have also linked this drug with various forms of respiratory disease. Marijuana has been strongly associated with lung cancer, and it can dramatically increase the risk for the disease, as noted previously in this report. However, lung cancer is not the only cause for concern when considering lung health.
Many of the lung disorders associated with marijuana use correlate with the findings of chronic tobacco use. Recurrent bronchitis infections are a serious risk for individuals who smoke marijuana, and researchers have found that marijuana users have a much higher bronchitis index scores when compared to nonusers (Joshi, Joshi, and Bartter 4). Not only are marijuana users at a much higher risk of developing bronchitis, but these infections also tend to be worse, especially since marijuana can have an immune-suppressing effect (Budney, Moore, and Vandrey 256). These recurrent bronchitis infections can lead to other lung infections such as pneumonia, and this risk is even more serious in individuals with poor immune systems (Budney, Moore, and Vandrey 254).
Strangely, few researchers have conducted studies regarding exclusive marijuana use and another common lung disease among smokers: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, also known as COPD. Budney, Moore, and Vandrey cited a few studies that proved inconclusive on the topic (255). However, despite the current lack of association between exclusive marijuana use and COPD, one study did find that marijuana use significantly increased the risk of COPD when used in conjunction with tobacco smoking (“Marijuana Smoking Increases Risk” 232). Considering the strong evidence for lung cancer, bronchitis, potential COPD, and other potential lung disorders, it is undeniable that chronic marijuana use can cause significant and potentially irreversible damage to the respiratory system.
Marijuana Use and the Immune System
Besides lung damage, another health concern is marijuana’s effect on the immune system. The body’s immune system is responsible for fighting various diseases, including viruses, bacteria, cancer, and other harmful pathogens, and a healthy immune system is essential for good health. Unfortunately, research has discovered that marijuana can cause weakening or damage to the immune system.
Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinal (THC) is the primary psychoactive substance found in marijuana, and this chemical contains immunosuppressant qualities (Cabral 62). This can weaken the immune system’s ability to fight disease. Cabral noted several studies in which researchers linked THC with an increased risk of infections with various pathogens, including sexually transmitted viruses such as herpes, as well as common bacteria (62). In addition, researchers have linked marijuana use to various sexually transmitted diseases, especially in men (Cabral 63). This increased risk for STDs may be due to the weakening effect of the immune system.
Cannabinoids, the substances found within marijuana, appear to weaken the immune system cells through various means: perturbation, disruption, and cell membrane alterations (Cabral 70). Cabral concluded his study by saying, “marijuana and cannabinoids alter immune cell function and can exert deleterious effects on resistance to infection in humans” (77). These studies cited by Cabral show that substances found in marijuana can weaken the immune system, causing an increased risk to various diseases.
Budney, Moore, and Vandrey’s findings strengthen the evidence that marijuana can have a detrimental effect on the immune system, and the authors cited many studies reporting that marijuana users’ immune systems had a reduced ability to destroy tumors and various pathogens, especially in the respiratory system (256). These immune suppressing studies may also help explain why marijuana users are at an increased risk for lung cancer, as well as other cancers and dangerous health effects cited within this report.
Marijuana and Infertility
Marijuana’s effect on human fertility is another unsettling health concern. Several studies have observed that male cannabis users have lower sperm counts and various changes in semen morphology compared to nonusers, as well as decreased sperm motility (Ehrenkranz and Hembree 244). The reduction in sperm counts were significant among cannabis users, and researchers noted a shocking 30-70% reduction in sperm counts after participants began smoking marijuana for only seven days, with some men retaining low counts after ceasing marijuana use (Ehrenkranz and Hembree 244). The increased risk of testicular cancer among male marijuana users, as previously cited in this report, could also lead to infertility in men. In advanced cases of testicular cancer, doctors commonly remove one or more of the testicles, which could dramatically decrease (or eliminate) fertility.
Male fertility is not the only concern with marijuana use—marijuana also affects female fertility. A recent study found that marijuana use decreased the mechanisms responsible for embryo implantation into the uterine wall (Piomelli 19). Although the study was performed using mice, this process is similar in humans. If the embryo cannot attach to the uterine wall, spontaneous abortion could result (Piomelli 19). Budney, Moore, and Vandrey also noted that marijuana alters female hormones associated with reproduction, although this can vary (259). While research on female fertility with respect to marijuana use is limited, there is enough evidence to cause concern for female marijuana users who may wish to conceive.
Marijuana and Birth Defects
Although marijuana can decrease fertility in male and female marijuana users, pregnancy can still occur. This raises another potential concern among female marijuana users: birth defects. Because tobacco use has long been associated with various birth defects—and marijuana is even more toxic than tobacco—the risk of birth defects resulting from marijuana use is a considerable threat to the health of children in utero.
Researchers have observed that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary chemical in marijuana, can permeate the placenta during pregnancy (Budney, Moore, and Vandrey 259). Daniele Piomelli notes that marijuana use by mothers during pregnancy has been linked with a decrease in birth weight, as well as minor cognitive deficiencies that present in later childhood (19). Budney, Moore, and Vandrey also note signs of nervous system damage in infants of marijuana users, including the following: “increased tremors, decreased visual habituation, exaggerated startle, and increased hand-to-mouth behavior” (259). Gelder et al. also list various birth defects, including the following: “increased risks of gastroschisis, isolated simple ventricular septal defects, and anencephaly” (425).
Although doctors and researchers have observed the birth defects mentioned above due to maternal marijuana use, more research is needed to determine if addition risks are present. Because marijuana has previously been illegal (and still is in many states), cannabis usage is likely underreported during pregnancy. In addition, there is a stigma in our society associated with drug use during pregnancy, and this may interfere with study results that gauge marijuana’s influence on birth defects. Nevertheless, research has observed birth defects in children born to maternal marijuana users, and this warrants not only additional research, but also continued legislation against this dangerous drug.
Marijuana Abuse, Dependence, and Addiction
Because marijuana has been associated with cancer and other deleterious health effects reported thus far, the risk of addiction or dependence is particularly concerning. It is unquestionable that marijuana is an addictive drug. In the article “DrugFacts: Marijuana,” the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that “about 9 percent of users become addicted to marijuana; this number increases among those who start young (to about 17 percent, or 1 in 6) and among people who use marijuana daily (to 25-50 percent).” Even more alarming is the fact that researchers have ranked marijuana as the third most addictive and dependent drug in the past 20 years, trailing only behind alcohol and cigarettes (Hall 5).
Furthermore, the number of individuals seeking treatment for marijuana addiction has increased in recent years. The number of individuals entering a treatment facility for marijuana dependence, addiction, or abuse doubled between years 1993-2005, bringing the percentage of those seeking treatment up to 16 percent—a higher percentage of treatment admissions than that of cocaine or heroin users (Budney, Moore, and Vandrey 276). These facts clearly indicate that marijuana is a drug that can cause serious problems of addiction, abuse, and dependence among recreational or heavy users.
Despite the staggering number of research studies and statistics that prove marijuana is a highly addictive drug, some legalization proponents argue that marijuana is rarely addictive (or not addictive at all). Budney, Moore, and Vandrey suggest that this denial may come from the “personal experiences” of marijuana users, not scientific facts (274). In addition, legalization proponents have cast doubt on scientific studies, and this could be creating unnecessary skepticism in scientific data (Budney, Moore, and Vandrey 282). However, it is unequivocal that marijuana is addictive, especially considering the large percentage of individuals entering treatment facilities for marijuana addiction or dependence. The statistics gathered over the past few decades of addiction research, as well as the countless anecdotes of addiction among users also confirm marijuana’s ability to create dependence and addiction in users.
Perhaps one source of confusion stems from a common misunderstanding of the terms dependence and addiction. Drug addiction is defined as follows: “Addiction—or compulsive drug use despite harmful consequences—is characterized by an inability to stop using a drug; failure to meet work, social, or family obligations; and, sometimes (depending on the drug), tolerance and withdrawal” (“Principles of Drug” 24). In contrast, dependence is defined as follows: “the body adapts to the drug, requiring more of it to achieve a certain effect (tolerance) and eliciting drug-specific physical or mental symptoms if drug use is abruptly ceased (withdrawal)” (“Principles of Drug” 24). It is important to note that a person can be both dependent and addicted to a drug, and both can occur with marijuana use (“Principles of Drug” 25).
When an individual is addicted to or dependent upon marijuana, the withdrawal symptoms that accompany cessation of the drug can be agonizing. Cornelius et al. notes that “The most commonly reported specific withdrawal symptoms were cannabis craving, irritability, restlessness, anxiety, and depression” (1504). Budney, Moore, and Vandrey also note similar withdrawal symptoms, with the addition of “uncooperativeness” and “decreased appetite” (277). While these symptoms are most dramatic in individuals who are dependent or addicted to marijuana, they also occur in non-dependent users (Cornelius et al. 1504). In addition, these withdrawal symptoms are so severe that they often hinder daily tasks (Hall 5). The various deleterious health effects of chronic marijuana use described thus far, as well as the addiction and dependence risks (and subsequent withdrawal symptoms) associated with cannabis use strongly suggest that this drug poses a serious risk to individuals, and it should not be legalized for recreational purposes.
Marijuana’s Negative Effect on Society
The health risks examined in this report have primarily focused on marijuana’s effects on individuals who use it for recreational purposes. However, research studies have linked marijuana with various problems that can affect society in general, including nonusers. Some of the societal problems associated with marijuana use include an increase in violent behavior, impaired driving, increased peer pressure, an increase in illicit drug use (gateway), and an increase in crime activity, as this report will discuss below. All of these problems could jeopardize the health and well-being of all members of society.
Marijuana and Violent Behavior
Perhaps one of the most unsettling effects of marijuana is that of increased violent behavior. Citing data from the National Household Survey, the Encyclopedia of Juvenile Violence reports, “juvenile marijuana users were four times more likely than nonusers to engage in violence. The majority of youths who engage in violence also report using marijuana” (186). The disturbing link between marijuana and violence is confirmed by other research. In a study conducted on intimate partner violence in relation to marijuana use, habitual marijuana users had a 1.2-2.4 increased risk of engaging in violence against their partners, even when excluding other drugs such as alcohol (Reingle et al. 1571). These findings corroborate previous studies on the association between increased intimate partner violence and marijuana use, and this association appears to be strongest when users begin using marijuana at an early age (Reingle et al. 1571). This evidence clearly shows that the negative effects of marijuana are not confined to marijuana users—even nonusers can become victims of domestic abuse.
Marijuana’s Effect on Driving
Aside from the increase in violent behavior associated with marijuana use, this drug could affect individuals in society in another unexpected way: automobile accidents. Similar to the effects of alcohol, several research studies have found a strong association between marijuana use and driving impairment, including an increase in automobile accidents (Arterberry et al. 854). Marijuana can alter psychomotor behavior, which can lead to slower response times and decreased driving performance (Arterberry et al. 854). In the article “DrugFacts: Marijuana,” the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that using marijuana “more than doubles a driver’s risk of being in an accident,” and driving impairment is significantly increased when alcohol and marijuana are used together. Despite the facts concerning marijuana’s impairment on drivers, university students consider marijuana to be the safest illicit drug, and this inaccurate perception could influence students’ decisions regarding marijuana use and driving safety (Arterberry et al. 854).
If driving under the influence of marijuana can lead to an increase in fatal automobile accidents, then it is possible that widespread cannabis legalization could increase this even more. Not surprisingly, this is exactly what recent research suggests. In a recent study, researchers gauged the effects of marijuana legalization in Colorado in relation to marijuana use and automobile accidents. Researchers found that the number of drivers involved in fatal marijuana-related automobile accidents has increased significantly since legalization in Colorado, even after excluding alcohol and other factors (Salomonsen-Sautel et al. 139). Prior to legalization, marijuana-related fatal accidents were decreasing (Salomonsen-Sautel 140). This sobering data suggests that marijuana can be harmful for society, and automobile accidents could dramatically increase with widespread legalization, affecting both users and nonusers alike.
Marijuana and Crime Activity
Aside from the increase in automobile accidents associated with marijuana use, research studies have also linked marijuana use with an increase in crime activity. One form of crime associated with marijuana use is intimate partner violence, which has already been discussed in this report (Reingle et al. 1571). Citing a report by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Encyclopedia of Juvenile Violence also reports that “ marijuana users themselves said they were more likely than nonusers to attack other teens or destroy property” (186). An increase in crimes associated with marijuana use includes property crimes (theft, vandalism, fraud, etc.), drug crimes, and violent crimes such as domestic violence or murder (Green et al. 119). In a study on marijuana and crime, researchers found that marijuana users had more than double the arrests in all three categories of crime (property, drugs, and violence) than nonusers did (Green et al. 120). These different lines of research appear to form a consensus that marijuana use is strongly associated with an increase in crime.
Marijuana and Peer Influence
Given the seriousness of marijuana’s ability to damage an individual’s health and influence driving patterns and criminal behavior, it is important to explore how marijuana use may spread. Peer pressure is one method that could lead to an increase in use among adolescents, especially if widespread legalization occurs. It is a commonly known fact that peer pressure can influence drug use, and research confirms that peers influence marijuana consumption. In a study on peer pressure and its effect on cannabis consumption, Gallupe and Bouchard found that “when the audience at a party consists of more friends who use cannabis and in greater amounts, adolescents were likely to use greater amounts of cannabis” (167). According to Finley, friends are the most common source of marijuana acquisition, and most claim that they could acquire the drug with ease (186). These facts are concerning if legalization continues, because younger individuals may be more susceptible to marijuana use if the drug is easily accessible in a context that allows for peer influence.
Marijuana as a Gateway Drug
Another concerning fact for society is that marijuana can act as a gateway drug. Several studies have confirmed that individuals who use marijuana for recreational purposes are at a much higher risk of using other illicit drugs. In a study designed to examine the relationship between marijuana use and other drug use, researchers found that illicit drug use was normal in marijuana users, whereas nonusers had almost no illicit drug use (Fergusson and Horwood 516). Another study found that “the increasing use of cannabis was associated with the increasing use abuse/dependence and diversity of use of other forms of illicit drugs” (Fergusson, Boden, and Horwood 564). In addition, researchers found that cannabis use is most likely a causal factor in other illicit drug use, not a mere correlation (Fergusson, Boden, and Horwood 564). These two studies also cite other studies that suggest that marijuana is indeed a gateway drug. Considering marijuana’s gateway effect, the influence of peer pressure, and the dangers associated with illicit drug use, legalizing this drug could cause many dangers for society.
Marijuana is one of the most commonly used illicit drugs, and it can cause detrimental health effects when used chronically. Marijuana is associated with numerous cancers, including lung cancer, oral cancers, testicular cancer, and bladder cancer. It can also cause other health effects, including the following: mental health problems such as psychosis, anxiety, suicide, and mood disorders; cardiovascular problems; memory and cognitive problems; lung infections; infertility and birth defects; changes in the tissues of the human brain; and addiction and dependence.
In addition, marijuana’s damaging effects extend beyond individuals and can affect our entire society. Some of the dangers that can affect innocent civilians include an increase in violence and criminal activity, as well as an increase in fatal automobile accidents. Marijuana is also a gateway drug that can lead to more illicit drug use among users, and marijuana use is often spread through peer pressure. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, substance abuse—including marijuana—costs our country a staggering $600 billion dollars per year (12). Based on the data examined in this report, this figure would likely increase with widespread legalization, especially considering the potential for increased healthcare and law enforcement costs.
Although marijuana is a serious drug that demands legislative restrictions, few people would argue that it could cause serious health effects when used once or twice throughout one’s life, excluding possible events of sudden cardiac arrest or automobile accidents. However, marijuana does have detrimental health consequences when used regularly, and these consequences are copious and cannot be ignored. In addition, innocent members of society could be negatively impacted by its legalization in many ways. Given the current political climate that favors legalization, it could take years or even decades to realize the total damage this drug has caused to America once widespread legalization occurs. By that point, it may be too late to reverse the damage done to society.
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