More States Are Legalizing Marijuana. Should We Be Worried?

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No matter where you stand on the issue of legalizing marijuana, the reality is that marijuana laws are changing. It has been a year since Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana, and more states are expected to follow. In fact, more than half of states are considering decriminalizing the drug or legalizing it for medical or recreational use, and some of these states come from the conservative south.

Though democrats and republicans fight on almost every issue, it appears that people from all sides of the political spectrum are agreeing on decriminalizing marijuana. A primary concern is that American prisons are filled with high numbers of drug dealers and users, and the cost of our inmate population is exhausting. There are other advantages always being thrown out on the table, such as the fact that legalizing pot could boost the economy and generate American jobs and revenue. Also, people argue that marijuana is no less harmful than alcohol and cigarettes, both of which are legal.

Any time there is a big issue, it’s important to hear both sides. The problem is that the harmful effects of marijuana are being ignored in the process. While it’s true that our country’s prisons are overpopulated, is treating marijuana like a harmless drug really the best approach? Think about it: We are swinging the pendulum from side to the other without finding a middle ground.

Bottom line: Marijuana is bad for you.

Here’s what we all need to keep in mind, even as the drug is decriminalized.

Marijuana is Highly Addictive

Marijuana is the most widely used illegal drug in the world, and for good reason. It’s addictive. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana use has been increasing in young people since 2007, largely because of the drug’s harmless image that is being portrayed through public debates. It’s estimated that 9 percent of people who use marijuana become dependent on the drug; although this number goes up to 17 percent for people who start using the drug in their teens. When trying to quit, withdrawal symptoms include feeling moody, tense, anxious and experiencing sleep difficulties.

Marijuana Affects Physical Health

We now know the dangers of cigarettes, and laws have cracked down on smoking them in public. On the flip side, marijuana laws are becoming more lenient, but marijuana smoke contains 50 to 70 percent more cancer-causing substances than tobacco smoke. One study reported that a single cannabis joint could cause as much damage as five cigarettes smoked in a row. Chronic marijuana users also commonly suffer from bronchitis, chronic coughing and increased phlegm production. Additionally, smoking pot can cause a 20 to 100 percent increase in a user’s heart rate, putting them at risk for a heart attack.

Marijuana Affects the Brain

When marijuana is smoked, THC passes from the lungs, into the bloodstream and then to the brain and other organs. Marijuana overactivates the endocannabinoid system and causes the “high.” Users experience altered perceptions and mood, impaired coordination, difficulty thinking and problem solving and disrupted learning and memory, according to NIDA. With this impact on brain development, pot can have lasting effects on thinking and memory.

Also, further research shows associations between marijuana and mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. More research is needed to confirm these associations, but they clearly indicate that teens and young adults who smoke marijuana are more likely to suffer from an underlying mental condition. Research has also shown that marijuana users have a lack of motivation to engage in typically rewarding activities.

Marijuana is a Gateway Drug

This theory has been debated for decades, but it makes perfect sense. If a young teen is willing to experiment with pot and enjoy the high that comes with it, what’s going to stop them from trying other drugs? Think about the increasing rate of heroin use and why it’s happening. More young people are getting hooked on pain medication and then turning to the cheaper and more readily available heroin. The same goes for marijuana. If teens are smoking pot to get high, relax their moods and deal with stress, they are going to be that much more comfortable trying something new.

As more states begin to decriminalize marijuana, it’s important not to overlook the many dangers of marijuana. This drug is highly addictive and can affect both our physical and mental health. We are becoming a nation of self medication, and we need to focus our energy on finding healthy, constructive ways of dealing with everyday life rather than turning to drugs.