Perception of Marijuana as a ‘Safe Drug’ Is Scientifically Inaccurate

Reading in the literature over the past few years, I’ve become more and more convinced (as, apparently, have a bunch of folks far more knowledgeable than I) that drug use among preteens and teens — including alcohol — is turning into a major mental health problem.

It has always been a problem, of course, but I think that when my generation — the first to consider drug use a more-or-less acceptable practice — started raising kids, we also raised the ante quite a bit.  This is borne out by research into brain development.  We now know that the connections in the brain that facilitate its most complex functions don’t finish forming until the early 20’s, and that their formation can be retarded or prevented by the use of alcohol and other drugs.  Given that kids are naturally wired for exploring and risk-taking during this period, and that drugs by their very nature reduce anyone’s judgement, we have a situation that is interesting, at the very least.

Here’s some newly-released data regarding cannabis, although much of the information can be extrapolated theoretically to include other drugs.  I encourage you to read the entire article, along with some of the related stories in the sidebar.

Cannabis interacts with our brain through chemical receptors (namely cannabinoid receptors such as CB1 and CB2.) These receptors are situated in the areas of our brain that govern our learning and management of rewards, motivated behavior, decision-making, habit formation and motor function. As the structure of the brain changes rapidly during adolescence (before settling in adulthood), scientists believe that the cannabis consumption at this time greatly influences the way these parts of the user’s personality develop.
(Science Daily, 08/28/2013)

As the writers go on to say, this isn’t about whether or not cannabis is good, bad or indifferent.  It’s about addressing a public health issue that has a serious impact on millions of kids, and about educating lawmakers and the public so that we can make some informed decisions about future handling of cannabis and cannabis products legally and medically.  As with alcohol, it’s impossible to control a drug that can be produced without any technical skills worth mentioning.  Instead, we must arrive at strategies to mitigate harm that is already occurring and will inevitably continue.

3 thoughts on “Perception of Marijuana as a ‘Safe Drug’ Is Scientifically Inaccurate

  1. Bill Post author

    Like most drugs, including alcohol, some can use with impunity and some cannot. This is a blog for addicts and people in recovery, not an educational site for the general public. Thus I aim my remarks toward people who already have problems. If you read through some out of the other comments, you will find that many of the other commenters have major problems with cannabis. Those are the people who need the straight word.

    Your argument is reminiscent of the position that marhijuana should be legal “because alcohol is more dangerous.” I’d remind you that tobacco is still legal too, even though it, not alcohol, is the single greatest preventable cause of death, not only in the US, but all over the world.

    Those of us who deal with the consequences of all kinds of drug use have a rather different perspective on the problem. While I and most others abhor the damage that criminalization has caused in the case of *all* simple use and possession cases, that is a far cry from encouraging the proliferation of an already serious problem. Not everyone becomes addicted to cannabis, just as only a relatively small percentage of drinkers become alcoholic. Still the 7 to 10% who do cost us tens of billions a year in lost health, productivity and damaged lives. Do we really need to encourage another “relatively harmless” drug?

    I suggest that it’s not only unwise, it’s morally suspect.



  2. Tamara Bennett

    I think you have an awesome blog going and I congratulate you for putting all this information out there to help other people. Not to defend marijuana or anything but I just watched a video on the most dangerous drugs out there and cannabis is actually ranked pretty low. Not to say that it is not a bad drug, but I think the focus on adolescents and drugs should be more triggered towards alcohol and tobacco. Teens have a greater access to both of these drugs, and are more likely to start smoking cannabis after they have had an encounter with either alcohol or tobacco. Alcohol itself is the cause for more deaths alone than all other drugs combined. While it carries more carcinogens and tar than tobacco, less smoke is inhaled with marijuana than cigarettes. With that said, almost any drug is going to affect an adolescents brain while they’re growing up. Your brain does not fully develop till 24-25. So I think if we are going to say how bad marijuana is for your brain, you might want to consider how much more harmful alcohol and tobacco is, and teens have more access to them, mainly because they are legal. Kids need a greater boundary from all drugs in general if we are going to make boundaries to start with. Being able to buy cigarettes when your 18 while your brain is not yet developed sounds like a terrible idea. I do agree that it is still not considered a safe drug because there have been links to marijuana usage and schizophrenia, but that is only if you have a certain gene combination which only one-fourth of the population have. There just is not enough research out there to fully deem marijuana as a bad or good drug because there are both pros and cons.


  3. elinaber616

    Thank you for this blog. Behind The Wall bloggers and followers know that for about 10% of the population, marijuana can become addictive and for some, may trigger psychosis. The trouble is we don’t know which ones of us will be affected that way. In our Behind The Wall blog we touch on people who have a dual diagnosis. There is so often an underlying mental illness in substance abuse. Parents need not panic, but be open and awake around your adolescents and young adults.


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