Cannabis legalization is spreading with a momentum that feels unlikely to taper off any time soon. For a lot of people – drug policy reformers, slack-jawed entrepreneurs, and chillers who love to have a good time – this is great news. But for a smaller contingent, the era of legal weed has turned more than a few people into protagonists in some made-for-health-class thriller, beacons of sanity in a crazy world, such as the doctor who wrote this op-ed at NBC News and who is probably a lot smarter than me. They alone see the imminent harm that being able to buy a quarter ounce of sativa from a store instead of a guy on a bicycle will inflict on society. Think of the children! Blood in the streets!
The standard argument goes that because federal cannabis legalization feels inevitable (knock on wood), it’s very important to talk about the potential risks of legal cannabis: the higher percentage of THC in today’s recreational cannabis, the potential impact of cannabis on the teen brain or the pregnant woman’s body, the existence of a link between cannabis and psychosis or cannabis and anxiety.
The thing is, though, that actual cannabis research is almost comically limited, especially in the U.S. The DEA just made concessions in late August 2019 that could pave the way for clinical trials for medicinal cannabis – super timely, given the fact that all but three states have medical marijuana laws on the books already.
And the research that does exist is often contradictory. The threatening, high-THC strains, for instance, have also been shown to be particularly effective when it comes to managing chronic pain. The supposedly linear relationship between cannabis, psychosis and violence has been called shaky by scientists whose research gets cited in support of that connection. It’s also worth noting that only one death has actually ever been attributed to cannabis consumption – a conclusion that experts widely disputed. Contrast that with the number of annual deaths in the U.S. resulting from the use of legal substances, like opioids (over 75,000 in 2017) or alcohol (around 88,000).
One of the most irritating parts of the “cannabis is bad, actually” discourse is the fact that the prohibitionist POV tends to be painted as the rebellious perspective, the one no one is talking about – because everyone knows only the most iconoclastic, niche viewpoints get published in the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Washington Post, or the New York Times again.
Maybe when a Papers of Note publishes an op-ed from a guy who makes his own sublinguals arguing that weed cures all diseases, it will be time to panic; until then, there’s plenty of other unchecked medical puffery in opinions sections for actual doctors to worry about.
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