Marijuana Legalization: There has been much debate about this issue with unwavering viewpoints from both sides. Is marijuana a harmful drug or is it benign? This is one of most frequently asked questions concerning the substance marijuana.
Years ago when discussing marijuana legalization, one point that I would frequently hear from the side defending it was the notion that marijuana was not a drug. In light of the recent movement across the country to 'legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes' that stance is usually not taken any more. You can't really promote a 'drug' for medicinal purposes unless it is actually considered a drug. In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) defines a drug as "any substance that, when taken into a living organism, may modify one or more of its functions."
Once it has been established that marijuana is indeed a drug the pro marijuana legalization side will often take a position that I hear repeatedly, which is: "marijuana is a natural substance and not man-made, and God put it here on this earth, therefore it is good or at the very least, not harmful." In my opinion, God put a lot of things on the earth, that doesn't necessarily mean all of them were meant to be ingested. While marijuana has been proven to have some medicinal properties, the majority of people that are using it are doing so for other purposes, and that purpose is to get high.
Marijuana is typically ingested by smoking it and the inhalation of smoke produced from a burning substance is toxic. Period. Lungs were built for fresh air and when something foreign or bad is in the lungs we cough to purge it, hence the term "smoker's cough." Many marijuana smokers as well as cigarette smokers are familiar with this. In the Mayo Clinic article "Marijuana as Medicine: Consider the Pros and Cons" it states that "marijuana smoke contains 50 percent to 70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than does tobacco smoke and has the potential to cause cancer of the lungs and respiratory tract. Marijuana smoke is commonly inhaled deeper and held longer than is tobacco smoke, increasing the lungs' exposure to carcinogens."
Also there are numerous chemicals unique only to marijuana plant. The current potency of marijuana, due to an increased percentage of THC, is significantly higher than ever before and so the research continues in order to determine with depth and scope of the impact on the body. The verdict is still out on whether these chemicals or higher levels of THC are harmful or not.
Sometimes users will tell me that when they smoke marijuana it doesn't modify or change them in any way. That argument is usually debunked rather quickly. Ingesting a substance like alcohol or other mood altering drugs is mainly done for the purpose of changing the way we feel. It is why we do it. I know, because although I am presently in long-term recovery, I spent many years actively using alcohol and other substances to alter, change, modify, enhance, or diminish the way I felt. Trust me, it changes us. If it didn't we probably wouldn't be doing it.
Some of the main reasons for using marijuana are that it helps people 'chill', relax, reduce stress, feel calm and have fun. In my own experience I tried to examine the reasons I needed a substance in order to achieve that state of being and why I couldn't do it on my own. For me, I was not able to 'turn off' those things that kept me worried, stressed, uptight, angry or not feeling good unless I ingested something in order to help me to do that. Some people claim there is nothing wrong with using a substance in order to achieve that. Maybe so, but the question remains, "Does marijuana have any negative impact or outcomes in the other areas of their life, such as financial, health, relationships, job opportunities, motivation, legal issues, emotional health?" When people come to me seeking counsel for marijuana dependency, these are the areas that it has caused harm.
Another question I like to add to the marijuana legalization debate is, "How is your life whenever you don't have the substance? " Often, when marijuana is not available, or an individual is trying to quit, they report feeling irritable, restless, discontent, grouchy, and depressed. These moods can be problematic and even harmful when left unchecked.
Another point for those in favor of marijuana legalization is that it's not as harmful or dangerous as alcohol. While this may be true in some measure, it does not mean that marijuana is not harmful, but rather less harmful depending on the circumstance. But why are we comparing it to alcohol in the first place? The only reason I can come up with is that alcohol is legal. If it becomes legal to use marijuana does it suddenly become harmless? Why don't we compare marijuana to something else that's legal, fun to do and not harmful and see how marijuana stacks up. How about exercising? "Exercising is legal, at times it can be fun, it can produce a 'high' and it relieves stress and anxiety. So if exercising is legal and provides these outcomes and marijuana does too, then marijuana should be legal!" That type of comparison can certainly put a different perspective on the subject.
If a person cannot see where there are negative consequences or outcomes occurring from what they are doing, they are most likely in a state of denial. Looking too closely at the situation may uncover a problem, which would then require some action or decision on the part of the user. If we choose to stay in denial then we don't have to do anything about the problem - because we don't see a problem!
"Marijuana is not a gateway drug," is something frequently told to me. Throughout my years of counseling people with substance abuse issues, sponsoring individuals in recovery, and talking to people who have used hard substances, they state that their journey did not start out by doing cocaine or meth or shooting heroin, it was a progression from their gateway drug which was alcohol and/or marijuana. It was the doorway that increased the odds of them going on to use harder substances. I know that was the case for me and countless others. That is why the assertion that it is not a gateway drug, can only be made individually, not globally.
So is marijuana harmful? Maybe not for some individuals, or those who truly need it for medicinal purposes, but for a lot of other people (myself included) yes, it is. Comparing marijuana to something else that has been harmful, such as alcohol or cigarettes, in order to justify marijuana legalization does not make sense to me and is a weak argument.
Angie Carter, CRADC, SAP is a certified alcohol and drug counselor in the State of Missouri and DOT certified Substance Abuse Professional. She is in private practice at Carter Counseling & Consulting Services in Central Missouri. Angie is available for telephone coaching and/or consultation. Click here to contact Angie with your questions or feedback.