An anti-cannabis group, the Massachusetts Prevention Alliance, sent a statement recently to public officials, warning of possible mental health risks of cannabis consumption. Alarmist in tone, the statement, signed by 40 clinicians and researchers primarily from the addiction treatment field, focused on the psychological dangers of cannabis, which are relatively rare, ignored its positive health benefits, and recommended stricter controls over cannabis—controls that would be much more stringent than those on alcohol and tobacco, which are considerably more dangerous than cannabis. According to the Boston Globe, “The statement called for the Cannabis Control Commission to halt all new business licensing, to conduct a public health assessment of its social equity program, remove industry representatives from advisory boards, and ‘indefinitely delay’ cannabis cafes and home delivery.” In rebuttal to the statement, the Globe quoted Dr. Jordan Tishler of the Harvard Medical School, a proponent of medical marijuana as saying “’What we’re looking at here is a very strongly worded PR piece that looks like it’s got a lot of buy-in, but frankly is only a very small group of people. I’m not saying there aren’t harms, but the harms are a minor facet of a vast world of benefits, like the tip of an iceberg.’”
At Home Grow Community, we believe strongly that cannabis, if used responsibly by adults, can be beneficial to health and well-being. We also recognize that there is potential for abusive use, and that the impact of frequent cannabis consumption on teen brains is not well understood.
Ending federal prohibition will make it easier for scientists to conduct research and will give us all a better idea of what constitutes safe cannabis use. Until then, given the positives of cannabis appear to far outweigh the negatives, we feel current regulations in Massachusetts reflect a sensible balance between public access and public protection.
Statement by an Anti-Cannabis Group
On May 30th the Boston Globe reported that “…dozens of doctors and scientists criticized the state’s marijuana regulatory system Thursday, saying the current rules don’t adequately protect public health from high-potency cannabis products now sold legally at 19 stores around Massachusetts.” The article cited a statement sent to public officials by the Massachusetts Prevention Alliance, signed by 40 clinicians and researchers. Among its recommendations, the group recommended:
- Selling cannabis only in state-run stores
- Having health officials regulate cannabis
- Banning flavored products
The group’s language was alarmist, and its members seemed to take an extremist view of cannabis legalization. Heidi Heilman, president of the Massachusetts Prevention Alliance said “We’re up against a giant lobby that wants to advance sales and promotion of a dangerous, potentially addictive drug that’s incredibly harmful to people under the age of 25.”
Cannabis regulators and advocates questioned why the group waited so long to make a public statement, and why they didn’t participate in the regulatory process. They also felt the Prevention Alliance seemed to misunderstand the regulations, concluding that minority communities were being targeted for cannabis sales. In speaking with one of the cannabis commissioners, Shaleen Title, explained to the Boston Globe that cities and towns, not the state, determine where cannabis dispensaries are located, and that the regulations, which favor minority ownership, were designed to redress the harm caused by prohibition in those communities, not promote usage.
In a meeting hosted by the Prevention Alliance at the Kennedy Library, Alex Berenson, author of Tell Your Children, warned that marijuana leads to psychosis and violence. Dr. Peter Grinspoon of Massachusetts General Hospital, who specializes in cannabis, rebutted this, telling the Boston that “the group’s arguments overstated the harms of cannabis and ignored the benefits patients have found in treating pain, insomnia and other life-altering conditions. He went on to say that “the group’s stance ‘is not representative of what doctors think. This is in the realm of drug war ideology—not the realm of science based discussion.’”
Health Risks of Cannabis
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there are three primary health risks from consuming cannabis:
“About 1 in 10 marijuana users will become addicted. For people who begin using before the age of 18, that number rises to 1 in 6.” (To put that in perspective, alcohol is 10-15% and tobacco is 24%)
“Smoked marijuana, in any form, can harm lung tissues and cause scarring and damage to small blood vessels. Smoke from marijuana contains many of the same toxins, irritants, and carcinogens as tobacco smoke. 3Smoking marijuana can also lead to a greater risk of bronchitis, cough, and phlegm production.”
Mental Health Disorders
“Marijuana use, especially frequent (daily or near daily) use and use in high doses, can cause disorientation, and sometimes cause unpleasant thoughts or feelings of anxiety and paranoia. Marijuana users are significantly more likely than nonusers to develop temporary psychosis (not knowing what is real, hallucinations and paranoia) and long-lasting mental disorders, including schizophrenia.”
There is evidence linking heavy cannabis use with psychosis, especially in those with a genetic predisposition to schizophrenia. According to the National Center for Drug Abuse, “Several studies have linked marijuana use to increased risk for psychiatric disorders, including psychosis (schizophrenia), depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders, but whether and to what extent it actually causes these conditions is not always easy to determine.”
Cannabis in Perspective
Classifying cannabis as a controlled substance has led to comparisons with heroin and cocaine—hard drugs that are highly addictive and life destroying. In reality, cannabis is a mild intoxicant, more on the order of alcohol or nicotine. Yes, cannabis dependence is possible—about 9% of users (usually heavier users) become dependent, which is less than alcohol (10-15%) or tobacco (24%).
According to the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “An estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States. The first is tobacco, and the second is poor diet and physical inactivity.”
Newsweek reported what may the first cannabis related death in the U.S. Last week. “A coroner’s investigation into the death of a Louisiana woman found she died from a THC overdose in what appears to be the first recorded death from marijuana use in the United States. According to the New Orleans Advocate, Coroner Christy Montegut has outlined how he believes a 39-year-old woman, discovered dead in her apartment, died from vaping THC oil.” Newsweek explained why this was so unusual: “The National Center for Biotechnology Information, a branch of the National Institute of Health, said prior to news of the recent death in Louisiana, there had been ‘no known cases of fatal overdose from cannabis use in the epidemiologic literature.’”
Alcohol and tobacco are legal in every state, and while their sales are controlled, availability is ubiquitous—there are more than 40,000 beer, wine and liquor stores, more than 60,000 bars, taverns nightclubs and 380,000 stores selling tobacco in the U.S. Compare that to 2,113 cannabis dispensaries, of which the vast majority are medical.