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OPINION: Marijuana addictive, linked to accidents

May 13, 2015


Cincinnati.com -  Mary F. Haag, RN, is CEO of PreventionFirst, formerly the Coalition for a Drug-Free Greater Cincinnati.

PreventionFirst wants to educate all Ohioans about the science and facts about marijuana. It is important for people to understand what is known about both the adverse health effects and the potential therapeutic benefits linked to marijuana. Here are a few things to think about.
First, our kids deserve better. Initiating marijuana use at an early age – the average age of first use in the Greater Cincinnati area is 13.8 years – increases vulnerability for drug abuse and addiction to other substances of abuse later in life. Marijuana, like alcohol and tobacco, is a drug that cross-sensitizes the brain for enhanced responses to other drugs, like opiates. Students who smoke marijuana have poorer educational outcomes than their nonsmoking peers. Studies have found frequent and persistent marijuana use starting in adolescence is associated with a loss of an average 8 IQ points.
Second, our communities deserve better. Yes, marijuana is addictive – a condition in which a person cannot stop using a drug even though it interferes with many aspects of his or her life. Overstimulation of the endocannabinoind system of the brain by marijuana use can cause changes in the brain that leads to addiction. Tetrahydro-cannabinol (THC), the psychoactive chemical in marijuana, is fat soluble and can remain in the body for days or even weeks after use.
Although many states now permit dispensing marijuana for medicinal purposes, it is not endorsed by any major medical association. There is mounting anecdotal evidence for the efficacy of marijuana-derived compounds, but there are currently no FDA-approved indications for "medical marijuana." However, safe medicines based on cannabinoid chemicals derived from the marijuana plant are available (ie. Marinol) and more are being developed (Sativex is fast-tracked). A cannabidiol-based (CBD) medicine called Epidiolex is also being tested and fast-tracked in the United States for the treatment of two forms of severe childhood epilepsy.
Third, our roadways and workplaces deserve better. Marijuana is the illicit drug most frequently found in the blood of drivers who have been involved in accidents, including fatal ones. We know that marijuana increases the risk of car accidents about twofold on its own and even more in combination with alcohol. Construction, manufacturing, aviation and transportation are examples of industries where a healthy workforce is necessary for the public safety of our community.
We should be thoughtfully examining all policy and regulatory options available to minimize harms to society and promote Americans' safety, well-being and competitiveness.
There is no reason to think laws limiting marijuana to adults will be any more successful than comparable laws for cigarettes or alcohol. Legalization will likely increase the already substantial proportion of teens that use marijuana regularly and thus put themselves at a competitive disadvantage in school and life.
As states are faced with the commercialization of marijuana under the guise of legalization, it is crucial they use science to guide their decision making, learn from past mistakes, and act to prevent the establishment of a "big marijuana" industry that will benefit from creating and sustaining a new generation of young people addicted to their product.
PreventionFirst does not support marijuana legalization – recreational or medicinal. We ask that everyone consider what their vision for a healthy community looks like and whether marijuana really plays a role in that plan. Remember prevention first, if we are to achieve a vibrant community in the future.
For more information visit, the NIDA Research Report Series on Marijuana by Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

“If you choose to consume, please do so responsibly.” 

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