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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Pot pros and cannabis cons: a look at our favorite plant

Published: November 5, 2010
Section: Arts, Etc.

With the elections this week, there are the usual controversial debates about taxes, abortion and health care. Yet one issue a lot of us have been casually throwing around is the idea presented by California’s Proposition 19, which would essentially legalize marijuana. In addition, there was the unbinding Question 4 on the Massachusetts ballot, which asks if our marijuana policy should be reevaluated, so this issue of legalizing marijuana is closer to home than we may think. Now I’m not trying to go into politics here, because that’s never a light topic, nor am I claiming weed should be legal here, but I thought this would be a good opportunity to analyze the real facts about marijuana and its true effects on health.

Marijuana is the Cannabis plant when prepared with the intent of using it as a psychoactive drug because of its main chemical component of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The drug can be consumed via smoking or by oral consumption and, according to High Times magazine, the minimum amount of THC needed for someone to feel its effects is about 10µg/kg (microgram per kilogram) of body weight. According to an article in Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology, the short-term effects of weed include, “subjective change in perception, increased heart rate, lowered blood pressure, impairment of short-term episodic memory, working memory, psycho-motor coordination and concentration.” Whether these effects can be harmful or cause potential long-term effects is the point of controversy.

The argument in favor of legalizing marijuana is that some of these effects can be medically beneficial to certain patients. As Dr. Jocelyn Elders describes, “The evidence is overwhelming that marijuana can relieve certain types of pain, nausea, vomiting and other symptoms caused by such illnesses as multiple sclerosis, cancer and AIDS.” The American College of Physicians also urges officials to reevaluate the status of marijuana usage and accessibility due to its new founded safeness and efficiency when used for certain medical conditions. Dr. Lester Grinspoon of Harvard Medical School states, “There is very little evidence that smoking marijuana as a means of taking it represents a significant health risk.” Articles are now showing that though research in the ’60s and ’70s proved that there are some harmful effects of marijuana, they were grossly overstated. That being said, there are still crucial cons to be considered in regard to the drug.

According to the Archives of General Psychiatry, marijuana can adversely impact learning and memory which can last after the initial effects of the drug wear off. The National Institute of Drug Abuse also claims that “a number of studies have shown an association between chronic marijuana use and increased rates of anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation and schizophrenia.” Many argue that the altered perception due to being high is also potentially dangerous due to the associated risky behaviors that come with it, like reckless driving or other poor decisions.

My personal opinion about this subject, is that there is a vicious circle. Weed is illegal to an extent almost everywhere in the world but it is still largely used within the population. According to Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 12.3 percent of the U.S. population older than the age of 12 used marijuana at least once in 2010. Since marijuana is illegal, the only education that seems popular is abstinence only but, like sex abstinence only campaigns, it is not an effective form of education to ensure safe usage of the substance. Thus the drug becomes more dangerous due to lack of knowledge and understanding on how and when to use it. This issue of misuse could be addressed similar to the way we’re educated on how to consume alcohol within our first week at Brandeis and educated on its effects. Marijuana is still illegal in Massachusetts but, if you are going to use it anyway, moderation is always key. A great resource to contact with any questions would be the Alcohol and Drug counselor Dawn Skop. I have sat in on many of her lectures and I highly recommend her.

OK, that is it for this week. It is better to be an educated pot-head than an ignorant pot-head. And, one more thing. FLU SHOT. DO IT. As always, tune in next week for more health tips and send me an e-mail at with any health-related questions you may have.