There are many names for cannabis including: Marijuana, Weed, Pot, Grass, Reefer, Ganja, Mary Jane, Blunt, Joint, Roach, etc. The cannabis plant contains over 480 compounds. The two cannabinoids we know the most about are THC and CBD. THC is the psychoactive part of the plant and CBD is non-psychoactive and produces more known researched medical benefits. The understanding of these two chemicals greatly shapes policy as policymakers try to balance the medicinal pros of marijuana with the cons of legalizing a psychoactive substance.

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Potential Harms and Benefits of Cannabis

Potential Harms: Cannabis affects brain development and may impair thinking, memory, and learning functions. Compared to those who do not use cannabis, those who frequently use large amounts report lower life satisfaction, more relationship problems, and poorer mental and physical health (Marijuana, 2018). Researchers are still studying how long damage lasts and whether changes are permanent (Meier MH et al, 2012). THC (a psychoactive component in cannabis that produces a high) affects many of the abilities required for safe driving like alertness, the ability to concentrate, coordination, and reaction time (Hartman RL et al, 2015; Hartman RL and Huestis MA, 2012; Lenné MG et al, 2010). Children and youth are one of our most vulnerable populations for dependence and addiction. Risk factors such as high availability, low perception of harm, and laws and norms favorable to cannabis use can put youth at higher risk for cannabis misuse (Keyes, K. M. et al, 2016).

Potential Benefits: Cannabis has a variety of medicinal benefits.There are very specific forms of cannabis that can be prescribed in the United States.
Marinol is an FDA-approved synthetic cannabinoid. Marinol contains a synthetic THC substance that is often used for cancer caused wasting and nausea. Epidiolex was recently FDA-approved in June 2018. This is the first FDA-approved drug that contains a purified drug substance derived directly from marijuana plant. It is used for certain types of seizures. There are other medicinal benefits of cannabis, but research is limited on many health conditions. According to the FDA, cannabis is classified as a Schedule 1 Drug, which makes research, state legalization and regulation complicated. Over the years, some states have legalized medical and/or recreational cannabis. Utah legalized medical cannabis (whole plant cannabis in a dose form) in November 2018.

  1. Meier MH, Caspi A, Ambler A, et al. Persistent cannabis users show neuropsychological decline fromchildhood to midlife. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012;109(40):E2657-E2664. doi:10.1073/pnas.1206820109.
  2. Marijuana. (2018). Drugabuse.gov. Retrieved 29 January 2018, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/marijuana
  3. Hartman RL, Brown TL, Milavetz G, et al. Cannabis effects on driving lateral control with and without alcohol. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2015;154:25-37. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2015.06.015.
  4. Hartman RL, Huestis MA. Cannabis effects on driving skills. Clin Chem. 2013;59(3):478-492. doi:10.1373/clinchem.2012.194381.
  5. Lenné MG, Dietze PM, Triggs TJ, Walmsley S, Murphy B, Redman JR. The effects of cannabis and alcohol on simulated arterial driving: Influences of driving experience and task demand. Accid Anal Prev. 2010;42 (3):859-866. doi:10.1016/j.aap.2009.04.021.
  6. Keyes, K. M., Wall, M., Cerdá, M., Schulenberg, J., O’Malley, P. M., Galea, S., Feng, T., and Hasin, D. S. (2016) How does state marijuana policy affect US youth? Medical marijuana laws, marijuana use and perceived harmfulness: 1991–2014. Addiction, 111: 2187–2195. doi: 10.1111/add.13523.

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