Believe it or not, marijuana was once demonized in the United States and thought of as a highly dangerous drug that brought about consequences like that of cocaine or heroin. All you have to do is watch the 1936 cult classic film Reefer Madness and you will get an understanding of how Americans once perceived the use of marijuana.
We’ve come a long way since then.
Recreational Marijuana Use is Widely Accepted And Legal in Colorado
In the past decade, public perceptions of marijuana have changed drastically. It is legal for recreational use in eight states, including Colorado and Washington, and legal for medicinal use in 29 states and Washington D.C. We now know that pot is considered relatively safe by most people. For many, the drug has provided a medical miracle. However; it is important to remember that weed can be addictive, and it is not without its adverse effects.
Let’s weigh the pros and cons of legalized marijuana for recreational use, discuss what it’s like living in a state where the stuff is legal, and talk about the benefits of medicinal marijuana as an alternative to opioids and benzodiazepines.
Pro: Marijuana Brings In Millions Of Dollars In Tax Revenue For Legalized States Like Colorado
The Colorado Department of Revenue reports that in 2017, the state has already brought in more than $205 million in taxable marijuana sales. This is great news for the Centennial State. The taxable income generated will support the state’s schools, improve infrastructure, and help to fund vital state programs that assist Colorado communities. This is also true for other states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use.
The money generated from marijuana sales once lined the pockets of seedy drug dealers and perpetuated gang violence. Knowing the people of Colorado will benefit from the taxation of marijuana – we admit – is a plus. Perhaps one of the greatest benefits to legalizing marijuana for recreational use has been the spike in revenue for the state and its people.
Pro: Marijuana Arrests Have Dropped Significantly In Colorado, Saving The State Millions of Dollars
Because marijuana is now legal in Colorado, there is rarely a need to arrest people in possession of marijuana. According to The Washington Post, marijuana arrests fell by nearly half from 2012 to 2014 in Colorado. This is saving the state millions of dollars every year in costs associated with incarcerating inmates and processing them through the system. Likewise, this is true for states like Washington and Nevada.
Additionally, because law enforcement officials are not tasked with arresting low-level offenders who are caught with small amounts of marijuana, they are able to free up their time and resources. This allows law enforcement to focus their attention on violent crimes and property crimes, making the streets of Colorado safer for everyone.
Furthermore, we do not believe addiction should be treated as a crime. Someone who has a marijuana habit does not belong in jail. They need treatment for their problem. We feel much better knowing that decent people who happen to have a problem with pot won’t be doing prison time.
Pro: Crime Rates Are Down Since Marijuana Has Been Legalized In Colorado
Since the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, “Denver experienced a 2.2 percent decrease in violent crime rates and an 8.9 percent reduction in property crime offenses,” according to research conducted by the Drug Policy Alliance.
Much of the reduction in crime is attributed to changes in the black market since marijuana was made legal. Now that Colorado residents can go into marijuana dispensaries and purchase their weed legally and affordably, this has caused a dynamic shift in the way cartels and illegal pot dealers do business. There is no longer the need to fight for turfs and territories, which has brought crime way down.
Con: Despite Claims, Research Suggests More Teens Are Smoking Marijuana in States Where It Is Legal
There have been widespread reports in the media that teen pot smoking has not increased in states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use. However; in May 2017, CBS news reported on a research study that revealed that four times as many teens are ending up in Colorado hospitals due to marijuana intoxication since pot was legalized, calling this data into question.
According to the CBS News article, “The number of teens diagnosed annually with marijuana intoxication or testing positive for pot during a drug screen at Children’s Hospital Colorado rose from 146 in 2005 to 639 in 2014.”
With weed more readily available and accessible, it’s no surprise that more teenagers are getting their hands on it. It’s a no-brainer that in the years to come, we will see more and more teenagers abusing marijuana. Now that pot is legal, they will stumble blindly forward, thinking weed is safe. Not realizing marijuana addiction is a very real thing, many unsuspecting teenagers will abuse it and end up with problems caused by their habit.
Con: Wide Acceptance of Legal Marijuana Will Encourage More Pot Smoking
Although there is little data or scientific evidence currently available to support the claim, many addiction experts believe that marijuana use is likely to increase over time in states where marijuana is legal.
Because marijuana is legal in states like Colorado, the dangers of smoking or ingesting marijuana will be downplayed just like they are with alcohol. People will begin to perceive marijuana as entirely safe because the government has legalized it. Many Americans will begin to use it not understanding that it does have addictive qualities and it can cause problems in people’s lives.
Where weed was once considered taboo, now that it has become legal, it stands to reason that more people will be willing to try it – the same people who were once opposed to it because it was against the law. As it becomes more socially acceptable, more and more people will begin to use pot. And, more people will abuse it and experience negative consequences because of their abuse.
Con: With More People Using Marijuana, Traveling On The Roadways Is Less Safe
We know all about the dangers of drinking alcohol and driving a motor vehicle. We also have all kind of statistical data available to us about how many people are arrested every year while driving under the influence. Furthermore, we know exactly how many auto fatalities are caused by alcohol every year in the United States. Marijuana, on the other hand, is tricky.
You can’t give someone a test to determine if they are under the influence of marijuana when they are pulled over by the police or if they cause a car crash. This makes gathering data on marijuana-related auto incidents almost impossible to measure. This leads people to believe it is safe to smoke and drive.
Although marijuana may not cause the same level of intoxication as someone who is driving drunk, make no mistake – someone who is stoned on weed is a danger to themselves and others when they are behind the wheel of a car. With more people using pot, driving along the state highways where pot is legal makes traveling more dangerous.
Con: Marijuana Is An Addictive Substance That Causes People’s Lives To Become Unmanageable.
Although marijuana is not as addictive as heroin or cocaine, marijuana IS an addictive substance. Many people start smoking marijuana unaware that they may be genetically predisposed to becoming addicted to it.
Obsessive and compulsive marijuana smoking can cause someone’s life to spiral out of control and bring about negative consequences. Believe it or not, thousands of people check themselves into rehabilitation centers every year because their lives have become unmanageable because of pot and because they can’t stop smoking it.
FACT: Marijuana abuse causes a loss in productivity, problems at work, difficulties with family, run-ins with the law, and all sorts of other negative consequences.
Pro: Medicinal Marijuana Offers A Safer Alternative To Opioids And Benzos
Millions of people use marijuana for medicinal purposes for very real medical conditions and swear by it as a miracle drug. We do not condone the use of marijuana for recreational reasons under any circumstances. We think it leads to a series of problems that could otherwise be avoided if you remain abstinent from it. However; we acknowledge that many people have legitimate problems who may benefit from the use of medicinal marijuana for treatment.
With so many people addicted to prescription drugs like Hydrocodone and Oxycodone, many medical experts offer marijuana as a safe alternative to these powerful and highly addictive narcotic painkillers. We long for the day when modern medicine will find substitutes for opioid painkillers. However; we recognize that in today’s world – they are often the only option for treating severe or chronic pain. If using marijuana for medicinal reasons will keep you from becoming addicted to opioids, we understand if you to choose the safer alternative.
Furthermore, many people take benzodiazepines like Xanax for anxiety. Studies show that medical marijuana may reduce anxiety when used properly. Again, we do not recommend marijuana use, but we also know how dangerous and addictive benzos can be. If you think medical marijuana could help ease your anxiety symptoms, talk to your doctor about getting off benzos and taking the safer route.
The Pros and Cons of Actually Using Recreational Marijuana
So far, we’ve touched on the pros and cons of the legalization of marijuana. But what about using it? There are undoubtedly some pros and cons there as well. Let’s take a closer look at them in more detail.
Pro: It May Increase Bonding Among Friends
For those who live in legalized states like Colorado, smoking pot with friends becomes a way to bond. The drug has a tendency to loosen inhibitions and make people feel more comfortable with each other. When they smoke, they may feel freer to speak their minds. Inevitably, this can help them grow closer to their friends.
The discovery was made through studies that were done by the University of California. Smoking pot triggers the release of oxytocin, and it was already known that oxytocin releases a chemical called anandamide in the brain. This chemical activates brain receptors and it increases motivation and happiness. During the testing of the theory, mice were given marijuana, and afterward, they appeared more social in comparison to the mice that received a placebo.
Scientists can use this information to learn more about the benefits of marijuana. For example, the drug might be useful for those who suffer from social impairments, like autism.
Pro: It May Enhance Creativity
In 2011, scientists suggested that cannabis can produce psychotomimetic symptoms. That can lead to the ability to connect concepts that most people would consider to be unrelated. It results in a type of thinking that is a precursor to creativity.
They concluded that having this state of mind could lead to the ability to break free from ordinary ways of thinking. As a result, there is a higher likelihood of creative ideas.
Obviously, we cannot recommend marijuana as a way to improve one’s creativity. But this finding does suggest why so many artists would use it. Many celebrities are very open and honest about their preference for smoking weed, including:
- Willie Nelson
- Jay Z
- Cardi B
- Lady Gaga
This video gives an inside look into how smoking pot can have a positive effect on creativity:
Pro: Marijuana Can Heighten the Senses
Many people claim that when they smoke pot, they enjoy the taste of food more. Some also state that music sounds better to them when they’re high. How can that be?
Science has proven that these claims may not be all in people’s minds after all. There is truth to the fact that marijuana has a profound effect on the five senses. It happens because of the way the drug affects the chemistry of the brain. As a result, all five senses are augmented in powerful ways.
Researchers have found that weed actually muffles the neurotransmitters that relay pain to the brain. This is why so many people use it when they experience pain. Likewise, it’s a well-known fact that smoking pot will give you the munchies. It happens because the drug increases the production of ghrelin, which is what makes you hungry. When you eat food when you’re high, the increased dopamine causes you to feel happy to be eating, and in turn, love the taste even more.
Vision is enhanced because of the way marijuana impacts the flow of blood in the body, resulting in dilated pupils. It affects the olfactory bulb part of the brain, increasing the sense of smell. People also report hearing better after smoking pot, but it is believed that this is just due to the way the drug changes their reaction to auditory stimuli.
Pro: It May Open People’s Minds
It is believed that marijuana allows people the perception that they can persuade others. In the same way, the drug can cause people to be much more receptive to any new information they receive. In this way, people are much more open.
This most likely goes back to two of the arguments above – the fact that pot makes people more creative and more sociable. If those studies can be believed, marijuana mellows people out to the point where they drop their defenses. Therefore, when they are presented with new or unusual information, it doesn’t seem that odd to them. In the same way, their ability to think outside the box is enhanced, along with their powers of persuasion.
Many people choose to use pot because it makes it easier for them to be around people. They may suffer from some social anxiety, or they may just have a hard time relating to others. Either way, the drug has been shown to help.
Pro: Weed Can Help People Cope With Everyday Stress
In states where pot is legal, more and more people are using it because they say it helps to relieve their stress. This is a medically proven fact, but the truth is that it only does so in low doses. This has been proven by researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Chicago, Illinois.
During the study, the participants that had received the low dose of THC reported having less stress after taking a psychosocial test when compared to those who were given a placebo drug. In addition, they reported that their stress levels dropped quickly once the test was over.
Researchers compared their findings with the results experienced by people who were given a higher dose of THC. They reported a more negative mood during the test.
People who use pot often report feeling less stressed out in their everyday lives than those who don’t. It’s one of the factors that make the drug more appealing.
Pro: It Can Make People Feel More Positive About Their Lives
While the results are temporary, people who use cannabis have reported that they feel better about their lives. They feel more lighthearted, and it is as though all negativity in their lives are masked for a short time. They can see more positive perspectives on everything. People also report feeling more vocal, confident and outgoing.
Dopamine is responsible for the happy, high feeling associated with smoking marijuana. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that “THC, acting through cannabinoid receptors, also activates the brain’s reward system, which includes regions that govern the response to healthy pleasurable behaviors like sex and eating. Like most other drugs of abuse, THC stimulants neurons in the reward system to release the signaling chemical dopamine at levels higher than typically observed in response to natural stimuli. This flood of dopamine contributes to the pleasurable ‘high’ that recreational marijuana users seek.”
Con: Marijuana Can Impact Short-Term Memory
Scientists have known for years that marijuana can lead to memory loss. This happens because of the way cannabinoids activate receptors in the brain’s memory center. The result is a type of amnesia.
The cannabinoids in marijuana are very similar to the ones found naturally in the human brain. Because of these, they can easily attach to the brain’s cannabinoid receptors. One side effect of this can be memory loss. The drug has also been shown to affect the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that forms memories.
It is unclear as to whether short-term use of marijuana will have a profound effect on short-term memory. But long-term users are at much greater risk.
Con: Pot Can Increase Someone’s Fear, Anxiety or Panic
It’s interesting how some people can smoke pot and it helps with their anxiety levels. Others can use the same strain of marijuana and experience an increase in anxiety, fear and panic.
Researchers aren’t completely clear on why this happens. There are some people who believe that users with anxiety should stay away from certain strains because they are more likely to cause worsening symptoms.
According to ADAI, higher doses of THC can result in an increase in anxiety. On the other hand, a lower dose can improve symptoms. CBD has been shown to decrease anxiety regardless of the dose.
Many users find that while they do experience relief for anxiety in the short-term, the longer they use, the more those symptoms return. For some, they may even become worse than they were when they first started using marijuana.
Con: It Can Increase Someone’s Risk of and Depression
In states where medical marijuana is legal, more and more doctors are starting to prescribe it for patients with depression. Around 350 million people suffer from this condition all over the world. It is also the leading cause of disability worldwide.
Currently, scientists are researching the use of marijuana to treat depression. They believe that the drug may restore normal endocannabinoid function and help with mood stabilization.
Researchers at the University of Buffalo are studying how depression that has been caused by chronic stress might be treated with marijuana. So far, the only studies that have been done have been on animals and not humans. But they have found that chronic stress can impact the brain’s production of endocannabinoids. This, in turn, can lead to depression.
Con: Large Doses of Marijuana Can Lead to Psychosis and Paranoia
Heavy use of marijuana during adolescence has been shown to lead to worsening psychotic disorders, among other issues. But adults can also experience psychotic symptoms.
At this point, researchers are very unclear about whether psychosis and paranoia from marijuana use is short-lived. Some believe that it only applies when a person is high, but there are those who disagree.
The link between marijuana and schizophrenia has been studied, but it is believed that people with this mental health condition are simply more predisposed to use pot. Smoking the drug does not result in schizophrenia.
Con: Marijuana is Believed to be a Gateway Drug
The argument of marijuana as a gateway drug has been ongoing for years. Some studies do suggest that people who use it are likely to use other substances –whether they are legal or illegal – later on in their lives. For instance, one study concluded that people who use marijuana are much more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder within three years. Also, they found that pot smokers who already had an AUD were at risk for it worsening over time.
The fact is that most heroin users first started by using marijuana, as well as alcohol or other “less dangerous” drugs. Studies do show that when a person starts using it early on, it primes the brain for enhanced responses to other substances later on.
Marijuana has been connected with the use of many other drugs, namely, alcohol, cigarettes, cocaine, and meth. While this does not mean that every marijuana user will go on to use harder drugs, it does mean that these individuals tend to consume more of them than those who don’t use weed at all.
Who is at Risk for Marijuana Addiction?
Now that you understand the pros and cons, the question remains, are you at risk for a marijuana addiction?
Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to become addicted to pot. It’s widely known as a drug that does not lead to a physical addiction, but it can become psychologically addicting. This means that with continued use, you feel as though you need it.
The reality is that anyone who continually uses weed can become addicted to it. However, there are some risk factors that can make someone more susceptible to the addiction. They include:
- Having a family history of addiction
- Suffering from a mental health condition
- Lack of family involvement in one’s life
- The availability of cannabis
- Spending time with others who also use weed
If you believe you are addicted to marijuana, it’s best to talk with someone about your options. You may need to consider attending a rehab program where you can get the help you need to stop using.
Weighing The Pros and Cons – Is The Legalization Of Marijuana A Good Thing?
As a recovery-focused treatment center, we believe the only way to find real, lasting freedom from active addiction is to remain abstinent from all mood and mind-altering drugs not used for psychiatric purposes.
In a perfect world, there would be no addictive substances like marijuana, opioids, or benzos. We want modern medicine to focus its efforts on finding safe, non addictive medications that don’t come with the potential for addiction and abuse. In the meantime, we understand that marijuana might have its medicinal value for some but for those of us in recovery it’s another substance we can do without.