Marijuana legalization is a hot topic, especially for young adults. No age group uses marijuana more than college-age young adults. For example, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the prevalence of past month marijuana use in this age group is 20%, compared to 7% for those over 26 years of age. The same survey shows that young men are twice as likely to use marijuana as young women.
For this reason, young adults, and especially young adult men, are a main target for advertising from the marijuana industry. Evidence of this advertising includes pictures of scantily clad young women, a strong emphasis on social media and the use of music that appeals to this age group. For the marijuana industry, such advertising is simply good business. For young adults, however, massive marijuana industry marketing to this age group begs the question of who is smoking whom. The marijuana industry has created various myths about their product in the same way that tobacco companies created myths about their product.
Ultimately, young adults must choose for themselves if they will use marijuana or not. The goal of this article is to help people have balanced information that doesn’t come from the marijuana marketing machine. So, what’s the big deal? Fortunately, for most young adults who use marijuana, there isn’t a big deal. However, for some it is. Below is a balanced version of various myths related to marijuana.
1. The claims about the medical benefits of medical marijuana are largely overblown. Expert scientists convened by the Institute of Medicine in 1999 called for compassionate use of marijuana in certain end-of-life situations. They also called for more research into potential medicines derived from marijuana. However, there is not a single reputable medical group that calls for widespread use of whole leaf marijuana as medicine for any condition. Despite marijuana industry claims, medical marijuana sold in the United States has not been tested for purity and dose by reputable regulatory agencies. Hopefully, within about two years, there will likely be legitimate medicines derived from marijuana and these medicines will be pharmaceutical grade, FDA-approved, tested in clinical trials and dispensed through real pharmacies.
2. Contrary to common myth, marijuana can be addictive. In fact, about 1 in 9 people who tries marijuana develops an addiction to the drug.1 Research shows that people who present for treatment of marijuana addiction have a similar amount of distress and impairment as people who present for treatment of cocaine addiction.2
3. Students who use marijuana in their first year of college, on average, skip more class, have lower grade point averages and take more time to graduate compared to those who don’t use marijuana in their first year.3 There’s no solid evidence that marijuana makes students more creative, focused or productive.
4. Research shows that the brain continues to develop until about age 24. For this reason, there is much concern about the impact of marijuana exposure on brain development. In fact, a recent study from New Zealand shows that heavy marijuana use starting in adolescence and continuing into young adulthood predicts up to an 8-point decline in IQ from adolescence to adulthood.4
5. Multiple studies show that adolescent marijuana exposure predicts a 2- to 4-fold increased risk of developing schizophrenia in adulthood.5 While, technically, college-age young adults are transitioning out of adolescence, the fact that brain development continues until about age 24 makes marijuana use during this time a possible risk. Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that includes psychosis (such as hearing and seeing things that are not there). There is currently no cure for the schizophrenia.
6. The second leading cause of death for young adults is car crashes. Despite clear evidence to the contrary, there is a myth that driving under the influence of marijuana is no big deal. In fact, drivers under the influence of marijuana are 5 times more likely to be in a fatal crash compared to those not under the influence.6 According to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, people should not drive for at least three hours after smoking marijuana. It is not known how long people should wait to drive after eating marijuana.
7. Marijuana is the second most common substance that brings people to an emergency department.7 Marijuana is about 10 times more potent than it used to be. In fact, certain butane hash oils can be 90% THC by weight. Certain marijuana candies can contain five or more servings of THC in a single bite. This increased potency can lead to extreme anxiety, psychosis (a break with reality) and agitation. There have been well publicized cases of people who have killed themselves or others after consuming high potency marijuana and becoming psychotic.
In summary, marijuana may not be all that it is cracked up to be by the marijuana industry, which is waging an expensive marketing campaign to appeal to young people. For them, it’s smart business. However, for young people it’s their lives, and, for this reason, they deserve balanced information about the drug.
Source: The Lancet. 2009;.374:1383-1391 ↩
Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology. 1998;6:419-426 ↩
Source: Psychology of Addictive Behaviors 2015;29:564-575 ↩
Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA. 2012;109:E2657-E2664 ↩
Source: The Lancet. 2007;370:319-28 ↩
Source: Forensic Science International. 2003;133:79-85 ↩
Source: Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment ↩