By Chris Elkins
Chris Elkins writes for He has a passion for writing about health-related topics and recovery from addiction. He possesses five years of journalism experience and a master’s degree from the University of West Florida.

 Medical Marijuana: Not as Safe as You Think

You won’t find support for a medical treatment larger than the amount of support for medical marijuana. Weed is an approved treatment for various medical conditions in 23 states in the U.S. In the states where it isn’t legal, legislatures have voted on it or discussed it for years.
Advocates, and some experts, point to several medical studies touting marijuana’s potential to treat symptoms of several medical conditions, including:

  •  Cancer
  • Glaucoma
  • Epilepsy
  • Seizures
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

With the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska, the public support for marijuana legalization is growing across the country. What started as one state, California, legalizing medical marijuana use in 1996 has turned into a nation-wide movement to normalize the drug.

Unfortunately, so many states are legalizing it and so many people are supporting it that many people believe marijuana is harmless. It’s not. A few studies have shown it can help patients with pain and reduce the size of cancer tumors, but other studies link to it to an increased risk of heart attacks, psychiatric disorders and cancer.

No drug can be approved for use in the public without multiple, large-scale studies proving its benefits outweigh its risks. But those studies don’t exist.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration classifies marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance, meaning it has no medical use. That makes it extremely difficult to conduct legitimate, large-scale studies on both its benefits and risks.

What We Know About Marijuana

One of the active chemicals in marijuana, THC, affects areas of the brain that control thinking, memory, coordination and pleasure.  Like some legal substances (i.e. alcohol and tobacco) and numerous illegal substances (i.e. cocaine and heroin), marijuana affects a person’s judgement, attention and coordination. It’s also highly addictive, despite widespread misconceptions about drug addiction.

Marijuana is strongly associated with anxiety, mood disorders and some forms of psychosis. Studies debate the effects of long-term marijuana use on cognitive decline. Despite public opinion, we just don’t have enough evidence to say pot does or doesn’t make you stupid.
Another problem exists in the fact that different strains of marijuana have different effects. Approved treatments for diseases like cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS and epilepsy are heavily regulated. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspect the facilities where the drugs are produced, and the drugs themselves are inspected to ensure the correct dosage of chemicals are present.

Different marijuana strains have different chemical potencies. The drug’s effects also drastically change when it is eaten, smoked or consumed in liquid form. Studies conclusively show smoking marijuana elevates a person’s risk for lung cancer. The drug has cancer-causing tars similar to, and in some cases stronger than, those found in cigarettes.

Even with the cancer element removed, smoking anything increases a person’s chance of lung damage. Studies show daily marijuana use increases a person’s risk for respiratory problems. Heavy smokers increase their risk for bronchitis and persistent cough.
Long-term marijuana consumption also results in long-term changes in the brain. Like other dangerous drugs (i.e. alcohol, cocaine, crystal meth), brain scans show clear differences between the brains of long-term users and non-users.

Then there’s the short-term risk associated with marijuana. One study showed a person’s chance of having a heart attack increased between 300 and 500 percent for the first hour after they smoked pot. Some strains of marijuana cause short-term anxiety, paranoia, and psychosis and in rare cases hallucinations.

In other cases, marijuana can help symptoms of anxiety, but rates of depression and anxiety increase when marijuana consumption stops. Those symptoms of withdrawal are where marijuana addiction begins.

Medical marijuana isn’t as safe as supporters of legalization want you to think. It’s also not as dangerous as crystal meth or cocaine. It might be just as dangerous as alcohol, which should always be consumed with caution. But every other medical treatment in the U.S. has to go through scrutinized clinical trials before becoming available to the public. Marijuana hasn’t done that.
Doyle, K. (2016, February 1). Long-term marijuana use tied to worse verbal memory in middle age. Retrieved from:
Nohlgren, S. (2014, August 29). Potential health risk of medical marijuana: It’s complicated. Retrieved from:
Williams, S. (2014, November 15). The most dangerous medical marijuana myth. Retrieved from:
Zimmerman, K. (2015, January 14). Medical Marijuana: Benefits, Risks & State Laws. Retrieved from:

    1 Response to "Medical Marijuana: Not as Safe as You Think"

    • chris

      I’m at my wits end dealing with people who advocate marijuana and its “benefits”. I understand the need for it’s medical uses, but I am tired of the struggles I have had with people who use it recreationally. I am no stranger to marijuana, used it a few times through college, but in no way, have I found it to be a harmless chemical. Just as everything else, moderation is key.

      The problem is, I have found very few people that smoke it, to ever do it in moderation. I currently have a new neighbor in my condo, that smokes it every day. The smoke seeps through my wall and infiltrates my home. This choice they make, to damage their lungs and brain for the thrill they get, is now infringing on my right to breathe cleaner air. The struggle I have, is that people don’t take it seriously and laugh about it. They make comments that maybe I should just smoke with him, or that THC isn’t that bad anymore.

      I realize that people now feel it’s a harmless drug and to just accept it, but I’m sorry, I don’t believe it and I don’t accept it. Just as I don’t believe it makes all people think clearer. I had friends and family that all believed they we extremely clever and more creative when high, when in fact, while witnessing their behavior, were not. It apparently makes many people believe they are more brilliant than they really are. Therefore, I am not an advocate of its general use and it shouldn’t be legal in areas that can affect others who don’t want to be exposed to it.

      I have a 2 yo at home and I don’t want to have constant exposure to marijuana smoke or tobacco smoke. Honestly, no smoking should be allowed in complexes w/ more than 5 families for safety reasons and for air quality issues. If people want to smoke anything, they should move somewhere where their habit doesn’t affect anyone. Live in a detached house or an island, where you only affect you. Because I am tired of having the same conversation with people who constantly make irrational decisions due to their drug use.

      I had a brother who died last year, 54 yo, from his battle with emphysema, yrs of pot smoking. His wife and kids all smoke cigs. His son is also a heroin addict, wife crackhead, daughter pothead, son-in-law heroin addict and alcoholic and son’s girlfriend died of heroin OD. My brother started out as a pothead, and his life continued down a road of addictions. Instead of dealing properly with his psychological issues and ADD, he treated himself with pot, then other things. If he had sought proper attention, his life choices would have been different and his family wouldn’t be caught in the same vicious cycle.

      The downplaying that people make of marijuana, aggrivates me. Because when you are actually having to personally deal with potheads as the sober one, it is almost next to impossible to connect with them and drive them towards making rational decisions, like paying bills, getting to work on time, being productive and reliable people. All of these things, get twisted in the minds of long term pot smokers. Additionally, trying to convince pot smokers that it is unhealthy to smoke it, doesn’t work.

      I worked in a toxicology lab 5 yrs, so I have some understanding of what it does to people and how it affects the brain. Sure, THC isn’t as bad as meth or benzos, but it isn’t harmless. It causes changes in your brain. Really, the purpose of our lungs is to bring oxygen to our blood. When you put anything else into the lungs, it compromises them. Only air should really go into them, otherwise you damage them.

      Sure, people have the right to do this if they want, but shouldn’t I have the right to drive on the road where someone isn’t high? Shouldn’t I have the right to live in a home where it is smoke free? Why am I wrong to want the freedom to live drug free? Yes, alcohol is legal, but it isn’t legal to drive intoxicated. And if someone walks around beligerent in my building cussing & acting nuts, I call the police. But if someone were to drink in their own home, it doesn’t affect me the way marijuana does unless the drunk were to leave the water running. Regardless of the severity of a drug’s affects, people need to know and realize that whatever drug they choose, it doesn’t just affect them, it affects everyone around them; and that’s the major issue I have with any drug use. My family has suffered from drug addiction and I’m so extremely tired of it.

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