The state of California's recent step toward fully decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana with Prop 19 has reignited one of the more contentious flash points in modern society -- where, if anywhere, marijuana has a place.
Few things illustrate the controversy better than a comparison of the web pages that purport to separate myth from fact published by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). They are almost mirror images of one another, addressing the very same points, but drawing on different studies to reach their preferred conclusions. It's stunning to see how differently these agencies can interpret the same information.
There is a single salvation from this cherry-picking point-counterpoint: the seminal report "Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base." This comprehensive summary of marijuana was written in 1999 by the most highly regarded nongovernmental medical organization in the country, the Institute of Medicine, and it serves as the primary source for the information in this article concerning the risks and benefits of marijuana.
Health Risk Myths & Realities
The essential questions are whether the active ingredient in marijuana, a cannabinoid (chemical compound) known as THC, has any medicinal value; whether the risks associated with its use outweigh the benefits; and whether THC answers a need not currently met by any other medications on the market. In the course of that debate, several health risks are often cited:
There is no existing evidence of anyone dying of a marijuana overdose, but this doesn't preclude the possibility of experiencing adverse or unpleasant effects when it is consumed in large amounts. For comparison's sake, alcohol overdoses claim approximately 5,000 casualties per year.This is often cited as a reason that marijuana is safer than other drugs, like