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As Cannabis is Increasingly Being Legalized, What Are Its Health Risks and Benefits?

Health and Gender Policy Brief #148 | By: Inijah Quadri | March 20, 2022

Header photo taken from: Medical News Today

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People substitute alcohol for marijuana at age 21, according to one study.

Photo taken from: The Daily Beast

Policy Summary

In 36 states, medicinal marijuana is permitted, and in 14, it is lawful to consume marijuana recreationally. On the subject of legalizing marijuana, this article examines papers published in top economic, public policy, and medical publications, concentrating on the health repercussions of cannabis legalization.

Our article examines the impacts of legalization on adult and adolescent cannabis users. The legalization of recreational cannabis use in the US has drastically cut the price of cannabis, increased its potency, and made it more available to consumers. As such, the regular use of cannabis should be monitored. Cannabis legalization and regulation necessitate the study of  the health repercussions of these policy changes, and this knowledge should be used to design ways of regulating marijuana that minimize negative health effects.

There is strong evidence that where medicinal marijuana is permitted, alcohol-dependent individuals consume less alcohol. However, the impact of recreational marijuana legalization on other critical public health outcomes needs to be discussed. Research is being done, but additional data needs to be obtained, allowing us to make more solid findings.

Policy Analysis

Cannabis is known by many different names: dope, weed, marijuana, hemp. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, cannabis is the second most often used psychoactive drug in the United States after alcohol and before nicotine. Cannabis is most often used by adolescents and young adults. Cannabis, formerly seen as a deadly gateway drug, is now more widely accepted as a drug that can be used on its own. Recreational marijuana use is increasingly legal in more and more places throughout the world.

So is it good for the populace? Is marijuana a gateway drug that should be avoided, or is it a cure-all? In the last several months, numerous studies have been released demonstrating both the dangers and the advantages of the hemp plant and its various compounds.

Researchers recently released the results of a study, which indicated that cannabis users have increased sexual function and greater orgasms. A reduction in fear and guilt (as a result of cannabis use) can lead to better sex, according to the experts. To put it another way, those who consume alcohol or smoke marijuana may have better sex.

On the other hand, contrary to popular belief, cannabis usage can cause long-term cognitive decline, especially in children and adolescents whose brains are still growing. There is a negative impact on decision-making and cognitive abilities, as well as on the amount of time it takes to accomplish mental tasks. And the effects of such “drunkenness” might last for a long time.


Cannabis use impacts the brain and negatively affects motor functions and important processes needed to lead a productive life.

Photo taken from: Nature

(click or tap to enlargen)

Another European research study, published in 2019, found that everyday marijuana smokers are three times more likely to suffer from psychotic episodes than those who do not use the drug. Another group of researchers found an eightfold increase in psychoses.

Advocates of legalizing cannabis argue that making it available at state-run dispensaries, as well as limiting the amount of THC in the medicine and requiring additives to be clearly labeled, will significantly lessen the substance’s health risks.

Proponents also argue that removing the stigma associated with being a cannabis user will allow for more open access to treatment and preventative programs. Without fear of repercussions from the law and/or public stigmatization, people might learn about the dangers of cannabis use and discuss their concerns with trained professionals who can help them.

Engagement Resources​

Click or tap on resource URL to visit links where available 

Addiction (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/add.15764)

Di Forti M, Quattrone D, Freeman TP, Tripoli G, Gayer-Anderson C, Quigley H, Rodriguez V, Jongsma HE, Ferraro L, La Cascia C, La Barbera D, Tarricone I, Berardi D, Szöke A, Arango C, Tortelli A, Velthorst E, Bernardo M, Del-Ben CM, Menezes PR, Selten JP, Jones PB, Kirkbride JB, Rutten BP, de Haan L, Sham PC, van Os J, Lewis CM, Lynskey M, Morgan C, Murray RM; EU-GEI WP2 Group. The contribution of cannabis use to variation in the incidence of psychotic disorder across Europe (EU-GEI): a multicentre case-control study. Lancet Psychiatry. 2019 May;6(5):427-436. Doi: 10.1016/S2215-0366(19)30048-3. Epub 2019 Mar 19. PMID: 30902669; PMCID: PMC7646282. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30902669/)

Gahr M, Ziller J, Keller F, Schönfeldt-Lecuona C. Increasing Proportion of Cannabinoid-Associated Psychotic Disorders: Results of a Single-Center Analysis of Treatment Data From 2011 to 2019. J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2020 Nov/Dec;40(6):642-645. Doi: 10.1097/JCP.0000000000001278. PMID: 33009227. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33009227/)

Roman, Pablo & Ortiz-Rodriguez, Ana & Romero-Lopez, Ana & Rodriguez-Arrastia, Miguel & Ropero-Padilla, Carmen & Sánchez-Labraca, Nuria & Rueda-Ruzafa, Lola. (2022). The Influence of Cannabis and Alcohol Use on Sexuality: An Observational Study in Young People (18–30 Years). Healthcare. 10. 71. 10.3390/healthcare10010071. (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/357478672_The_Influence_of_Cannabis_and_Alcohol_Use_on_Sexuality_An_Observational_Study_in_Young_People_18-30_Years)

Subbaraman M. S. (2014). Can cannabis be considered a substitute medication for alcohol?. Alcohol and alcoholism (Oxford, Oxfordshire), 49(3), 292–298. (https://doi.org/10.1093/alcalc/agt182)

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