Finding the balance between safety and rights
There are a number of questions that really need to be considered before recreational cannabis is made legal in Australia. The decision is ultimately a balance between most the overall health of the population in general, especially the health of young people, a a desireto protect the rights of each individual to enjoy their life, remain in control of their own decisions and their right to choose to spend their recreation time as they would want to.
FACTResearchers from King's College and Duke University, North Carolina found that marijuana can affect and change the IQ points of adolescents. In their study, young users suffered a drop of 8 IQ points
Does Cannabis pose a direct health threat to users?
- Is Cannabis dangerous?
The answer depends on the amount and how it’s used. The bottom line is that cannabis contains toxins that can be harmful to our bodies. It’s also a recreational stimulant and can also be used as a medication to relieve many chronic conditions including pain and cancers.
- Being stoned and impaired:
When someone uses cannabis it can make it harder to concentrate or maintain their attention, and often resulting in a decreased ability to coordinate activites. This is most apparent when people first start using cannabis, occurring then, even at fairly low doses. People who use cannabis regularly and especially legal, medical cannabis users often have a higher tolerance to the effects of the substance. This is because they maintain a higher level of THC in their systems at all times, often over 5 nanograms (a suggested maximum amount for driving). Different people will metabolize cannabis at different rates, an inexperienced cannabis user with 3 nanograms may be too affected to safely drive or operate machinery while a long time user can be within their safety zone with 8 nanograms. As such, it’s difficult to tell when someone’s activity is impaired. This can present a challenge for the workplace – defining rules for individuals while at work, on the amount of THC which is acceptable.
- Ingestion time delay:
Not all marijuana is smoked. Often, when a person eats a cannabis product there is a delay before they notice any effect. (When smoked, the effect is often ‘instant’. For this reason, it can be difficult for individuals to gauge the amount they can safely consume. The delayed action could cause someone to miscalculate and start driving, then later have the intoxicating effect kick in placing them in a dangerous position.
- Deaths from Cannabis:
It’s extremely unlikely that someone would overdose on cannabis. Overdoses of most other drugs, whether legal or illegal are common, but in order to overdose on cannabis you would need to consume over 20,000 times the amount of THC found in a standard cannabis joint or 15 to 70g.
SCIENCEDifferent people will metabolize cannabis at different rates, an inexperienced cannabis user with 3 nanograms may be too affected to safely drive or operate machinery while a long time user can be within their safety zone with 8 nanograms. As such, it’s difficult to tell when someone’s activity is impaired.
Who is most at risk from cannabis use?
The research suggests that there are some negative effects associated with the use of recreational cannabis. Besides the perhaps more obvious aspects of usage – that smoking raises heartrates, damages respiratory systems
- Cannabis can lower the IQ of ‘regular’ young cannabis smokers:
Researchers from King's College and Duke University, North Carolina found that marijuana can affect and change the IQ points of adolescents. In their study, young users suffered a drop of 8 IQ points (for example, dropping from 100 – an average IQ - to 92 points) represents a move from the 50th to the 29th percentile. Users also found their ability to pay attention, Usually, higher IQs correlate with a person having a higher education, a larger income, better health and enjoying a longer life. They key variable to manage is the age of the participant. In an identical cohort of users – who were older – specifically, 18 years old – the same effects were not seen.
- Are age limits appropriate for Cannabis Users:
Ever since the cannabis was made illegal, there has been a black-markets supplying people with the different forms of cannabis they required. This black market paid little heed to age groups; in fact, many of the people who regularly purchase cannabis toady are in the 14 to 25 year old bracket.
The National Drug Strategy Household Survey of 2013 found that 10% of Australians aged, 14 years and older had used cannabis in the previous 12 months. Generally, the trend of usage was downwards – the proportion who used cannabis in the previous 12 months had fallen since the first measure in 1993. Older people in the survey bucked that trend – and were smoking in larger numbers.
- Pregnant women:
Use of marijuana by pregnant mothers appears to be under-reported and to account for lower birth rates, brain and behavioural problems in babies.
- Paranoia, Accentuated schizophrenia and the exacerbation of existing mental disorders:
Study findings have been mixed, when it comes to how the use of cannabis affects mental health. The problem deserves more research to determine the key problem groups who could be negatively affected by use of marijuana for recreational purposes. In some cases, use of cannabis has been a factor associated with depression, schizophrenia and other serious mental disorders.
One key point to make is that the black market is likely to operate even after legalization occurs. Lessons learned from other countries that have legalized cannabis suggest that the existing black-market for cannabis will not disappear when the substance is make legal, unless cannabis is available cheaply for those who want it. If people cannot buy it legally, they will, as they have been doing for years, buy it illegally.
There are definitely groups of individuals which should avoid recreational cannabis
If Australia wants to legalise recreational cannabis, it must consider the negatives as well as the positives. It appears that the group with the most to lose are young people who can suffer lasting effects if they are ‘regular’ users of the drug before the age of 18.
The questions over how marijuana affects those suffering mental illness are similarly serious. The increased availability of medical marijuana in Australia and all forms of cannabis elsewhere could help. In time, there will be more studies’ results available and better evidence on the groups of people who are most at risk.
Linking the legalization of recreational cannabis to education of potentially negatively affected groups seems like the minimum work which should be done. Clear guidelines for the workplace and driving should also be implemented in Australia as they have been overseas, given the difference in dosage that different individuals might experience even from the ingestion of similar amounts of cannabis.
Having seen the statistics above, it is hard to imagine anyone not wanting a marijuana product available, at a price which reduces the size of the black market, and which restricts the availability of marijuana to those over 18.