Marijuana—good or bad?

Marijuana is in the news again.  Recent articles can be found debating the health risks of marijuana, and conversely, articles touting the benefits of using marijuana to treat symptoms of various ailments.

The fact that it seems to be a perpetual story in the news illustrates its complex history. Americans in general and students in particular are curious about the value-laden, love-hate relationship we’ve had with marijuana.

History tells us that psychoactive substances, such as alcohol, sugar, tobacco, and marijuana, are part of the human experience. Surveys from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health say an estimated 95 million Americans age 12 and older have tried “pot” at least once, and 4.3 million Americans were classified with dependence on or abuse of marijuana.  The risks can be both short and long-term, affecting physical and mental health, cognitive abilities, and daily life.

In contrast, current research suggests a potential medicinal value of marijuana.  Scientists say it has shown promise for treating the symptoms of various diseases, including cancer, hepatitis, glaucoma, and depression.  Many believe funding should be continued to explore marijuana efficacy.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have added to the controversy, enacting laws allowing for the medical use of marijuana, despite the fact the federal government, which regulates marijuana through the Controlled Substances Act, says there is no difference between medicinal and recreational marijuana, and all forms are illegal.  In recent years, however, there has been a shift within the U.S. criminal justice system toward providing treatment through rehabilitation services rather than incarceration for drug users and nonviolent offenders with addiction problems. Today, in fact, the criminal justice system is the largest source of referral to drug treatment programs.

And so the debate will continue. Thus, it is critical to stay abreast of emerging research and remain open to different perspectives.  The ECU Department of Addictions and Rehabilitation Studies teaches courses that present evidence based research on marijuana from a broad biopsychosocialspiritual perspective to dispel urban myths, address biases, balance the social pros and cons, provide context, address determinants of health, and suggest strategies that advance communities.

Dr. Mary Crozier, Assistant Professor
Department of Addictions and Rehabilitation Studies