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Much like Big Tobacco, the billion-dollar commercial marijuana industry cares more about making a profit than protecting public health.

Cannabis promoters have been making use of their hefty advertising budgets to convince voters in five states — Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada — that legalizing recreational marijuana will not only be economically beneficial to the state but will also help save lives. The latter is a frightening and misleading claim. Here’s why.

Proponents argue that legalizing recreational marijuana reduces opioid abuse and overdose death. A recent article in STAT pointed to a 2015 white paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research suggesting that access to medical marijuana was associated with a 16 percent decrease in opioid overdose deaths and a 28 percent reduction in opioid abuse treatment admissions.


What the findings of that study don’t showcase are the increases in traffic fatalities, hospitalizations, and marijuana-related poisonings following the legalization of recreational marijuana. In Washington state, for example, the number of traffic deaths due to marijuana-impaired drivers doubled in the year after recreational marijuana was legalized. In Colorado, the number of fatal accidents involving marijuana rose by 62 percent since its recreational use was legalized in 2012.

Law enforcement officers can rely on Breathalyzer tests to identify drunk drivers. But there’s no equivalent for drugged drivers, making it difficult to deter or punish them.


In Colorado, marijuana-related hospitalizations have increased an average of 30 percent a year since legalization. Marijuana-related poisonings also rose sharply in both Colorado and Washington.

Just as secondhand tobacco smoke can harm individuals who don’t smoke, marijuana can also harm nonusers. If the new laws pass, they would authorize the promotion and sale of highly potent marijuana edibles, including candy, cookies, and soda. These account for nearly half of all marijuana sold in Colorado. Edible forms of marijuana pose a particular risk for kids and pets.

Advertisements for Pot Tarts, Hashees cups, and cannabis gummy bears will become as common as the soft drink promotions targeted at the youth market. No limits have been placed on the potency of edible products in Colorado, nor will such limits be written into the proposed laws in most of the states looking to legalize marijuana. Edible products have been known to have levels of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, reaching as high as 95 percent, compared to 20 percent to 30 percent generally found in marijuana plants.

Writing in JAMA Pediatrics, doctors at Children’s Hospital in Denver reported that after recreational marijuana was legalized, its emergency department began treating one to two kids a month for accidental marijuana ingestion, mostly from edibles. Before legalization, the hospital hadn’t treated any kids for this.

Proponents of legalizing recreational marijuana use argue that it will save lives by giving people an alternative to opioids for pain relief. What they don’t consider is the detrimental impact of recreational marijuana on youths. When Colorado legalized marijuana, it became the number one state in the country for teen marijuana use, with teen rates jumping over 12 percent. In both Washington state and Colorado, the illegal black market for drugs has exploded, with organized crime groups growing large amounts of marijuana illegally in Colorado homes and shipping it across the US, increasing youth access to the drug.

While using marijuana by itself is unlikely to be life-threatening at any age, it can cause serious problems. Numerous studies have linked marijuana use to mental health problems including increased rates of anxiety, mood, and psychotic thought disorders. Marijuana use is also associated with relationship problems, poor academic performance, employment issues, and lower life satisfaction. With the increased potency of marijuana, these problems are even more significant for today’s users.

Marijuana use during adolescence is especially damaging in terms of impaired cognitive function, including memory issues, learning deficits, and lower IQs, all of which can persist into adulthood. Despite that, the majority of high school seniors don’t believe that regular marijuana smoking is harmful. In fact, only 36 percent believe regular use puts the user at great risk, compared to 52 percent five years ago. Nearly 1 in 15 high school seniors use marijuana on a daily basis, while 21 percent of all 12th-graders report using marijuana in the past month. Also, more young people seek treatment for marijuana abuse or dependence than for use of alcohol and all other drugs.

When states legalize recreational marijuana, fatalities increase and the lives of children and teenagers are put at stake.

Kurt Isaacson is president and CEO of Spectrum Health Systems, a private, not-for-profit substance abuse and mental health treatment provider.

  • The world’s brinksmanship with truth is one of the most shocking and frightening threats to human civilization today: All the psychological, physiological, emotional, financial, and social problems associated with prolonged Marijuana use have been vigorously documented. Its host of negative effects are well known; there is no shortage of evidence of the kind of brain damage and other related problems that irresponsible use of Marijuana causes. What is so poignant and pathetic here are the people trapped in the fog of this destructive drug–they are the real victims here because, at the end of the day, their government officials have failed them miserably. We cannot become polarized about this most emphatically sad and rueful change of the law regarding Marijuana’s legalization. Though we may disagree about this, we must not get angry and point fingers at each other; but we must pray for those trapped in the dark cave of dirty politics’ results and the greed behind raking it from our fellow Americans who will pay the ruinous consequences for this dastardly and irresponsible crime against society. What is direfully needed here is truth and soberness. The book “Crashing Streams of Change” has many of the answers that many people so vehemently need to straighten out their thinking and lives. Whatever you do, get a copy: One read would make all the difference in the world for you.

    • The fact that you think cannabis is a bigger problem than our systematically racist prison industrial complex that destroys ten times more lives than the negative effects of the plant is outrageous. You value sobriety over people being used for slave labor for the “dastardly and irresponsible crime against society” of smoking a joint. I will heed your call to not let passions cloud our judgment and call you an outright monster, but your judgment and priority on this issue is misguided at best and sinister at worst.

  • Still trying to push the “system’s “agenda on the public by making false statements about cannabis?
    The government has never had the people’s best interests at heart! If they did and wouldn’t have backed the greed of few..they wouldn’t have stolen hemp from us & Mother Earth.
    Can you imagine how much better all of inhabiting this planet ? would have been if hemp had been allowed to progress & not fossil fuels?
    No one will ever convince me that alcohol, tobbaco &big pharma drugs are better for me than cannabis. This plant has evolved with us. Science has proven our brains has cannaboid receptors in our brain. What ye say of this?
    The govt & the 1%’ers want to dumb us down & numb us out. That’s why alcohol, tobbaco , big pharma drugs are legal and pushed on us rather than a plant which has time & time again been proven to be of benefit to humans.
    Have you thought why use of psychedelic’s is so heavily criminalized? They don’t want us utilizing parts of our brains that we do not access otherwise. DMT is found in our bodies and that’s outlawed. Why ?
    You aren’t helping our Mother Earth or it’s people by pushing this antiqued belief system of yours and others. The war on drugs was a war on people. It failed. It has been proven that when you legalize all drugs addiction goes down. Making drugs that people will use illegal only makes profits for corporate interests who benefit from criminalization of human habits & frailties.
    Wake up!

  • “Also, more young people seek treatment for marijuana abuse or dependence than for use of alcohol and all other drugs.”

    This is not an evidence for Marijuana addiction and can also be interpreted as uninformed parents forcibly driving young people in to addiction treatment instead of understanding the causes for drug consumption.

  • NHTSA released last Friday. In “the first large-scale [crash risk] study in the United States to include drugs other than alcohol,” NHTSA found that, once the data were adjusted for confounding variables, cannabis consumption was not associated with an increased probability of getting into an accident.

  • The largest donor for the AGAINST MARIJUANA INITIATIVE is the maker of the Fentanyl pain drug. Death from fentanyl overdose was declared a public health crisis in Canada in September 2015, and it continues to be a major killer drug.[50] In 2016, deaths from fatal fentanyl overdoses in British Columbia, Canada, averaged two persons per day.[51] Medical examiners concluded that musician Prince died in April 2016 from an accidental fentanyl overdose. The drug was among many identified in counterfeit pills recovered from his home, especially some that were mislabeled as Watson 385, a combination of hydrocodone and paracetamol.[52][53]. No persons have ever died from THC overdose, when taken in extremely large doses the drug naturally dissapates from the body over time and the sequelae which may or may not include nausea, anxiety, visual hallucinations etc., also stop when the drug leaves the body naturally.

  • Hey Dr T, why don’t you ask me why I chose cannabis over the Oxycodone prescribed by 7 Doctors after a MVA WITH A TRANSPORT TRUCK. You laugh at the comments here and I’ll send you 5 pounds of evidence that suggests many physicians should be imprisoned for for their opioid prescribing habits. How old are you Dr T. Too old for Pubmed and evidence based medicine. I think you forget the limitations of your own mind. Do your patients a favor an open it up.

  • btw: Grandaddy purple 17% THC , NEVER drive on GDP, Durban poison 24% THC, I bet there’d be less MVA statistically if everyone had a little DP in their veins.

    Any idea why the amount of THC doesn’t correlate to impairment in term of motor, cognitive, or intellectual ability? Don’t assume that you have a clear sense of the picture when your only looking at one piece of the puzzle.

  • This is a fine example of connect the dot science. Its written from a similar standpoint as Jonathan Martyn who believes that parents who grow marijuana should have their children taken from them and jailed for child abuse despite the fact that children living in “grow ops” (whatever that word actually means) are on average healthier than their non-grow op counterparts. I strongly doubt that the author of this article has the intellectual ability to understand the concept of critical appraisal or the concept of appropriate statistical analysis for drawing a particular conclusion. Although it angers me when I read articles fit for the platitude of the simple minded, I refrain from wasting my time tearing this “study” to shreds” as my time is better spent on providing a more therapeutically beneficial study of cannabis. Perhaps educating misinformed physicians. I’ll leave you with two questions and one unrelated quote from Hamlet ” That monster, custom, who all sense doth eat.”

    1: how many people have died from intoxication from cannabis in the last 10,000 years
    2: how many people can consume 1500 pounds of cannabis in 15 minutes.

    An apology: I believe that teens undergo a great deal of “neuropsychiatric pruning” before the age of 21 and not take the chances with these poorly understood psychotropic compounds unless the benefits are clearly outweighing the risks.

  • Thanks to our pot smoking entrepreneurs in California a Breathalyzer to determine if some one is driving under the influence of marijuana is in beta testing and is expected to be available to police officers this year! I agree with much of what is in this article but if you visit any medical marijuana distribution center you will find extremely careful labeling and a highly trained person called a “bud tender” …who will do a consult with you to address any mental health issues experienced previously (by purchasing products with unknown strains, possible unknown ingredients and variations in strenghts of THC content) which can be avoided by choosing the lowest THC content product. You can also buy one joint at a time to make sure it will meet your requirements and to test your own personal reaction. We as doctors need to be open to alternative medicine and instead of fighting this we should listen to our patients and push our HMO employers to do research on the patients that choose this route instead of encouraging censorship causing us to be in the dark about what our patients are actually doing.

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