It seems whenever cannabis is mentioned online, an argument ensues. Cannabis users immediately defend the drug as being a harmless one, with no harmful effects, that it's not addictive and that it doesn't lead people to try harder drugs. Now that the UK is hoping to legalise cannabis in years to come, I think it is an important time to get my message across.
So, in this MyTake, I would like to share the facts about cannabis use, but not with the intention to denounce it. I am not against those who use cannabis and I am not saying that everyone should stop using it. By sharing the negative effects of cannabis use, this does not mean that I am denying that there is a positive effect of using cannabis – I know that it has been hugely beneficial to people with certain medical conditions and I think that’s great! I want to make it clear that my issue is with the spread of a false representation of cannabis, not cannabis use itself.
The immediate effects
Aside from the positive feelings cannabis can induce, some users can feel sick, become anxious and have hallucinations. There is also an increased risk of having a car accident with cannabis in your system.
Long term effects
Many studies have been conducted and have found an association between cannabis use and adverse health effects. These include dependency, cardiovascular disease, impaired respiratory function and an impact on mental health and psycho-social development. There is some evidence that regular cannabis users' brains have slight differences to those who don't use cannabis, suggesting that cannabis does have an impact on the brain and any alteration to the structure of the brain is going to induce some kind of effect, either good or bad. Additionally, cannabis use can impair basic and complex cognitive functions.
Cannabis and mental illness
There are risk factors involved in whether a person will develop a mental illness through cannabis use. Using cannabis at a young age, smoking stronger types of cannabis, smoking regularly and for a long period of time, as well as having mental illness run in your family, can all contribute to making it more likely for someone to develop a mental illness from cannabis use. One study showed that teenage girls who smoked cannabis everyday were associated with a five-fold increase of reporting anxiety and depression. It is now stated that there is consistent evidence that cannabis use can lead to mental illness later in life. People who have schizophrenia who take cannabis can exacerbate the illness and cause relapses. Cannabis use is consistently associated with anxiety and these effects last after stopping use. Participants in one study who didn't use cannabis were found to have less symptoms of alcohol and nicotine dependence and anxiety, compared to cannabis users.
There is a reason why the NHS has had to open a cannabis clinic to deal with cannabis induced psychosis and why psychologists are concerned about the psychological damage that daily cannabis use can cause.
The gateway effect
Unlike some of the public and most cannabis users, psychologists recognise cannabis as being a gateway drug and research is still being carried out on this. However, from a social viewpoint, there is evidence that suggests people who are surrounded by those who use illegal drugs are more likely to obtain said drugs and view drug use more positively. Also, using softer drugs like cannabis can lead some people to become naïve and fall into a false sense of security with a less powerful drug, so they may be more willing to try out harder drugs in future.
Cannabis Use Disorder (CUD)
Although this one is always up for debate, there is a medically recognised condition called Cannabis Use Disorder (CUD) which recognises that some do become dependent (addicted) on cannabis. Just because you don't find cannabis addictive, it doesn't mean that someone else won't become addicted or that the drug doesn't have the ability to be addictive.
Regular cannabis use has been attributed to reduced educational achievement and that daily cannabis users are said to be functioning at a reduced intellectual ability. One study found that there was a reduction in high school completion and an increase in the use of other drugs, cannabis dependency and suicide attempts compared to non-users.
Beware of false information online
This is the reason why I'm writing this. Too many times I see posts online giving out false information about cannabis to the masses (including the young and impressionable), in the hopes of pushing their own belief/agenda. By all means, support your own belief of being able to legally use cannabis, but don't share false information like the ones below and choose to be ignorant to the facts about the negative side of cannabis!
The image above gives the impression that the World Health Organization (WHO) has approved cannabis as being safe. Yet, WHO have shared the acute and chronic health effects of cannabis use, such as cognitive impairment and an increased risk of chronic bronchitis.
Aside from the above image ignoring all the acute and long-term effects of cannabis use, it fails to acknowledge fatal car accidents where the driver was under the influence of cannabis. There was an increase, from 4% in 1999 to 12% in 2010, of fatal car accidents related to cannabis use, where one in nine drivers who have died at the wheel had cannabis in their system.
Another obvious attempt at sharing false information about cannabis. Aside from the evidence already covered, the 'saves police & NHS billions' part isn't correct. For one, there is evidence that shows a causal link between cannabis use and an increase in violent behaviour. It found that "continued cannabis use is associated with 7-fold greater odds for subsequent commission of violent crimes. This level of risk is similar to the increased risk of lung cancer from smoking cigarettes over a similar duration (40 years)." In some countries, there has been an increase in crime rates which have been linked to cannabis use. In terms of the NHS, aside from the cost of providing cannabis on prescription, the NHS would have to deal with the long-term health effects of regular cannabis use and the development of addiction and mental health issues. As said previously, the NHS already has a cannabis clinic for those suffering with cannabis-induced mental illness.
To conclude and to reiterate, I am not saying that people should stop smoking cannabis. This is about regularly sharing the false idea, where young people can see, that cannabis is harmless and less damaging than alcohol or smoking because "no-one has died from cannabis use". There are many things that harm us but don't kill us, that doesn't mean cannabis is a perfectly harmless drug and to completely deny the facts is naive and ignorant. It's also important to be mindful of false information you see on the internet, not just about cannabis use.
Everyone is different, they respond differently to different drugs due to having different brains, genetics and life experiences. One person can use cannabis with little to no ill effects, whereas another person may have all the risk factors that lead them to develop a dependency or to exacerbate a mental illness. If you've had a good experience, it doesn't mean you can speak for every cannabis user and that cannabis use itself is harmless.
I have provided some facts and evidence; it is up to you to make your own mind up.
Thanks for reading. ☺