Marijuana does more harm than good – despite what you may have heard

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Contrary to popular belief, marijuana is extremely bad for you. I cannot count the number of times I have heard a pot-head friend explain to fellow smokers or non-smokers that, “Dude, marijuana is natural! It’s a plant. It isn’t bad for you at all.”

[ MARIJUANA POSES LESS OF A THREAT THAN ALCOHOL ]

I hate to break it to them and anyone else reading, but just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s safe. Tobacco is a plant and also one of the most popular and most dangerous products in the world.

Marijuana and tobacco have similar effects on the human body. That smoke you are inhaling is doing much more than just giving you a temporary high. According to the American Lung Association, marijuana smoke — similar to tobacco smoke — contains many chemicals known to cause cancer (33, to be exact). These chemicals fill up the lungs and cause internal irritation. Because marijuana joints are unfiltered, they deposit four times as much tar as cigarettes and can cause additional respiratory problems, such as “coughing … phlegm production … wheezing, bronchitis and great risk of lung infection.” Smoking marijuana can also lead to lung collapse.

Many argue that it should be their choice to smoke marijuana; however, that decision does not just impact the person who decides to smoke a joint every once and a while. Marijuana can also negatively affect the brain. According to the ALA, “Marijuana … impairs short-term memory and motor coordination; slows reaction time; alters mood, judgment and decision-making; and in some people can cause severe anxiety or loss of touch with reality. Because of these effects, marijuana use more than doubles a driver’s risk of being in an accident.”

Marijuana, while illegal, is already easily accessible. Legalizing the substance would only increase its availability and subject even more people to its dangers. Alcohol, while obviously a different substance than marijuana, is the perfect example of legal products causing harm. Close to 16,000 people are killed in accidents involving alcohol every year. Imagine the increase in accidents that would be seen if marijuana was made legal.

Something else I’ve been told about marijuana is that it isn’t addictive.

Marijuana is a drug. All drugs can be addictive, especially those that alter the user’s state of mind. Marijuana gives the user feelings of pleasure while smoking it and for a short period of time afterwards. Your brain already naturally generates chemicals that serve the purpose of calming you down and giving you pleasure. If you are putting marijuana into your system, your body will recognize it as an alternative source of these chemicals. Acting to conserve energy, your brain will automatically stop producing these natural chemicals on its own, causing you to be unable to relax without marijuana. This creates a sense of unhappiness when not using the drug and is one of the many reasons for addiction.

Only four states — Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska — have legalized the recreational use of marijuana. While the legalization of the drug in these states may make it seem benign, legalization does not prove, support or give any reason to believe marijuana is harmless. If anything, the reason for legalization of this product is solely about money — and when dealing with money, when has anyone ever cared about the well-being of the individual? Tobacco and alcohol products generate high revenues, but they also cause great harm to people around the world every day. Marijuana seems poised to do the same — which state will be next?

letters@chronicle.utah.edu

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