What will be the future impact of marijuana use?
A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests very plausibly
that the history of tobacco use tells us how the marijuana industry might develop.
“The tobacco industry has provided a detailed road map for marijuana:
- deny addiction potential,
- downplay known adverse health effects,
- create as large a market as possible as quickly as possible,
- and protect the market through lobbying, campaign contributions, and other advocacy efforts.”
Marijuana (MJ) IS LESS addictive than tobacco. Presently about 9% of MJ users meet the criteria for dependence as compared to 32% for tobacco users. But, recent studies show that heavy MJ use by an adolescent can lead to structural brain changes and subsequent dependency as an adult. All researchers agree that MJ use in those under 21 years can be harmful and should not be permitted. Most agree that MJ is NO more a gateway drug than alcohol and tobacco are.
MJ’s effect on cognitive functioning IS LESS than alcohol, but it can slow reaction time. Effects of MJ are independent of blood or urine levels. There is no breathalyzer test for MJ. DUI standards for MJ do not exist. (see Buzzfeed video, “Drunk vs. Stoned”)
We now accept that smoking tobacco is a major cause of death. To our knowledge no one has ever died of marijuana. Since it is inhaled it can cause lung damage, but it doesn’t cause cancer. Sensitive to the concern about damage caused by inhaled MJ, sellers are already pushing vaporizers and edible products. A rumored joint venture between a medical MJ vendor and an e-cigarette manufacturer apparently sent stock prices soaring.
MJ is cited often for its useful effects for cancer and AIDS patients, and those benefits are real. There is very little evidence that MJ “reduces anxiety”. Such claims imply that “a little reduction of anxiety” will, of course, make your work and life easier and users will be more successful. Can’t you just envision the ad campaigns for “cool”, “mellow”, and “helpful MJ”?
Cigarettes started out as a “roll your own” process used by a small portion of the population in the 1880’s. By 1950 half of our population used tobacco, mostly cigarette smoking. As the process of making cigarettes was industrialized, 120,000 cigarettes a day were rolled and packaged by machines. Advertising and marketing soon expanded the use of cigarettes to the general population with special targets of women and the young. Cigarettes were made “more mellow” and had additives to speed absorption and “enhance taste”. Increasing the potency of MJ is already well under way and literally has free rein, since there is no standardization of MJ products. Competitive sellers boast of their product’s enhanced potency and use it as a marketing tool.
As the tobacco industry grew, so did the smoking lobbies and corporations that resisted regulation of tobacco products or distribution of the scientific studies of tobacco effects. The National Cannabis Industry Association with 450 business members and offices in Washington, D.C. and Denver already exists. The strength and power of the tobacco lobby prevented us for 50 years from accepting cigarette smoking as a public health problem. Unlike cigarettes, MJ also has the internet that provides direct, and directed, advertising to the public; a fantastically effective and profitable way to sell a product as proven by our pharmaceutical companies.
Anyone that does not believe that MJ will become a major business need only look at the competitive scramble for permits in states newly allowing medical marijuana dispensing ; a fierce competition despite ambiguity of Federal vs. state law compatibility, as well as hefty application and annual permit fees.
“The free-market approach to tobacco clearly failed to protect the public’s welfare and the common good: in spite of recent federal regulation, tobacco use remains the leading cause of death in the U.S.” The author calls for “collaboration among the FDA, NIH, SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) , the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and other agencies” to “understand the harms and forecast the effects of industrialization” of MJ. In light of the ineffectiveness of multiple governmental agencies in “collaborating” to ensure proper, transparent food labeling and enhance the public health, one can’t be too optimistic about government’s effectiveness in influencing the manufacture, selling, and use of MJ in the future.
1. NEJM 371:5 July 31, 2014 “Big Marijuana – Lessons From Big Tobacco”, Richter and Levy
2. Institute of Medicine, Marijuana and Health, 1982
3. Institute of Medicine, Marijuana and Medicine – Assessing the Science 1997