The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) carried out a meta-study to aggregate all of the scientific research since the year 1999 concerning the health risks and benefits of the medicinal use of cannabis and its derivatives.

NASEM highlights marijuana as the most popular illicit drug in the United States, where 22.2 million Americans aged 12 and older reported using the drug in the last month.

The first approved medical cannabis store in Florida opened on Tuesday, in a mall in northeast Tallahassee. Photo credit: Matthew Staver / Bloomberg
The first approved medical cannabis store in Florida opened on Tuesday, in a mall in northeast Tallahassee. Photo credit: Matthew Staver / Bloomberg

“For years the landscape of marijuana use has been rapidly shifting to more and more states are legalizing cannabis for the treatment of medical conditions and recreational use,” added Marie McCormick, chair of the committee in charge of the report, as it was published on NASEM’s press release.

The study was aimed towards achieving a general conclusion derived from almost 100 reports, trying to determine the health effects of marijuana and cannabis-derived products.

All we know about pot in one place

The report included a survey where it was recorded that 90 percent of adult cannabis users state that their primary use was entirely recreational, while only 10 percent use it for medical purposes. 36 percent reported a mixed use of the drug, and the overall rate of cannabis users within the country aged 12 or older increased 2.1 percent.

Regarding therapeutic effects, the most common use for marijuana and marijuana-based products is treating chronic pain, where patients that used the drug for such ailment were deemed truthful by the committee. Marijuana is also employed to treat muscle spasms, reduce chemotherapy-induced nausea, and vomiting, all of which were confirmed by the committee as effective uses of the plant-based drug.

But sometimes the risks outweigh the potential benefits. Recreational marijuana use does not provide any health benefit, but rather serves as a mentally-impairing substance, much like alcohol, limiting motor and cognitive skills.

According to the report, smoking cannabis does not increase the risk of suffering from cancers that are associated with the use of tobacco. There was also little evidence that could confirm an association of cannabis use, heart disease, and diabetes, although some evidence suggests that cannabis use may, in some instances, cause a heart attack.

The committee found evidence that learning, memory, and attention are all impaired after immediate marijuana use, although there is not enough evidence to confirm a long-term impairment after a person has stopped smoking cannabis. In that same line, there is not sufficient evidence to show that marijuana use is responsible for limitations in academic achievements, relationships, and social roles. There is also little evidence to link marijuana to any degree of unemployment or states of low income.

Following the evidence, marijuana users are also more likely to use other drugs, tobacco being the predominant substance. The evidence found suggesting the link between cannabis use and abusing other substances (such as tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs) was classified as “moderate.”

A concerning discovery is that the committee found evidence suggesting that cannabis use increases the risk of developing schizophrenia, among other types of psychoses, including depression. In contrast, subjects with schizophrenia and other types of psychoses that use marijuana may show a better performance in tasks that require mental effort. People who smoke cannabis in a near-daily frequency are also more likely to have suicidal thoughts.

Give researchers the marijuana they need

The main problem seems to be that there is not enough evidence to fully understand what cannabis does to consumers. This is mainly because marijuana research is restricted on a federal level, as it is classified as a Schedule I substance, which limits any advanced research. Researchers are also unable to obtain the sufficient amount of legal marijuana to perform the studies and to analyze the drug in an open manner.

“This growing acceptance, accessibility and use of cannabis and its derivatives have raised important public health concerns. Moreover, the lack of any aggregated knowledge of cannabis-related health effects has led to uncertainty about what, if any, are the harms or benefits of its use. We conducted an in-depth and broad review of the most recent research to establish firmly what the science says and to highlight areas that still need further examination. As laws and policies continue to change, research must also,” added McCormick, stressing the need to continue research at a pair with new policies.

The report was sponsored by the CDC, the National Cancer Institute, and many more organizations that are interested in a full-spectrum research concerning the risks and benefits of using marijuana. Dangerous substances must be analyzed thoroughly, and seeing that marijuana is not lethal and is being consumed by tens of millions in the U.S., allowing scientific research on the drug would be a step in the right direction.

Although the effects of marijuana are widely known, even by anyone who uses the drug, there are specific details that undermine its restricted legalization. Its effects on heart disease and the body’s immune system remain a topic that remains largely untouched, not because of researchers, but because the federal government does not provide scientists with the tools they need to fully analyze cannabis and how it can affect Americans if it were to become entirely legal.

Source: NASEM