Brought to you by Russ Ferstandig, MD.

The daily reporting that many state legislatures are considering legalizing medical and recreational use of marijuana suggests that marijuana is going to eventually be legalized in most states, if not nationally. The decriminalization for possession of small amounts of marijuana in 15 states currently with more to come is another indicator that the legalization of marijuana is a given. In addition, the substantial new tax revenue streams in Colorado and Washington state from recreational marijuana sales further tilt the balance toward legalization.

The clear benefits of marijuana when used as part of specific medical treatments, like cancer, glaucoma and childhood seizures, leads many to conclude that there are no problems with recreational use of marijuana and that is should be legalized. This belief is based more on individual desire to experience the “pleasurable” aspects of marijuana use than the realities of medical consequences of marijuana use.


To date there have not been many studies about the true effect of chronic marijuana use on individuals, especially the youth and young adults. The absence of negative findings due to the absence of studies lead many to conclude that there are no problems, when in fact there are many.


On the physical front, marijuana is clearly bad for the lungs because it is a respiratory irritant, if not a carcinogen. Even small amounts of marijuana can increase blood pressure and increase the likelihood of a heart attack. It is likely that there are physical and hormonal developmental issues linked to marijuana when used by individuals under the age of 25 because their body and brains have not completed their development.


While the mental and lifestyle fronts are harder to assess, it is likely that they are more serious than the physical front. Marijuana creates a sense of euphoria and thus an instant “escape” from life’s daily problems and pressures.  There is no doubt that we live in a very stressful world that encourages many to dodge reality so that they do not feel overwhelmed and can cope on a daily basis.


It is likely that if legalized, marijuana will be used in a manner that is similar to alcohol, to take the edge off of daily stressors, a social lubricant and as a place for people to hide from things that they find overwhelming.  Many, especially businesses, argue that because alcohol is legal and there is an undeniably strong parallel between alcohol use and marijuana use, that marijuana should also be legal.  But this is like using the logic that since we already have one problem, a parallel problem is just fine.


Do we really need another drug that helps people avoid addressing the unavoidable?  As a psychiatrist and addiction specialist who works all day to help people solve the problems that result from avoiding reality, my belief is that the best path to happiness and success is reality, not avoiding reality.


To date there is a lack of clear evidence that marijuana is a “gateway drug” to more serious drugs, that is unless one opens their eyes a looks at what is evident all around them.  People who are more comfortable avoiding their problems continue to develop problems and be unhappy, and people who do the work necessary to address their problems by facing reality are more likely to live healthy lives and prosper. Therefore, it is undeniable that for many marijuana will be a gateway drug because it will teach them another way to hide from reality and thus continue their agony.


There is no doubt that alcohol contributes to motor vehicle injuries and deaths, not to mention domestic and general violence. That there are federal agencies to address alcoholism and drug abuse, not to mention thousands of drug and alcohol rehabs in the United States alone is clear evidence that there are serious potential consequences to legal alcohol and will be even more problems if marijuana is legalized.