Can We Answer Questions About Marijuana Once and For All?

A study on teen pot use adds to the debate over marijuana. As more states legalize cannabis, there are unanswered questions about its risks and benefits.

It probably comes as little surprise that many teens smoke marijuana. Some have experimented with pot, while others smoke it recreationally. What may be surprising is that smoking marijuana during adolescence can drastically increase the risk of having a psychotic experience.

Late adolescents who toked up were 3 times more likely to experience “reefer madness” compared with peers who didn’t touch the Mary Jane, according to a new study from JAMA Psychiatry. And if the adolescents started using earlier in their teens, the risk was even higher.

It’s been thought that psychotic experiences could also make it more likely a teen would use marijuana, but researchers didn’t find this to be the case. Also, little evidence was found that smoking cigarettes can increase psychosis in this young population.

“We found little evidence that psychotic experiences in childhood led to increased cannabis use,” the study’s authors wrote. “As other observational studies have indicated, the self-medication hypothesis does not appear to adequately explain the association between cannabis use and psychosis. Such a relationship for tobacco use is also not well supported by our data.”

While the results might appear to cast a negative light on marijuana use, the reality is not as clear. The number of states allowing recreational pot use is rising (8 states and the District of Columbia do so, and many others allow marijuana use with a doctor’s note). Yet, evidence of marijuana’s medical benefits — or drawbacks — is not conclusive.

Last year, MedShadow began a petition asking the DEA to change marijuana’s classification from a Schedule II to a Schedule I drug. Doing so would allow for much more research that could firmly establish the plant’s potential benefits, as well as its side effects.

Unfortunately, it appears we are no closer to this happening than we were when we launched the petition last year. Earlier this month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded a series of guidelines put into place by the Obama Administration that essentially told federal prosecutors to lay off arresting people for minor marijuana possession. While those 8 states and DC have decriminalized possession of small amounts, it still remains illegal under federal law.

A national poll released last year found that 52% of Americans have tried marijuana and 56% find the practice socially acceptable. Given the debate over legalization, we owe it to our country’s citizens to get some clear research conducted on marijuana’s positives and negatives.


Jonathan Block

Jonathan Block

Jonathan Block is an associate editor at BioCentury, which provides news and information about the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. Prior to joining BioCentury in 2019, Jonathan worked for MedShadow as content editor. He has been an editor and writer for multiple pharmaceutical, health and medical publications, including The Pink Sheet, Modern Healthcare, Health Plan Week and Psychiatry Advisor. He holds a BA from Tufts University and is earning an MPH with a focus on health policy from the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy.


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