What Everyone Should Know About 21st Century Cannabis Risks and Rewards

What Everyone Should Know About 21st Century Cannabis Risks and Rewards

I attended a recent birthday party for a friend who was turning 60 and lives in Minnesota.  At the party there was music, food, alcoholic drinks and yes, cannabis.

The music, food and drinks were provided for the adults attending the party, but cannabis still “made the scene.”

Some of the party goers went outside to smoke weed as the DJ played old rock tunes, while others said they wished they had brought their marijuana to smoke and still others talked about how they currently used cannabis to address various ailments like back pain and trouble getting to sleep.

This probably shouldn’t be a surprise since while cannabis use is most prevalent among 18-25 year olds, use has markedly increased among seniors over age 55 years: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK425763/#:~:text=Cannabis%20use%20is%20most%20prevalent,et%20al.%2C%202016).

In addition, according to NORML, a non-profit organization which advocates for the legalization of marijuana use for adults, Minnesota is poised to be the 23rd state to legalize cannabis use.

So, with this level of interest not only in Minnesota but across the US, shouldn’t everyone know about the risks and possible rewards of using cannabis? 

Cannabis Rewards

There are several therapeutic benefits of cannabis and cannabinoids, according to The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research (2017).

These include:

  • In adults with chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, oral cannabinoids are effective antiemetics.
  • In adults with chronic pain, patients who were treated with cannabis or cannabinoids are more likely to experience a clinically significant reduction in pain symptoms.
  • In adults with multiple sclerosis (MS)-related spasticity, short-term use of oral cannabinoids improves patient-reported spasticity symptoms.
  • For these conditions the effects of cannabinoids are modest; for all other conditions evaluated there is inadequate information to assess their effects: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK425767/ 

You can also find many articles on the internet claiming a seemingly endless list of benefits of using cannabis, ranging from preventing and curing cancer to increasing your energy level to engage in physical activity, all of which are not currently supported by sufficient, sound research.

As additional research is conducted, however, more cannabis benefits claims will be either supported or refuted.

Cannabis Risks

There is also a considerable list of negative effects and risks associated with cannabis use, particularly early and frequent use for recreational purposes.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), negative and long-term effects of cannabis include:

Brain health: Marijuana can cause permanent IQ loss of as much as 8 points when people start using it at a young age. These IQ points do not come back, even after quitting marijuana.

Mental health: Studies link marijuana use to depression, anxiety, suicide planning, and psychotic episodes. It is not known, however, if marijuana use is the cause of these conditions.

Athletic Performance: Research shows that marijuana affects timing, movement, and coordination, which can harm athletic performance.

Driving: People who drive under the influence of marijuana can experience dangerous effects: slower reactions, lane weaving, decreased coordination, and difficulty reacting to signals and sounds on the road.

Baby’s health and development: Marijuana use during pregnancy may cause fetal growth restriction, premature birth, stillbirth, and problems with brain development, resulting in hyperactivity and poor cognitive function. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other chemicals from marijuana can also be passed from a mother to her baby through breast milk, further impacting a child’s healthy development.

Daily life: Using marijuana can affect performance and how well people do in life. Research shows that people who use marijuana are more likely to have relationship problems, worse educational outcomes, lower career achievement, and reduced life satisfaction: https://www.samhsa.gov/marijuana

In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that cannabis use during adolescence and young adulthood may harm the developing brain, with negative effects including:

  • Difficulty thinking and problem-solving
  • Problems with memory and learning
  • Reduced coordination
  • Difficulty maintaining attention
  • Problems with school and social life

Also, approximately 3 in 10 people who use marijuana have marijuana use disorder, which includes trying but failing to quit using marijuana or giving up important activities with friends and family in favor of using marijuana.

The risk of developing marijuana use disorder is stronger in people who start using marijuana during youth or adolescence and who use marijuana more frequently: https://www.cdc.gov/marijuana/health-effects/teens.html


Cannabis use in the US is increasing due to changing state legislation permitting medical and recreational use among adults.

Research has identified therapeutic benefits of cannabis use, particularly around pain relief and two medical conditions.

Many of the reported benefits of cannabis have not been verified by adequate research and should therefore be viewed with significant skepticism until further research has either confirmed or refuted them.

Cannabis risks to developing brains, increased risk for accidents, mental health problems, addiction, and serious academic and social problems resulting from early and frequent cannabis use must be prevented so that our youth do not suffer from legalizing cannabis use for adults.

The responsibility for preventing youth cannabis use and problems should be placed squarely on those states legalizing its use.    

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