Legalizing Marijuana: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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Blog post contributed by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC, President @ Addiction Hope, and Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC, Special Projects Director @ Addiction Hope

The topic of legalizing marijuana has sparked enormous controversy across the country, with many states examining and debating legislation supporting this issue.  The recreational and medical use of marijuana have been discussed and disputed in the general public and among health professionals as well.  Marijuana is in fact, one of the most commonly used illegal drugs in the United States, with the number of Americans using the drug steadily increasing as the nation takes a more relaxed stance toward marijuana.  As some states are moving towards legalizing marijuana, potential risks and benefits are being heavily weighed.  What could be possible detriments resulting from the legalization of marijuana?

A recent study examined the casual use of marijuana on brain development, revealing startling findings.  Researchers from Northwestern University investigated how the brain is impacted by occasional use of marijuana, or Cannabis.  It was found that with as little use as once or twice a week, significant abnormalities developed in two critical structures of the brain in patients that used marijuana [1].  Co-senior author of this study, Dr. Hans Breiter, and his team, analyzed participants between the ages of 18 and 25: half who were marijuana users, and half who served as control subjects.

With the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), researchers examined the brains of all participants, focusing on two regions of the brain that are responsible for decision making, motivation, and processing emotions.  In the brains of participants that used marijuana, researchers found abnormalities compared to that of the normal controls.  As the regions examined are connected to one’s motivation, these findings may help support the theory that marijuana could influence users to have decreased focus and become less goal-oriented in their lives.

Dr. Brieter did note the need for further research in this area to better understand the effect of marijuana on the brain.  He shared, “We need to see what happens longitudinally.  What happens as you follow people over time?  What happens if they stop using – do these bad effects continue?  What happens if you can intervene early? My worry is we haven’t studied this compound and here we are looking to change legislation on it.”

The findings of this study do bring a number of issues into question, especially for states that are turning this matter to voting individuals.  Understanding the impact of recreational use of marijuana and the resulting consequences are important to weigh before voting on such legislation that could change the availability of drugs as we know it.

What are your thoughts on the legalization of marijuana?


[1]: Jodi M. Gilman, John K. Kuster, Sang Lee, Myung Joo Lee, Byoung Woo Kim, Nikos Makris, Andre Van Der Kouwe, Anne J. Blood and Hans C. Breiter. Cannabis Use is Quantitatively Associated with Nucleus Accumbens and Amygdala Abnormalities in Young Adult Recreational UsersJournal of Neuroscience, April 16, 2014 (in press)

*image courtesy of Photokanuk from