CNN medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta recently voiced his support for medical marijuana, writing that "we have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States" regarding the dangers of the drug. The medical doctor said research for his documentary on the substance led him to change his mind regarding legalization and safe use.
Gupta had originally opposed state votes to legalize marijuana for medical purposes because he believed its ranking as a schedule 1 substance by the Drug Enforcement Agency meant it was too dangerous. He said that upon further investigation, however, there is actually little scientific evidence that the substance poses a large danger :
We now know that while estimates vary, marijuana leads to dependence in around 9 to 10% of its adult users. By comparison, cocaine, a schedule 2 substance "with less abuse potential than schedule 1 drugs" hooks 20% of those who use it. Around 25% of heroin users become addicted.
The worst is tobacco, where the number is closer to 30% of smokers, many of whom go on to die because of their addiction.
There is clear evidence that in some people marijuana use can lead to withdrawal symptoms, including insomnia, anxiety and nausea. Even considering this, it is hard to make a case that it has a high potential for abuse. The physical symptoms of marijuana addiction are nothing like those of the other drugs I've mentioned. I have seen the withdrawal from alcohol, and it can be life threatening.
Medical marijuana is legal or decriminalized in 18 states and the District of Columbia, but opponents say it encourages use among those to whom it hasn’t been prescribed. Californians for Drug Free Youth Executive Director John Redman said it can also be particularly dangerous for children and teens, whose brains are still developing:
When California was having its debate about medical marijuana in 1996, preventionists had warned of the wrong message such a policy would send. Indeed, in the intervening years, drug use has risen (research is now emerging that directly links medical marijuana states with higher levels of drug use), and now more young people enter treatment for their marijuana use than for all drugs (including alcohol) combined. They now think that marijuana is "medicine" –- how bad can it be for you? Dispensaries, many of which market their wares around high schools and parks, have no doubt contributed to these higher use levels.
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