If I was in a debate, the first thing I would say is this, “It is nearly impossible to deliver a fatal dose of marijuana to a human and no fatal overdose has ever been recorded.” I realize the debate is more nuanced than this, but as a Cannabis Consultant I am working with people who are using readily available, fatally dangerous drugs to fight fatal diseases. So in terms of fatality, cannabis is less dangerous to adults, pets and children than alcohol, hard drugs, opiates, and even NSAIDs like Ibuprofen, which kill thousands of people every year in America. We rarely consider the dangers of available drugs in our homes, but spend a lot of time worrying about cannabis, which has been around for thousands of years.
The next level of concern is abuse of the drug. This is a real issue because marijuana abuse is real. I know chronic pain patients who abuse marijuana by smoking it all day instead of using a more medicinally beneficial method such as ingestion of infused oil. (Though often they are replacing a more dangerous addiction to opiates.) I also know people who use cannabis recreationally who abuse the drug. Abuse of marijuana is when you use it beyond a net benefit to your health and way of life. It is hard to say how many people do this because extreme cannabis usage is arguably a net benefit to one’s health over extreme opiate or pharmaceutical abuse. As far as both adult and children overdose to painkillers is concerned, one could argue that medical cannabis for acute pain and other symptoms has a net benefit on society with no fatalities reported. Fewer dangerous drugs in the home means children won’t access them as readily.
But this is a debate already settled in the minds of the majority who vote for marijuana legalization. The question still remains- what’s legalization really going to do to our children and to loved ones we know who sit around smoking pot all day? The issue is charged for many- both for supporters who are convinced marijuana is harmless, and for detractors who are convinced marijuana is as harmful as its Schedule I status dictates (a dangerous drug with no medical benefits.) Many people who are pro-cannabis are still concerned with the drug as addiction runs in their families.
I tend to be conservative in how I recommend patients delve in to marijuana. It is a powerful drug, can cause an uncomfortable overdose, and- in my opinion- no grandma’s first cannabis experience should be passing a bong around, as this video documents. I also admit that although I believe in an adult’s right to use cannabis both recreationally and medicinally, I am very aware of its addictive potential much as I am aware of sugar, caffeine, television, and shopping’s potential for addiction. A good comparison is caffeine which has a similar addictive potential as cannabis, but is not a loaded subject because caffeine is accepted by our culture. Cannabis, like caffeine is inappropriate mind-altering drug for children though generally harmless and usually unappealing to them. The majority of alcohol users also manage to drink without becoming dangerously addicted. Pre-teen children are not very interested in coffee, alcoholic drinks, or cannabis. It’s in their later years when these things are more accessible. But what is guiding them toward abuse of any substance?
It is the teenagers we are worried about. Alcohol is readily available and abused by teenagers, and so is marijuana. If we’re worried legalizing marijuana is harmful, then we haven’t talked to our teenagers lately. Cannabis is so prevalent in high schools, that they have a much easier time getting it than alcohol at this point. As I have said publicly, abuse of any drug (recreational or otherwise) is harmful. So, if our kids have proper education around the subject, have loving and caring families who monitor or talk to them about the dangers of drug abuse, they won’t seek to abuse it. If they are not using cannabis chronically, then there is no evidence to suggest that it can harm them. Even the studies on chronic abuse among teenagers is controversial and not definitive. We fear chronic abuse is harmful but in reality, we know the answer: all drugs, when abused, can be harmful. Drugs that are only found on the black market merely criminalize the abuse. But abuse itself is a larger discussion about communication and community than about the laws surrounding drugs.