The legalization of medicinal marijuana became official with the passing of amendment 22. This issue is real and has many far-reaching implications. For decades people have argued over the chemical risks of cannabis and the primary active ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). There is more to marijuana than just THC though, which is what this 3 part series is intended to educate the community on.
The first aspect of understanding the complex marijuana issue is to understand that there are many different marijuana “communities”. Cannabis is used by many different types of people in many different ways and for many different reasons. The first group I will describe is the one for which the legalization of marijuana is primarily intended. There are a number of serious medical conditions, such as glaucoma and certain types of epilepsy, for which cannabis provides a significant degree of symptom relief. This group is motivated by feeling better and may have limited alternatives to do so. The next group includes those who would derive benefit from using cannabis to treat other legitimate conditions, but for which there may be equally effective or even better medical options already in existence. These conditions include many of the psychiatric disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Even with effective medical options readily available, members of this group may prefer marijuana if given the choice. A third group exists that simply wants to get high on pot and does not want the legal hassle or inconvenience of having to go to a bad neighborhood to get it. They may fabricate or embellish symptoms in order to receive a prescription. This group is large and far outnumbers the previous two groups combined. This group is the source for many of the concerns. A fourth group consists of existing recreational cannabis users that have no interest in being “patients”. They don’t bother pretending and just do what they need to do to procure their supply. The fifth group is comprised of the former marijuana users. They may have “outgrown” their usage or given it up for other reasons. They all still have a prior experience with cannabis and will have a different perspective than someone who has never tried it (yes they do actually exist, even in 2017). The sixth group is those that are fully addicted or “cannabis dependent”. This population has extreme difficulty stopping despite rarely ever feeling good, even when using. They may fake or embellish symptoms to get a medical marijuana card to protect their access to cannabis. All of these groups can be further subdivided by age.
The perception and understanding of marijuana use may be very different to individuals from different age groups. Baby boomers often have much of their opinion of cannabis based on the weaker strains that predominated before the development of the more modern agricultural technologies and the stronger strains. The truth is that just based on the “dose effect”, marijuana was safer back then. Many of the complications seen in recent years are directly related to high concentrations of THC and other psychoactive chemicals in the “stronger” strains. Boomers also grew up in a time where drug use was not nearly as widespread and typically started at a later age. They had a healthy respect for the dangers of drugs in general and were reluctant to try harder drugs. They also grew up without the Internet and the rapid and far-reaching spread of information that came with that invention. Generation X was too young for Woodstock and the hippie movement, but otherwise was not that far off with their earlier drug experiences. This group did start to use the stronger cannabis strains while still in their 20’s and 30’s, but typically not yet during their earliest experiences. The Internet became widely accessible later in their use. Generation Y was much more likely to be exposed to stronger marijuana early on, as was generation Z. Availability of all other illicit drugs has continued to increase, especially affecting generations Y and Z.
These 2 generations essentially grew up with the Internet and had unlimited information available to them. Early drug experimentation has been all but normalized for our youngest generation, placing them at the highest risk for the most negative outcomes among all of these groups.
The differences among these categories help explain the different perspectives that will be held by different groups. The psychological impact of legalized marijuana may be limited for the baby boomers but severe for generations Y and Z. The ratio of risks to benefits, as a whole, will be much better for the older generations and the worst for the youngest. In order to make a well-informed decision on this complex topic, the positives and negatives must be weighed out among all of the different groups, not just the group to which you belong. Even greater than the number of different perspectives on this matter is the number of different strains of marijuana that have been cultivated.