Medical Websites Bury Crucial Findings About Marijuana Legalization

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Today the medical journal The Lancet Psychiatry released results of their research on the results of marijuana legalization. Based on the National Survey on Drug Use & Health (NSDUH) for 2014, the survey data give us a better look at the results of legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington.

These data are cause for alarm – or they show sky isn’t falling. It all depends on who is reporting the data.

First, we read on MedPage Today that “Pot Use Up as Perceived Risk Falls“. The site reports on the press release from the medical journal Lancet Psychiatry on these new NSDUH numbers.

More people in the U.S. are using marijuana, as fewer perceive the drug to be harmful, researchers found. … [Marijuana use] rose from 10.4% in 2002 to 13.3% in 2014 … At the same time, the proportion of people who perceived great risk of harm from smoking pot once or twice a week fell from about 50% to 33%…

See, we went and legalized the marijuana and we went from one-half to only one-third that are scared of it. Then more people went ahead and smoked marijuana, especially those wake-and-bake potheads!

[T]he number of users on a daily or near-daily basis more than doubled during the study period — from an estimated 3.9 million in 2002 to 8.4 million in 2014…

Now, I shouldn’t just dismiss MedPage Today’s writer, Chuck Green, just because he disclosed a financial relationship with pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. How about some of the other medical website reporting of the Lancet research?

Medscape’s Megan Brooks writes that “More US Adults Using Marijuana as Attitudes Change“.

With growing legal and social acceptance of marijuana, an increasing number of US adults are using it, and are using it more often, new research shows.

Medical News Today’s Honor Whiteman writes that “Marijuana use rising as more people think it is safe“.

The perception of marijuana as a harmful drug has reduced among American adults, leading to an increase in its use, according to new research published in The Lancet Psychiatry.

The funny thing about the research in The Lancet Psychiatry wasn’t focused on whether or not more people were using marijuana; it was focused on whether or not there is has been an increase in problem marijuana use since legalization.

The study of marijuana use disorders is urgently needed because of increasing marijuana legalisation in multiple jurisdictions, the effect of marijuana use on future risk of psychiatric disorders, and deleterious effects of marijuana exposure. Thus, understanding trends of marijuana use and use disorders and examining factors that might drive these trends (eg, perceptions of harms from marijuana use) is essential.

What the data showed is that despite this increase in marijuana use, the rate of people exhibiting marijuana use disorders has remained virtually the same since 2002. Christopher Ingraham at the Washington Post didn’t miss this point in his piece, “CDC: More people are using marijuana, but fewer are abusing it“.

Marijuana abuse and dependency are becoming less common, even as states roll back restrictions on the use of the drug, according to a new federal report.

In 2014, the number of Americans aged 12 and over meeting diagnostic criteria for marijuana abuse or dependency stood at 1.6 percent, a decline from 1.8 percent in 2002…

To be fair, the three medical websites I listed above did mention the relevant findings about marijuana abuse disorders. They just didn’t get around to it until paragraph nine, six, and four, mentioned as an afterthought to the fact that more people are smoking weed as they think it’s less risky.

But even then, the medical sites dismiss that finding. Medical News Today notes the study author, who wrote that “many people who have recently (within the past year) started to use marijuana might be using the drug less intensely and have less psychopathology than people who have used marijuana for longer,” suggesting that marijuana newbies are bringing down the overall rate of problem use.

Which kind of defeats the scare that more people using marijuana under legalization is going to lead to problem use, doesn’t it?

MedPage Today picked up on another caveat of the study’s authors that noted teenagers and homeless people were not included in the survey, suggesting that the overall rate of problem use isn’t accurately measured because it excludes likely problem users.

The medical sites didn’t just downplay the finding that fewer people were exhibiting marijuana dependence even though more people are using it. They completely ignored the findings that showed those increases in use are among the adults that marijuana was legalized for and not among the children. As Ingraham at WaPo writes:

Past-month marijuana use is up 35 percent since 2002 among Americans age 12 and over, increasing from 6.2 percent that year to 8.4 percent in 2014. Rates of use increased among every age group except for teenagers, who saw a non-significant decrease in use over the same period.

About 2 percent of Americans used marijuana daily in the past month in 2002, but 3.5 percent used daily in 2014. Again, though, teens bucked this trend: Daily or near-daily use among 12-to-17 year olds fell from 2.4 percent in 2002 to 1.6 percent in 2014.

Nobody should be surprised that people are finding marijuana use to be less risky; we grew up being told “smoking even one marijuana cigarette is equal in brain damage to being on Bikini Island during an H-bomb blast”, but now see kids and cancer patients and everyday people gaining relief from it. Nobody should be surprised more adults are using it when we’re giving them safe legal access to marijuana in many more legal and medical states.

But fewer people with marijuana use disorders, especially fewer children, when opponents of legalization warned that society’s approval of today’s highly-potent marijuana would lead to a great public harm, is a story you shouldn’t expect a medical website to bury.

Russ Belville
About Russ Belville 199 Articles
Russ Belville - or "Radical" Russ, as he is known on-air - hosts The Marijuana Agenda, a live news and talk radio program for the cannabis community, weekdays at 3pm Pacific on  The show is based in Portland, Oregon, but "Radical" Russ has traveled over 300,000 air miles in the past five years, bringing his show to report live from hundreds of cannabis conferences, marijuana expos, hemp festivals, and legalization events in over 70 North American cities.