Recently, an article run on the LA Times claimed that long-term marijuana use might make you a loser. As the author wrote, “In summary: the more pot you smoke, the more apt you are to be a loser.” The author then explained how smoking weed over several years will turn someone into a loser, citing a recent study that coincidentally did not have a link to it anywhere in the article.
We see a few red flags with this article. The lack of linking or citing the study, other than to say that it
was led by UC Davis and other universities, is strange. We have no way to see the study or the data that came from the study. Instead of data, we get the point of view of Magdalena Cerda, the study leader and associate professor at UC Davis.
The lack of citation wasn’t the only red flag we immediately noticed. In the article, Cerda claims that the study shows that cannabis use was just as dangerous as alcohol. Considering other studies that we’ve seen report cannabis as less harmful than alcohol, we have to wonder at which factors they are looking at when comparing the two substances. These factors are left vague, except to say that cannabis is worse in term of financial problems. Hmm. We will investigate that further.
The article also mentioned conductors of the study performed the research on New Zealanders, not clarifying the difference between American and New Zealanders except to say that “after all, we are the same species.” Not very scientific sounding to us. Another red flag that gave us hesitation was when Cerda described how “we kept cutting the data many ways.” This statement again makes us wonder how the researchers cut the data and analyzed it. This is important because “improper statistical analyses destroy scientific findings.” We are not suggesting that they distorted the data in question, but we truly have no way of finding out, and that is the red flag.
How do the findings of this study compare to other marijuana studies and statistics? There is a correlation between long-term pot smokers and antisocial behavior. But this correlation does not equal causation, as the article in question (not the actual study) claims. One study reported by the RAND Corporation for objective analysis and effective solutions indicated that “the strong association between cannabis use and antisocial behavior… should encourage researchers to…explore whether it is indeed causal or not.” Indeed, more research should be done to find out if long-term marijuana users just happen to be less social or if marijuana causes antisocial behavior. Either way, we do not know this answer yet.
We found another study that analyzed antisocial behavior and substance abuse in general. This report explained that “antisocial behavior is highly associated with substance use disorders.” Substance use disorders can include many different forms of drug abuse, including marijuana (considering “it is the third most used drug after alcohol and tobacco“). However, according to the results of another report (from the Journal of JAMA Psychiatry), Americans reporting pot-related problems is on the decline. Recent numbers suggest that approximately 4.176 million Americans suffered from a marijuana substance use disorder. To put that in perspective, roughly 17 million Americans have an alcohol use disorder.
Speaking of alcohol, is cannabis really as bad as alcohol as the study suggests? Let’s look at the numbers.
Excessive alcohol use causes 88,000 deaths a year in America, and 3.3 million deaths a year globally. Alcohol-impaired driving fatalities accounted for over 10,000 deaths in America in 2013 alone. Madd reports that teen alcohol use kills 4,700 people a year, more than ALL illegal substances combined. In comparison, cannabis is directly responsible for zero deaths worldwide (we just double checked). There have been no reported cannabis overdoses (look at our marijuana myths blog to find out more information on that), and a federal study reported that “stoned drivers are slower drivers” and not as risky as drunk drivers.
Other studies have reported that THC-positive drivers have a comparatively less risk of motor vehicle accidents than alcohol induced drivers. We are not sure which factors the researchers were looking at to compare alcohol and marijuana (since we cannot access the study through the article), but these are the numbers we found.
In comparing marijuana related deaths to tobacco, one study published by the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health reported that “the risk of mortality associated with marijuana use was lower than that associated with tobacco cigarette smoking.” This is funny considering another article, published by the Daily Mail, claimed that cannabis kills 30,000 a year.
Who are all these people dying from cannabis use if they can’t actually overdose on the substance? The research the Daily Mail article cited calculated the hypothetical number of deaths related to marijuana smokers by looking at the number of people who died from cigarette smoking. But, as just stated above, people dying from cigarette smoke and people dying from marijuana smoke is not the same, and shouldn’t be compared in the same way. The article also claims that marijuana can cause cancer, and users are six times more likely to develop schizophrenia. This is strange considering both the Federal Government and the National Cancer Institute quietly admitted that cannabis can, in fact, cure cancer. Other studies, including one done by Harvard and published on Psych Central, found that medical marijuana does not cause schizophrenia. Again, we say “hmm.”
Another claim the LA Times reported was that long-term marijuana users were more likely to steal money or lie to get a job. We can answer the latter claim in this statement quickly. Of course, marijuana users have to lie to get a job when the substance they use is less harmful than alcohol and cigarettes yet still considered federally illegal and a Schedule I substance. Who would tell their next prospective employer that they consume an illegal substance regularly? Even medical marijuana patients can be fired or passed over for a job because of the social stigma that continues to surround marijuana use. The first claim, which stated long-term marijuana users tend to steal money, is news to us. We took some time to find if there are other reports of marijuana users stealing money.
Granted, we found a few recovering marijuana addicts who reported stealing money to get high when they were using. However, every incident we found was from someone who was, in fact, abusing the drug. Remember that four plus million people who had a marijuana abuse disorder we mentioned above? Those abusing marijuana use are more likely to steal money to get high. This is how typical drug abusers act, so we wouldn’t expect marijuana drug addicts to act differently.
Moreover, this leads us to the point that marijuana abusers stealing money do not mean that most long-term marijuana users steal. These are two different categories of marijuana users, and they shouldn’t be confused. Plenty of long-term marijuana users do not have an abuse problem and have never stolen money to get access to weed. Like everything else in life, marijuana should be used in moderation and controlled for medical marijuana patients the way other medication is controlled to avoid future abuse problems.
The article is summed up with some other throw-in statistics about stoners moving down the socioeconomic ladder and ends by saying “keep it to the weekend,” which leaves us wondering about the medical marijuana patients who suffer from debilitating conditions. Should they just suffer throughout the week to avoid becoming an abuser and a loser? We don’t think so.
The fact is, what may have been an excellent research study to analyze the effects of marijuana use (an area which is still sorely lacking), turned into an opinion piece about why marijuana users turn into losers. This is not the kind of accusation marijuana opponents should be making, especially when one of our current presidential candidates is busy calling people losers for disagreeing with him.
People who are truly concerned about the long-term effects of marijuana use should be doing unbiased research and accurately report the results of that research to the public. Presenting the impartial and factual results of this study (along with a link to the study so we can read it ourselves) is a better way to get marijuana proponents to see negative effects of long-term marijuana use.
We don’t deny the negative consequences exist (everything can have negative effects when abused). We do, however, want to see a real conversation around marijuana use, discussing the positives and negatives, and not coming to the ridiculous conclusion that marijuana users are losers.
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