Business of Health Care: The Dangers of Marijuana

Feb 28, 2020

In January 2020, Illinois became the eleventh state to legalize recreational marijuana use.

For proponents, using marijuana to get high is often cast as a harmless recreational activity. And given the growing support for legalization across the nation, it seems that much of the voting public, whether they use marijuana or not –agrees.

In fact, over the last 20 years, support for legalization has doubled, and along with it, a surging number of people who habitually use the drug. But as former New York Times reporter Alex Berensen points out - over that same 20 years, the scientific consensus on the harm marijuana may or may not cause has become decidedly more negative.

For instance, in 1999 the National Academy of Medicine reported that the link between schizophrenia and marijuana use was not well understood, but that some patients with schizophrenia might benefit from the drug. In 2017, the organization concluded that its use actually increases risk of schizophrenia and other forms of psychoses.

Cases of mental illness are rising nationally, with the biggest increases among 18 to 25-year-olds – the same age group most likely to use marijuana. While this by no means proves marijuana is part of the cause behind this rise, consider this… in 2006, hospital emergency departments saw 30,000 patients suffering from psychosis and marijuana-use disorder. Less than 10 years later, in 2014, that number tripled to 90,000.

The social debate over marijuana legalization is indeed complex. But the scientific debate on whether or not the drug is harmful is becoming less so.