The Bad Aftertaste of Cannabis Legalization
God created bodies for health. One should expect problems when policies compromise health for pleasure and money.
It wasn’t that long ago that marijuana (now called cannabis after its genus name Cannabis sativa) was considered bad. It was an illegal drug, considered a gateway drug to harder, more addictive drugs like heroin. Private growers reminiscent of the old “moonshiners” in the days of Prohibition made it available, and drug smugglers ensured ample supplies made it past border guards. Some argued that legalization would remove the incentives for smuggling; then governments could regulate it and tax it.
Powerful special interest groups have been pushing for decriminalization first, then outright legalization next. Their success is to the point where many states have not only legalized it, but are promoting it. Users claim it is harmless and gives them pleasurable feelings. And there’s big money involved; governments enjoy the growing tax revenues.
Legalization efforts have outraced health concerns, as the following stories show. It’s true that legalization laws usually restrict youth from buying cannabis. Like movie ratings, though, such rules are easily violated. Rebel types have been using illegal marijuana for decades—even over a century—but few scientific studies had been done, because before legalization, researchers feared experimenting with an illegal drug. Now that it is safer to test, research continues; but liberalized policies have outrun the medical research.
Billboard and storefront ads for cannabis linked to problematic use by teens (Gillings School of Global Public Health). The Gillings School tries to promote healthy people, a healthy planet, and improve care for all. Marijuana use by teens is more problematic than in adults. The Surgeon General’s report on cannabis in 2019 noted that “cannabinoid receptors are crucial for brain development, which is why cannabis use during adolescence carries special risk.” For this reason, states usually prohibit sales to people under 21. Ads for “recreational” use of the drug, especially on billboards and storefronts (though less in social media), are tempting teens to try it.
Adolescents who frequently see billboard or storefront advertisements for recreational cannabis are more likely to use the drug weekly and to have symptoms of a cannabis use disorder, according to a new study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.
Despite use being illegal for those below age 21 even in states that have approved recreational marijuana, “legalization may alter the ways that youth use cannabis,” write the study authors, led by Pamela J. Trangenstein, PhD, an assistant professor of health behavior at the UNC-Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health.
Early Cannabis Use Linked to Heart Disease (University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada). Here, teen. Try this. It feels good. It damages your heart. Oh, scientists didn’t figure that out till after it was legalized.
In the first study to look at specific risk indicators for cardiovascular disease (CVD) in young, healthy cannabis users, researchers found subtle but potentially important changes in heart and artery function.
Cigarette smoking is known to affect cardiovascular health, causing changes to blood vessels and the heart. Less is known about the impact of smoking cannabis on long-term CVD risk, even as use of the substance grows in Canada and abroad. Cannabis is the most commonly used recreational substance worldwide after alcohol.
Doctors still reluctant to prescribe medical cannabis: study (McMaster University via Medical Xpress). Another justification for legalizing cannabis was to alleviate pain in patients. Medical cannabis has a different formulation than the kind sold for recreational use, the article says. But the number of recreational users of cannabis in Canada since it was legalized in 2018 soared from 24,000 users in 2015 to 377,000 users 5 years later. Doctors are still hesitant to prescribe it as a painkiller.
Of particular concern among doctors were potentially harmful effects on cognitive development, a possible worsening of existing mental illnesses in patients and the drug’s effects in older adults, which may include dizziness or drowsiness.
Cannabis legalization and link to increase in fatal collisions (Medical Xpress). It’s not just users who are at risk from cannabis. As it has been for many years with alcohol, innocent drivers can be victims of cannabis users who are not in full control of their faculties. Statistics are just now coming in for increased collisions and deaths by skyrocketing numbers of cannabis users.
THC and CBD content on labels of medicinal cannabis products may not be accurate (Medical Xpress). THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, while CBD (cannabidiol) is a derivative for medical applications that is not regulated by the FDA. This article warns that “Medical cannabis products are not always what they seem,” because “the contents of these products can vary considerably from distributors’ claims, according to the study.” Truth in labeling has not caught up with the legalization craze.
International Review finds lack of evidence to endorse clinical use of medical cannabis for pain (University of Bath). Is cannabis as effective at pain relief as its supporters had hoped? “New evidence from Bath’s Centre for Pain Research challenges the effectiveness of cannabis-based medicine for treating chronic pain in adults and children.”
The following articles have self-explanatory headlines that point to additional risks of cannabis use. Links are included for further reading.
- Legal recreational cannabis tied to more claims of self-harm in younger men (Medical Xpress).
- Smoking cannabis significantly impairs vision, study finds (Medical Xpress).
- Effects of cannabis on visual function and self-perceived visual quality (Nature Scientific Reports).
- Younger age of first drug use associated with faster development of substance use disorder (Medical Xpress).
- Cannabis almost as addictive as opioids among teens, study finds (Medical Xpress).
- Genetic predisposition to schizophrenia may increase risk of psychosis from cannabis use (Medical Xpress).
Users should also be forewarned that today’s pot products often have higher levels of THC than those smoked by hippies in the 1960s, making them more dangerous and addictive than before. CEH has not run across any articles in the past two years that allege cannabis is perfectly safe or that it does any indisputable medical good. See also Jerry Bergman’s article from 13 Oct 2019, “Why Did God Create Cannabis?”
What should Christians do with cannabis? The use of created substances is a matter of personal choice within Biblical principles. Cannabis is just a plant. So are poison oak and hemlock. Jesus implied that all foods are clean (Mark 7:19), but one does not eat hemlock. Paul said everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer (I Timothy 4:4-5), but one does not smear poison oak on the skin. Those are important distinctions. Alcohol is natural, coming from grapes under a natural process of fermentation, but the Bible clearly calls drunkenness a sin. Can one really partake of cannabis with thanksgiving? Is it sanctified by the word of God and prayer?
The doctrine of creation comes to the aid here, too. Our lungs were not made to inhale smoke. In fact, users cough and choke when they try tobacco and cannabis for the first time. Lungs are made for breathing fresh air; let that be a guide. Also, minds were made for thinking. Any substance that robs you of the ability to think clearly, whether alcohol, cannabis or other mind-altering drugs, should be avoided by people who want to be their best, healthy and happy and in control of their faculties. If a substance is unnecessary and potentially dangerous, why indulge in it? There are numerous better options.
For Christ followers, liberty is a blessed doctrine. You are free in Christ to do many things, even things that would bother a weaker brother’s conscience. Legalism is out under the New Covenant; you are free to form opinions about things over which good Christians disagree. But our freedom ought to be self-regulated by what is good for others and for ourselves. Paul said that in I Corinthians 6:12, turning a proverb of the libertines: “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything.” What is helpful is fulfilling your body’s potential the way God intended by exercising wisdom and self-control. In one way, Christian liberty is more difficult than legalism. Instead of simply checking off a list of rules, you have to think. Paul said, “Every one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5). Conviction requires thinking. You have to evaluate pros and cons, seek wise counsel, and pray for guidance about such personal decisions.
I grew up at a time when Christians were judged by the things they didn’t do: smoking, drinking, gambling, and even things like card playing or going to movies and dances. That kind of legalism turned many young people away from church and made hypocrites of the compliant youth, who didn’t seem quite as concerned about other sins like pride, gossip or slander. My father had a positive way of teaching young people in the youth groups he founded: he said, “Happiness comes from liking the right things.” My version of that idea is, “Learn to like what is good for you.” And so I offer a positive approach to thinking about debatable things like alcohol or cannabis. Do you want to live a healthy and happy life? Do you want to see the fruit of the Spirit, including self-control and joy? Then orient your tastes and preferences toward things that cultivate those goals. Develop resistance against peer pressure, which leads many young people to try things they later regret. Make wise decisions for yourself. The happy results will be your personal reward.
Do this not because you feel obligated by someone else’s standards, but because you want to. There are Christians who approve of wine, but think of the dozens—maybe hundreds—of enjoyable drinks that don’t have the ingredient that can impair driving, or lead to drunkenness, or might cause a weaker brother to stumble. Honestly, you will have no shortage of pleasurable and healthy products to choose from! Being in full control of your faculties *feels good*. It feels joyful, wonderful and free. You will be invigorated and thankful to enjoy the best possible health within the body God designed for you. Aim for that. Desires for unhelpful or habit-forming things will drop off and never be missed if you orient your life to “learn to like what is good for you.”