The consequences of legalizing cannabis

Status: 11/20/2021 02:07 am

According to reports, the traffic light wants to make a “controlled distribution of cannabis to adults” possible. Does that make sense from a scientific point of view? And what are the advantages and disadvantages of legalization?

Elena Weidt und Veronika Simon, SWR

Cannabis is the most popular among adolescents and adults illegal drug in Germany. Ten percent of all young people have consumed cannabis at some point. That number has almost doubled in the past ten years. Cannabis is not one of the “hard drugs” like heroin or crystal meth, but “smoking weed” is not completely harmless. In the beginning it’s just a joint now and then, but it can turn into one Seeks to develop. Experts estimate that around 10 percent of people worldwide who consume cannabis have disturbed consumption behavior, i.e. are addicted. This can lead to physical withdrawal symptoms, but the psychological and social consequences of cannabis addiction in particular can be severe.

Moderate consumption also carries a risk: the smoke damages the lungs and regular smoking weed increases this, even in young people Heart attack risk. In addition, there are serious psychological consequences that can be triggered by cannabis use – for example psychoses.

Cannabis increases the risk of psychosis

Many studies show that intensive cannabis use is especially among adolescents Psychoses can trigger. The more frequent the consumption and the younger the stoners, the greater the risk. One Europe-wide study shows that daily cannabis users had psychotic flare-ups three times as likely as those who had not been exposed to cannabis.

If there was a particularly large amount of the ingredient THC in the joint, there was even five times more psychosis. This fits in with data from the Ulm University Psychiatric Clinic: In 2019, the researchers observed almost eight times more Cannabis psychosis than 2011. During the same period, the THC content in many joints has increased significantly.

However, it is still controversial whether cannabis is really the only cause of the psychosis. The risk most likely affects teenagers who are more susceptible to the disease. Ulrich Preuss, director of the German Society for Addiction Medicine, warns: “People with relatives who have psychoses or who themselves had psychotic symptoms in childhood and adolescence are at risk who shouldn’t touch cannabis.” With them, the risk is high that the consumption would permanently result in a serious, psychiatric illness. Psychoses are not the only thing: the likelihood of developing depression, anxiety disorder or bipolar disorder is also higher with regular high cannabis consumption in adolescence.

Smoking weed changes the young brain

A recent one shows that cannabis can also cause permanent damage study with 800 teenagers. In brain scans, the cerebral cortex of adolescent cannabis users was significantly thinner in certain areas than in the comparison group that had not smoked weed. The area affected was precisely the region of the brain that is important for controlling impulses, solving problems and planning actions: the prefrontal cortex.

Behavioral tests showed that the adolescents with the abnormal brain scans were more impulsive and could not concentrate better than other teenagers. The more cannabis the young subjects consumed, the more pronounced the consequences. It is important to note that the frontal lobe is not fully developed until you are in your mid-20s, until then the risk of cannabis use is significantly higher. That means: even 18-year-old stoners can still damage their brains permanently. In addition, other studies show that adolescents who consume a lot of cannabis do worse on average in intelligence tests later than adults, and they also tend to have less success at school or at university. Whether this is really due to the cannabis or the lifestyle is open.

On the other hand, it is scientifically controversial whether the consumption of cannabis can have long-term consequences in adults.

Compared to other drugs lags

A common argument in favor of legalizing cannabis is that other drugs such as alcohol or tobacco can also be legally bought and consumed in Germany. And these agents can also have serious health consequences.

This comparison makes little sense for Preuss. On the one hand, the effect of these drugs in the body is completely different and not comparable. And there are historical reasons that alcohol and tobacco are legal in Germany. Alcohol, too, according to Preuss, would probably not be allowed as food and certainly not as medicine today. And neither tobacco, because today we know what negative consequences these agents have. The example of alcohol also shows that age limits are only of limited use when it comes to sales – young people in Germany would have access to alcoholic beverages if they wanted to.

Cannabis legal by prescription

So far, cannabis has only been legal in Germany with a prescription. Since 2017, doctors have been able to prescribe medical cannabis, for example to relieve pain in the seriously ill. Cannabis is still illegal for recreational use.

Even so, according to the latest drug report, cannabis is the most popular drug among adolescents. This shows that the ban apparently only works to a limited extent and could even lead to higher health risks. Legalization could at least do that qualityin which the drug is launched.

Hazard from contaminated cannabis

The Federal Criminal Police Office and the Customs Criminal Police Office already plan to do this in April contaminated cannabis warned, as they increasingly noticed products containing synthetic active ingredients: the so-called synthetic cannabinoids. In the first quarter of this year, customs seized around 150 kilograms of this cannabis when it was imported from Switzerland and the Netherlands.

Heroin contamination is that Federal Criminal Police Office not known in Germany, however. Professor Volker Auwärter, Head of Forensic Toxicology at the University of Freiburg, also warns of the hidden dangers of admixtures: “Consumers cannot differentiate between ‘normal’ cannabis and this manipulated material because it differs in appearance, smell and in Taste does not differ from one another. Synthetic cannabinoids are significantly more dangerous than THC, both in terms of acute effects and medium-term consequences. ” Synthetic cannabinoids belong to the psychoactive substances, can intensify the effect of the drug and make it uncontrollable. The side effects range from vomiting to delusions and cardiovascular collapse.

According to 2019 and 2020 drug reports, the cause of death of a total of 10 people was “synthetic cannabinoid poisoning”. These toxic mixtures could be reduced through legalization and established quality standards.

Stronger grass, higher risk

Another problem is the increasing THC content in cannabis, which causes ever stronger intoxicating effects. An English study was able to show that the THC content in Europe doubled between 2006 and 2016: from around eight to 17 percent. At the same time, the second main active ingredient of cannabis, cannabidiol (CBD), which can dampen the negative aspects of THC and is already often used medicinally, has often decreased.

The researchers link stronger cannabis to an increase in users who are being treated for the first time for drug problems. There is a lot of scientific evidence that this cannabis can be especially addictive for younger people, that it has a stronger influence on memory and the development of paranoia. Researchers have also been able to show that people suffering from psychosis have usually consumed cannabis with a lot of THC. The control group without mental illness, however, used rather weak cannabis.

The health risk of cannabis depends on the age and how often you use which cannabis. By setting an age limit, a maximum THC content and a labeling requirement for additives, one could significantly reduce the health risk.

Is cannabis really a gateway drug?

According to the results of the Epidemiological Addiction Survey from 2019, around seven percent of all adults aged 18 to 64 in Germany have already consumed cannabis within a year, and the figure is as high as eight percent among 12 to 17-year-olds. The proportion for all other substances is significantly lower: 1.2 percent of adolescents and 2.3 percent of adults have used any other illegal drug in one year. These figures do not indicate that stoners automatically switch to other harder drugs.

An international study comes to the conclusion that preventing certain entry-level drugs does not necessarily reduce the later use of other drugs. It was also observed that the order of consumption is very different in the countries examined, there are even countries like Japan where other illegal drugs are more common than cannabis. In countries like the USA and New Zealand with very high cannabis rates, according to the study, the use of cannabis before alcohol and tobacco is extremely rare. Derik Hermann, psychiatrist and chief physician of the Therapierverbund Ludwigsmühle, says: “The vast majority of cannabis users have previously consumed alcohol and tobacco, so I see alcohol and tobacco more as gateway drugs than cannabis.”

Will legalization increase consumer behavior?

It is not easy to read off clear results from the available studies with regard to consumer behavior before and after legalization. Also because the studies surveyed different consumer behavior, from daily to occasional, as well as groups of people of different ages. However, there is no sign of an explosion in the numbers, but neither is there a decline. Cannabis has been legal for adults in Canada for three years and its use has been closely monitored ever since. In 2020, around 35 percent of 18 to 24-year-old respondents stated that they had consumed cannabis in the last three months, a figure that has not changed since 2019.

The data situation for young people is unreliable; no development can yet be read from it. For 2020 it was 19 percent. So further measurements are required here in order to be able to see a trend in the long term. Overall, a slight increase can be observed. Almost eight percent of all Canadians aged 15 and over now consume on a daily or almost daily basis compared to around five percent before legalization. Almost 70 percent of those surveyed stated that they had bought the cannabis legally in a shop, which at least allows some control over the buyer, the quantity and quality and speaks in favor of legalization.

Better therapy possible

At the moment, cannabis users would be pejoratively reduced to this quality as criminal stoners, says Heino Stöver, director of the Institute for Addiction Research in Frankfurt am Main. Which also leads to the fact that offers of help are not taken up. According to Stöver, not every young person is informed that there is a duty of confidentiality. Such uncertainties mean that some do not seek treatment when they need to.

Such offers of help could benefit from less stigmatization as a result of legalization. Young people could talk about it more openly with their parents or in therapy and be informed differently at school. That would be sensible prevention. Advisory institutions could also have a more honest and credible discourse and better tailor their therapy offer to the needs of young people.

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