To Legalize Marijuana, or Not to Legalize Marijuana, That Is the Question…

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Photo by Mike Siegel – The Seattle Times, 2013

This November, Oregonians will get to decide whether to legalize the recreational use of marijuana by adults. Back in July, advocates of the legalization of marijuana gathered over 100,000 signatures—more than the 87,213 signatures needed by the July 3 deadline. The proposed ballot measure would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana in the state.

Although marijuana remains illegal under federal law, voters in Washington State and Colorado approved recreational use for adults in 2012. Two years have passed since the first implementation of these initiatives and both states have been confronted with unanticipated issues. One of them pertains to the side effects of marijuana on smokers’ mental health.

Devastating news hit Colorado this summer when nine people died from consuming edible marijuana. The surprise came, in part, from the conflicting theories studies have shed on the effects of marijuana as well as from the lack of education provided to consumers. While some studies claim that pot does not impact smokers’ brain activities, others assert that it is the cause of brain abnormalities.

weed2A recent study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, and conducted by Harvard and Northwestern researchers, revealed that pot smokers had significant brain abnormalities in the areas that control emotions and motivation. Though similar studies have been conducted with heavy pot smokers, this study is the first to find a strong correlation between recreational pot use and alterations to the brain: the more participants smoked, the more neurological variations they showed.

As interesting as this study is, it remains unclear what the long-term effects of smoking pot mean for users and their brains. So how are we to decide whether to legalize marijuana? Should we be talking about legalization before we have fully understood the health effects of marijuana? What do you think?

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