California voters legalized recreational marijuana via a ballot initiative in November 2016, almost six years ago. Since then, the weed has evolved into something like a normal business, complete with webcasts on operating efficiently, disputes about where stores can be located and gripes about underground operators siphoning off too much of the take.
But there’s little normal about pot itself. First made semi-legal by the 1996 Proposition 15, which allowed medical marijuana use with a doctor’s “recommendation” (not a real prescription, since pharmacies never sold it), medipot operated in a kind of gray legal area for 20 years, but was nevertheless in common use.
But this is no ordinary business. It involves selling a substance at least as debilitating to many as alcohol, but while legal standards govern the purity and strength of various liquors, there is nothing to assure marijuana’s consistent purity, especially on the black market where police say at least two-thirds of pot sales occur.
Then there are the medical effects of the weed, both long-term and short-term. The immediate effects are well known: spaced-out behavior, impaired judgment, both clouded and heightened senses depending on your personal biology, a distorted sense of time, slower reactions and lowered motor skills, lowered inhibitions, less mental focus and memory – and more. On the positive side, there’s also pain reduction and better tolerance for some medications and their side effects.
For those who make it past these frequent and fleeting issues, now there’s proof of long-term mental harm from prolonged pot use.
This has been suspected for decades, but a report published this spring in a journal of the American Psychiatric Assn. makes it definite: If you want to be mentally sharp and capable in middle age or later, don’t use pot regularly.
Concluded the report, “At age 45, people who (said they used) cannabis weekly or more frequently over the past year showed greater cognitive decline than those who never used cannabis.”
This was based on a study of 938 persons in Dunedin, New Zealand, 93 percent of them Caucasian and all born in 1972 or 1973. Starting at age 18, all participants were interviewed at least once every six years about their use of marijuana, tobacco and alcohol. Cognitive tests were given at ages 7, 9 and 11 and again at age 45. Close relatives, spouses and friends also completed questionnaires about whether the participants experienced memory or attention problems over the past year.
The 86 participants classed as long-term cannabis users had normal average IQ’s of 99.3 as children, but dropped to below-average as middle-aged adults with average IQs of 93.8. Meanwhile, participants who reported never using marijuana saw their IQs rise slightly (by 0.7 points) between childhood and middle age. At the same time, long-term tobacco and alcohol users also experienced IQ drops as they aged, but these averaged more than 4 points less than the IQ loss among users of the weed. Pot use is illegal in New Zealand.
Their friends and relatives also described long-term marijuana users as having more attention, concentration and memory problems than non-users or those who smoked pot only occasionally.
The test cohort, of course, is still too young to assess how pot use might affect their rates of dementia as they reach their 60s and 70s.
The conclusion here is obvious: Anything that increases cannabis use or encourages regular or habitual usage should be discouraged.
But that’s not happening in California, where more and more cities are making it easier and easier to open dispensaries within their boundaries.
The long-term New Zealand study and other indicators from American sources make it clear that marijuana affects much more than highway safety, although it surely has a negative impact on that.
Rather than encouraging pot dispensaries strictly because they are legal, sane policy would be the exact reverse. Plus, schools and colleges need to warn their students on a regular basis of the weed’s negative effects.
Anything different invites a steady decline in the intellectual abilities of average Californians.