Marijuana, and all of the cannabinoid compounds found in it, are listed as schedule one drugs according to the DEA. Other drugs found in the schedule one class are heroin, LSD, and ecstasy; these drugs are considered to be the most addictive and dangerous, and are not considered to have any valid medical purposes (1). This is why they have been placed in the schedule one category.
But does marijuana really belong in the same class as heroin and other highly dangerous substances? There is little to no evidence that suggests marijuana is even close to being as addictive as heroin, or even alcohol and tobacco for that matter. Other highly addictive and dangerous drugs, such as cocaine and fentanyl (a type of opiate), are listed one class below marijuana in schedule two (1), indicating that the DEA considers marijuana to be more dangerous than drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine, and even fentanyl.
Given the current scientific knowledge about marijuana and its active ingredient, THC, marijuana probably doesn’t belong in the same category as drugs like heroin and LSD. Marijuana simply isn’t as addictive or lethal as these other drugs are. There are also numerous legitimate medical uses for marijuana and some of the cannabinoids contained within it, making its placement in the schedule one category even less logical.
However, this doesn’t automatically mean that marijuana is completely safe for recreational use. To determine how safe marijuana really is, it is necessary to weigh the known benefits of smoking marijuana against the known detriments. Here is a list of the known effects of marijuana, and more specifically THC, on the human brain and body:
1. Analgesia: THC is well-known for its analgesic, or pain relieving, effects in the human brain. This effect is one of the main reasons why marijuana is used for medicinal purposes (2), and this is definitely a beneficial use of marijuana.
2. Anti-cancer: A study found that consuming THC is linked to the death of cancer cells in one type of cancer, known as glioma (3). In this study, THC induced the death of human glioma cells through a process known as autophagy, in which cells basically ‘recycle’ or ‘eat’ their organelles until they die (3). This process is often beneficial in patients who suffer from cancer.
3. Anti-seizure effects (4)
4. Anti-inflammatory effects (4)
1. Addiction: It is possible to become addicted to marijuana, and an estimated 9% of individuals who try marijuana eventually become addicted to it (4).
2. Problems with brain development: Adolescents who smoke marijuana regularly are at risk of developing minor brain abnormalities, such as the decreased size or connectivity of some regions of the brain. One region that can be adversely affected is the prefrontal cortex, which is involved with decision-making (4).
3. Mental Illness Related Effects: Marijuana use has been found to increase the likelihood of the development of schizophrenia, but genetic factors that make the individual susceptible to schizophrenia must be present as well (4).
4. Memory impairment: Some studies have shown a clear link between THC consumption and both short-term and long-term impairment of memory formation (4).
5. Negative effects on cognitive functioning: Some studies have established a link between regular marijuana use among adolescents and poor achievement in school, indicating that regular marijuana use may inhibit cognitive functions such as learning (4).
Although some of the effects of marijuana and THC have been well-documented, research on marijuana is difficult to conduct due to heavy restrictions, and more research needs to be done on marijuana in order to fully understand the effects it has on the human body. Other compounds found in Marijuana, like cannabidiol, have much therapeutic potential, and these chemicals need to be researched as well.