If your sole source of information about the effects of marijuana use is pop culture (via YouTube, the media, and celebrity statements), it can be easy to assume that pot is simply a harmless drug that mellows people out. After all, how bad can it be if it is prescribed as medicine? Plus, there is a growing national trend to legalize recreational marijuana. All this can lead to the belief that marijuana use is no more harmful than aspirin or cough medicine.
But, does the claim of marijuana’s “mellowing” effect hold up to scientific scrutiny?
(Click here for my previous posts about the harmful effects of pot…especially for the developing teen brain.)
Fortunately, research conducted out of Canada provides some insight. In a study published in the Frontiers of Psychiatry (a top tier journal that carefully analyzes all submissions), researchers Jules Dugre and colleagues found that, among recently released psychiatric patients, there was an almost 2.5 times increase in violent behavior after marijuana use.
In other words, among those in the study, there was a much greater likelihood of displaying violent behavior after getting high. According to the authors, there is a “…unidirectional association between cannabis use and violence.” Interestingly, this study did not find a similar association between violence and use of alcohol or cocaine.
You might be saying, “OK, but that study was done with individuals under psychiatric care. Can this be generalized to the larger population of pot users?” Good question – the answer is no, probably not. But, there are some important lessons to be learned and several reasons to be very cautious.
First, consider the number of people you know who would benefit from psychiatric care but don’t have the resources, will, or support structure to seek out the help. Many of those individuals find themselves self-medicating with substances like cannabis.
Second, there is research (among the general population) that shows that consistent marijuana use makes it difficult to suppress and control impulses (Schmidt, et al, 2014). This inability to control impulses seems to be prevalent among those who began chronic use before the age of 16. Marijuana, it seems, messes with your brain’s ability to control behavior (including violence).
So, what is our take-away message? Even if someone is not under psychiatric care, the claim that marijuana is harmless…that it makes people mellow…is a stretch. THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, is being studied like never before and almost every week a new study is released that points to the negative effects of marijuana. It is best to be cautious here because anytime a substance influences brain chemistry and function, we need to be proceed carefully.
Click here to read the study.