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Opinion: Legal pot grows more popular, dangers disregarded

Billboards offering home delivery of legal marijuana decorate the streets of every major city in California. Licensed pot shops sporting green crosses are commonplace. Their owners lobby for reductions in sales, excise and cultivation taxes on legal weed. Cannabinoid extracts and other products are widely advertised. And legal growers and sellers bemoan threats to their trade from black market marijuana.

Ever since voters passed the 2016 Proposition 64 by a margin of almost 3-2, pot has been a hot commodity, its recreational use supposedly limited to adults in California. But no one seriously believes adolescents cannot get it if and when they like.

In all this, the positive effects of cannabis are often cited. It helps alleviate pain for cancer patients and others. It makes folks more relaxed. Some people enjoy its odor and the atmosphere that can accompany its use.

Meanwhile, the negatives of the weed seem almost forgotten in all its hype and popularity.

And yet…new research is showing that marijuana has even more deleterious effects than were previously known. Yes, before legalization, pot was long considered an “entry” drug, said to lead users toward later use of cocaine, heroin and other narcotics.

Its negative effects of sometimes causing short-term memory problems, severe anxiety, psychotic and incorrect perceptions of reality, panic, hallucinations, lower reaction times, increased heart rates and risk of stroke and problems with coordination were all known long before the legalization vote.

These were some of the reasons Congress never imitated the actions of voters here and in other states like Colorado and Washington, where pot use also is now legal, while possession, use and sale remain federal crimes.

Now comes new information about even more potential harmful effects that Californians should consider before visiting any nearby cannabis outlet or ordering home delivery.

In a paper published this spring by the American Psychiatric Association’s newsletter Psychiatric News, McGill University Prof. Gabriella Gobbi, who holds both MD and PhD degrees, reports that “younger users of cannabis, age 14 and 15, (are) at significantly higher risk of suicidal behaviors.” The report adds that teenagers who use pot before age 18 are 50 percent more likely than non-users to have thoughts of suicide and more than three times more likely to actually attempt suicide while young adults.

These problems are more common than ever before, Gobbi notes, because more than one-third of all American high school seniors surveyed in studies involving more than 23,000 participants reported using pot in 2018 (a total of 36 percent), with vaping of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, a crystalline compound that is the main active ingredient of pot) rising to record levels.

The fact that adults voted to legalize recreational marijuana (it became legal for medicinal use in California when Proposition 215 passed in 1996) also has a strong effect on how youngsters perceive the weed.

Said the psychiatric group’s report, “Perceptions of harm and disapproval of marijuana use have trended down … with only one in four high school seniors agreeing that regular marijuana use poses a great risk.” That fear rate stands at less than half what it was 10 years ago.

All this puts California teenagers — and those in other states where pot use is completely legal — in danger, occasionally mortal danger. Their mental performance and capability can be affected by pot use. Their rates of depression and suicide risk are far higher than before legalization. These things are true even if kids quit using the weed before graduating high school.

“Quitting cannabis by the end of adolescence (does) not protect people from some of the serious effects of the drug,” said the study.

All of which makes legalized marijuana more of a threat to public health, especially the health of young people, than even anti-legalization forces claimed during the 2016 campaign around Prop. 64.

If high schools and middle schools can teach youngers about the dangers of alcohol, and many do, this new information makes it vital for them also to teach techniques for resisting peer pressure for marijuana smoking and other forms of pot use.

If there’s ever been a time of urgent need for better drug prevention focused on cannabis, this is it. For the weed is at least as dangerous as alcohol.

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Email Thomas Elias at His book, “The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It,” is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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