Little by little, the truth leaks out.
The distortions about the dangers of pot continue to fall by the wayside. In response to a request from Home Secretary David Blunkett, the British Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has reviewed the current scientific evidence on cannabis and recommended that it be reduced to Class C, grouping it with antidepressants and steroids. The report found the present classification to be “disproportionate in relation both to its inherent toxicity and to that of other substances (such as amphetamines) that are currently within Class B.” The move would mean suspicion of possession would no longer be grounds for a police stop and search, making arrests for simple possession the exception rather than the rule.
In surveying the scientific literature on marijuana use, the report suggests that heavy use is not associated with major health problems, and occasional use is only rarely associated with problems in otherwise healthy individuals. Pot can pose a threat to people with mental-health, heart or circulation troubles, and the report did note a dependence effect, though substantially less than that caused by amphetamines, tobacco or alcohol. Because it is usually smoked, it can produce respiratory distress, though the report says preliminary
studies have suggested this isn’t a cause for substantial concern for the majority. One of the most interesting passages notes that “the cardiovascular actions of cannabis are similar to the effects of exercise."
Dr. Harrison Pope of Harvard Medical School says the report’s findings correspond to his own research on marijuana. Pope’s studies have found decreased cognitive functioning among marijuana users, which disappeared within four weeks after cessation.
“Cognitive impairment gets worse before it gets better when you stop smoking, and the reason for that is the withdrawal syndrome,” says Pope. “We found people will perform worse a few days after smoking than they will during the days when they have been smoking.” Pope attributes some of this to the increased irritability and distractibility of withdrawing users, but notes that this effect dissipates 10 to 14 days after the last use.
“It is well-established that alcohol can produce severe cognitive deficits, and those cognitive deficits will persist long after you stop drinking, if you drink enough for a long enough amount of time,” Pope says. “With marijuana, the evidence suggests that there are probably few and maybe no long-term, irreversible cognitive deficits.” —Chris Parker