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Three Studies from Same Group Find
Long-Term Marijuana Use May Cause Social
and Cognitive but Not Physical Health Problems
 
Two recently released studies seem at first to contradict each other in terms of whether marijuana is harmful.
 
One finds that periodontal disease is the only physical health problem associated with heavy marijuana use that begins in adolescence and continues to midlife.
 
The other finds that people who use marijuana like those in the first study end up with lower paying jobs and experience more financial, work-related, and relationship problems.
 
A third study, conducted in 2012 by the same group of researchers, finds that these levels of marijuana use result in an 8-point drop in IQ.
 
All three studies are part of the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study of New Zealand, which has followed the lives of all babies (1,037) born in Dunedin between April 1, 1972 and March 31, 1973. Now in its fifth decade, this study is an ongoing, longitudinal study of the health, development, and well-being of a general sample of New Zealanders. Researchers studied them starting at birth, assessed them every two years from age 3 to 15, and afterwards at ages 18, 21, 26, 32, and 38.
 
In the 2012 study, the subjects were given a battery of IQ and cognitive tests at age 13, before any had used marijuana, and then again at age 38. This means that the researchers had a pool of people to study for 25 years who served as their own controls with respect to marijuana use. As the subjects got older, some began using marijauna, and some did so heavily and persistently. The IQ loss took place among those who started using marijuana heavily before age 18 and continued heavy use into adulthood.
 
In the first of the two current studies, the lack of physical health problems by midlife among those who use the drug persistently is surprising, given that other research finds otherwise. The researchers note that this study involved marijauna used in the 1980s and 1990s and that the much higher THC levels in marijuana today might produce quite different results.
 
They conclude, “Our results should be interpreted in the context of prior research showing that cannabis use is associated with accidents and injuries, bronchitis, acute cardiovascular events, and, possibly, infectious diseases and cancer, as well as poor psychological and mental health outcomes.”

Read about the Dunedin Study here.  
Read “Associations Between Cannabis Use and Physical Health Problems in Early Midlife” (2016) here
Read university press release, “Heavy, Persistent Pot Use Linked to Economic and Social Problems at Midlife: Study Finds Marijuana Not Safer than Alcohol,” (2016) here
Read “Persistent Cannabis Users Show Neuropsychological Decline from Childhood to Midlife” (2012) here.
 
Time for The Washington Post to Find a Reporter Who Can Assess Marijuana Studies Objectively
 
The Washington Post’s “Wonkblog” reporter, Christopher Ingraham, has a problem.
 
He has spent the past several years finding fault with the 2012 Dunedin IQ study described above, comparing it, in one instance, to a subsequent study that found no IQ loss but was conducted over a much shorter period of time to “prove” that the Dunedin researchers’ “findings were flawed.” (See “No, Marijuana Use Doesn’t Lower Your IQ,” here.)
 
But last week, the very same research group released a new study examining the same subjects and found that “long-term marijuana use is not associated with a raft of physical health problems,” he says. Apparently these findings are not flawed.
 
This “research is unique,” Ingraham writes, “in that it uses longitudinal data, tracing the health of the same individuals from birth in the 1970s to age 38.” So did the IQ study.
 
Readers are left to puzzle over how the same researchers with the same subjects using the same methodology can produce one study that is flawed and one that is brilliant. (See “Chronic Marijuana Use is About as Bad for Your Health as Not Flossing, Researchers Find,” here.)
 
Yet another recent study examined data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and found past-month marijuana-use disorders as well as past-month marijuana use among 12 to 17-year-olds declined in the U.S. between 2002 and 2013. That study looked at use in all 50 states, not just the four that legalized pot for recreational use, and its study period ended the year before the first two states implemented legalization.
 
As the graph above shows, Colorado teens’ past-year marijuana use is considerably higher than teens’ nationwide and appears to be on a slight uptick since the state legalized pot in 2012 while nationwide, use is declining slightly. It will take more than one year to know if legalization will spike adolescent use.
 
An accompanying commentary warns that this study “could be interpreted by some as ‘proof’ that marijuana liberalization laws have no effect on adolescent marijuana use. No such inference is warranted.”
 
Yet Ingraham goes right there. This “study adds to the growing body of research showing that changes to marijuana policy have had a much smaller effect on teenage drug use than once feared,” he writes. (See “No, Legal Weed is Not ‘Dumbing Down’ the Nation’s Teens,” here.)
 
We expect lawmakers to base federal policy on evidence. The Post’s readers deserve objective appraisals of scientific marijuana research, not accounts biased towards legalization.
The Marijuana Report is a weekly e-newsletter published by National Families in Action in partnership with SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana). Subscribe to The Marijuana Report and visit our website, The Marijuana Report.Org, to learn more about the marijuana story unfolding across the nation.

About National Families in Action (NFIA)
NFIA consists of families, scientists, business leaders, physicians, addiction specialists, policymakers, and others committed to protecting children from addictive drugs. Our vision is:
  • Healthy, drug-free kids
  • Nurturing, addiction-free families
  • Scientifically accurate information and education
  • A nation free of Big Marijuana
  • Smart, safe, FDA-approved medicines developed from the cannabis plant (and other plants) 
  • Expanded access to medicines in FDA clinical trials for children with epilepsy

About SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) 

SAM is a nonpartisan alliance of lawmakers, scientists and other concerned citizens who want to move beyond simplistic discussions of "incarceration versus legalization" when discussing marijuana use and instead focus on practical changes in marijuana policy that neither demonizes users nor legalizes the drug. SAM supports a treatment, health-first marijuana policy. 

SAM has four main goals: 
  • To inform public policy with the science of today's marijuana.
  • To reduce the unintended consequences of current marijuana policies, such as lifelong stigma due to arrest.
  • To prevent the establishment of "Big Marijuana" - and a 21st-Century tobacco industry that would market marijuana to children.
  • To promote research of marijuana's medical properties and produce, non-smoked, non-psychoactive pharmacy-attainable medications.
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