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Legalisation of medical marijuana associated with increased use and morbidities – Study

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Legalisation of medical marijuana, also known as cannabis, is one of the most controversial state policies of the last 20 years across the globe. Recently, the debate took the centre stage in a South-West State in Nigeria – Ondo State.

Several studies published in different journals have concluded the legalisation of medical marijuana (also known as cannabis) led to significant increases in its consumption – and marijuana associated morbidities, such as dependency and sometimes deaths.

“Experience with alcohol and tobacco suggests that a for-profit legal cannabis industry will increase use by making cannabis more socially acceptable to use, making it more readily available at a cheaper price, and increasing the number of users and frequency of their use”, an article published in The Lancet Psychiatry, Volume , Issue 9, September 2016, Pages 900-906 reads.

Similarly, a study conducted in 50 states in the US that examined the relationship between state legalisation of medical marijuana and marijuana use, abuse and dependence found that there was higher use among states with laws on medical marijuana.

The results:

“Residents of states with medical marijuana laws had higher odds of marijuana use (OR: 1.92; 95% CI: 1.49–2.47) and marijuana abuse/dependence (OR: 1.81; 95% CI: 1.22–2.67) than residents of states without such laws.” 

The study concluded:

“States that legalized medical marijuana had higher rates of marijuana use. Future research needs to examine whether the association is causal, or is due to an underlying common cause, such as community norms supportive of the legalization of medical marijuana and of marijuana use”.

The study was published in the Lancet Psychiatry, Volume 120, Issues 1-3, 1 january 2012, Pages 22-27.

It will be recalled that Governor Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu had gone on a foreign trip to Thailand to seek partnership on medical marijuana. The governor is seeking to start a process that will decriminalise and legalise medical marijuana in Ondo State.

Expectedly, the governor’s action has been met with divergent reactions across the country.

While the governor and his supporters are harping their claims on the need to diversify the economy of Ondo state, and indeed that of Nigeria, critics have said such a move will increase the use of marijuana and may lead to other social vices in the country.

The supporters of the move have said that legalising medical marijuana will give government opportunity to control what is cultivated and who is responsible for such cultivation in the State. Furthermore, Ondo state can also benefit by up-taking these large reservoirs of cultivated cannabis for economic gains.

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As good as the governors intentions may seem, many people feel that Nigeria is not matured enough for such controlled cultivation of a hard drug of that calibre. According to critics, the economic gains notwithstanding, legalisation of medical marijuana in Nigeria will lead to many other undesired negative effects that Nigeria may not be ready to handle.

The growing insecurity, kidnapping, rape, incest, armed banditry among others, is already a case for concern. The fear is that allowing people free access to marijuana can further worsen these nefarious activities in the state, and indeed Nigeria. This is justifiably so considering research findings on legalisation of medical marijuana in different parts of the world where thy have better capacity to track and monitor criminal activities.

As good as the governor’s intentions may seem, many people feel that Nigeria is not matured enough for such controlled cultivation of a hard drug of that calibre. According to critics, the economic gains notwithstanding, legalisation of medical marijuana in Nigeria will lead to many other undesired negative effects that Nigeria may not be ready to handle.

Research has shown that cannabis with high concentration of its main active ingredients,  δ-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is more harmful than cannabis with lower concentration of THC.

However, study has also shown that another component, cannabidiol, is potentially therapeutic and has been found to reduce negative effects of cannabis use, according to The Lancet Psychiatry, Volume 4, Issue 8, Sugust 2017, Pages 643-648.

No doubt, Ondo State Governor has in mind the many benefits of medical marijuana in making the move.  Nonetheless, the lingering question is ‘how does the government intend to control the consumption of marijuana before its eventual economic gains are harnessed?’

Currently, 14.4 percent, representing 14.3 million of Nigerians between 15 and 64 years of age use drugs, according to the latest dug use report on Nigeria released in January 2019 by Nigeria, EU and UNODC. While the report did not specifically say the proportion of this drug use that is cannabis, this number may potentially rise if marijuana use is legalised in the Ondo State.

No doubt, Ondo State Governor has in mind the many benefits of medical marijuana in making the move.  Nonetheless, the lingering question is ‘how does the government intend to control the consumption of marijuana before its eventual economic gains are harnessed?’

Whether the increased consumption found in various studies was due to the legalisation of marijuana or because of other social networks that may foster better understanding or utilisation of such drug, is not stated in the study – and represents a gap that researchers may be willing to explore further on the lingering debate on legalisation of medical marijuana.

It must be emphasised though, that studies have limitations, and many other correlates may be responsible for increased use of marijuana. However, there have been relative consistencies across studies over the years on the fact that the legalisation of medical marijuana has some form of direct impact on its use among various population subgroups in the society.