Decriminalization of Marijuana has Multiple Public Health Challenges

More and more countries are opening the debate on legalizing marijuana for recreational use. This step poses many challenges for public health, which must be addressed in a comprehensive manner.

marijuana leaves

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LatinAmerican Post | María Fernanda Ramírez Ramos

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Leer en español: La despenalización de la marihuana tiene múltiples desafíos para la salud pública

In the debate on the legalization of cannabis, there are two aspects. On the one hand, approval for medicinal use and, on the other, legalization for recreational use. The latter usually causes more controversy in society. However, there are more and more legal initiatives in the world to change the approach to drug use, especially with marijuana. Colombia is one of the countries in the Latin American and Caribbean regions where the debate on the regulation of cannabis use was recently opened. Likewise, it should not be forgotten that the region, with Uruguay, is a leader on the issue.

Against this backdrop, the Latin American Interdisciplinary Society of Cannabinology (SLIC) made a series of recommendations for the adult consumption of cannabis, published by the newspaper El Espectador. These points out that regulations should be created within the framework of respect for human rights and with the most significant possible scientific evidence. He also stressed that it is necessary to strengthen access to public health and to work on prevention plans, especially with the young population. However, he also emphasized the dangers of prohibition and the advantages of regulation in considering factors such as the use of pesticides on crops.

Cannabis Should not be Underestimated

The UNODC's 2022 World Drug Report analyzed cannabis trends following its legalization in various countries. In the case of North America, the report notes that legalization in multiple parts of this region "appears to increase daily use, especially of potent cannabis products and especially among young adults. Corresponding increases in people with psychiatric disorders, suicides, and hospitalizations are also reported". In addition, marijuana possession fees were reduced, and tax revenues increased.

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The report also notes that in South and Central America, "the largest proportion of people in treatment for drug use disorders are there mainly for cannabis-related disorders."

According to information from the United Nations, the potency of cannabis increased fourfold in various parts of the world over the last 20 years. However, "the proportion of adolescents who perceive this drug as harmful has decreased by up to 40%". This is a crucial indicator to understand why it is essential to educate about marijuana use from a public health perspective. Its effects should not be underestimated, and educating consumers to recognize its risks and benefits is necessary.

Dangers of Marijuana Use

Although the use of recreational cannabis or marijuana is becoming legal in several countries, this does not mean that it is free of health risks. Alcohol, tobacco, and sugar (also children consume) are legal products in most countries. However, they have harmful effects on health. A case that has attracted attention in recent years is that of electronic cigarettes because their health risks are not being perceived socially. Thus, very young people consume them without many controls, which has already begun to alarm the health authorities. Something similar could happen with cannabis because although it can be used recreationally, it is necessary to raise awareness about the risks of excessive consumption in a responsible environment.

The World Health Organization (WHO) assessed the harmful effects of marijuana use. While it may have legitimate medicinal uses, significant adverse effects were also identified. These include respiratory problems, mental health impacts, cognitive difficulties, risk of addiction, and effects on driving. These effects can vary depending on the amount and frequency of use, age of onset, and individual characteristics. It is essential to seek guidance from health professionals to obtain specific information and understand the potential consequences of marijuana use, especially if you are already using marijuana daily or perceive that it affects your daily activities.

For this reason, the challenges for health systems are wide-ranging, as they must be prepared to strengthen prevention and educate about cannabis use.

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