By Dr. Jan Hittelman

There is tremendous debate underway concerning the impact of medical marijuana laws on the perceptions and behaviors of youth. One concern is that by youth seeing that marijuana use is more socially acceptable with the passing of state medical marijuana laws, it will increase their use and lower their perceptions of danger and risk. Surprisingly, there are a number of studies that indicate that youth marijuana use has actually gone down in states that have legalized medical use. Not surprisingly, these often appear on web sites that support medical marijuana use and frequently the legalization of the drug. According to the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics: “Several recent studies concerning American adolescents, the Dutch experience with decriminalization (from 1984 to 1992), and the relationship between cheaper marijuana and use by adolescents suggest that decriminalization increases marijuana use by adolescents.” We have begun to see this trend locally, with surveys of high school students indicating a reduced perception of harm regarding marijuana usage.

At the same time considerable anecdotal evidence suggests that marijuana may be effective in treating a number of medical conditions. These include: reducing chemotherapy-induced nausea, wasting and anorexia associated with AIDS, intraocular pressure in glaucoma, and muscle spasticity arising from such conditions as multiple sclerosis. At the same time there is little objective scientific evidence that demonstrates the benefit of medical marijuana on these health concerns, let alone that other available drugs don’t work better than marijuana. This is in part due to the federal government restricting availability of marijuana needed to actually conduct the research.