A subcommittee of the Spanish Congress of Deputies is currently examining the pros and cons of an eventual regulation of medical cannabis . There is no talk of regulating “the other”, the recreational one, but surely the ghost of marijuana is silently walking around the debate room.
You already know those rooms. A few months ago, during the consideration in Parliament of a proposal to regulate cannabis presented by Más País, the two variants were discussed. The left-wing force argues that the regulation would help protect the health and safety of consumers, would limit access by minors and would represent an important economic vein: “With the necessary will, Spain could lead European cannabis; with the privileged climate and the know-how we already have”, he wrote in El País in 2019.
However, the presence of medicinal and recreational use in the same initiative did not convince the PSOE, the majority force in Congress, which is in favor of exploring the former, but (at least for now) does not want to hear about the latter, for what the plantón to one took ahead to the other. According to the socialist deputy Daniel Viondi, “when we have agreed on a framework in which medicinal and therapeutic cannabis can be used (…), then let other debates be opened.”
There is little doubt that they will be opened, nor that the legalization of marijuana can follow the same path as the regulation of cannabis for medicinal use. In fact, this has happened in several countries or territories. In the US, for example, Colorado legalized therapeutic in 2000 and, in 2012, gave way to recreational; California, in 1996 one and in 2016 the other; Massachusetts, in 2012 and in 2016, and so on. Canada also articulated a medical cannabis program in 2001, and in 2018 legalized recreational cannabis.
Interestingly, among the factors that have reduced the public perception of the risks of narcotics and have favored the regulation of recreational drugs in these places, is the frequency with which the word “cannabis” appears accompanied by the adjective “medicinal”. Because can there be real danger in something that has therapeutic utility? Aren’t they all benefits?
Yes to the first. And no: not everything is health, euphoria and good vibes. By the way, now in Spain, you can already find places where cannabis is completely legal and you can try it without any problem. So called coffee shops, offer a wide range of products. But the thing is, you can’t just get there. In order to find out how to visit such an institution, you should read the instructions on our website – cannabisbcn.com.
“You won’t die, but…”
As explained in a previous article , tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is an active ingredient in cannabis that acts on the central nervous system: it causes an increased sensation of pleasure, a state of euphoria, and induces the brain to repeat the action of consumption once and again, despite the risks that this may entail.
Addiction risk, for example? As explained by Dr. Guillermo Velasco, from the Spanish Medicinal Cannabis Observatory, this would not be high: “The fat-soluble nature of cannabinoids, which allows them to be stored in adipose tissue and remain in our body for a long time, means that the addictive potential of these is relatively small compared to that of other commonly used drugs or drugs. Thus, addiction to cannabis (or the withdrawal syndrome to its use) only occurs moderately or very moderately in regular users, and due to its magnitude and mild symptoms it cannot be compared with addiction to alcohol, opiates or antidepressant drugs. ”.
THC negatively affects brain function, “specifically in the parts responsible for memory, learning, attention, decision-making, coordination, emotions and reaction time”
However, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that three out of 10 people who are addicted to marijuana suffer from a use disorder . Signs of its presence may be the impossibility of giving up the habit, consuming while carrying out activities that require the greatest attention (such as driving a vehicle), persisting in it despite knowing that it can aggravate certain physical or psychological problems, experiencing the need of consuming larger amounts to achieve the psychotropic effect that was previously achieved with less, etc.
Of the habitual consumption of the substance it is not possible to say what the poet said –“you will go through my life without knowing what you have gone through”–, because, for health purposes, the habit leaves traces, both on the mental and physical levels, and it does not particularly favorable.
The CDC, for example, underline THC’s negative effects on brain function, “specifically in the parts responsible for memory, learning, attention, decision-making, coordination, emotions and reaction time.” Precisely regarding the ability to react, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), also from the USA, cites several studies that have shown how the chances of causing a traffic accident are doubled for those drivers who have the substance in their Blood flow.
Other research also reveals a permanent decline in IQ when using has started in adolescence, and an increased likelihood of—and actual episodes of—psychosis. Others, focused on the physical effects, refer to the decrease in the quantity and quality of sperm in men and changes in the female menstrual cycle, as well as the increased risk of pneumonia, in the case of those who smoke it, among others. impact.
Death even, as occurs with opiate or cocaine overdoses? No, there are no lethal overdoses of the substance. “The typical death from cannabis is caused by driving vehicles, and let’s not minimize it,” says Dr. Rafael Maldonado, a toxicologist from Pompeu Fabra University (UPF). But if we think of the effects of acute toxicity, of death due to the chemical substance, this is not the case”.
Colorado, sample button
None of the above has made a dent in the usual argument in favor of the regulation of recreational cannabis wherever it has taken place. The reasons – also contained in the legislative proposals presented by Más País, Esquerra Republicana and Podemos in the Spanish Parliament – touch several keys.
On the one hand, it is alleged that it has a crime-reducing effect, by contributing to the decrease of the illegal market: if you have it on hand in the store, why stay with a “camel” in a shady park? As public possession or carrying is not a crime, arrests and penalties necessarily drop. In addition, since the authorities can control everything that is marketed, it is possible to limit the concentrations of THC in the products.
And finally, what was mentioned at the beginning: as everything is out in the open, the treasury can take a cut. A study by the Autonomous University of Barcelona estimates that 3,312 million euros could be raised annually, in addition to the creation of some 100,000 direct jobs in this industry. A win-win for a book.
The statistics of places where recreational cannabis has been regulated and legalized show, however, that not all “win ” , and the sample button is Colorado, which legalized recreational cannabis at the beginning of the last decade.
Colorado law prohibits under-21s from accessing recreational cannabis, yet use by 12- to 17-year-olds has been higher than the US average.
It is noticed when the focus is put, for example, on the consequences for young people: according to data from the report ” Impacts of Marijuana Legalization in Colorado “, from 2023, between 2012 and 2019 consumption increased so much among those under 18 years of age ( from 63.5% to 73.5%) and among those between 18 and 20 years old (from 19.2% to 27.3%). Also, the percentage of use among 12-17 year olds ended up being higher than the US average (9.8% > 7%). Necessary note: the state law vetoes the access of those under 21 years of age to cannabis, but as can be seen, with an improvable result.
This has derivations. The Colorado Health Institute pointed out in a 2023 report that in the previous five years marijuana had become the second substance – only after alcohol – most detected in suicide cases: it has been in 20.4% of all those. deaths, ahead of opiates (18.9%), although a direct relationship between higher consumption and the increase in these deaths has not been established.
Statistically, the greatest increase in suicides in which the narcotic was present was found among young people between 20 and 24 years old (from 18.4% to 33.2%), followed by the segment between 15 and 19 years old (from 19, 8% to 30%).
The illegal market that you kill…
It must be added, on the other hand, that the objective of controlling the concentrations of THC in the products sold in dispensaries has become a dead letter. According to Stuyt ( 2018 ), “before the 1990s (THC) was less than 2%. In the 1990s it grew to 4%, and between 1995 and 2015 there has been a 212% increase in THC content in the marijuana flower. In 2017 the most popular strains found in Colorado dispensaries had a THC content range of 17-28%.”
It is the general trend in recreational cannabis. “Through genetic selection, what the consumer wants has been achieved,” says Dr. Maldonado. In the 1980s, the amount of THC, the component that produces the high , the pleasant psychoactive effect, of modifying the emotional state, was 4-5%, and that of cannabidiol (CBD) around 1.5% . Now we find some varieties with more than 20% THC, and a tremendously low CBD. It’s what the consumer is interested in.”
Problem with that? Apparently not: recent research by a team at the University of Colorado found that no matter how much THC a cannabis product contained, the “high” was not significantly greater than that achieved at low concentrations of the active ingredient, nor were the indications greater loss of immediate memory, motor coordination, etc.
Others, on the other hand, warn that the higher concentration of the psychoactive does have a negative impact on health. Psychiatrist Nora Volkow, director of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), notes : “When someone takes low [THC] marijuana to relax and get high, it actually lowers their anxiety. ”, but high concentrations can cause psychosis and panic attacks. “You get full-blown paranoid,” she adds.
In several North American states that have legalized recreational cannabis, the illegal market for the substance continues to outstrip the legal one
It also reports that those who frequently consume products with a high THC content often develop cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome , frequent vomiting, accompanied by severe abdominal pain and a constant urge to take hot baths.
Finally, there would be the economic reason, associated with the decrease or disappearance of the illegal market, but it does not have much grip on reality.
Back to Colorado: The Denver Post , in an article from last June, headlined: “Black Market Marijuana Crops Are Showing Up Faster Than Law Enforcement Can Act. But is legalization the cause? The text describes the paradoxical situation that, in this pioneer state of legal marijuana, the drug enforcement agency (DEA) is confiscating more crops and quantities of the narcotic than before.
“The reality is that [the illegal market] is bigger now,” says Denver District Attorney John Kellner. And the trend is repeated in other cannabis-friendly states : in Massachusetts, in 2019, two years after legalization, 75% of the substances that were sold came from the black market , while in California it is estimated that illegal cannabis is moving 8,000 million dollars, almost double or more than what is entered by the legal sale, with which, that of “the dead that you kill, enjoy good health” comes in handy.
“Is legalization the cause?” asks the quoted newspaper. Even conceding that it is not, one could reply – to the journalist and politicians in Colorado and elsewhere – with another question: Has it been the solution?