Neither the science nor the public opinion surrounding cannabis is close to being settled. Activists on both sides of the issue would have us believe otherwise, but just read the news. As a case in point, a brand-new study out of Canada shows a link between regular cannabis use and the need for emergency medical care and hospitalization.
Critics will cry foul and say that the epidemiological study only draws a correlation; that it doesn’t clearly establish cause and effect. They will be right in doing so. But likewise, researchers promoting cannabis for every malady under the sun are also guilty out producing epidemiological studies the do not actually prove anything. It is the way the debate works.
What the Research Found
Regardless of where you stand on the issue, it is worth delving into the details of this particular study. Researchers from the University of Toronto and ICES conducted a systematic analysis of the medical records of more than 30,000 Ontario patients over a 6-year period. The patients ranged in age from 12 to 65.
Their analysis demonstrated that regular cannabis users were 22% more likely to visit a hospital emergency department or be hospitalized. Not sure their data was accurate, the researchers adjusted for some thirty factors including alcohol consumption, tobacco consumption, and illicit drug use. Even with adjusting, the numbers turned out the same.
The two leading causes of hospitalization and emergency room visits among that cannabis consumers were:
- physical injuries
- respiratory problems.
Those findings intrigued the researchers enough to motivate them to look at previous studies. They found that regular cannabis smokers were more likely to suffer from all sorts of respiratory issues. Likewise, young people who routinely used cannabis were more likely to engage in behaviors resulting in physical injuries.
Not So Harmless
The Canadian research is certainly food for thought. It suggests that cannabis is not so harmless. If that is truly the case, how do so many cannabis proponents get away with claiming that it’s as harmless as can be? It boils down to a lack of credible scientific data.
Imagine a group of cannabis users who have been smoking marijuana for as long as they can remember. They sincerely believe that their behavior has not impacted their health in any meaningful way. Yet they might be forgetting individual trips to the emergency room for injuries sustained while doing stupid things under the influence. And even if they haven’t forgotten such incidents, perhaps they aren’t connecting the dots.
Anecdotal evidence does serve a valuable purpose in medical science. But it is not an adequate substitute for clinical data. As things currently stand, there is a surprising lack of clinical data regarding the harm regular cannabis use may cause. So when people say it is harmless, it’s because they don’t have clinical data to prove otherwise.
Treat It Like a Medicine
There are those who will latch on to the Canadian research and use it as evidence to say that we should pull out all the stops to make sure cannabis is only used as a medicine in this country. That would probably please more conservative states like Utah where, according to the people behind the Utahmarijuana.org website, lawmakers have insisted that their program remain medical only.
Time will tell how seriously the Canadian research is taken. Rest assured that competing studies will also be released down the road. Cannabis is an issue that is far from being settled. Like it or not, neither scientists nor the general public agree. They may be even farther apart than survey data would otherwise suggest.