What are the health benefits and risks of marijuana?

Cannabis — also referred to as marijuana — is a psychoactive drug that many people use for recreational purposes and its purported medicinal benefits. But what does recent research say about it? Do the risks trump the benefits?

At the time of writing this feature, in the United States, 36 states and four territories have legalized cannabis-derived products for medical use. Additionally, 18 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia allow the recreational use of cannabis.

Although many people use the terms “cannabis” and “marijuana” interchangeably, the latter has racist roots and connotations that go back to nearly a century ago.

According to the Pew Research Center, nine out of 10 Americans favor some form of legalization for cannabis. The same poll found that 18% of Americans, equating to 48.2 million people, have used cannabis in the last year, with 11% saying they have done so in the previous month. Fewer than half — 46% — say they have ever used cannabis.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), people have used cannabis for at least 5,000 yearsTrusted Source. And while cannabis use today is generally stable among the general population, its use among college studentsTrusted Source is rising. In 2020, 44% of them reported using cannabis in the last year, the highest level in over 35 years.

It is obvious that many people enjoy the euphoric effects of cannabis, using it for recreational purposes. That latest data suggest that 22.2 millionTrusted Source U.S. adults are recreational users. Meanwhile, the number of medical cannabis users is estimated to be about 5.4 million people.

Cannabis research in the U.S.
Cannabis is currently illegal at the federal level and is classed as a Schedule I controlled substance. This classification level states that a substance must have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

It is a controversial classification, as it places this drug in the same category as heroin, methaqualone, LSD, and MDMA, or ecstasy.

This has made rigorous clinical cannabis research in the U.S. difficult to conduct, and it can be hard for the average person to find conclusive information regarding its health effects.

With so many states having legalized cannabis, research is accelerating, however. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has voiced its support for the clinical investigationTrusted Source of drugs utilizing compounds from cannabis plants.

The FDA is charged with the development and safety of medical products and has therefore not explicitly addressed the health effects of recreational cannabis.

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Cannabis — also referred to as marijuana — is a psychoactive drug that many people use for recreational purposes and its purported medicinal benefits. But what does recent research say about it? Do the risks trump the benefits? At the time of writing this feature, in the United States, 36 states and four territories have…

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