The US federal government plans to reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule III drug. Here are the concerns

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The DEA plans to reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule III controlled substance. The shift, which still needs final White House approval, could expand access to marijuana use in the United States and loosen restrictions on conducting research on the drug.

Marijuana would still be federally illegal even if it were reclassified as a Schedule III drug, but a change in classification would put it in the same category as prescription drugs such as ketamine and anabolic steroids. Schedule I drugs have a high potential for abuse and have no accepted medical uses, while Schedule III drugs have a lower potential for abuse and have accepted medical uses.

There is increasing evidence to support that marijuana has therapeutic benefits, including but not limited to treating chronic pain, nausea and vomiting in cancer patients, as well as certain neurological conditions such as seizures.

Reclassifying marijuana as a lower-risk drug will have public health implications. Although the potential for abuse is less than that of alcohol and tobacco, it is not insignificant. Three in 10 people who use marijuana have a marijuana use disorder, according to the website CDC. This means that 30% of those who use marijuana use it despite it causing problems at school, home and work, or use it in risky situations such as driving. Since over 48 million Americans use marijuana, this means that 14.4 million Americans will have a marijuana use disorder. Is that a number we should accept?

As marijuana becomes more readily available to Americans, more Americans will ultimately suffer from the drug’s harmful health effects. Although much more research is needed to fully understand how marijuana affects health, smoking it can cause scarring and damage to the small blood vessels in the lungs. Marijuana smoke contains many of the same toxins and carcinogens as tobacco smoke and puts smokers at increased risk of developing bronchitis and obstructive pulmonary disease, according to the CDC.

Marijuana can also have important health effects outside the lungs. The drug can have an immediate effect on thinking, attention, memory and coordination. Additionally, in the long term, marijuana can permanently impact the way the brain makes connections to support learning, attention, and memory.

In addition to the harmful cognitive effects; Marijuana can also negatively affect mental health. Heavy marijuana users are more likely to report suicidal thoughts than non-users; and regular use of the drug increases the risk of developing social anxiety disorder National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

As marijuana becomes more normalized in American culture, its effects on driving behavior and public safety will also be amplified. Marijuana is known to impair balance, coordination, and judgment; all of which are necessary for safe driving. Unlike alcohol, which has set legal limits for drunk driving, marijuana impairment assessment has not been legally developed or standardized across America. These legal limits will need to be established to protect the safety of Americans on the road in the future and prevent potential accidents and injuries.

The potential reclassification of marijuana from Schedule I to III will have serious public health consequences for all Americans. While increased availability could help treat chronic pain and some symptoms in cancer patients, its detrimental effects on public health and American security should never be ignored.

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