Study: Marijuana not a global health problem

By Paul Armentano, NORML

WCL News — A new international survey has concluded that Cannabis use is not a significant contributor to the global burden of disease. The epidemiological review, “Global burden of disease attributable to illicit drug use and dependence: findings from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010,” was published in the September 2013 edition of The Lancet.

An international team of researchers from Australia and the US reviewed data to assess the global prevalence of illicit drug use and quantified its adverse effects on health in terms of years of life lived with disability (YLDs), years of life lost (YLLs), and disability-adjusted life years (DALYs).

The report was heavily biased against cannabis use, assuming that it is harmful in some way by virtue of simply being illegal, and did not consider the medical benefits of cannabis, the added quality of life and additional years of productivity or the data that suggests marijuana smokers on average live two years longer than non-users. It also did not consider the health consequences of marijuana prohibition, such as healthy people who are sent to prison, where they contract Hepatitis-C and HIV infections.

Nonetheless, investigators reported that more people were likely to be dependent on opioids and amphetamines than on other controlled substances, and that overall, illicit drug use was responsible for 0.9 percent of DALYs worldwide. Tobacco smoking was estimated to cause 6.3 percent of DALYs worldwide; alcohol was estimated to cause 3.9 percent. By contrast, researchers reported that “regular cannabis use made a very small contribution to disease burden through its contribution as a risk factor for schizophrenia” – a link which was acknowledged to be “controversial” in an accompany commentary since existing research on the plant’s potential association with the disease has found no causal link. Many researchers attribute this to self-medication by undiagnosed schizophrenics whose cannabis use only comes to light when they are diagnosed.

In total, researchers estimated that 13.1 million people globally are dependent on cannabis, including 1.8 million people in North America. Investigators estimated 15.5 million people worldwide were dependent on opioid drugs and 17.2 million were dependent on amphetamines. The full text of the study appears in The Lancet.

While the report did not project how many people use marijuana globally, estimates range from about 120 to 700 million people are occasional users, and many more times that number have tried it at least once. The dependency rate for cannabis users is estimated by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to be 9%, which is 10% less than the percent of addictive personalities in the general population base. — West Coast Leaf News Service

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