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Danger of cannabis: Doctors expect collateral damage from legalization

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Danger of cannabis: Doctors expect collateral damage from legalization

Health risk for young adults

Cannabis legalization – doctors expect collateral damage

Status: 27.02.2024 | Reading time: 3 minutes

“One should have paid attention to the concerns of the German Medical Association”

The Bundestag has decided on the controlled release of cannabis. Possession and cultivation will become legal for adults for personal consumption on April 1st with numerous requirements. “The effects that were intended to be achieved will not occur,” fears WELT chief commentator Jacques Schuster.

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The law on cannabis legalization was passed by the Bundestag on Friday. The doctors are extremely horrified. Now, of all times, a Canadian study shows how great the risk is that consumption can cause anxiety disorders.

While Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) can sit back and relax because one of his most technically controversial legislative proposals was passed by the Bundestag with the unusual unity of the traffic light coalition, doctors are up in arms. It’s – of course – about the law on cannabis legalization, which the Bundestag simply waved through on Friday. It allows “teenagers” aged 18 and over and adults to consume between 30 and 50 grams of cannabis per month.

Stoners are likely to cheer, doctors and medical associations are disappointed and even worried. “At the age of 18, brain development is not yet complete,” says psychiatrist Euphrosyne Gouzoulis-Mayfrank from the Landschaftsverband Rheinland (LVR) Klinik, the future president of the German Society for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy (DGPPN). The risk of psychosis and schizophrenia can increase significantly with frequent smoking of weed – especially for young adults. Because the brain continues to mature until the age of mid-20.

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A current study from Canada with more than twelve million participants shows how right she is. The scientists led by Daniel Myra from the Bruyère Research Institute in Ottawa examined how many people who went to an emergency room because of their cannabis use (around 35,000) – for example because they fainted – had to be treated for an anxiety disorder in the following three years. Their frightening result: it was the case in almost a quarter. Compared to the general population, people were almost four times more likely to develop an anxiety disorder, writes the journal The Lancet eClinicalMedicine.

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“There is a general idea that cannabis is relatively harmless and that it could even be a medicine that helps with various medical conditions,” Myran told Medscape Medical News. But doctors assume that frequent smoking of weed in adolescents shifts and changes the cannabinoid structures in the brain – and that this manipulation can have an impact on the entire life. The Canadian result confirms this assumption.

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There is a large group of people who “use cannabis and develop anxiety disorders as a result, or who use cannabis to relieve their anxiety, but it only makes it worse,” says Myran. Compared to the general population, they had also experienced more outpatient psychiatric treatment for the use of non-cannabis substances or other mental illnesses in the previous three years.

In fact, cannabis consumption and its intoxicating substance are constantly increasing worldwide. Cannabis has changed fundamentally since the 1960s and 1970s, says Myran. The concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient, was two percent at the time. “The stuff that’s being sold today has 20 to 30 percent THC content,” Myran said.

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This information is also confirmed by the police in Germany. The Canadian adds a sentence that couldn’t be more applicable to Germany: “The boomer generation used cannabis in the 60s, and they’re trying it again now, but it’s different,” he warns.

The fact that the Bundestag passed the law despite strong warnings from the medical profession depresses doctors. It states that 18 to 21 year olds are only allowed to consume up to 30 grams per month with a maximum THC content of ten percent. The psychiatrist Gouzoulis-Mayfrank says: “This is no longer unproblematic recreational use.”

50 grams a month is enough for several joints a day. Even 30 grams is too much for young adults. She expects collateral damage in Germany. “I fear that it will not be possible to convey the dangers of cannabis credibly.” Your specialist society is also calling for significantly more funding to research the consequences of legalization in Germany.

“We know from other countries that developments sometimes only become visible after a few years,” she says. In the law that has now been passed, funds for research are only earmarked for four years. In addition, studies should have started before legalization.

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