It has not been so long since there was a complete prohibition on the sale of marijuana in the United States. It was illegal everywhere in the country until 1996, when California became the first state to legalize medical cannabis use for people with a doctor’s prescription. From that point, tolerance of cannabis use steadily expanded, first for purely medical reasons, but then for recreational adult users as well.
Today, 37 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws allowing citizens to sell and obtain marijuana for therapeutic medical reasons, which is over three quarters of the nation. Perhaps more surprisingly, 19 states have adopted statutes that completely legalize marijuana usage for consenting adults over the age of 21. This means that more people than ever are smoking weed in more places than they ever have before. So, it seems like now is an appropriate time to honestly ask the following question: Is it a good thing to have lots of people smoking weed, or is it a bad thing?
One often overlooked side effect of this rollback of cannabis prohibition is that it allows for the nation’s various research institutions to get their hands on marijuana so that they can conduct scientific research on it. In other words, they can test what the actual effects of marijuana are on the human mind and body, taking it out of the hands of the public and the pure speculation. The hope is to finally shed some light on this controversial plant so that we as a society can finally understand it properly.
These types of studies can take a very long time, but there has been a steady stream of results coming out over the past couple of decades. Rather than confirming the longtime stigma that has existed against cannabis, these tests have largely validated the tolerant measures that have been taken in recent years. One of the most noteworthy contents of a recent academic paper on cannabis use is one that suggests that frequent marijuana users are actually more kind and less greedy than the average person. That result would certainly turn the tables on some old stereotypes about drug users.
Past Conceptions of Cannabis
The demonization of marijuana that reached its heights in the 1990s began way back in the 1930s when the film Reefer Madness first hit theaters. The movie depicts a group of middle-class teenagers who fall into a life of crime after trying marijuana. The drug causes the teens to wildly hallucinate and behave violently, leading to a young white girl being shot and killed. In a famous scene, one of the characters breaks the fourth wall to inform the audience that the events of this film could easily take place in their own homes. While the film’s depiction of cannabis use was completely inaccurate, it had the intended effect of scaring the entire nation into taking a hardline stance on the drug, wherever it popped up.
The hysteria about marijuana and the people who used it would only become more harsh as time went on. In the 1950s, the Boggs Act and Narcotics Control Act created very strict penalties for those who used or sold the plant. In 1971, the Controlled Substance Act would state officially that cannabis had far more potential for harmful abuse than it did for medical utility, putting it on the same legal level as Heroin and LSD. By the 1980s, the Just Say No campaign and the creation of the D.A.R.E. program was telling young kids that marijuana was a horrible thing. For most of the 20th century in America, any marijuana tolerance that had developed existed solely within youth counterculture or criminal groups. When it comes to whether or not weed is good or bad, the United States government has decidedly taken a stance.
Modern Scientific Study
In the more than 25 year since California became the first state in America to allow medical cannabis use, there have been a large number of scientifically verified results from the academic community. In fact, one news outlet claims that it was able to compile 10,000 different scientific studies on marijuana between 1999 and 2016. This body of evidence reveals that cannabis shows potential for a wide array of medical applications, including helping patients with sleep apnea, multiple sclerosis, Tourette’s syndrome, and social anxiety disorder.
One of the most newsworthy findings of that era of academic work was that cannabis shows some promise for relieving pain and muscle tension. This result could have highly relevant ramifications, given the current epidemic of opiate pain killers that has killed millions of Americans. It also gained a huge mainstream appeal when major athletes in American sports leagues, like the NFL and NBA, began advocating for an end to marijuana prohibition in their respective organizations, claiming its strong utility for their various physical and mental symptoms. This public image of marijuana’s medical potential gained an additional boost when studies began to come in claiming that it could help veterans and sexual assault victims with their PTSD symptoms. All of this new information has led to an entire reframing of the question of whether or not smoking weed is good or bad.
Smoking Weed Could Make You a Nicer and Less Greedy Person
On the cutting edge of cannabis research is the new series of academic studies that are trying to find how frequent marijuana use affects a person on a more holistic level. Some of the initial findings of these studies have caused a lot of curiosity from stoners and non-stoners alike. For example, one study showed that the typical assumption that marijuana users are less motivated or hard working than the average person are actually not true at all. This was a huge surprise to a lot of people, since this is one stereotype that many marijuana users themselves used to accept as basically true.
A study that just recently came out has shown another result that might surprise a lot of people that don’t smoke marijuana, but probably won’t surprise anyone who knows a lot of people who do. This paper, from the academic journal Scientific Reports provides data that shows, in their words, “that folks that had recently used cannabis showed higher levels of pro-social behaviors, and higher measurements of empathy — the empathy quotient was statistically significant across two groups — as well as what researchers refer to as ‘moral foundations’ [which] are basically the types of ideals that we think about when we justify what is right and what is wrong.” In other words, people who are frequent users of cannabis tend to be nicer to their fellow human beings than people who do not.
That is not the only banner takeaway from the Scientific Reports study. Their data also suggests that people who frequently use marijuana are less likely to be motivated by money than the rest of the population. Again, in the researchers’ words, “[c]annabis users’ brains are less likely to light up when they are shown a depiction of dollar sign compared to non-users. People that don’t use cannabis get more excited when they see a dollar sign, and that has been interpreted by addiction researchers as a negative thing.” So, rather than being more prone to addiction like most people probably believe, frequent users of marijuana actually show resistance to this type of addiction based motivation.
It is certain that there will be more surprises to come as time goes on and the truth about marijuana, one of mankind’s oldest and most familiar mind-altering substances, continues to come to light. The old picture of stoners as shiftless, lazy, unmotivated people who commit crime and leech off of society is becoming less and less accurate with every study that comes out. As both medical and recreational marijuana use becomes more prevalent in states across the country, it is certain that the long and unnecessarily held stigma against marijuana will finally break, revealing that it can often be part of a perfectly healthy and fulfilled existence. This is a complete reversal of the good versus bad question that began in the early 20th century.