Chances are you were too glued to Breaking Bad last night (and we don’t blame you) to even notice the other drug-related show that premiered. Over on CNN, an aptly titled documentary called “Weed” explored the good and the bad when it comes to smoking pot, trying to answer the question of whether or not it should be legal everywhere.
Coming on the tails of CNN anchorman Piers Morgan and Sanjay Gupta, M.D., admitting last week to having tried the stuff (“years and years ago!”) and Washington and Colorado recently legalizing it, this docu was riveting in its own way.
The show opened with the story of Charlotte, a 5-year-old girl suffering from a rare form of epilepsy that causes her to have hundreds of life-threatening seizures a day. After receiving liquid drops of marijuana, the child is instantaneously cured. If I hadn’t had my laptop on my lap, I might have jumped up and yelled “It’s a miracle!” as her recovery was so immediate and so total. Who doesn’t love the story of an adorable kiddo overcoming the odds, even if it is a little unnerving hearing her mom exclaim, “It’s not just Charlotte’s pot, it’s pot for all the kids!”?
But we learn that “Charlotte’s Web”—the strain of marijuana grown particularly to treat seizure disorders—is unique in one important way: Thanks to its particular chemical makeup and low THC, it can’t make you high (good new since they’re giving it to 5-year-olds). This is becoming the norm when it comes to medical marijuana—MJ definitely has some potent curative properties that are proving invaluable in treating certain types of diseases, but the type of bud that’s best for medicine often isn’t the kind that’s best for getting stoned.
And here’s the bad news for junkies everywhere: Getting high is still a really bad idea. “Most people think pot is safe because you never hear of overdose deaths,” Dr. Gupta said. “People also think it isn’t addictive.” But it turns out that that’s a myth—Mary Jane is more addicting, physiologically, than both cocaine and heroin, with a third of users becoming dependent on it. According to Dr. Gupta, smoking a bowl creates a vicious cycle where your brain stops producing its own happy chemicals, relying on the drug instead. So no weed means no happy. Bummer, dude.
Even more disconcerting, though, is that today’s pot is more addictive than the bud of yore thanks to its much higher content of the psychoactive ingredient THC. According to the documentary, 1970s cannabis had 1 percent THC while today’s version has an average 13 percent, and some has even been found up to have 36 percent. The doctor does not mince words: “These levels can lead to serious brain damage,” Dr. Gupta said.
And it’s even more damaging depending on your age. The younger you are when you start, the worse the effects on your brain are. People who begin smoking weed at 16 or younger have a higher incidence of mental illness, lower IQs, and slower development. And those effects are permanent, even if you quit. Bad news considering that 35 percent of high schoolers confess to smoking a roach in the past year. (And those are just the ones who admit to inhaling!) “We are creating a generation of addicts,” one researcher said gruffly about the blasé attitude many teens and young adults seem to have about the drug.
Yet there’s sweet little Charlotte. And a teen with a diaphragm disorder. And an old man recovering from a stroke. All are living the lives they never thought they could have, thanks to pot. Clearly the potential for good is there and the developments in medical marijuana are groundbreaking—but it seems your parents were right about recreational use: Getting high will make you dumb and poor.
What do you think? Is medical marijuana a good idea? Tell us in the comments below or tweet us @Shape_Magazine.