The Good (and Bad) News From a New Major Marijuana Study

A woman uses special magnifiers to inspect marijuana buds

A woman uses special magnifiers to inspect marijuana buds | Chris Hondros/Getty Images

True or false: Marijuana is good for you.

Don’t know the answer? Nobody can really blame you. The truth is, there isn’t really a good answer. While using cannabis is probably a healthier choice than binge drinking all weekend or smoking a pack of cigarettes, there are a lot of unknowns. Smoking, no matter what you’re inhaling, likely isn’t going to be good for your lungs, for example. And we still don’t know much about how marijuana affects developing bodies and minds.

Even so, there’s evidence that cannabis has medical benefit. Cannabis has been shown to fight cancer, in some circumstances. It’s also helpful in kicking addictions to other drugs, stopping seizures, and dealing with eating disorders.

Needless to say, it’s hard to say for sure whether marijuana is healthy, or even safe. A study released by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, however, has provided some answers. And it’s a bit of a mixed bag, in terms of good news and bad news, depending on your views.

The study is big — it’s a nearly 400-page report that “offers a rigorous review of relevant scientific research published since 1999.” All told, that’s roughly 10,000 studies. Its goal was to assess the risk factors and purported benefits associated with cannabis use. The study comes to roughly 100 “conclusions related to health effects of cannabis and cannabinoid use.”

Marijuana: The positives

Different strains of medical marijuana are displayed

Different strains of medical marijuana are displayed | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

So, what’s the good news? Mostly, the study’s conclusions reinforce what we already know.

For starters, the report finds “conclusive or substantial evidence” for cannabis as a treatment for chronic pain. It has a ton of potential uses and applications in that respect and could be used as a potential alternative to other painkillers and prescription drugs. There was also substantial evidence that cannabis is effective in helping cancer patients deal with chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting, and with the effects of multiple sclerosis.

As far as “moderate” or “limited” evidence, the report says issues related to sleeping disorders, and even anxiety and stress are a few. Again, this is more or less what we knew before. But while the report does say that there is evidence, it also says that it’s inconclusive. That is, there’s more work to be done.

Though cannabis is often touted as an effective treatment for many other ills, this report says that the evidence is “insufficient” for several of them. Among them are cancers, irritable bowel syndrome, epilepsy, and in treating addictions to drugs or alcohol. That’s not to say that marijuana isn’t a viable option — just that the evidence isn’t there to say one way or another.

The negatives

John Mica (R-FL) holds a fake hand-rolled cigarette during a hearing about marijuana laws in 2014

John Mica (R-FL) holds a fake hand-rolled cigarette during a hearing about marijuana laws in 2014 | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

There are some particularly ugly conclusions included in the report, too.

There is statistical evidence that cannabis use is related to an increased risk of car accidents. There is also an increased risk of respiratory issues among marijuana users, and an association between marijuana and psychoses like schizophrenia. These issues have been explored before, but as the report says, not on a deep enough level.

In all, the study says there are good and bad things about marijuana use, but above all else, that we need to conduct more research. “To develop conclusive evidence for the effects of cannabis use for short- and long-term health outcomes, improvements and standardization in research methodology (including those used in controlled trials and observational studies) are needed,” the study said. But many regulatory barriers make it difficult for researchers. That’s an issue regulators will need to consider.

But as mentioned, this reinforces what we knew. You shouldn’t drive under the influence, for example. And as with everything, you should use in moderation. Using cannabis with a higher frequency is more likely to stir up issues, and chronic use can lead to serious illness.

More from Culture Cheat Sheet: