With the election of new governor-elect Wes Moore, Maryland has already experienced some significant changes in policymaking that will affect the healthcare of millions. One important health-related policy is the legalization of recreational marijuana. While still prohibited on university campuses, weed for recreational use will be legal on state grounds for users 21 years or older, starting on July 21, 2023. With the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes in 2014, recent years have since seen an increase in demand for marijuana under arguments that recreational use promotes relaxation, improved concentration, and therapeutic rituals. College students are especially impacted by this decision, considering that the highest rates of marijuana use are among people 18-25 years old. As Maryland becomes the 20th state to legalize cannabis, we must ask: is this new legislation for better or worse?
Seeing marijuana as a positive legalization requires us to see cannabis as inherently healthy for our bodies. To examine the medicinal influence of marijuana, it is important to understand what the drug truly is, and how it is made. Marijuana is composed of dried parts of the cannabis plant, which can include leaves, flowers, stems, or seeds. Active ingredients found within the cannabis plant include THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, which impacts neural activity through increases in dopamine release. With increased concentrations of dopamine in the bloodstream, the sensation of a “high” is created, creating strong sensations of pleasure and relaxation. By attaching to cannabinoid receptors throughout the body, THC concentrations are also capable of compromising several brain regions such as the amygdala, spinal cord, hippocampus, etc. As a result, symptoms of marijuana usage vary depending on dosage, influencing important biological processes like neural communication. Delays in signal relaying then influence physiological behaviors like reaction time, judgment/memory, and motor control.
The pushback against marijuana use amongst Marylanders has been loud and clear for decades. As the most used and distributed drug in the United States, cannabis has the potential to significantly impact the quality of people’s lives across all demographics. Thus, it is especially important for vulnerable populations such as pregnant women, children, the disabled, and the elderly to be aware of the consequences that come with overconsumption and misuse of the drug. With about three times the concentration of THC in marijuana compared to 25 years ago, the relationship between marijuana use and drug addiction has seen an increase, with 1 in every 10 users affected. With such alarming statistics, it is difficult for policymakers to trust Maryland citizens will regulate their own usage, given marijuana’s ability to hinder the health of future generations. For example, when taking marijuana during pregnancy, chances of life endangerment such as stillbirth and fetal growth restriction significantly worsen. Even among citizens with no vulnerabilities, THC has the ability to cause more harm than good. Although often medicinally prescribed to help users manage mental health, cannabis has been found to worsen the neurological disease, such as social anxiety and depression.
Although damages to brain health have been observed with excess dosages of cannabis, marijuana has a long history of being used for medicinal benefit. The extraction of another active ingredient, CBD, in the cannabis plant has had extremely positive impacts that counteract the dopamine surge induced by THC. Benefits of CBD include lowering blood pressure, reducing inflammation, treating seizures, and even managing drug addiction.
With legalizing recreational marijuana, Marylanders no longer have to rely on access to a medical provider or proximity to a distillery to experience the health benefits of cannabis. Currently, the process to legally obtain marijuana in Maryland requires multiple steps, starting with registering as a Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC) patient, having written certification, and presenting their MMCC card at a licensed dispensary. With fewer barriers in place, more options are available for cannabis distribution to the general public at a cheaper, more affordable rate that allows immediate pain relief and health improvements for more individuals.
Overall, with both positive and negative implications surrounding cannabis usage, we know one thing for sure: the dose makes the poison. If you choose to recreationally use marijuana (off campus), be mindful of how much you are taking, and how your body is responding to the drug. On state grounds, 1.5 ounces is the maximum amount for Marylanders to legally possess starting July 1st. Quantities between 1.5 and 2.5 ounces could result in fines up to $250, with even more significant amounts leading to 6 months of jail or a $1000 fine. As of now, many questions linger about how UMD plans to prevent the matriculation of off-campus weed distribution onto college grounds. Will UMD health services like the Health Center see an uptick in marijuana-related illnesses? Could the epidemic of drug addiction grow within our college community? Will police monitoring of marijuana use by UMPD increase in the next year? Only time will tell.