There’s A Lot More to Marijuana Than Just Public Perception

Public perception about marijuana sure has changed a lot over the last 20 years. Ever since a small number of Western states began the push for legal medical cannabis, public perception has gradually improved. People are more accepting of marijuana today than ever before. But there is more to marijuana than just public perception.

In a CNN interview discussing the marijuana culture’s unofficial holiday, April 20, ER physician, George Washington University professor, former Baltimore health Commissioner, and CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen uttered one of the most profound statements on marijuana we have heard in a long time. She said, “the legalization movement has shifted the conversation so much towards acceptance of cannabis that we are neglecting the fact that it is a drug.”

Wen continued her explanation to make it clear she believes marijuana ought to be regulated just like “alcohol, tobacco, and opioids.” She makes a particularly good case. Drugs are drugs regardless of how the public perceives them. There is nothing inherent to marijuana that even remotely suggests we should throw caution to the wind.

Botanicals Have Medicinal Uses

Wen conceded in her CNN interview that botanicals have medicinal uses. All sorts of plants have a variety of natural compounds we can harness for better human health. That much is indisputable. But it is also true that plants contain dangerous compounds. They contain things that, despite being medically beneficial, can be dangerous if not used properly.

It is not surprising that medical cannabis users report significant pain relief with cannabis treatments. THC interacts with the endocannabinoid system in ways similar to the cannabinoids normally found in the human body. In that sense, you have a botanical (marijuana) that can be used medicinally to relieve pain. But patients experiencing pain relief does not mean that indiscriminate consumption is a wise idea.

Many states operate their medical cannabis programs based on this very principle. Take Utah. According to, the Beehive State has one of the strictest medical cannabis programs in the country. Patients can only consume if they have a valid medical cannabis card. Medical cannabis products can only be produced by licensed companies and sold through licensed pharmacies.

The point here is that Utah keeps its program strictly medical. They treat cannabis as a medicine rather than a recreational drug. And right now, there are no plans to embrace recreational consumption. That may change in the future.

All Drugs Are Potentially Harmful

A well-regulated medical cannabis program can be beneficial to patients. Furthermore, future research into marijuana’s medicinal capabilities should ultimately lead to prescription medications more in line with what we are used too. But even with all of that, the THC that most cannabis users are after is still a drug. And all drugs are potentially harmful.

Although doing so is unpopular with legalization advocates, Wen made no bones about pointing out some of the dangers associated with long-term marijuana consumption. She discussed marijuana use disorder, potential harm to still developing brains, tolerance and addiction, and even the possible harm marijuana might pose to babies in the womb.

We take a cautionary approach to just about every prescription medication on the planet. We are also very cautious about alcohol consumption. So why the rush to throw open the doors to recreational marijuana nationwide?

Despite public perception being positive, there is a lot about marijuana we still don’t know. What we do not know dwarfs what we do know. That in itself is reason enough to take a slow and cautious approach. It is too bad we aren’t doing so.