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Pot's Social Dangers Unknown, Say Researchers

Little Evidence That Marijuana Causes Behavioral Problems, Study Shows

Relaxed Laws Elsewhere continued...

"What this paper does is put things more into perspective, but that doesn't mean that marijuana is not harmful," Grant tells WebMD. "We need to separate between the effects drugs may have on a child versus an adult. It could be that certain substances that are not harmful in adults may have harmful effects in kids. But overall, these researchers are finding what others are finding anecdotally in Europe and elsewhere."

Macleod's research -- funded by the United Kingdom Department of Health -- comes just after the British government relaxed its marijuana possession laws, and it's already been decriminalized in Spain, Italy, Portugal, the Netherlands, and Belgium. Canada is also considering decriminalization for amounts less than a half-ounce, and this fall, pharmacies in British Columbia will begin selling marijuana for medicinal purposes -- without a prescription -- under a national health service plan.

In the U.S., where some 700,000 arrests are made each year for marijuana use and possession, the debate on its impact continues.

Two weeks ago, federal health officials reported in The Journal of the American Medical Association that over the past decade, more American adults have abused or become dependent on pot even though overall use rates have remained steady. "The resultsof this study underscore the need to develop and implement newprevention and intervention programs targeted at youth, particularlyminority youth," write researchers from the National Institutes of Health.

That same week, another study in the American Journal of Public Health reported that neither the severity nor leniency of current marijuana laws seems to influence whether experienced users continue to smoke pot.

States vs. Feds

Other countries have decriminalized marijuana largely because studies show that its use can reduce chronic pain, nausea, and muscle spasms and lower rising eye pressure that causes glaucoma. Marijuana has been used -- legally or not -- to treat some 30 conditions, including AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and cancer. In fact, until the 1930s, marijuana was legally available in the U.S. as a medicinal treatment.

Nine U.S. states have laws allowing for the use of medical marijuana under a doctor's recommendation -- Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. But the Justice Department contends that federal drug laws that make its use and possession illegal take precedent over state laws.

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