HealthDay News — States joining the march toward marijuana legalization need to take a step back and consider the drug’s adverse effects on health, according to Nora Volkow, MD, the director of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Marijuana is potentially addictive, proven to contribute to fatal motor-vehicle crashes, and can disrupt the brain function and learning of young users, Volkow told HealthDay.

Legalizing marijuana will lead to the sort of nationwide health problems now attributed to alcohol and tobacco, she wrote in a recent a review article published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Tobacco and alcohol have a far greater impact on health in the United States than illicit drugs, as their legal status make them more widely available for use.

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“By making marijuana legal, you have more widespread use and many more health implications,” Volkow said. “We don’t need a third legal drug. We already have enough problems with the two we have.”

The pro-marijuana advocacy group the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws agrees that pot “is not a harmless substance,” Deputy Director Paul Armentano told HealthDay. “But its potential risks to the individual and to society do not warrant its present schedule I illicit status under federal law, a classification that improperly argues that the plant lacks any accepted therapeutic value and that its risks equal those of heroin.”


  1. Volkow ND et al. N Engl J Med. 2014; 370:2219-2227.