Thursday, August 28, 2008

Decriminalizing Marijuana: Public Health Considerations

Boston Metro News ran a brief article this morning about a major funder of advocacy efforts for decriminalization of marijuana in Massachusetts. The decriminalization of marijuana (lessening or eliminating the penalty for marijuana use and/or possession) has been hotly debated in the US and around the globe for decades. It led me to ask, what are the public health implications for the decriminalization (for even small amounts) of marijuana?

technical report by Alain Joffe and W. Samuel Yancy in a 2004 Pediatrics publication thoroughly reviewed literature on the legalization of marijuana and adolescent health. Joffe and Yancy report that:

1. Marijuana may reinforce dependence on other addictive drugs.
2. Impaired memory, judgement, coordination, and concentration are just a few of the adverse consequences associated with short- and long-term marijuana use.
3. Young adolescents would likely be most affected by changes in marijuana laws.
4. A 1% increase in marijuana use among adolescents would result in approximately 190,000 new users. 

A common argument by proponents of the decriminalization of marijuana is that marijuana, as compared to tobacco and alcohol, is a relatively harmless and "benign" drug. Yet as Joffe and Yancy point out, "That alcohol and tobacco cause far more harm in our society than marijuana is undeniable, but it does not follow logically that yet a third addictive psychoactive drug (marijuana) should be legalized." Looking at "lessons learned" from the tobacco industry, public health professionals would unanimously agree that millions of lives would have been saved by greater regulation and restricted distribution of tobacco products. 

In researching this topic I couldn't help but notice that marijuana use is associated with adolescents' risk factors for poor health including dating violence, lack of education/employment, greater depressive symptoms, and lower life satisfaction. While tobacco use and alcohol were also associated with the problems identified, this weakens the argument of the "benign" nature of marijuana use. Are the risks of marijuana decriminalization/legalization really worth it when considering the impact on future generations?

Monday, August 25, 2008

What is "public health?"

As a current student in the field of public health I was recently asked to define what public health means. It was a great question, and so I pose it as a point of reflection.  Surely, after 6 years of public health education and professional experience I am able to define my career field -- or can I?
My peers had some extremely profound and humorous responses to this question. My favorite was "It is when Uncle Sam passes up McDonalds and cigarettes for a salad and banana... and actually understands why." See Drea's post on for more about the BK pic above. Other perspectives on public health included promoting attainment of the highest level of health for all people, helping people enjoy a healthy and long life, and maximizing population well-being. 
My personal definition was quite broad. It sums up what public health means to me while taking into account how others have defined public health in the past: Public health is the science and art of increasing peoples' well-being and quality of life through promoting healthy lifestyles and increasing access to health services. Okay, so it took me a little more than the 60 seconds originally allotted to come up with that. Still, I think that is a pretty decent working definition.
I invite you to comment and share your own definitions of "public health" particularly as you explore your own health experience and that of those around you. 

Friday, August 1, 2008

About Veritas Health

The Veritas Health blog began as an experiment in new media and public health communication in the summer of 2008. Its goal is to inform, inspire, and communicate news and controversies in public health related to public policy, global health, nutrition and physical activity. 

You can follow Veritas Health on Twitter.

About the Author

Katelyn Mack is the founding and primary contributor Veritas Health. She recently completed her Master's degree at the Harvard School of Public Health in the Department of Society, Human Development, and Health. Her passion for improving population health by investigating social and economic influences on health and behavior is constantly increasing. She believes that translating the latest research for use in policy-making and public health practice is critical to improving the health of our nation and peoples around the world.
Aside from Veritas Health, Katelyn founded a community blog with several other HSPH students called Society and Health, which merged with the Harvard School of Public Health Connection, another HSPH student blog. She also has a food blog, TastyKate that chronicles her passion for delicious, healthy and affordable food.