NIDA official acknowledges that there is ‘no evidence’ of cannabis harm with casual adult consumption

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

The head of the nation’s leading federal drug research agency, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), claims that she has not yet observed any proof that occasional adult cannabis consumption is detrimental to health. 

Director of the NIDA, Nora Volkow, made the comment during a recent interview with FiveThirtyEight reporters. 

“There’s no evidence to my knowledge that occasional [adult] cannabis use has harmful effects. I don’t know of any scientific evidence of that,” Volkow said. “I don’t think it has been evaluated. We need to test it.”

Considering the fact that the NIDA has maintained a prohibitionist stance to the plant’s use for all of the agency’s history, Volkow’s comments come as quite a surprise to members of the cannabis community.

Cannabis may reduce risk of harm and lower a person’s body mass index (BMI)

Although cannabis is renowned for affecting a person’s thinking, control and physical coordination (in more ways than one,) there is currently not enough evidence to suggest that the natural substance can cause harm to adult consumers.

Aside from the harm reduction quote by Volkow, the NIDA director also said that she was surprised to discover that research demonstrates a lower body mass index (BMI) among those who use the plant; in whatever form that might be.

“BMI is lower in cannabis users and that was very surprising. Yet we know that high BMI, particularly the older you get, can have negative effects,” she said. “This is why we need to study it.”

Regardless of her comments, it is important to note that Volkow has not explicitly declared her support for commercialization of the herb. On the other hand, cannabis reform advocates are happy to learn that a federal health official is recognizing the science.

NIDA director discusses youth cannabis use, stigma, decriminalization and research

Not only has the NIDA director talked to reporters about the fact that scientific research has yet to provide solid proof of the cannabis plant’s potential to cause harm in adult consumers but also, she said that she is “absolutely” concerned about youth consumption.

In particular, Volkow emphasized how potent THC-containing products “can have harmful effects even on the adult brain.” Back in August, when she was participating in a podcast interview, the federal official expressed her surprise at learning that legalization did not contribute to a spike in adult consumption. 

On a separate note, Volkow spotlighted how “stigma remains one of the biggest obstacles to confronting America’s current drug crisis” and the federal government is largely responsible for prolonging the cannabis plant’s stigma in particular.

“Government policies, including criminal justice measures, often reflect – and contribute to stigma. When we penalize people who use drugs because of an addiction, we suggest that their use is a character flaw rather than a medical condition,” she explained, adding that, “when we incarcerate addicted individuals, we decrease their access to treatment and exacerbate the personal and societal consequences of their substance use.”

An earlier conversation with Marijuana Moment reporters saw Volkow discuss the prospective benefits of decriminalization in regards to reducing instances of drug-related incarceration. Plus, she believes that scientists should be given the green light to experiment on products acquired from state-legal dispensaries, as opposed to only using plants that have been sourced from the government.