Marijuana Laws Are Changing, But Does That Mean It’s Safe?
Don’t let marijuana’s new “health halo” mislead you—or someone you love. Research
says that using cannabis-based drugs or smoking the leaves and flowers of this plant
can relieve symptoms such as some types of chronic pain, nausea from chemotherapy,
and multiple sclerosis–related sleep problems. But as more states pass laws legalizing
marijuana for medicinal, and sometimes recreational, use, it’s important to understand
the serious downsides.
Here’s what recent research reveals about pot’s health and safety risks:
Yes, you can get addicted.
About 9 percent of people who experiment with marijuana become addicted, according
to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Risk rises up to 50 percent for daily
users. Especially troubling: One in six teens who tries pot will become hooked, the
NIH warns. Currently, about 25 percent of high school sophomores and 36 percent of
high school seniors say they’ve tried it in the past year—and the percent who view
marijuana as risky is at the lowest point ever recorded, according to a 2016 national
drug-use survey from the University of Michigan.
Driving high can be deadly.
Getting high interferes with skills you need for safe driving. It slows your reaction
time and decision-making ability and affects coordination and problem-solving. That
could cost you your life. A recent study from the American Automobile Association’s
Foundation for Traffic Safety found that after Washington state legalized pot in December
2012, the percentage of drivers involved in fatal car crashes who had smoked marijuana
hours before the crash increased from an estimated 8.5 percent before the law change
to 17 percent by 2014. Higher blood levels of THC were linked with higher risk for
Pot threatens your lungs, heart, and brain.
Toxic chemicals in marijuana smoke irritate delicate lung tissue, boosting your risk
for bronchitis and a chronic cough. Marijuana also damages blood vessels and raises
your heart rate and blood pressure, increasing odds for heart disease and stroke.
In addition, regular users can have trouble concentrating and remembering things.
For the still-developing teen brain, this could lead to permanent memory and learning
problems. In one recent New Zealand study, people who began smoking in their teens
and continued regularly through their late 30s had at least a 6-point drop in IQ.
It causes problems for babies.
About one in 25 American women says she’s used marijuana while pregnant. Whether you
smoke it or munch it (such as in brownies or cookies), pot increases your growing
baby’s risk for developmental problems after birth.