The stigma encompassing marijuana has been steadily declining with states legalizing it for both medical and recreational use. On March 31st, New York became the 15th state to legalize cannabis. There are currently 18 states in the U.S. that legalized recreational cannabis and the number of states are only expected to increase with time. As cannabis continues to grow in popularity, it’s important to understand the potentially harmful consequences that come along with the drug.
According to Fiona Clement, a health-policy researcher at the University of Calgary’s Cummings School of Medicine, multiple studies have shown associations between marijuana and possible adverse effects. These side effects include the risk of impaired driving, increased chance of stroke and testicular cancer, brain development changes that may affect learning and memory, and mental illnesses involving psychosis.
After the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, cases of acute injuries and various illnesses linked to cannabis use began to rise. Research shows that cannabis-related visits to hospitals in Colorado increased around 40%, from 824 per 100,000 visits to 1,146 per 100,000, in the years between 2012 and 2014. Many of those cases were related to mental illnesses, which were found to be diagnosed in individuals who use cannabis five times more than those who choose to abstain.
Mental illnesses were not the only concerning cases related to cannabis use that the Colorado hospitals had to handle. Unfortunately, cases of marijuana use leading to cyclic vomiting syndrome also increased, with some hospitals doubling in these diagnoses. There have also been several occurrences where children, under the age of 10, were accidentally poisoned by cannabis. These incidents of marijuana-related visits to the children’s hospital nearly doubled after the legalization of cannabis, suggesting that there are real risks even to individuals who are not consuming the drug.
The potential adverse outcomes have evidently not abated the popularity of cannabis. However, the age restriction for the use of marijuana should be strictly adhered to. Minors are prone to sustaining long-term damage as their brains are still in the process of developing. THC binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain, which play an important role in neurotransmitter release. These receptors should increase during adolescence, as they are vital for the genetic expression of neural (brain) development. Regular use of marijuana could significantly alter these neurodevelopmental systems, leading to poor cognitive and emotional outcomes in adulthood.
There are clear risks with cannabis use and it’s important to be transparent about these consequences. “Cannabis is not the root of all evil, nor is it the cure for all diseases,” Monte says. “You’ve got to understand what the good is and what the bad is, and then make a balanced decision.”