A recent study from the Columbia University School of Public Health found that while alcohol increased the risk of causing a fatal car crash five times, testing positive for pot increased it by 62 percent. Those drivers who had both pot and alcohol in their blood at the time of a fatal crash were six times more likely to have caused the accident.
Another area of concern is pregnancy. Many pregnant women suffer from morning sickness. But the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends against using marijuana while pregnant – no matter what.
And the Centers for Disease Control warns that “marijuana use during pregnancy can be harmful to your baby’s health.” Why? The CDC points to research showing low birth weight in infants, along with developmental and attention problems in children born to mothers who smoke pot regularly during pregnancy.
Unfortunately, pot smoking among pregnant women is on the rise and it is bound to rise even more. A study just released from Kaiser Permanente in California and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that 7 percent of pregnant women surveyed smoked pot, including almost 20 percent of those below the age of 24. The number of pregnant women using marijuana will only increase now that recreational marijuana is legal in California.
When it comes to adolescents and adults, long-term marijuana use has been associated with decreased school and job performance, memory loss, and psychiatric disorders including anxiety and depression.
With the increase in edible marijuana comes a dramatic increase in Emergency Room visits from overuse, especially among adolescents, who may be getting more THC than they realize. Symptoms include acute anxiety, rapid heart rate and paranoia.
When it comes to the heart, studies show that patients with known heart disease are more likely to have chest pain and that heart attacks are more likely to occur in the hour following smoking pot. Pot smoke is also known to cause wheezing and airway inflammation, though more studies on the long-term effects of regular marijuana smoking on both the heart and lungs need to be done.
Don’t get me wrong. I must emphasize that I am not intending to weigh in here on the politics and economics of legalization. In fact, I have never favored punishing users of any chemical substance and advocate instead for rehab programs and peer-to-peer assistance for substance abuse of all kinds.
But it’s important to note that there is evidence that marijuana is a gateway drug to other drugs, both licit and illicit, including nicotine. This evidence must concern us even as we try to gain control over the opioid epidemic.
Here’s the bottom line: Marijuana is a useful drug medically when it comes to treating chronic pa