Daily Dispatches
Employees help customers at the crowded sales counter inside Medicine Man, a legal recreational marijuana retail outlet in Denver.
Associated Press/Photo by Brennan Linsley
Employees help customers at the crowded sales counter inside Medicine Man, a legal recreational marijuana retail outlet in Denver.

The dangers of a Rocky Mountain high

Health

The serious health risks of marijuana get little publicity these days amidst the euphoria of those who championed the legalization of recreational use now in effect in Colorado and soon in Washington. Although a Rocky Mountain high is now legal, government regulators insist that doesn’t make it wise. Because marijuana use has only been prevalent since the late 1970s, doctors are just beginning to understand the long-term hazards.

Research demonstrates links between marijuana use and a wide variety of health hazards, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. They include:

Impaired learning and memory. Not only does marijuana use cause immediate impairment in cognitive skills but if started during adolescence, it can have a long-term, negative effect on brain structure and development. In one study, adults who began using marijuana in their teens had as much as an 8-point drop in IQ between the ages of 13 and 38. Even worse, quitting marijuana did not reverse the lower IQ scores. Marijuana’s negative effects on learning, attention, and memory can last up to several weeks after use, rendering frequent users constantly cognitively impaired.

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Cardiac effects. Marijuana causes a 20 to 100 percent increase in heart rate. It can also produce irregular heartbeats and heart palpitations. Effects on the heart can last for 3 hours. One study indicated that marijuana users are nearly five times more likely to have a heart attack in the first hour after use.

Increased risk of cancer. Smoking marijuana may increase the risk of lung cancer. Marijuana smoke contains 70 percent more carcinogens than tobacco smoke and induces high levels of an enzyme which can accelerate the production of malignant cells. Some studies have found a link between marijuana use and the risk of an aggressive form of testicular cancer in young men.

Psychosis. Numerous studies indicate that high doses of marijuana can cause hallucinations and paranoia. It can actually trigger the onset of schizophrenia for some vulnerable adults and worsen symptoms for those who already suffer from the illness. Research has found links between marijuana use and the development of mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, personality disturbance, and lack of motivation. In adolescents, marijuana use may be associated with suicidal thoughts.

Addiction. Nine percent of all marijuana users become addicted. For those who use daily, the number jumps as high as 50 percent. Withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, irritability, insomnia, decreased appetite, and drug craving.

Aggressiveness. In psychological tests, marijuana users show aggression which peaks approximately an entire week after use.

Birth defects. Even low concentrations of THC, the main mind-altering chemical present in marijuana, during pregnancy may seriously impair an unborn child’s brain development, causing long-term difficulty with attention, memory, problem-solving skills, and emotional responses.

Impaired driving. Marijuana use impairs judgment and motor coordination and doubles the risk of a driving accident. Nearly 7 percent of drivers involved in car accidents tested positive for THC in a recent survey.

Decreased job performance. Marijuana use negatively impacts job performance. One research study found that postal workers who tested positive for marijuana on a pre-employment screen had 55 percent more industrial accidents, 85 percent more injuries, and were 75 percent more likely to skip work, compared to those who tested negative.

Quick intoxication. It can take only one hit of potent marijuana to alter thinking and mood. This is a significant factor for Christians, since the Bible is clear in its prohibition of drunkenness. 

Julie Borg
Julie Borg

Julie is a clinical psychologist and writer who lives in Dayton, Ohio.

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