What are the Risks of Using Marijuana? - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

What are the Risks of Using Marijuana?

Increasingly states around the country have moved to legalize recreational marijuana. That legalization may lead some to believe marijuana is inherently safe as a result, but as with alcohol, that’s not necessarily the case. Legality doesn’t always equate to safety.

Illinois became one of the most recent states to legalize recreational marijuana, with a law that went into effect at the start of 2020. The law, signed by Governor JB Pritzker, also included criminal justice reform to expunge the records of hundreds of thousands of Illinois residents who’d been convicted of marijuana possession under past laws.

While the mainstream acceptance of marijuana is growing, if someone does choose to use it, they should always do so responsibly and with consideration of possible risks.

Marijuana is the most commonly used psychotropic drug in the U.S., only after alcohol.

In 2018, over 11.8 million young people said they’d used marijuana within the past year.

These risks can include the following:

Marijuana Influence When You’re Behind the Wheel

States that have legalized marijuana recreationally have struggled to figure out how to assess its use on the roadways. Driving under the influence remains one of the top reasons for car accidents and it can lead to swerving, weaving, recklessness, and even driving the wrong direction.

While it’s fairly simple to test someone and determine if they’ve been using alcohol when they’re behind the wheel, with a breath test, this option doesn’t exist for marijuana. Plus, THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana, can stay in the system of the user for weeks.

One in nine drivers involved in fatal accidents have tested positive for marijuana, and public health officials say that if the trend stays on track the way it is now, non-alcohol drugs will become the most common substance involved in impaired driving deaths.

Marijuana, much like alcohol and other substances, impairs your ability to operate a motor vehicle because it is a mind-altering substance.

When you use marijuana, your THC levels will usually peak in 30 minutes, but it can take hours for the effects of the drug to fully end.

Mental Health

Millions of people in the U.S. already struggle with mental health concerns, and using mind-altering substances like marijuana may make these problems worse.

Marijuana users are more likely than non-marijuana users to develop temporary psychosis. Symptoms of temporary psychosis include not being able to determine what’s real and what’s not, paranoia and hallucinations.

It’s possible that marijuana can also contribute to ongoing mental health disorders, including schizophrenia.

There are some links between marijuana use and depression and anxiety, particularly among teens.

When you use marijuana, the THC affects receptors in the brain called cannabinoid receptors. It then influences how those cells behave.

There was a study from New Zealand that researchers from Duke University participated in that showed people who smoked marijuana heavily beginning in their teens and had an ongoing marijuana use disorder had, on average, an IQ drop of eight points between the ages of 13 and 38.

The mental abilities that were seemingly lost didn’t come back in people who stopped using marijuana as adults.

Marijuana Can Be Addictive

Marijuana isn’t considered as addictive as some substances, but addiction is possible. Around 1 in 10 users will reportedly become addicted, according to the CDC. If you start using marijuana before the age of 18, that becomes 1 in 6.

Signs of marijuana addiction include giving up other activities or responsibilities to use marijuana instead, unsuccessfully trying to quit, or continuing to use marijuana even knowing the problems it can cause.

If you are addicted to marijuana, you may deal with adverse side effects like problems with learning and memory.

Lung Effects

Some people use marijuana in edible form, so there aren’t lung-related side effects, but if you smoke it, there are.

Even infrequently, smoking marijuana can cause more coughing and frequent acute chest infections. It can also raise your risk of developing lung infections.

Vaping marijuana has been linked to a string of severe illnesses and deaths in recent years. The FDA has warned people about serious lung illnesses linked to vaping.

Is Marijuana a Gateway Drug?

There has been a lot of back and forth among public officials and health professionals as to whether or not marijuana is a gateway drug. According to the NIH National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana use often comes before the use of other drugs.

There have been animal studies showing that exposure to substances like THC early on can change the brain’s response to other drugs. In rodent studies, when there’s exposure to THC at a young age, there is an enhanced response to other substances that are addictive like morphine, in the future.

Of course, the use of marijuana on its own may not be a gateway to other drugs. Other factors play a significant role in addiction such as biological factors and the environment.

Can You Overdose on Marijuana?

It’s rare to overdose on marijuana, but if you use large amounts, you may experience uncomfortable symptoms. For example, sometimes using large amounts of THC can induce a psychotic reaction or extreme anxiety.

Edibles, in particular, have been linked to these symptoms. This may be because it takes longer to feel the effects of edibles, and then while waiting for those effects someone might take more thinking they didn’t take enough.

Overall, even if you live in a state where recreational marijuana use is legal, it’s important to use your own judgment as to whether or not using it is right for you.

It’s essential to realize the risks, including the risks that come with using marijuana when you’re behind the wheel. That can be just as deadly as drinking and driving.

If you have teens, you should also talk to them about the potential adverse effects of using marijuana, particularly because the changing legal status can change the perception of it.

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