As more states legalize medical and recreational marijuana, less attention is being paid to the harmful effects of this dangerous drug in homes across the nation. The latest evidence, authored by scientists from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, confirms what professionals in the substance abuse treatment field already know: marijuana is addictive, and frequent abuse results in significant health risks.
The Negative Effects of Smoking Marijuana
Marijuana is a plant with a psychoactive ingredient called THC. THC causes a number of psychological and physiological effects, slows the brain, and stimulates appetite. It also raises heart rate, and causes intense feelings of anxiety and paranoia. Although past studies were somewhat inconclusive as to the long term effects of the drug, current crops contain higher levels of THC — and cause increasingly serious side effects, especially when combined with alcohol.
Young users, whose brains have not fully developed, suffer setbacks in executive function capabilities such as decision making, memory, understanding risk, and impulsiveness. Even those who smoke marijuana occasionally suffer from cognitive setbacks for days after the obvious high has worn off, indicating that the effects of marijuana last for longer than most believe.
Alarmingly, teens who regularly abuse marijuana suffer permanently reduced IQs into adulthood — even if the user stopped smoking after reaching maturity. In addition, people who smoke marijuana are more likely to be involved in an auto accident. The number of DUI arrests reached a record high in Washington, according to the Christian Science Monitor. This risk rises even more if the person abusing marijuana has also been drinking alcohol.
New, Unstudied Risks
The researchers also noted that the rising potency of marijuana will likely worsen certain negative side effects, such as heart attack. Other problems — such as the risks associated with inhaling carcinogens present in secondhand smoke and the issues that legalizing the drug will have on public health policy — have yet to be studied.
As the trend towards legalization grows, more people will smoke marijuana — and more will likely suffer the negative health effects of this strong and dangerous drug.