Commentary: Recreational marijuana has harmful effects

By Butch Dunn

For years I have hounded my representatives about the lack of full and comprehensive medical research on the long term effects of recreational marijuana. (Medical marijuana is not part of this discussion!)

It only falls on deaf ears though as they merely see revenue generation for the state of Delaware. With all due respect, it really makes one wonder what kind of parent they are. Unlike tobacco and alcohol, marijuana is a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 so there has been very little research done, especially long-term effects.

But after reading Mr. Abraham’s Letter to the Editor: “AAA misguided on marijuana’ on Feb. 14, here is what I found with only one hour on the Internet. You may call this cherry picking, I call it brevity. I know and believe that you, dear reader, are quite capable of doing your own research.

Problems with recreational marijuana in Colorado:

The biggest problem in rural Colorado is that it has attracted drifters and squatters from other states.

A doctor from Pueblo County who recalled a substantial increase in women giving birth whose newborn babies test positive for marijuana, threatening the babies with permanent brain development problems.

There has been a 70 percent increase in teenagers visiting the emergency room testing positive for marijuana in Colorado.

Colorado hospitals have also seen a growing number of cases of marijuana use leading to cyclic vomiting syndrome, a condition characterized by vomiting and severe abdominal pain. Occurrences of this condition doubled at two Denver hospitals after the liberalization of medical cannabis.

The following would give any parent pause, or at least it should:

Cannabis is also causing more of other types of accidents than it used to. From 2009 to 2015, Children’s Hospital of Colorado in Aurora saw 81 children under 10 years of age who had been accidentally poisoned by cannabis, and the state’s poison-control center dealt with 163 cases of children in the same age group, with a mean age of about 2.

The rate of marijuana-related visits to the children’s hospital nearly doubled from 1.2 per 100,000 people two years before legalization to 2.3 per 100,000 two years after legalization. The number of cases at the poison-control center increased by 34% per year during the study period, far outpacing a 19% annual increase in the rest of the country.

Between 2012 and 2014, cannabis-related visits to emergency departments at a group of Colorado hospitals increased by around 40%, from 824 per 100,000 visits to 1,146 per 100,000. Many of those visits were related to mental illnesses, which were diagnosed five times more frequently in people who had used cannabis than in those who hadn’t.

And these should give any rational adult pause:

For one, the report finds “substantial evidence” of marijuana’s negative effects for a few conditions. For long-term marijuana smokers, there’s a risk of worse respiratory symptoms and more frequent chronic bronchitis episodes. For pregnant women who smoke pot, there’s a risk of lower birth weight for the baby. For marijuana users in general, there’s a greater risk of developing schizophrenia and other psychoses. And there’s a link between marijuana use and increased risk of car crashes.

The report also found “limited evidence” of links between marijuana use and several other negative outcomes, including an increased risk of testicular cancer, triggering a heart attack, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and pregnancy complications. And it found “moderate” to “limited” evidence that marijuana use might worsen symptoms or risk for some mental health issues, including depressive disorders, bipolar disorder, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts among heavier users, and anxiety disorders, particularly social anxiety disorder among regular users.

Besides medical conditions, the report found evidence for some psychosocial problems. There’s “moderate evidence” that acute marijuana use impairs learning, memory, and attention. There’s “limited evidence” of marijuana use and worse outcomes in education, employment, income, and social functioning.

One final note, it’s illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana, but there is no definitive roadside test for impairment — no breathalyzer as for alcohol, so an arrest is often a law enforcement’s judgment call. If I had to listen to someone about the dangers of driving under the influence, it would be the AAA, not Mr. Abraham.

Butch Dunn is a resident of Newark.