Marijuana Laws Are Changing, But Does That Mean It’s Safe?

Don’t let marijuana’s new “health halo” mislead you—or someone you love. Research says that using cannabis-based drugs or smoking the leaves and flowers of this plant can relieve symptoms such as some types of chronic pain, nausea from chemotherapy, and multiple sclerosis–related sleep problems. But as more states pass laws legalizing marijuana for medicinal, and sometimes recreational, use, it’s important to understand the serious downsides.

Here’s what recent research reveals about pot’s health and safety risks:  

Yes, you can get addicted.

About 9 percent of people who experiment with marijuana become addicted, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Risk rises up to 50 percent for daily users. Especially troubling: One in six teens who tries pot will become hooked, the NIH warns. Currently, about 25 percent of high school sophomores and 36 percent of high school seniors say they’ve tried it in the past year—and the percent who view marijuana as risky is at the lowest point ever recorded, according to a 2016 national drug-use survey from the University of Michigan.

Driving high can be deadly.

Getting high interferes with skills you need for safe driving. It slows your reaction time and decision-making ability and affects coordination and problem-solving. That could cost you your life. A recent study from the American Automobile Association’s Foundation for Traffic Safety found that after Washington state legalized pot in December 2012, the percentage of drivers involved in fatal car crashes who had smoked marijuana hours before the crash increased from an estimated 8.5 percent before the law change to 17 percent by 2014. Higher blood levels of THC were linked with higher risk for death.

Pot threatens your lungs, heart, and brain.

Toxic chemicals in marijuana smoke irritate delicate lung tissue, boosting your risk for bronchitis and a chronic cough. Marijuana also damages blood vessels and raises your heart rate and blood pressure, increasing odds for heart disease and stroke. In addition, regular users can have trouble concentrating and remembering things. For the still-developing teen brain, this could lead to permanent memory and learning problems. In one recent New Zealand study, people who began smoking in their teens and continued regularly through their late 30s had at least a 6-point drop in IQ.

It causes problems for babies.

About one in 25 American women says she’s used marijuana while pregnant. Whether you smoke it or munch it (such as in brownies or cookies), pot increases your growing baby’s risk for developmental problems after birth.

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