By: Lamar Greene
Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized the drug for recreational use, meaning that approximately one in five Americans now live in a state where it is legal to use marijuana without a doctor’s note. These eight states and one district are mostly concentrated in New England and the western region of the United States. Each state has its own list of laws and restrictions for how the drug can legally be used. In California, for example, one must be 21 years of age to engage in recreational marijuana use and one cannot smoke publicly. Many experts argue that the success from legalizing medical marijuana has helped in paving the way for the legalization of recreational marijuana in those eight states and the District of Columbia. With the growing interest in legalizing recreational marijuana, the industry is projected to reach $20.2 billion in sales by 2021.
The health impacts of recreational marijuana use should be considered in the short-term and the long-term, as they may help us to paint a full picture. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical responsible for the “high,” quickly passes from the lungs to the bloodstream when a person smokes marijuana. The process of THC passing to the bloodstream is much slower if a person consumes the drug through food or drink. THC causes the “high” by over activating some parts of the brain that contain the most receptors. This can lead to effects such as altered senses, altered sense of time, changes in mood, and impaired body movement. When the drug is consumed in large doses, the short-term effects can include hallucinations, delusions, and psychosis.
Smoking marijuana has also noted to irritate the lungs and can potentially lead to breathing problems such as cough, excess mucus, bronchitis, and other respiratory problems. The same issues have typically not been associated with the consumption of marijuana via food and drink. Furthermore, there are no records of teenagers or adults dying from the use of marijuana alone. In death reports where marijuana was involved the drug has always been listed as the secondary cause of death. Just as with medical marijuana, however, there needs to be more research conducted before medical science can make strong claims about the health impacts of recreational marijuana use.
Another interesting perspective to understanding the debate surrounding the legalization of recreational marijuana is the comparison of marijuana’s effects to those of alcohol, which is presently sold legally in the U.S. to persons over the age of 21. A study from 2015 found that mortality risk associated with marijuana was 114 times less than that of alcohol. This staggering statistic suggests that scientists should further investigate the health effects of all the drugs that are being heavily consumed in this country, whether they are legal or not. Marijuana has been used to solve a plethora of health problems throughout human history, but there are also risks associated with the drug in the short and long term. Overall, there is so much we do not know and some questions that we have not even asked yet.
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- Substance Abuse Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables. SAMHSA. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-DetTabs-2015/NSDUH-DetTabs-2015/NSDUH-DetTabs-2015.pdf. Published September 8, 2016.