States may be rushing to legalize marijuana, but common sense, good research, and the law may be lagging. New reports confirm what should be inarguable: Marijuana may have health harms when smoked, and it poses safety risks when used while driving.
With the new and considerable attention paid to cigarette smoking, it’s plain to see that, like tobacco, a key health worry with marijuana rests in its burning and inhalation.
It hasn’t been easy to study due to grass’ legal classifications and, therefore, the restrictions imposed on researchers. But medical scientists at the University of California San Francisco have started to find that dope smoke, direct and second-hand, demonstrates similar or even slightly greater detrimental health effects than tobacco smoke.
Their work relies for now on rat studies. It previously showed that just one minute of exposure to tobacco smoke made it tougher for the arteries of the animals to expand to allow for healthy blood flow, Kaiser Health News Service reported. This effect lasts for 30 minutes with tobacco smoke exposure but for 90 minutes with marijuana smoke. It’s worth noting, too, that researchers have found cumulative arterial damage from second-hand smoke that can lead to heart attacks, blood clots, and stroke.
The scientists caution that much more research is needed but that dope smokers should consider themselves warned. As Matthew Springer, a biologist and professor in the division of cardiology at the University of California-San Francisco, told Kaiser news service: “People think cannabis is fine because it’s ‘natural.’ I hear this a lot. I don’t know what it means. …People should think of this [research] not as an anti-THC conclusion,” he said, referencing the active ingredient in marijuana, “but an anti-smoke conclusion.”
The larger verdict’s also still out, Springer said, about cannabis as a possible cancer-causing agent.
So, while medical scientists conduct more pot investigations— with the substance’s increasing legalization and potentially becoming more easily available for study — it may pay for users to do so with care and moderation, of course. Despite its popularity among some expectant moms, pediatricians and other physicians still say pot use during pregnancy isn’t a great idea.
It’s also clear that states allowing greater marijuana use still are coming to grips on how to regulate dope and drivers. Car-crazy California, the world’s largest vehicle market and a top trend-setter about all matters driving, has legalized recreational pot use.
But lawmakers, law enforcement, motorists, courts, and lawyers in the Golden State still haven’t fixed on a solid “per se” standard so officers can determine if a driver is stoned and should be arrested, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Washington state set such a limit, deciding that motorists 21 and older cannot have 5 ng/ml of THC or more in their blood, while those younger than 21, may not drive with any amount of THC in their blood. The state also has outlined blood testing for those suspected of driving while stoned.
In California, select police have undergone specialized “drug recognition” training so they, theoretically, can spot pot-impaired drivers with cognitive and physical tests in the field to support a potential arrest and later testimony in court. But these officers aren’t always available for every traffic stop. And motorists and lawyers complain that California’s current approach leaves too much leeway for subjectivity and law enforcement opinions, rather than factual evidence that can stand up in court
In brief, neither side is happy with how marijuana’s getting handled with motorists, and there’s big room for someone to come up with a fast, reliable, road-side test akin to what exists for alcohol.
In my practice, I see not only the significant harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services but also the havoc that can be wreaked on their lives by car, truck, and motorcycle crashes, especially cases involving intoxication.
After a long and welcome span when they declined, vehicular deaths are rising again, and we need to put a fast halt to this. We all need to take steps to avoid injuring ourselves and others — and killing ourselves and others — by getting behind the wheel while distracted, drunk, or drowsy. (Stop texting and driving, please, especially because this dangerous practice may be even more prevalent than thought.) Authorities shouldn’t have been surprised that they would need to act on marijuana use and road safety.
Federal officials should get over themselves and, at minimum, assist bona fide researchers with tightly controlled but needed supplies of appropriate dope so the nation boosts its rigorous study of marijuana and its harms, including with second-hand smoke and as a carcinogen. Yes, this can be compatible with, frankly, blue-nosed views about dope and dope smokers.
If there are demonstrable harms to marijuana, as there are with cigarette smoking and alcohol, the nation can develop the right responses.