A few days ago, Federal health officials announced a national warning about the use of marijuana by teens and by pregnant women. With growing legalization of marijuana by the States for both recreational and medical use, many people have lost sight of the fact that despite benefits for some, marijuana also carries health risks for others. Many people believe that if something is legal it also is safe, despite warnings from the American Medical Association (AMA). The AMA has been recommending that teens, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers not use marijuana.
Legalization in many states has enabled marijuana production to grow into a $10-billion industry. Further, this marijuana is not what it was in the 60s. The Surgeon General said that the drug has become stronger “with a three-fold increase in the concentration of the active ingredient THC in cultivated plants over the last 20 years. Scientific research has shown that marijuana is harmful to the developing brains of teens and to the human fetus.”
This latest warning said that marijuana, or cannabis, is the most commonly used illicit drug in the U.S. Further, the potentially harmful effects of marijuana include memory and motor impairments. The newer, more potent strains pose other risks, as well. These include anxiety, agitation, paranoia and psychosis.
In teens, one study discovered that the brains of teens are more vulnerable to the effects of marijuana than those of alcohol. A study from the University of Pennsylvania learned that teens who used marijuana frequently were more likely than nonusers to have slightly lower scores on tests of memory, learning new information, and higher-level problem solving and information processing. The three substances most popular among teens are marijuana, alcohol and e-cigarettes.
Pregnant women are using marijuana in increasing numbers (since legalization) recreationally. Some are following “advice” offered on social media sites that smoking marijuana will alleviate morning sickness. The danger, according to preliminary research, is that THC can cross the placenta and reach the fetus. This could be harmful to brain development, cognition and birth weight. There is a paucity of research on the effects of marijuana upon a fetus and a newborn.
Nursing mothers often believe that once their baby is born, marijuana use is safe. However, some research by the American Academy of Pediatrics tested breast milk and found trace amounts of the drug. This would, of course, be passed to the baby when nursing.
Whether consumed in food, smoked or vaped, marijuana use carries a number of health risks for individuals. Clearly, a number of studies are suggested to determine the nature of all risks of use of the drug. As more states legalize marijuana for recreational and medicinal use, there will be opportunities for teens to procure the drug and for pregnant women and nursing mothers to pass some elements of the drug to their children.
The very nature of marijuana use, and its effects, as well as the likelihood that teens will gain access to the drug regardless of age restrictions is concerning. Effects of the drug upon unborn children and infants, as yet only partially understood, may become an issue in the development of those children. Will these issues eventually be resolved in the courts? Only time will tell.
Altizer Law, P.C., is a personal injury and medical malpractice attorney based in Roanoke, VA. Bettina Altizer and her team have been helping people hurt or harmed by the negligence or wrongdoing of others for more than 30 years. Their unique combination of compassion and aggressive representation of clients has made them one of the most trusted law firms in the region.