Marijuana is a substance that receives a lot of press, both positive and negative. Sometimes it is hard to sift true scientific fact out of the anti-drug rhetoric that exists. Cannabis is not 100% safe, nor is any other substance in the world. Any and every medication can be abused or misused in ways that make it dangerous. That said, cannabis has not been directly responsible for any deaths in modern times Yet, there are some times when cannabis should be avoided in order to prevent any potential problems.
There is very limited research related to the use of cannabis during pregnancy. Much of the research that has attempted to see the effects of marijuana being consumed during pregnancy is tainted by the fact that many of the mothers in the studies also smoked tobacco.
In theory, cannabis can be very helpful with many symptoms associated with pregnancy ranging from morning sickness to anxiety, but not much is known on how marijuana can affect an unborn fetus. It has been concluded that THC can cross the placenta and enter the blood stream of the fetus, though the exact effects of THC on the fetus have not yet been determined.
A 2014 study, however, did find that twice as many babies with anencephaly were born to mothers who admitted to smoking marijuana during their pregnancy. Anencephaly is a brain malformation that is caused by a neural tube defect during the development of the fetus, but the condition is still extremely rare leaving no definite statistical link between increased cases and marijuana. A 2011 study of 25,000 women in Australia found that babies born to mothers who smoked marijuana were also twice as likely to end up in the NICU. Babies born to mothers who smoked cannabis were also 77% more likely to be underweight.
RELATED: CANNABIS AND PREGNANCY DEBATE Some studies have also linked later in life problems like lower memory test scores, increased hyperactivity, and different cognitive functioning to children who’s mothers smoked marijuana when they were pregnant. Overall, however, medical practitioners generally agree that marijuana does not cause birth defects, though there is significant room for continued studies on the effects that cannabis has on a developing fetus.
Adolescents are believed to be particularly susceptible to long lasting effects from cannabis consumption. It is hard to isolate marijuana in many studies related to adolescents because many involve a plethora of other potential risk factors that could lead to issues such as poor school performance, higher dropout rates, and greater chance of unemployment that are commonly linked to cannabis consumption.
The frontal cortex is still developing in adolescents and as a result it is more susceptible to drug usage. A review of 43 studies of young adults who reported chronic marijuana use found that there were structural brain abnormalities and altered neural activity associated with chronic marijuana usage.
Earlier onset of marijuana consumption is also associated with a average higher level of consumption later in life. All of the research related to underaged consumption, however, is far from unanimous. Some studies, which have tested the same factors as other studies, have found no problems occurring on the adolescent brain from cannabis usage. Most studies, also, focus on heavy users as opposed to occasional users.
A study from Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in association with Harvard Medical School, found that there was a five times increased risk of heart attack for the first hour after smoking marijuana. In the second hour, there was just under a two times increase in heart attack risk, which dropped down to a normal heart attack risk two full hours after smoking marijuana. This, however, only provided an average risk increase since younger users tended to have a much lower risk increase.
A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association reported a general increased risk of heart attacks, rhythm disorders, and stroke related to marijuana consumption. There is extremely mixed information on the issue of heart conditions related to marijuana use depending on where the studies have been conducted.
Previously one of the most prominent dangers associated with cannabis was the possibility for the use of marijuana to lead to the use of harder drugs. A study from Texas A+M and the University of Florida analyzed years of data from Monitoring the future and found that the vast majority of teens try alcohol before marijuana or any other drug. Most teens used alcohol or tobacco before they used cannabis, 54% tried alcohol first, 32% tried tobacco first, and only 14% used marijuana first. If any substance should be considered a gateway drug, it is alcohol rather than cannabis.
The gateway theory has been discredited, along with widespread dangers that were once thought to be associated with cannabis. US Attorney General Loretta Lynch denied the gateway theory and even said that marijuana use in the United States was not a major issue, especially compared to much bigger drug problems in the country like the opioid epidemic. The National Institute of Drug Abuse also clearly stated that “the majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use ‘harder substances’”.
Though there are a select few times when it may be best to avoid marijuana, like during pregnancy or recreational use during adolescence, cannabis overall is a very safe substance to use, especially when used responsibly and has far fewer side effects than commonly prescribed pharmaceuticals.