White House press secretary Sean Spicer created a stir in February when he said the Trump Administration expects stricter enforcement of federal laws against marijuana use. This new tact is somewhat surprising, given the shifting public opinion in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana use in recent years. Seven states have legalized recreational use, and one 2015 study found marijuana use had more than doubled over the past decade. Certainly, we’ve come a long way from the hysteria of the 1930s cult-classic movie Reefer Madness in understanding marijuana. Many advocates claim it is less harmful than alcohol. Yet some recent studies have found that using the drug for recreational purposes could pose risks.
5. Smoking Pot Could Stunt Growth of Early Users
So, you’re a young teen boy and you’re thinking about smoking pot. What have you got to lose? About 5 inches in height, according to research presented in 2015 at the European Congress of Endocrinology in Dublin. Researchers followed a group of 217 marijuana smokers who started smoking during puberty. The study found that, when compared to a control group of non-smokers, the boys who’d used marijuana were on average 4.6 inches shorter and 9 pounds lighter than their counterparts. The researchers surmised the boys’ growth was stunted because marijuana suppressed growth hormone levels.
4. Pot May Hurt Brain Development in Teen Smokers
The human brain is a marvelously complex organ that continues maturing through a person’s teens and into their early 20s. Yet those who begin smoking pot during their teens may be at risk of hindering that development. A 2013 study by a University of Barcelona researcher reviewed 43 different studies looking at chronic marijuana use and the brain. Those studies found consistent examples of structural brain abnormalities and altered neural function in regular users. And the findings revealed that those changes begin soon after young users start smoking pot.
Another study followed 1,000 users over the course of 20 years, and found that regular marijuana use lowered IQ by about six points. Dr. Susan Weiss, an official with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), says that’s consistent with people who have lead poisoning. Weiss told the American Psychological Association that questions remain about marijuana’s effects, but “There’s a growing literature, and it’s all pointing in the same direction: Starting young and using frequently may disrupt brain development.”
3. Marijuana Use May Weaken Heart Muscle
Researchers announced in late 2016 they’d found that active marijuana users were almost two times more likely to have stress cardiomyopathy. The uncommon heart muscle condition can lead to chest pain, shortness of breath and other symptoms. The study’s co-author, Dr. Amitoj Singh of the St. Luke’s University Health Network, noted, “The effects of marijuana, especially on the cardiovascular system, are not well known yet. With its increasing availability and legalization in some states, people need to know that marijuana may be harmful to the heart and blood vessels in some people.”
2. Marijuana Users More Likely to Abuse Other Drugs
Opponents of legalizing marijuana often claim one of its dangers is that it is a “gateway drug”; users may start out smoking pot, but find themselves exposed to other illegal drugs. This is a very controversial topic, and studies on both sides of the issue have reached conflicting conclusions. While studies indicate that pot smokers are more likely to use other drugs, none have proved any causation; the National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that, “An alternative to the gateway-drug hypothesis is that people who are more vulnerable to drug-taking are simply more likely to start with readily available substances such as marijuana, tobacco, or alcohol, and their subsequent social interactions with others who use drugs increases their chances of trying other drugs.”
Yet such “gateway drug” studies continue to find a correlation between marijuana use and other drugs. A study published in February 2016 in the JAMA Psychiatry looked at more than 34,000 adults. In a follow up three years later, marijuana users were six times more likely than non-users to have developed drug- or alcohol-use disorders.
1. Pot Smokers Four Times More Likely to Have Heart Attack
While some studies looking at marijuana use monitor as few as a couple of dozen individuals, others are far more ambitious. Researchers from Case Western Reserve University announced in March 2017 that they had looked at the medical records of 210,000 cannabis users and compared them to 10 million non-users. Their finding: marijuana smokers in their late 20s were three times more likely than non-users to have a heart attack. Users in their early 30s were 4.6 times more likely to have a cardiac-related illness.