Marijuana Problems Surfacing Since Massachusetts Legalization

Marijuana Problems Surfacing Since Massachusetts Legalization

© David Burton 2019


     Massachusetts voters legalized marijuana for recreational use in 2016. Over the past three years, since the legalization of recreational pot use in the State, some concerns over its use, here in Massachusetts and elsewhere, have come to light.

     “Marijuana was the most prevalent drug found in drivers involved in fatal Massachusetts crashes from 2013 to 2017, according to the Baker administration, which launched an impaired-driving campaign Wednesday targeted at young men. [Emphasis mine]
     “ ‘People may think they can drive safely using cannabis, alcohol or other drugs,’ said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, ‘but the research just doesn’t support it.’
     “Cannabis was found in 175 — 31% — of the 572 drivers involved in fatal crashes from 2013 to 2017, according to the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.  . . .
      - - -
     “AAA has been warning of the dangers of driving under the influence of cannabis since Massachusetts voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2016.
     “AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety research shows that THC, the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects, disrupts key parts of the brain that influence the perception of time, concentration, movement, memory and coordination — all of which are vital to safe driving. Driving within an hour after consuming marijuana at least doubles a driver’s risk of causing a crash, [Emphasis mine] AAA researchers found. “(Ref. 1)

     “The Ulster County {in New York State} Substance Abuse Prevention Board, along with the New York State Police Chiefs Association, the New York State Health Directors Association, New York State United Teachers and other coalitions are against legalization of marijuana for adult recreational use. Gov. Cuomo’s own Department of Health report, which ironically concludes with a recommendation to legalize, includes the following statements:

  • ’ There is an association between marijuana use and impairment in the cognitive domains of learning, memory, and attention.”
    Page 6
  • ’ Experts stated there are concerns about the effects of marijuana use on the developing brain.”
    Page 9
  • ’ Adolescents who use marijuana regularly have an increased risk of developing psychosis.”
    Page 7
  • ’ Estimates range from 8.9 percent to 30 percent of the population who uses marijuana will develop some form of dependence.”
    Page 10
  • ’ For individuals who are susceptible to psychosis, regular use of marijuana lowers the age of onset of psychiatric disorders.”
    Page 7
  • ’ There is research that demonstrates an association between maternal marijuana smoking and lower birth weight of newborns.”
    Page 7
     In addition, the following recent facts have come to light:
  • Youth use of marijuana jumped significantly after legalization in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon.
  • Pot shops are clustered in low-income and minority communities in legalized states.
  • Colorado has seen marijuana-related traffic deaths rise by nearly 50 percent.
     “Some think that legal pot won’t have consequences. Some believe that the problems seen in other states won’t happen here. They’re wrong. Young people will be harmed.” (Ref. 2)

     Despite all the claims that pot smoking is harmless, evidence continues to show that such is not the case. On-premise consumption of marijuana increases the risk of marijuana-impaired driving by shifting more pot use to public locations. Patrons of these establishments are likely to drive home when levels of THC - the most important intoxicating chemical in cannabis — are highest. (Although THC can last in the blood for days, levels are generally highest from 30 minutes to two hours after smoking.) Multiple studies have found that marijuana use approximately doubles the risk of car crashes and increases the risk of alcohol-related crashes among those who have also been drinking.[3]

     Studies are showing that risks of Marijuana consumption extend beyond road safety. “Marijuana is one of the most popular drugs on the market today. While it may have the impression of being a harmless, fun substance, it is still a drug that changes what goes on in the mind, sometimes with significant consequences. The long-term effects on the brain and body make marijuana a dangerous drug to a lot of people, leading to negative outcomes that don’t show until years later.
     “To understand what marijuana does to a user in the long run, it’s necessary to look at how the drug works in the brain. Marijuana is as effective as it is because its active chemical compound (tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC) mimics substances called endocannabinoids that the human body produces on its own. In the brain, endocannabinoids work by controlling the production of neurotransmitters (chemical substances that facilitate communication between the brain and the central nervous system). In the rest of the body, endocannabinoids relax muscles, reduce inflammation, protect damaged tissue, and regulate appetite and metabolism, among many other functions.
     “Because endocannabinoids are so important, the brain has readymade receptors for them. Since the THC in cannabis mimics natural endocannabinoids, marijuana is unique among other drugs in that regard. The same physiological effects that arise from the normal application of endocannabinoids are triggered with the use of marijuana, especially in the brain. This is why smokers experience memory issues, augmented levels of pain, and alterations to emotion, pleasure, and movement control.
     “The memory issues come from the way marijuana hits the hippocampus, the region of the brain that regulates short-term memory. The effect of cannabis temporarily prevents the brain from developing new memories and learning new things, which is a form of short-term memory.
     “Researchers who published their findings in the Molecular Psychiatry journal discovered that heavy cannabis users are at risk for developing false memories, [Emphasis mine] even if those users had gone without smoking pot for over a month.
     “Such a finding is one of a number that suggests people who were regular marijuana smokers in their teenage years are more likely to have memory problems as adults.   . . .
     “Another study published in JAMA Internal Medicine noted much the same thing, with researchers surprised that there was ‘such a consistent association with verbal memory for chronic exposure to marijuana,’ even when other factors (like cigarettes and alcohol) were accounted for. As past years of marijuana use went up, verbal memory scores went down;  . . .
     “There is much more research that suggests people who regularly smoke marijuana (on a daily basis) for a number of years struggle with cognitive tasks more than those who either do not smoke cannabis or who do so infrequently and/or for shorter periods of time.   . . .
     “Aside from memory, other research has looked at the long-term effects of marijuana on dopamine. Production of the neurotransmitter that regulates the pleasure and reward centers of the brain can be compromised if the marijuana use is heavy, according to an article in Molecular Psychiatry found. People who smoked a lot of marijuana tested positive for lower dopamine release in the region of the brain that also controls attention and impulsive behavior. Participants in this study tended to start smoking pot around the age of 16 and became dependent on the substance by 20. {Despite claims to the contrary, it seems that Marijuana is addictive.} . . .
     “A former president of the American Psychiatric Association commented on the study, saying that there is a growing body of evidence that shows that youth use of cannabis develops into problems in adulthood.
      - - -
     “. . . Research from the Journal of the American Heart Association suggests that regular marijuana use can not only contribute to the possibility of a heart attack, but also to heart rhythm disorders and stroke, even in young people who have no other risk factors for heart disease.
     “The point is echoed by the American College of Cardiology, which notes that marijuana causes irregular heart rates and increases the risk of an acute coronary syndrome, which refers to any number of conditions that can be brought on by the sudden interruption of the blood flow to the heart. As a result of this, users who are susceptible to conditions of the heart are taking a serious risk when they smoke marijuana. ‘Marijuana’s use,’ writes the American College of Cardiology, 'may be associated with increased mortality in patients with a history of myocardial infarctions (heart attacks).'
     “One of the more distressing risks of long-term effects of marijuana consumption is found in women who are pregnant. Health Canada explains that smoking pot during pregnancy ‘has been associated with long-lasting harm to the exposed child’s memory.’ In addition to potential damage done in utero, cannabis toxins are also carried in breast milk and can be passed to the infant during breastfeeding. The U.S. government’s National Institute of Child Health and Development also advises against the consumption of recreational drugs before pregnancy and during breastfeeding.
      - - -
     “The risk of addiction . . . is only for one in 10 users; however, for people who start their cannabis use in adolescence, the rate increases to one in six. Withdrawal is also a real problem [Emphasis mine]. . .” (Ref. 4)

     Adolescent use of marijuana is a significant and growing concern. “Marijuana use in adolescence is associated with altered brain development, a decline in cognitive function and poor academic performance. Adolescents who use marijuana perform worse on tests of problem solving, with problems also in areas of attention, memory and learning. After 28 days’ abstinence from marijuana use, there was still diminished performance in areas of complex attention, verbal memory and planning in some studies.8 It is also thought that cannabis use in susceptible adolescents and young adults may lead to schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders.” (Ref. 5)

     One of the first states to legalize marijuana was the state of Colorado. Cannabis for medical use was approved in Colorado in 2001 and it legally went on sale for recreational use in 2014. Now, in 2019, studies are revealing some unwanted consequences of marijuana use. “Hospital visits related to cannabis drastically increased after Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, a new study shows.
     “University of Colorado School of Medicine researchers reviewed health records of 9,973 patients at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital from 2012 to 2016, and found a more than three-fold increase in cannabis-associated emergency department visits, [Emphasis mine] according to a study published in the peer-reviewed journal Annals of Internal Medicine. The state legalized cannabis completely in 2012 and allowed sales in 2014.
     “Some patients reported eating edibles (about 10.7 percent of cannabis-attributable visits), but a majority of cases were related to inhaled marijuana, according to the study . . .
     “Symptoms included: Uncontrollable vomiting, acute psychosis, intoxication and heart problems.
      - - -
     “Car crashes rose 6 percent from 2012 to 2017 in four states that legalized marijuana during that period – Nevada, Colorado, Washington and Oregon – a greater rate than in four comparable states that didn't, the Highway Loss Data Institute found. [Emphasis mine]
     “Some doctors have also warned of a link between marijuana and psychosis.” (Ref. 6)

     Now, new concerns have arisen about the use of marijuana, particularly with regard to THC, the ingredient in marijuana that gives people their high.

     “Millions of people now inhale marijuana not from joints or pipes filled with burning leaves but through sleek devices and cartridges filled with flavored cannabis oils. People in the legalized marijuana industry say vaping products now account for 30 percent or more of their business. Teenagers, millennials and baby boomers alike have been drawn to the technology — no ash, a faint smell, easy to hide — and the potentially dangerous consequences are only now becoming evident.
     “Most of the patients in the outbreak of severe lung illnesses linked to vaping — which has left 1,479 people sick and 33 dead so far {as of October 2019} — vaped THC, the ingredient in marijuana that makes people high.” [Emphasis mine] (Ref. 7)

     Think marijuana is completely harmless? THINK AGAIN!
  1. State: Pot most prevalent drug in fatal crashes, Marie Szaniszlo, Boston Herald, Page 12,
    15 August 2019.
  2. Letter: Whoa there on legal marijuana, says UC Substance Abuse Council,, 21 July 2019.
  3. Why marijuana policies in Massachusetts aren’t strict enough, Timothy Naimi, Boston Globe, 20 June 2018.
  4. Dangers of Marijuana: Long-Term Effects of Pot on the Brain and Body,
    Edited by Marisa Crane, American Addiction Centers, Updated 8 July 2019.
  5. Facts About Marijuana Use and Abuse, Patrick Condron,, Accessed 16 August 2019.
  6. Pot is sending more people to the hospital in Colorado with extreme vomiting, psychosis,
    Ashley May, USA Today, 27 March 2019.
  7. Marijuana and Vaping: Shadowy Past, Dangerous Present, Matt Richtel, The New York Times, 21 October 2019.
  8 November 2019 {Article 385; Suggestions?_33    
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