Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have laws legalizing some form of marijuana use, and recreational use of marijuana is legal in four states and D.C.
Does this growing trend to legalize marijuana mean we don’t need to worry about it? About one in 10 people who try marijuana will become addicted to it which means that they most likely will use it in increasing quantities, develop tolerance (less effect from it as time goes on), will have withdrawal symptoms if they try to stop, and will find that the marijuana use is causing them to neglect other important areas of their life like work, relationships and leisure activities.
Even occasional use of marijuana can have negative effects. hen someone has marijuana in his/her system, short term memory is impaired, reflexes are impaired and judgment is impaired. These impairments can last 24 hours or longer after the use of the marijuana so it is certainly not safe to drive after using marijuana. Most people will not be able to perform other demanding tasks (work-related activities, childcare) at the level they are accustomed to after using marijuana.
All the evidence that we now have indicates that marijuana is possibly permanently damaging to the developing adolescent brain. All children should be strongly discouraged from using it at all until they are at least 21 years of age. If marijuana is smoked there are also potential physical health risks, such as damage to the lungs or cardiovascular system.
For more information, see American Psychiatric Association’s Resource Document on Marijuana as Medicine.
By Andrew Saxon, MD
Professor and Director, Addiction Psychiatry Residency Program
University of Washington
Director, Center of Excellence in Substance Abuse Treatment and Education
VA Puget Sound Health Care System