Over the years, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has consistently accentuated the negative when it comes to marijuana -- and its new report, "Monitoring Health Concerns Related to Marijuana in Colorado: 2014," is no exception to this rule. The document, included below in its entirety, maintains that cannabis use shortly before driving doubles the risk of a crash -- and there are plenty of other problems attributed to the substance. Additional details below.
In a statement, Dr. Larry Wolk, the CDPHE's executive director and chief medical officer, says the work of the Retail Marijuana Public Health Advisory Committee, under whose auspices the report was created, "represents one of the first and most comprehensive reviews to assess the strength of credible scientific literature available today regarding marijuana use." Marijuana advocates may take issue with Wolk's use of the term "credible." The report tends to rely most heavily on sources that emphasize the reported dangers of marijuana -- something hinted at in this excerpt from the "Key Findings" section:
An important note for all key findings is that the available research evaluated the association between marijuana use and potential adverse health outcomes. This association does not prove that the marijuana use alone caused the effect. Despite the best efforts of researchers to account for confounding factors, there may be other important factors related to causality that were not identified. In addition, marijuana use was illegal everywhere in the United States prior to 1996. Research funding, when appropriated, was commonly sought to identify adverse effects from marijuana use. This legal fact introduces both funding bias and publication bias into the body of literature related to marijuana use.
Understanding that existing studies may be slanted against marijuana hasn't prevented the report's authors from drawing upon many of them. With that in mind, here are the report bullet points highlighted by the CDPHE:
• The risk of a motor vehicle crash doubles among drivers with recent marijuana use. Using alcohol and marijuana together increases the risk of a motor vehicle crash more than using either substance alone.
• Marijuana smoke, both firsthand and secondhand smoke, contains many of the same carcinogens found in tobacco smoke.
• In adults, heavy use of marijuana is associated with impaired memory, persisting a week or more after quitting.
• Maternal use of marijuana during pregnancy is associated with negative effects on exposed offspring, including decreased academic ability, cognitive function and attention. Importantly, these effects may not appear until adolescence.
• Marijuana use by adolescents and young adults - even occasional use - is associated with future high-risk use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs such as cocaine, Ecstasy, opioids and methamphetamine.
• Starting marijuana use during adolescence or young adulthood is associated with future marijuana addiction.
• Regular marijuana use by adolescents and young adults is associated with impaired learning, memory, and math and reading achievement, even 28 days after last use. These impairments increase with more frequent marijuana use.
• Regular marijuana use by adolescents and young adults is strongly associated with developing psychotic symptoms and disorders such as schizophrenia in adulthood, and this risk is higher among those who start using marijuana at a younger age. Additionally, this risk is higher with more frequent marijuana use.
Descriptive words such as "strongly," seen in the last point above, indicate how firmly the report's authors feel about certain findings. As an example, note the use of the word "moderate" in passages related to "Marijuana Use During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding:"
The committee reviewed the literature for marijuana use during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Outcomes reviewed included those apparent at birth as well as physical, neurocognitive, and mental health findings throughout childhood and adolescence. We found moderate evidence that maternal use of marijuana during pregnancy is associated with negative effects on exposed offspring, including decreased academic ability, cognitive function and attention. Importantly, these effects may not appear until adolescence. We also found moderate evidence that maternal use of marijuana during pregnancy is associated with decreased growth in exposed offspring.
Contrast that with references to "substantial" in the segment pertaining to "Marijuana Use Among Adolescents and Young Adults" -- long a focus of the CDPHE:
The committee reviewed the literature on the potential effects of marijuana use among adolescents and young adults including effects on cognitive abilities, learning, memory, achievement, future use of substances such as marijuana and illicit drugs, and mental health issues. We found substantial evidence for associations between adolescent and young adult marijuana use and future addiction to illicit drugs in adulthood. We found an increased risk for developing psychotic symptoms or psychotic disorders in adulthood among regular adolescent and young adult users. In addition, we found moderate evidence for associations between adolescent and young adult marijuana use and at least short-term impairment of cognitive and academic abilities. We also found moderate evidence indicating that adolescent marijuana users were less likely to graduate from high school and more likely to be addicted to marijuana, alcohol, and tobacco in adulthood. We found beneficial effects related to cessation of use including moderate evidence that adolescent and young adult marijuana users who quit have lower risks of adverse cognitive and mental health outcomes than those who continue to use.
Wolk believes that the report's information "not only will benefit Coloradans, legislative representatives and policymakers, but also will inform other states that may be grappling with the potential positive and negative effects of legalized marijuana." But there's little new in the report, which basically restates cannabis attacks dating back to the original "reefer madness" era.
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