As of Tuesday, recreational marijuana use is now legal in the state of Michigan.
For the physician community, that means it is time to double down on our efforts to educate our patients and communities on the dangers associated with marijuana use. Emergency room visits, marijuana-related, crime and traffic deaths -- all will rise in the coming years. But just as troubling are the potential long-term consequences associated with relaxing law and societal attitudes on cannabis use.
It has long been common practice for physicians to advise pregnant and nursing mothers to stop using marijuana and for good reason: Existing research indicates exposure to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) negatively affects infant brain development, resulting in potential cognitive development problems and behavioral issues that can plague cannabis-exposed youth well into their teen years.
Despite these consequences, it seems that advice is being increasingly ignored.
According to a 2015 analysis from the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, more than 70 percent of pregnant women see no harm in using marijuana a few times a week, and anywhere from 34 to 64 percent of marijuana users continue using through the course of their pregnancy according to a study published by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
And it's not just the infants that need our concern -- marijuana has known adverse effects on adolescents as well. The human brain does not reach maturity until around age 25 and using marijuana before then can result in several negative effects not limited to psychosis, lower IQ compared to nonusers and addiction. In fact, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, one in six teens that use marijuana become addicted to its use, and it is now the number one reason kids enter treatment for substance abuse.
Legalization only serves to reinforce these troubling statistics.
The research in this area is limited but that only strengthens the argument for pumping the breaks on recreational marijuana. We do not yet fully understand the consequences associated with cannabis use and exposure, and that especially true for the children of pregnant and nursing mothers. That's something we must work to rectify.
And in the immediate term, the physician community must seek out ways to partner with the state and other stakeholders to effectively communicate to the the public the dangers associated with marijuana use. Marijuana is a dangerous substance and the physician community has a responsibility to see that it stays out of the hands of Michigan's youth -- the passage of Proposal 1 does not change that.
Just because marijuana is now legal in Michigan does not mean it's safe. That needs to be the message, and the responsibility for broadcasting it now rests on all of us.