BURLINGTON — The Department of Health has issued a report on the potential health impacts of legal marijuana, and offers recommendations to mitigate some health risks.
The 84-page report examines the physical and mental health effects of marijuana and offers recommendations that touch on impaired driving, marijuana-infused edible products and teen use.
“This is very important information that legislators need to have in mind as they make their decision whether to move forward, and more importantly, how to move forward,” said Dr. Harry Chen, commissioner of the Department of Health.
The study’s authors began by looking at all of the medical literature available on the issue, and then made decisions regarding the scientific rigor behind the literature to rank the studies on a scale ranging from “not well researched” to “very strong evidence.”
“Not all data, not all information is the same and shouldn’t be rated the same, and what we have to do is evaluate the sources,” Chen said, noting the illegal nature of marijuana has impacted the quality of the studies available. “Some of the literature is not very strong, and that has to do with the fact marijuana has been a Schedule I drug for so long.”
On the mental health side of things, the Department of Health found very strong evidence that marijuana use worsens the symptoms of psychosis, and fair evidence it worsens depression, schizophrenia, anxiety and overall brain function.
The study also found very strong evidence to indicate marijuana use leads to more motor vehicle crashes and strong evidence of increased rates of chronic bronchitis.
The study also takes into account the therapeutic uses of marijuana, finding strong evidence it improves the symptoms for patients with cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis.
The study makes a number of recommendations to mitigate the effects of legalization, such as preventing the sale of edible products, a policy that is part of the current proposed marijuana legislation.
The study recommends creating a blood-alcohol concentration threshold for THC – the active chemical in marijuana – to determine if a driver is impaired.
The study also recommends taking a similar approach to initiatives intended to curb teen alcohol and tobacco use, such as high taxes and a prohibition on its use in public.
Sen. David Zuckerman, P-Burlington – who is the sponsor of a bill to legalize marijuana – discussed how the study relates to the ongoing legalization discussion.
“What I think we have to recognize is the discussion is not about whether cannabis causes harm or doesn’t cause harm. The question is, what is the best way to manage it in our society?” Zuckerman said. “We have clearly seen — with alcohol and tobacco — managing it, addressing it, putting out truthful information and restricting use through a controlled system is better than than having it be in the underground market.”