An Alarming UN Study Reveals a Dark Side to Marijuana's Rising Popularity


The news: As marijuana use increases around the United States, some related factors are also rising — no, not just Taco Bell sales.

A new UN study found that 12.1% of Americans age 12 or older said they had tried marijuana in the year 2012, up from 10.3% in 2008. The downside: There was a 59% increase in marijuana-related emergency room visits and a 14% increase in treatment admissions from 2006 to 2010.

Part of the blame goes to another increase. The study found that levels of THC, cannabis' main mind-altering ingredient, had risen from 8.7% in 2007 to 11.9% in 2009.

Why the increase? Genetic selection — growing marijuana plants to increase THC levels — has been going on for decades. Drug dealers prefer product with more THC for simple economic reasons: It lets them sell less at a higher cost.

A study in the American Journal of Cardiology last year probed the potential adverse health effects that come with increased marijuana use, including stroke, sudden cardiac death and myocardial infarction. "The potential for increased use of marijuana in the changing legal landscape suggests the need for the community to intensify research regarding the safety of marijuana use and for cardiologists to maintain an awareness of the potential for adverse effects," the study concluded.

Other groups, including National Institutes of Health, warn that increased THC levels entail stronger effects on the developing brains of teens and young adults who regularly toke up.

Increased legalization: It's a subject policymakers will grapple with as the steady wave of legalization rolls across the country — 22 states now allow medical marijuana use, while Washington and Colorado allow recreational use as well.

While some might use the increase in emergency room visits as evidence against legalization, it might actually help things. Government-approved weed means THC levels can be regulated. Plus, a new Centers for Disease Control study found that excessive drinking causes nearly 10% of all working-age adult deaths, and we're not really hearing any calls for a return to Prohibition.

Users may not like the idea of government regulating their marijuana (anymore than they like the idea of paying taxes for it). But, if they want to smoke legally, they'll have to come to terms with it.