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Doctors Say Increase in Marijuana Use Could Cause Health Risks

Monday, October 26, 2015

 

As GoLocal reported, Portland’s recreational marijuana market is off to a quick start—the industry reported more than $11 million in sales during the first week alone. With that increase in Portlanders toking up comes renewed concerns about the health risks, and benefits, associated with the cannabis plant.

Otis Brawley, the chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society, told GoLocal that while there are serious health risks that arise when the cannabis plant is smoked, there are also medicinal benefits to using marijuana in other forms.

“There are risks any time you are smoking something. There are definitely risks associated with smoking marijuana, things like lung disease and certainly cancer,” Brawley said. “However, there are certainly some medicinal, beneficial uses for the plant that should be explored.”

“Definitely A Health Risk”

According to the American Lung Association, many of the same health risks caused by tobacco smoke can also be found in marijuana smoke.

“Smoke is harmful to lung health. Whether from burning wood, tobacco or marijuana, toxins and carcinogens are released from the combustion of materials,” a spokesman from the American Lung Association said. “Smoke from marijuana combustion has been shown to contain many of the same toxins, irritants and carcinogens as tobacco smoke.”

Marijuana smoke can be especially harmful, according to the American Lung Association, because of the differences between how marijuana and tobacco are typically consumed. Marijuana smokers typically inhale the smoke deeper into their lungs and hold smoke in their lungs and airways for longer than tobacco users, causing a higher exposure to toxins and carcinogens.

Jennifer Dilley,  a senior research scientist with the Multnomah County Health Department and the Oregon Health Authority, said that while there is still much to be learned about marijuana use, it is “definitely a health risk.”

Dilley noted that there were particularly high risks for expectant mothers and mothers who are breastfeeding.

“During pregnancy and breastfeeding it's one of those areas where studies have been mixed,” Dilley said, noting that the county health department felt the need to recommend this measure in order to protect a potential risk to a vulnerable population. “What we do think is that THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana, is passed to the baby via breast milk or other factors. We don’t know what effect that has yet.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana use during pregnancy has been shown to cause gaps in problem-solving skills, memory, and the ability to remain attentive.

Medical Research Needed

Brawley, chief medical officer with the American Cancer Association, said that despite all of those health risks, marijuana may have nearly as many health benefits to offer. However, exactly what medicinal effects the cannabis plant may hold are still unknown, as few large-scale studies have been done on the subject.

“There have certainly been some signs that marijuana has plenty of medicinal qualities,” Brawley said. “Even though it's become medically legal and even recreationally legal in many states, marijuana is still highly illegal under federal law, which means it is difficult to conduct tests on.”

Brawley said that forms of cannabis consumption that do not require combustions—such as edibles, beverages, topical ointments and even pill capsules—could offer new treatment options to sick patients.

“This needs very rigorous scientific testing,” Brawley said. “We need to figure out what doses cause what effect. Right now there is not enough reliable research data to really say what medicinal effects this plant has to offer.”

 

Related Slideshow: 20 Things You Need to Know About Buying Pot in Oregon

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Employers Still Can—And Will—Drug Test

Many of the state’s largest employers, including Fred Meyer, Intel, Bi-Mart and Dairy Queen, will still test for marijuana, despite its new legal status. Companies that employ heavy equipment operators are required to buy insurance, and typically require drug testing.

Often, even companies that employ workers who operate machinery while simultaneously employing workers who do not will test, as the company will receive a lower monthly deductible if they test all of their employees across the board.

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Only a Quarter-Ounce per Customer, Please

Dispensaries will only be allowed to sell a quarter-ounce of marijuana per customer, per day. Residents are allowed different amounts for travel and home storage.

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Child Proof Packaging

Dispensaries, in addition to their limits on sales per person, also must package their recreational marijuana in a particular way. It must be placed in an opaque bag that is smell and child-proof.

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Can I Grow Cannabis at My House?

Those with a green thumb will be permitted to grow their own marijuana for private consumption. They are only allowed four plants per person, however, and each must be obscured from public view.

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How Much Can I Have at My House?    

Residents will be allowed to keep plenty of dry marijuana (flowers or leaves that are ready to be smoked) in their home. They are allowed to store eight ounces, more than thirty times the purchasing limits, in their home.

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How Much Can I Travel With?

Traveling restrictions are stricter than regulations for home storage. Adults are able to travel with up to one ounce, or four times the purchase limit, on their person.

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Driving Under the Influence

Unlike the Washington law, which included attached regulations concerning driving impairment, Oregon’s law has more room for interpretation. 

Driving under the influence of marijuana is classified as a Class B Traffic Violation, which carries a presumptive fine of $260 and is not to exceed maximum fine of $2,000. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission has been tasked with researching the subject of drugged driving and presenting its finding to the Oregon Legislative Assembly no later than January 2017.

After reviewing the OLCC report, the state legislative assembly will decide whether passing more extensive driving regulations will be necessary.

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No Smoking in Public

Yes, marijuana is legal. No, that does not mean you can light up in the middle of the street. Consumption is only allowed out of the public view.

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Where will the New Tax Money Go?

Where will the tax money go?

Measure 91, the ballot measure passed last year that legalized marijuana in Oregon, stipulates that the tax revenue collected from recreational sales will be divided up in the following ways:

40 percent- Common School Fund
20 percent- Mental Health Alcoholism and Drug Services
15 percent- Oregon State Police
10 percent- Counties for enforcement of the measure
10 percent- Cities for enforcement of the measure
5 percent- Oregon Health Authority for drug abuse prevention

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Where You Can Buy Marijuana

Already licensed medical marijuana dispensaries will be allowed to sell recreationally beginning on October 1, although not every dispensary will sell recreationally.

For a full list of those that have been approved to sell to the public, click here.

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Not Everywhere

While marijuana is now legal for recreational use in the state of Oregon, some individual communities have passed laws banning recreational marijuana facilities from opening. Consumption will still be legal in these areas, but sales will not.

For a full list of cities that have passed these bans, click here.

Photo: Downtown Baker City; via Wikimedia Commons

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What to Do at a Dispensary

First time at a dispensary? No worries, said Meghan Walstatter, Owner of Pure Green Dispensary. Just ask plenty of questions to staff to ease all of your concerns. 

Photo: Pure Green Dispensary

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Budtenders-Bartenders for Weed

Have questions as you make your purchase? No problem, just ask your friendly budtender. The cannabis industry’s answer to bartenders, budtenders are knowledgeable about the different strains and types of marijuana and their effects and are ready and eager to help novice smokers.

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Cannabis Indica

Indica, along with its sister sativa, are one of the two main types of cannabis. Each has their own unique effects on its user. Indica strains are known for relieving physical pain and giving users a sleepy, lethargic feeling.

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Cannabis Sativa

Sativa strains are the counter to indica strains.They are known for as a more mental stimulation, giving users more creative and sometimes, more focus

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Hybrids

The best of both worlds. At least, that’s what hybrids claim to be. They combine the properties of an indica strain and a sativa strain, by allowing users to feel relaxed, but not sleepy.

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Bring Cash

While some dispensaries do accept credit card, most do not, according to Leah Maurer, Co-chair of Women’s Grow. Make sure to bring some cash if you plan to purchase some cannabis today.

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How to Store your Cannabis

Concerned about storing your new marijuana in your home around your family? Maurer said to store it as you would alcohol or prescription drugs, away from the reach of children and teenagers.

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Don’t Cross State Lines

It will still be illegal to transport marijuana across state lines. That restriction even includes those crossing the Columbia River into Washington, where marijuana is also legal. Marijuana is classified as a Scheduled I controlled substance, meaning that anyone transporting it across line is prosecutable by Federal agencies

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Make Sure to Talk to Your Kids

It's likely that children and young adults will see more cannabis, and cannabis consumption, now that recreational sales have begun. Maurer said to make sure you have an honest, frank conversation about the benefits and consequences of the substance.

 
 

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