Analysis of Our State's Changing Laws

The Dangerous Side Effects of Marijuana Legalization in CO


Some Users are More "At Risk" than Others

Colorado has become the unofficial capital of legalized marijuana in the United States. While the tax income the state has received has been a boon, this phenomenon has definitely had some negative consequences as well.Treatment professionals like the ones here at NorthStar have long been concerned about the potential for abuse of legal marijuana and unexpected side effects many will experience - particularly those who are on the spectrum for a mood or behavioral disorder like depression or generalized anxiety disorder. More studies are indicating that marijuana use can exacerbate the symptoms of such disorders.

Marijuana Related Emergency Room Visits by Tourists Doubled in the First Year

The voters in Colorado initially approved medical marijuana in 2000, and in 2012 approved the retail sale of marijuana without a medical prescription. Colorado is one of only four states to have taken this step (the others being Alaska, Oregon, and Washington).Retail sale of marijuana to adults for recreational use began in 2014, and according to this research letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the number of marijuana related emergency room visits by out of state visitors doubled in the first year of retail sale.On the bright side of this statistic, there has never in history been a known instance of someone experiencing a fatal overdose of marijuana. However, one can only imagine the amount of trauma and discomfort that was experienced by the individuals who felt it necessary to seek emergency room treatment for marijuana intoxication. Also, there were undoubtedly many more people who experienced unpleasant effects and did not seek medical attention.

Marijuana is Not Harmless and Affects Everyone Differently

On top of the negative physical impact of inhaling the carcinogenic marijuana smoke into the lungs (which is still the most common means of consumption), many users have reported panic attacks, paranoia, and increased anxiety as a result of imbibing pot. Of course, other marijuana users claim it assuages anxiety, which highlights the complex nature of marijuana and how it affects different people in different ways.Harvard Medical School published this article detailing the connection between marijuana use, lack of motivation, depression, and schizophrenia.One of the most tragic examples of unpredictable reactions to marijuana was when a Wyoming student jumped to his death after consuming marijuana on a trip to Colorado in March of 2014 . The student had no known physical or mental health problems prior to this episode, but he became hostile and spoke erratically after consuming pot cookies. His friends tried to calm him down but the end result was that he jumped to his death while under the influence of the marijuana.

Unknown Potencies and Lack of Understanding About the Different Types of Marijuana

As much damage as prescription drugs have done to recreational users, at least these medications are regulated and dosages clearly delineated (often by color/size and clearly labeled on the pills). Alcohol products like beer, wine, and liquor are required to print the % of alcohol contained in the label.Retail marijuana is still in the very early stages of being regulated and there is very little oversight on labeling for potency, which can lead to confusion about how much marijuana someone is taking. Half of a marijuana cookie can be a strong dose (depending on the potency, which is impossible to see by touch, sight, or smell), but if someone is used to eating regular cookies by the handful and doesn’t feel the effects of the marijuana in the first hour or so (which is not uncommon), they might eat multiple cookies and then experience an overwhelming sense of fear and panic when the effects finally take hold.Also, there are two distinct types of marijuana plant, indica and sativa. Experienced users typically prefer one type over the other, and many will refuse to partake of the other type (due to the less pleasant effects than their preferred type). The marijuana "beginner" or casual tourist will likely have no idea about the difference between the available strains (let alone potency) and the result can be that they might have a negative experience as a result of the strain of marijuana that they imbibe.

Living in Recovery Means Marijuana Abstinence

As much as Colorado is an open minded place that adopts new ideas and is a leader in the legalization of marijuana, Colorado (and particularly Boulder) is also a very uplifting and healthy place as well. Living a life free of mind altering substances is a choice that is widely supported and admired in this region.The men and women who we treat at NorthStar Transitions are required to be marijuana free and there are no shortage of sober activities to partake in to have a great time in sobriety without marijuana. The 12-step community as well considers marijuana use a relapse and a person who uses marijuana starts over from "day 1" as a "newcomer" and all future sobriety milestones and "chips" will be contingent upon abstinence from marijuana (as well as alcohol and any other mind altering substance). There is no shortage of Marijuana Anonymous meetings in the area as well, for those who would like support quitting the use of pot.If you are concerned about your marijuana use (or that of a loved one), we would like you to know that you are not alone as this is an issue that is facing millions of Americans during this unique period of adopting new laws about marijuana. Clearly, some parties are at risk for negative consequences marijuana use, and if you call us, we will provide a confidential assessment of your situation (and if necessary, provide information about the process of seeking help for a substance addiction). Our team of intake advisers are standing by at (303)625-6335.

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