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'The Good, The Bad And The Truth': Understanding The Impact Of Marijuana

BOSTON (CBS) - Happy 4/20, the unofficial global marijuana celebration day.

It's been nearly three and a half years since the first recreational marijuana sale here in Massachusetts, almost eight years since the first medicinal purchase. And while more than $2 billion in revenue speaks to pot's popularity, what do we really know about its impact on public health?

"It's important to understand the good, the bad and the truth," says Dr. Staci Gruber, who directs the Marijuana Investigations for Neuroscientific Discovery program at Belmont's McLean Hospital.

Contrary to old-time propaganda like the 1936 movie "Reefer Madness," which cast marijuana as "the burning weed with its roots in hell," Dr. Gruber says there's good news about pot's medicinal benefits. "We have a lot of what I would call strong signals suggesting real therapeutic benefit for certain folks. Individuals often find that they don't need the same amount of conventional medication they might have used before."

But for kids and young adults, a warning - use at an early age can create serious issues. "It appears that people who begin using slightly later in life don't appear to have the same difficulties or problems, and in fact don't seem to have much in the way of complications later," she says.

And safe use of this complex drug requires thought and effort. "When I see the proliferation of billboards and advertisements and the rather dizzying array of products across a number of different platforms, it's overwhelming," notes Dr. Gruber. "Most of our patients are very confused by this. What I always say is buyer, be aware."

What are some of the key unanswered questions about widespread pot use?

In part because its illegal status at the federal level impedes research, we don't know enough about how marijuana interacts with other medications, or how it might impair certain activities like driving. And while there were all sorts of claims about how consumers would be educated about the products they were buying, anyone who's gone pot shopping knows that isn't always the case. Dr. Gruber told me she thinks people "aren't asking enough questions."

And if you think you don't need to because it's legal, better think again.

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