MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota is joining 22 states, and Washington D.C., in legalizing recreational marijuana use for adults 21 and older.
A lot of conversation is happening about how we will regulate that, the impacts on business, and even expungements or conviction reviews. But what about how it impacts our health? It turns out there's a lot we don't know, because it can't be federally researched with those rolling legalizations. We're truly in the "baby stages" of research.
Dr. Crystal Smith, an assistant research professor at the Washington State University College of Medicine, has been digging into cannabis research for the past several years. She says there are differences between smoking cigarettes and smoking cannabis.
"We don't see the cancerous effects coming from smoking cannabis that we do see from smoking tobacco," she said. "There's a very, very clear line of research that links tobacco use, tobacco smoking to lung cancer. We don't really see that in cannabis use."
There are connections between cannabis use and other types of cancers. For example, testicular cancers for people who use, especially when they use high THC, or when they use at a younger age.
At the same time, some say smoking anything is bad for you. Dr. Charlene McEvoy, a physician and researcher at Health Partners, is a pulmonologist, specializing in the respiratory system. Her advice is clear -- avoid smoking anything, no matter what it is.
"We should all strive and work towards breathing clean air," McEvoy said.
The American Lung Association says smoking marijuana clearly damages the human lung, and advises against use, while calling for more research. Researchers argue there are known carcinogens in marijuana if it's smoked.
Edibles are, research suggests, less harmful to human bodies overall. And it would appear vaping is also less risky than smoking. But Smith says vaping anything can pose other risks, like potential heavy metal consumption.
Smith says her other big concern with marijuana use is for women of childbearing age. There's a correlation, she says, between cannabis use and babies being born smaller or pre-term. The CDC says marijuana use during pregnancy can be harmful to your baby's health
All of the experts WCCO spoke with say young people using cannabis can be a greater health risk, as they're still developing.
The CDC says marijuana does affect brain development, and that children and teens are especially susceptible. The effects on things like attention and memory can be permanent.
None of this information is meant to replace medical advice from your own provider, because how it interacts with your medications, how your risk fluctuates based on your age, gender, race, occupation, and pre-existing conditions are all so variable.
If this would be new for you, and if you want to truly understand your specific risk, talk to your doctor or a specialist. The bottom line is that everyone -- from the CDC to the doctors WCCO spoke with -- is calling for more research.
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