In a bit of encouraging news, recent combined data from the Tobacco Products and Risk Perceptions Survey and the Health Information National Trends Survey revealed that an increasing number of American adults now perceive electronic cigarettes to be at least as harmful as regular cigarettes. The percentage of adults who believed e-cigarettes were less harmful than regular cigarettes decreased from 45% in 2012 to 35% in 2017.
This news comes at a time when studies by the University of California, San Francisco Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education have linked the use of e-cigarettes with an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other respiratory diseases at rates similar to those associated with traditional cigarettes.
Dampening the encouraging trend is the recent explosion of young people's use of e-cigarettes and vaping. We are now being told that — in a dangerous extension to an already dangerous trend — according to the 2018 Monitoring the Future survey, vaping marijuana is on the rise for teenagers from eighth to 12th grade. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that of the millions of young people who are vaping, 30% to 40% are vaping marijuana.
"THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is definitely an addictive drug," Dr. Ruben Baler, a health scientist at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, tells the Chicago Sun-Times. "The brain of a teen is a brain that is being developed and should be completely clean and absent of any drug of abuse and psychoactive drug that can derail that trajectory of development."
According to a U.S. News report, as more states legalize marijuana, THC concentrations in commercial products are climbing. According to researchers and addiction experts, as a result, vaping and smoking high-potency marijuana is creating a greater degree of addiction among young people — and, along with it, multiplying by five times their odds of a psychotic episode.
As has been widely publicized, after marijuana use was legalized in Colorado in 2012, health concerns have emerged. At one of the state's largest hospitals, ER visits linked to various cannabis use — the plant that is the stock material from which all preparations containing THC are derived — tripled over the next five years.
"That's 33 times higher than what we expected," Dr. Andrew Monte, associate professor of emergency medicine and emergency toxicology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and lead author of a study published in Annals of Internal Medicine, tells NBC News. The Annals of Internal Medicine study was reportedly initiated after three deaths in Colorado tied to the consumption of edible cannabis products.
The market for cannabis edibles is growing on its own. According to a report from Arcview Market Research and BDS Analytics, edibles spending in Canada and the United States topped $1 billion in 2017 and is projected to grow to more than $4.1 billion by 2022. Approximately 10% of cannabis-related emergency room visits were associated with edible forms of the substance.
The issues are not of legality — or even of different properties and medicinal qualities of cannabis and THC — but of the proliferation of unregulated higher-potency THC in marijuana and related products. While public health advocates continue to call for imposing warning labels similar to those on tobacco products, information on what are considered safe doses of these products is hard to come by.
Within that void, health concerns continue to mount. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 20 women in the U.S. use cannabis during pregnancy. That represents a 75% increase from 2002. A recent study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry concluded that using marijuana during pregnancy could be harmful to a child's health. Experts are concerned that as more states legalize marijuana, it may give the false impression that it is safe to use during pregnancy. A 2018 study found that many marijuana dispensaries in Colorado recommend cannabis as a natural remedy for morning sickness.
"We did not anticipate that 69% of the dispensaries contacted would have a recommendation," Dr. Torri Metz, a perinatologist at Denver Health involved in the study, told CBS Denver at the time. "We expected a much higher proportion of them to say that they could not make a recommendation or to encourage women to talk with their health care providers."
As pointed out in the JAMA Psychiatry study, there are concerns about the impact that marijuana could have on fetal development, including premature birth and low birth weight. Some research suggests marijuana use during pregnancy may lead to long-term health effects including cognition issues in children later in life, such as their ability to pay attention or learn. At present, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that pregnant women not use marijuana.
Health concerns related to legalized marijuana are not confined to our borders. Researchers at King's College London analyzed data from a dozen sites across Europe and Brazil from 2010 to 2015. This research is considered the largest study to date to examine the impact of marijuana use on psychotic disorder rates. According to their findings, for those who used high-potency marijuana daily, the risk of developing psychosis jumped nearly five times.
"If you decide to use high-potency marijuana, you should bear in mind: Psychosis is a potential risk," Dr. Marta Di Forti, of King's College London and the study's lead author, tells CBS News. Di Forti and colleagues estimated that in Amsterdam, about half of new psychosis cases were associated with smoking high-potency versions of the drug.
"Given the changing legal status of cannabis across the world, and the associated potential for an increase in use, the next priority is to identify which individuals are at risk from daily potent cannabis use, and to develop educational strategies and interventions to mitigate this," noted Suzanne Gage, an expert from the University of Liverpool, not connected to the new study.
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