Pubdate: Sun, 05 Jan 2014
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2014 The Washington Post
Authors: Brady Dennis and Ariana Eunjung Cha, The Washington Post


What to Know About Legalized Marijuana

On Wednesday, Colorado became the first state to allow legal sales of 
marijuana for recreational use. Washington state will do the same 
this year, and other states might follow suit. Here are answers to 
some basic questions about marijuana, its effects on the body and the 
interesting issues raised by legalization:

Q: How does marijuana work?

A: Marijuana's main active ingredient is delta-9tetrahydrocannabinol, 
or THC. It binds to the surface of nerve cells in high density areas 
of the brain involved in feelings of pleasure, memory, thinking, 
concentration, coordination and movement, and sensory and time 
perception. THC stimulates this communication network, resulting in a 
marijuana "high."

Q: What are its medicinal uses?

A: About 20 states and the District of Columbia allow the use of 
marijuana for medical purposes. Most patients seek the drug for 
controlling pain for medical issues including cancer, nervous system 
diseases, glaucoma and migraines. It is also being used to treat 
nausea and improve appetites for people with chronic illnesses.

Q: What are the health effects of marijuana use?

A: In the short term, it can lead to a rapid heart rate, increased 
blood pressure, red eyes, dry mouth, increased appetite and slowed 
reaction time. Long-term use has been linked to impaired thinking, 
memory problems, panic attacks and other psychological issues. There 
have also been studies showing a weakened immune system and, for 
those who smoke the drug, impaired lung function.

Q: How much marijuana is safe to use? Can you overdose on marijuana?

A: There are no recorded cases of someone dying from an overdose of 
marijuana, but it has been a factor in accidents or medical issues 
that can lead to death.

Q: How does marijuana use affect driving?

A: One of the key questions Colorado lawmakers had to wrestle with in 
setting up a legal marijuana market: When is someone too stoned to 
drive? The answer isn't so simple.

Prosecutors and some state lawmakers have long pushed for strict 
blood-level limits for THC, the key ingredient in cannabis.

Many marijuana advocates argue that the drug affects people 
differently and that a hard limit could lead to wrongful DUI convictions.

They also argue that, unlike alcohol, traces of the drug remain in 
the bloodstream long after an individual smoked pot. Officials in 
favor of blood-level limits say tests exist that can pinpoint 
"active" THC in the bloodstream in the hours immediately after marijuana usage.

Studies have shown that smoking marijuana tends to affect spatial perceptions.

Drivers might swerve or follow other cars too closely. They can lose 
concentration and have slower reaction times. Such findings have led 
some researchers to conclude that driving while high greatly 
increases chances for an accident and that smoking pot and drinking 
before driving is a particularly dangerous mix.

Last year, Colorado lawmakers approved a bill that creates a 
"permissive inference" that someone with a certain level of THC in 
their blood is impaired. Drivers suspected of driving high generally 
would have to consent to have their blood drawn, and they could lose 
their license if they refuse.

Q: Can you use marijuana if you're pregnant?

A: A number of studies have shown that babies born to some women who 
regularly used marijuana suffered from an increased risk of cognitive 
and attention deficits, memory and learning issues, low birth weight, 
preterm delivery and other issues.

But more research is needed to figure out to what extent 
environmental factors played a role in these studies.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom