As more states jump on the bandwagon and consider legalizing marijuana, more health and safety experts have been receiving questions regarding the safety risks that may accompany usage of the drug. Colorado and Washington are the only two states that have legalized recreational use, but medical use is currently allowed in 21 states, as well as the District of Columbia — and if so many legislative rulings to legalize the drug are any indication, more states may follow suit sooner rather than later. This trend, however, has many people wondering about the safety of marijuana: How does it affect an individual’s health? Does it create a dangerous environment for the entire community?
Industry expert and USA TODAY reporter Liz Strabo notes that marijuana usage has increased exponentially, starting in the 1990s, and it’s estimated that the drug could become more popular than cigarette smoking for senior high school students. Reports from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration note that an estimated 12 percent of Americans over the age of 12 have used marijuana at least once in the past year — and it’s predicted that this percentage will continue to rise. Many supporters of marijuana legalization note that the drug isn’t necessarily addictive, unlike many other illegal drugs, and also that alcohol consumption presents more immediate dangers than smoking marijuana.
Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that, like any drug, marijuana usage does have potential health and safety risks. It’s estimated that nine percent of all marijuana users become addicted to the drug — although this percentage goes up to an estimated 17 percent among teens — and the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates that about 2.7 million American over the age of 12 meet the criteria for marijuana addiction. Furthermore, marijuana products (especially edible products like baked desserts) in today’s market tend to be much stronger than products were in the past, which has caused a jump in marijuana-related overdoses and car accidents. CBS News notes that nearly one in every nine car accident compensation claims are related to marijuana usage, and research shows that car accidents connected to the drug have nearly tripled in the past 15 years. And like any other smokable substance, marijuana smoke can severely harm both the individual smoking as well as any people who may be inhaling the secondhand smoke.
If past trends are any indication, it seems that marijuana legalization is likely to continue. Although it seems like marijuana seems relatively safe in these legalized areas, it’s important to make sure that these health risks are known and discussed.