Legal recreational cannabis in Colorado turned 10 in November, making history in the U.S. and abroad.
Researchers have since been studying its impact on health, public safety and the economy. They acknowledge that there’s still a great deal to learn. In some ways, the cart came before the horse - legalization came well before the research, noted Colorado's CPR News reporter Claire Cleveland who spoke with psychology professor Angela Bryan and assistant information science professor Brian Keegan, both at the University of Colorado Boulder.
They talked about what’s known and what is still unknown about cannabis and they busted a few myths, too.
The Most Persistent Myth Of All: Cannabis Users Are Couch Potatoes
Data suggests that in states where people were asked about their cannabis use and exercise habits, consumers are more likely to meet exercise recommendations than non-users.
“They tend to use cannabis in conjunction with exercise in some form or fashion and that’s either using before exercise or using it after exercising for recovery purposes,” said Prof Bryan, who added that larger data collection has shown that cannabis users have lower rates of type two diabetes, better waist-to-hip ratios and better insulin function.
Indica vs. Sativa
The two subspecies of cannabis are known to have different subjective effects on the user. Indica is often viewed as having a relaxing effect, versus Sativa, which is known to be stimulating and increases creativity.
Keegan and his collaborators analyzed nearly 90,000 cannabis product samples from six states and found that in reality, most of the products in Colorado’s legal marketplace are hybrids of the two subspecies. That being the case in Colorado and six states, one can extrapolate that it is likely the case everywhere else around the country.
As with all things cannabis, more research is needed to understand the many chemical components in the plant and how they affect the mind and body.
THC, CBD And Pain
What researchers have concluded is that cannabis can have positive effects on pain; evidence has also shown that THC in combination with CBD work in tandem for pain reduction.
CBD has anti-inflammatory properties, so it makes sense that it would work well to alleviate pain.
“If you think about other pain medications, think about opiates, opiates also have psychoactive effects,” Brian said. “So it’s not terribly surprising that some combination of THC and CBD seems to be the most effective for pain reduction.”
To the extent that cannabis appears to be helpful in treating pain, it is also worth noting that the FDA has approved a drug, Epidiolex, to treat seizures, especially in children suffering from Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndromes.
Negative Side Effects?
Keegan said a profound concern the industry is facing right now has to do with contaminants.
For example, Colorado requires cannabis producers to test for mold and pesticides, but the state still operates a regulatory system that allows the same pesticides used on an apple to keep bugs away to be used on cannabis.
“Those chemicals come into our bloodstream and our bodies,” Keegan said. “And that’s really poorly understood, and I think a very serious public health risk around the role that these kinds of contaminants — pesticides, fungicides and mold — have.”
Did Legal Cannabis Drive Up DUIs? What About Teen Cannabis Use?
In a word...no. In a paragraph...purposely driving under the influence of cannabis is not a good idea. However, the legalization of weed did not cause an increase in DUIs. Alcohol, as we know, is the main driver behind most DUIs in Colorado as well as the rest of the country.
As for teen use, the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, which is undertaken every other year, asks teens about cannabis use. The number of minors reporting cannabis use has only increased about 4 percent since 2013, from 33 percent to 37.5 percent. Across the country, a report published earlier this year revealed that state-level marijuana legalization does not cause an increase in youth consumption.
“We’re not, again, seeing those kinds of dramatic explosions of use among young people that many were warning against,” Keegan said.
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