Recreational marijuana use is now legally available to about 1 in 5 adults in the US.
In addition to the previously legalized states of Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia, recreational cannabis was recently approved in California, Massachusetts, Nevada and Maine.
This article originally appeared on PreventionPlusWellness November 2016
Using marijuana recreationally comes with risks for experiencing negative outcomes for adults, and especially for youth.
Like all psychoactive substances, cannabis is not harmless.
Risk levels depend upon several factors. Some of these include frequency of use (occasionally vs. every day), quantity of use and potency (affecting the level of intoxication or “high”), situation (e.g., driving after using), age of user (adult vs. youth), and whether marijuana is combined with alcohol or other drugs.
There are many myths, misconceptions and a lack of knowledge related to using marijuana for recreational and medical uses. A key underlying myth is that marijuana is not only harmless to its users and to others, its beneficial.
This underlying myth stems from inaccurate beliefs about marijuana’s natural basis, medicinal potential, social norms, confusion over legal and medicinal marijuana laws, and biased information promulgated by the marijuana industry.
It also derives from a lack of awareness of a quickly unfolding amount of evidence-based knowledge on the harmful (and potentially medically beneficial) effects of marijuana consumption.
However, just as alcohol and tobacco pose health and social risks to individuals, families and communities, so does newly legalized recreational marijuana use.
For example, evidence already indicates that cannabis use is associated with various critical risks for adults, youth, communities and businesses. These include increased likelihood of:
- Delayed cognitive and brain development in youth
- Educational failure
- Social problems
- Mental and physical health problems
- Automobile and other accidents
- Reduced job performance and productivity
- Other drug use
- Emergency medical visits
How to Reduce Marijuana Risks
To protect yourself and your youth, the following tips are recommended for reducing, but not eliminating, risks associated with marijuana use.
- Get informed
With knowledge about today’s new marijuana quickly changing, every citizen needs to become more aware of how cannabis can affect them, their children, and their employees. Unfortunately, evidence-informed information is less available than pro-marijuana content both online and elsewhere. That is why Marijuana Awareness TrainingTM in the most current and accurate evidence-based information is essential for all adults, youth, families, clients, employees and communities.
- Promote evidence-informed information and training for others
Don’t settle for biased information from the marijuana industry and others who benefit from promoting the use of marijuana. Share and promote evidence-informed information and training with your friends, family, co-workers and employees. Only evidence-informed sources will provide balanced, accurate and up-to-date content about quickly changing marijuana laws, research and health effects. One website we recommend for sound, evidence-informed information is the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
- Reduce your and other’s risk potential if you decide to use as an adult
If you live in a state that permits legal use of medical or recreational use of marijuana, make sure you make an informed decision about its use, and above all take steps to reduce your risks for experiencing negative effects. For medicinal cannabis, this means following your medical script like you would any prescribed medicine. Do not use medical marijuana for recreational purposes or share your medical cannabis with others. For recreational marijuana, you can reduce (but not eliminate) negative effects by: 1) avoiding driving afterward; 2) use a low dose marijuana product especially if you are a first-time or beginning user; 3) use in a quiet setting with people you know and trust; 4) if you use an edible product, remember it may take up to an several hours to experience its full effects so be careful not to take more than the recommended dose; and 5) have an emergency plan ready in case you have negative reactions or effects from using marijuana, including having the phone number for poison control handy and having someone designated to help you get emergency medical care if necessary.
- Postpone use among youth
Unlike adults, youth should never use recreational marijuana. Research has shown that youth can suffer significant negative outcomes if they use cannabis. Marijuana use initiated before adulthood is associated with the greatest likelihood of negative outcomes, including delayed cognitive and brain development, educational failure, mental health problems, addiction, etc. Adults have the responsibility to never use marijuana in view of youth as this can signal it is acceptable for youth to use. Communicate with your youth that under no circumstances are they permitted to use marijuana until they reach legal age, if at all. For more information on how parents can protect their youth from marijuana harm, read the article on 10 Tips for Parents Who Use Marijuana (or Alcohol).
- Protect young children
Adults have the responsibility to protect young children from accessing and using marijuana. This includes marijuana products like edibles that can be easily mistaken for non-cannabis food products. Adults also should not keep marijuana in a home with children. If they do, it should be placed out of view and reach of children and teens.
- Ban employee use with policy, training and enforcement
Marijuana use on the job can harm performance and productivity, and increase accidents. For that reason, all businesses should have a written policy to ban marijuana use, as well as alcohol and other drugs, by employees. In addition, all employees, supervisors and managers should receive training on the latest evidence-informed information regarding new marijuana laws, how marijuana harms health and job performance, and employee rules regarding marijuana and other drug use on the job, their enforcement, and consequences for violating drug-free workplace policies.
- Promote healthy lifestyles for individuals, families and communities
Parents, employers and community leaders should not just focus on marijuana or other substance use awareness, but also promote wellness habits that by themselves support drug and alcohol-abuse free lifestyles, productivity and well-being. This can take the shape of providing opportunities for healthy behavior participation and modeling, including physical activity and health eating, at school and on the job. It can also involve innovative evidence-based Prevention Plus Wellness screening and brief interventions that permit youth and adults an opportunity to examine their current health habits, explore how these habits promote or hinder desired healthy self-identities and outcomes, and set goals to both avoid or limit marijuana and other drug use while increasing health-enhancing habits to improve health-related quality of life.