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Marijuana’s Growing Threat: From Lung Damage to Heart Risks



At a time when more than 17 percent of Americans are smoking marijuana, according to Gallup, and the rest of us are inadvertently inhaling it on our streets, an increasing number of people are downplaying or unaware of the potential harm, even as evidence of its dangers grows. I’m not just referring to the risks to unborn children (such as preterm birth, low birthweight, and developmental delays) for expectant mothers who imprudently use it to combat morning sickness, nor am I solely concerned about the rising incidence of cannabis-induced psychosis or a generation of listless teens. I’m also pointing to recent research that reveals damage to the lungs akin to that caused by cigarette smoke, including tar and THC. Conditions such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and lung cancer may result, as outlined by the American Lung Association.

Moreover, an expanding body of research is uncovering significant harm to the heart due to tar, carbon monoxide, and THC, which increases heart rate and blood pressure. The latest study from Harvard, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, examined over 400,000 individuals over a four-year period from 2016 to 2020 and found a 42 percent increase in stroke and a 25 percent increase in heart attack associated with regular marijuana use.

The THC content in marijuana is higher than ever, often exceeding 30 percent potency, leading to greater harm, more psychiatric and physical impairment. For those who argue that marijuana should be legal because alcohol and cigarettes are legal, I contend that this is a flawed comparison. As a physician, I am well aware of the damage that alcohol, cigarettes, and even the overuse of aspirin can cause, but that is hardly a justification for legalizing more harmful substances. Should fentanyl be legal, too? It also causes harm and leads to deaths. Is that a reason for its legalization? And what about driving at 100 mph? Should that be legal as well? Many do so under the influence of both alcohol and marijuana, as Laura has highlighted, and emergency rooms in Colorado, California, and other states where recreational marijuana use is legal are inundated with accident victims intoxicated by one or both substances.

The ultimate fallacy here is the belief that legalizing marijuana will reduce illicit use. In reality, the opposite has proven true; in states where recreational use is legal, shadowy cottage industries for illicit use have emerged alongside legal dispensaries.