In recent years, people from various positions in Iowa government have asked me my thoughts on legalizing recreational use of marijuana. My response to each of them consistently has been the same: "As an employer I am charged with providing a safe work environment. How do I do that if marijuana is legal? Do I drug test daily? How do I know that they do not have marijuana-laced food in their lunch?" I have gone on to say, my employees do not sit at desks, they are climbing up and down ladders, crawling around on steep roofs, using power tools, and operating trucks and lifts.
Cannabis plants produce thousands of compounds - the two best known are THC and CBD. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is primarily what people who want a high are looking for to experience it. Cannabidiol, or CBD, does not have the chemicals to produce the high, but it does provide relief for people suffering from some medical ailments. (In a May 21, 2019, article for Live Science - a science news website - however, Kimberly Hickok offers this cautionary note: "Some blogs and anecdotes claim that CBD oils can cure whatever ails you, even cancer. Limited research does not suggest that cannabis oil should take the place of conventional medication except in rare forms of epilepsy - even then it is recommended only as a last resort treatment.")
Today's marijuana is stronger than it used to be.
"Tetrahydrocannabinol is not the same as it was in the '60s and '70s, the percentage has gone from one percent in 1972 to three to four percent in the '90s, nearly thirteen percent in 2010. Today, some retail marijuana has 30 percent or more," Lauren Cox wrote in a June 2017 Live Science article.
On Monday, I attended a meeting with a group of women who gathered to discuss a variety of topics. One was the question of legalizing marijuana. A woman from central Iowa objected to the idea due to the fact her mother was killed in a car accident because the other driver was high on marijuana.
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"Marijuana is the illicit drug most frequently found in the blood of drivers who have been involved in vehicle crashes, including fatal ones," according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Like alcohol, the drug impairs motor coordination and judgment, but the NIDA is not certain of the total effects of marijuana on the brain. Evidence is mounting from research on animals and from study of a growing number of humans that long-term use can cause long-term or possibly permanent adverse changes in the brain.
It is not completely understood how long impairment will last concerning cognitive abilities. Some of that depends on how old the person was when they first started using. Our brains are not fully developed until age 25, thus doctors believe it is dangerous to use marijuana before then. Remember the marijuana is much stronger today than it was 50 years ago. Because brains are not fully developed, pot can have an effect on IQs.
Just as secondhand cigarette smoke can affect a person's health, secondhand marijuana smoke can affect others in a room with poor ventilation. They can become impaired, as well, and it shows up in their bloodstream. The question still remains if secondhand marijuana smoke causes diseases similar to those caused by secondhand cigarette smoke. Also, the effects on vulnerable, young children and people with asthma are unknown.
As we age, we naturally lose neurons which decrease our ability to learn new information. Some researchers believe chronic exposure to marijuana may hasten age-related loss of neurons, but the long and short of that is that marijuana has not been studied enough to know its lasting effects.
Bottom line on all of this: Until the federal government allows THC to be researched more thoroughly, we will not know the total impact it has on humans. As a result, society should tread carefully on the idea of recreational marijuana use.
Next week: Al Sturgeon
Charese Yanney of Sioux City is owner and managing partner of Guarantee Roofing, Siding and Insulation Co. She serves on the Siouxland Initiative Executive Committee, the Orpheum Theatre Preservation Board, the Orpheum Theatre Endowment Board and the Iowa Department of Transportation Commission.