If you were a teen in the 1960s or ’70s, odds are good that you know your way around marijuana, even if you didn’t inhale. So who can blame you for being intrigued now that the drug is being sold in a way once unimaginable – legally.
Oregon and Alaska just approved recreational sales, and in Washington State and Colorado, anyone over 21 can already stroll into a retail pot shop and buy marijuana buds and cannabis-infused cookies, tinctures and sodas. A medical marijuana card gets you access to the same in close to half the states. And because the majority of us now back legalization, polls show, availability of the drug can only be expected to increase.
Many baby boomers have already given in to the temptation to revisit their Doobie Brothers days. Use among those ages 50-54 has nearly doubled since 2002 and use among those 55-59 has more than quadrupled, according to data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
But getting high can come with downsides – and the fact that we’re not 18 anymore can add to the risks. So before you dust off the bong, here are five things you should know:
- Marijuana really can be addictive.
Yes, we laughed at Reefer Madness and our parents, but studies confirm that marijuana can be addictive, although the withdrawal symptoms are much milder than you’d feel withdrawing from alcohol, for example. Still, you might experience anxiety, cravings, depression, irritability and insomnia.As an addiction expert and the CEO of a network of treatment programs, I can attest that the increase in legalization has increased the number of those coming to us for help in overcoming a physical and psychological dependence on marijuana. It’s a much greater and more common problem for the young; studies have shown they face a 17 percent chance of addiction as opposed to a 9 percent chance for the rest of us. But no matter your age, be aware that what may start as a lark can end up as a problem.
- Marijuana has changed, and so have we.
Marijuana potency has risen over the years, with the amount of THC, marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient, more than tripling in the past few decades. In a 2010 analysis, the University of Mississippi, which monitors potency on behalf of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, concluded that although the strength issue is sometimes clouded by varied reports and opinions, one thing is certain: “It is now possible to mass produce plants with potencies inconceivable when concerted monitoring efforts started 40 years ago.”Greater potency means more potential to disrupt health, prompt unexpected reactions, and may make dependence on the drug more likely. And, let’s face it, we’re older, meaning our lungs, liver and kidneys have changed, our cardiac capacity may be reduced, and our muscle mass is diminishing, slowing our metabolism as it does so. We just aren’t going to process substances as efficiently as we once did.
- It has health risks.
Marijuana can raise heart rates by 20 to 100 percent and can prompt an almost five-fold increase in the risk of heart attack in the first hour after smoking the drug. And the most vulnerable are those who are older or who have an existing cardiac issue.Links to lung cancer are inconclusive, but pot smoking can increase cough and lead to a greater risk of respiratory infections.If you decide to skip the smoke and try edibles, proceed with caution. Foods and drinks that contain marijuana take longer to hit the system, so it’s easy to assume nothing is happening and over-consume. If you need convincing, read New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd’s description of her edible freak-out.Note: If you do decide to imbibe, keep your stash safely away from young visitors and the grandkids. There is no dispute that pot can be very dangerous for the young, and accidental ingestion of pot and emergency room visits by kids have spiked in states with decriminalization and legalization.
- Self-medicating can backfire.
Marijuana has long been used for pain relief, and it is known to boost appetite and relieve nausea for those undergoing chemotherapy or who are dealing with AIDS. But be cautious if using marijuana as an addition to your medicine chest. It does have health risks, as described above, so you may be trading one issue for a more serious one.If your memories of mellowing out on pot are tempting you to try it as a stress reliever, be aware that marijuana, especially long-term use, has been linked to anxiety and depression in some and can even lead to panic attacks – all the things you aren’t looking for.If you need stress relief, give techniques such as meditation or yoga a try. Yes, it’s more hassle than lighting up, but it will have a much bigger long-term payoff, especially when combined with a commitment to exercise and healthy eating.
- Pot won’t make you a rebel this time.
Our generation is primed to write off any negatives we hear about marijuana as scare tactics – it’s what we were raised on, after all. But don’t let that mindset blind you to the fact that all the good you may hear about marijuana shouldn’t be taken on faith either. Like it or not, our nation has set in motion a marijuana industry with an economic interest in making you a customer. Keep that in mind when weighing pros and cons.