A group of about 30 law enforcement, medical, and treatment professionals met behind closed doors Wednesday at Cottage Hospital to brace for the full legalization of cannabis.
Three months before recreational marijuana becomes widely available, Santa Barbara medical professionals are grappling with the potential health impacts of what many people believe will be increased use.
Dr. Charity Dean, the county’s public health officer, presented to “Fighting Back Santa Barbara,” a group that promotes awareness of the dangers of drug use among young people. She talked about research she has done in the last year on the positives and negative impacts of cannabis. The upshot is nobody knows for sure.
“Because cannabis is a Schedule 1 drug, it’s difficult for researchers to get access to it so the studies on it are totally different from each other,” Dean said. “We will know more in 20 years or 50 years.”
We do know, she told Fighting Back, there is substantial evidence for both positive and negatives consequences. She said research shows marijuana relieves chronic pain, treats nausea in patients undergoing chemotherapy, and can help multiple sclerosis patients who suffer from muscle spasms.
But there is also substantial evidence, Dean said, that babies born to mothers who use cannabis while they are pregnant or breastfeeding causes lower birth weights. Heavy users can develop chronic bronchitis. Frequent users can develop schizophrenia or other psychosis. Cannabis use can affect the developing brain until age 25. She added that being male and smoking cigarettes are risk factors.
“The brain continues to develop into the mid and late twenties,” said Dr. Paul Erikson, who specializes in psychiatry at Cottage Hospital and attended Wednesday’s meeting. “There is a concern [young adults] are going to be a vulnerable population.”
The public’s perception is that marijuana is a fairly benign substance, Erikson said. That’s true except for