In less than a week, Ohio voters will go to the polls to have their final say on Issue 2, which would legalize the recreational use of marijuana. If voters back the proposal, Ohio would become the 25th state to do so.
Medical marijuana has been legal in Ohio since 2016. People with more than 20 conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease and cancer, can get a recommendation from a physician and a medical card to buy cannabis.
But, right now, people can’t legally smoke marijuana in the state. They can use oils, edibles and patches, and they can vape. If Issue 2 passes, Ohio adults will be able to light up legally.
Signal Cleveland asked a couple of experts to weigh the health risks. We talked with Dr. Arvind Suguness, a pulmonologist at MetroHealth System, and Dr. Kevin Wandler, an addiction specialist at The Recovery Village Columbus.
Their interviews were edited for brevity and clarity.
What is known about the health effects of smoking marijuana ?
Suguness: There isn’t a lot of research on the harmful effects of marijuana on the lung tissue or direct links between cancer. Big research trials have shown that marijuana smokers don’t develop the same kind of chronic lung diseases that cigarette smokers do.
There are many reasons for this, but one is that marijuana smokers tend to smoke fewer joints than cigarette smokers. The dosage or frequency of smoking differs for both cigarette and marijuana users.
Generally, smoke contains what’s called carcinogens, which are substances that cause mutation of the DNA, and your immune system and that down the line can lead to the development of different types of cancers.
Wandler: Certainly, cannabis can alter your balance, your memory, coordination, and your reaction time. We also don’t know how long it lasts in the system, so there needs to be more research about these topics.
States that have legalized recreational cannabis have seen an increase in significant car accidents that are considered to be cannabis-related. Of course, those accidents can lead to death and put a huge weight on EMTs and emergency rooms in hospitals.
Is it still bad for your health if it’s in vaporized oils or edible formats?
Suguness: We have no idea about the effects of vape or vaporized oils on the lungs. My general recommendation to my patients is if you’re going to use marijuana, it’s preferred in edible form.
Wandler: Now that marijuana is being legalized nationwide, there’s research going on to determine the effects of cannabis oils, vapes and edibles to see how long it lasts in your system and if it is better to ingest or smoke. Again, these are things that need to be researched.
What do physicians think about marijuana?
Suguness: For medical marijuana, I think the place where it is accepted in the physician community is in the treatment of cancer pain. I’m sure not all physicians [agree] because nothing is accepted in 100% of the physician community. But using it as a palliative measure, by palliative doctors, to help people with their pain, muscle spasms, nausea or serious illness [is common].
Wandler: I think the questions physicians are asking are: how are people using cannabis? Are they smoking it? Are they eating edibles like gummies or brownies? What’s the potency of the product being used, because it can vary significantly.
And, the big question is, what’s the right amount? As physicians, we cannot recommend someone use cannabis for their health. But if a patient wants to use it, we often recommend it in an edible form that isn’t too damaging to the lungs or body.