Health officials say cannabis should stay ‘in the closet’

By Dawn Aerts

Iron County Today

CEDAR CITY–Most people have heard the old adage that warns of the ‘canary in the coal mine.’  That is, the atmosphere and conditions appear safe enough until the canary succumbs to the poison.

In Iron County, and across the country, professionals in education, behavioral health and law enforcement are urging families and youth to be just as cautious about ‘cannabis in the closet.’

“There are a lot of things we don’t know.  Misrepresentations are out there,” said Heidi Baxley, Iron County Prevention Specialist.  “Marijuana is often portrayed in the media as a substance having low risk, or as a medicinal used to achieve better health or well-being. Unfortunately, the perception that it’s less risky than say alcohol, or even tobacco.”

As part of the Prevention Coalition, it’s Baxley’s job to alert parents and youth to the accumulating risk factors.

“We know that marijuana is not exactly a ‘medicine’ and that use is not based on hard science.  According to one New Zealand study focused on teens, marijuana impairs ‘thinking ability,’ and leads to increased drug use, while more recent data points to higher accident rates, upticks in fatalities, and emergency room visits involving cannabis.

“We also know that marijuana (in present varieties and concentrations) is linked to poor learning, poor memory, increased school drop-out rates, unemployment, or for youth,  ‘skipping classes.’”

Health experts also point to behavioral consequence known as ‘the apathy’ syndrome.

“Today I can go into a classroom to talk about the negative impacts of alcohol or smoking, and most kids generally accept that message,” said Baxley, “But not with marijuana.  In fact, those same kids will argue that it’s okay to use it, even after I share the science and facts that say otherwise.”

According to Baxley, it is the conversations and messages that parents give children that may have the biggest impact on a young person’s decision.

“I would have to say that parents have the most influence on what a pre-teen decides about marijuana use.  In other words, if parents don’t discourage use, if they don’t set very clear expectations on why children shouldn’t use this substance, they will be at a greater risk. The parents are the number one reason that kids choose to use or not use, to engage in risk or not, they are the example.”

A recent Iron County Sharp Survey taken in 2017 showed that rates of cannabis use among 6th through 8th grade students had decreased, while 10th through 12th grade usage rates have increased.  It also noted that parents don’t think cannabis use is wrong, or very wrong.

“So, there is a perception that it’s safe, the media reports that it’s being used as a medicine.  As people perceive less risk, the decision to use goes up,” Baxley said. She is one of dozens of professionals who weigh the impact of alcohol, tobacco and drugs and the mental and behavioral health risks among local families. “I would say that the concern grows:  If parents don’t perceive the risk, there will be a generational affect for people who want to attend college and have a career.”

While Baxley has heard numerous personal testimonials by those who claim to have discovered some health benefits, she asks parents to look at the available data on cannabis use in other states.  For example, a recent Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Traffic report cites specific outcomes under a State of Colorado Law that provides for medical and recreational use: more accidents, more fatalities, more emergency room visits and poison control calls.

“I hope parents will carefully look at what the information is showing us and understand that they can and do influence their young people.”

According to compiled data, there are some initial findings:

  • No, it’s not exactly medicine and it’s not based on science
  • Linked to increased drug use, or dependency
  • May impair cognitive ability (New Zealand study of adolescent use) associated with an average 8-point drop in IQ.
  • Linked to increased high school and college drop-out rates
  • Doubles the risk of psychiatric disorders — like schizophrenia
  • Linked to poor learning outcomes, memory, skipping class, etc.
  • Contains tar and carcinogens like tobacco (toxic ammonia and Hyrogen cyanide too)
  • Almost doubles your risk of a car crash (
  • Is shown to impair memory and inhibit learning ability
  • Tissue studies show changes in density and shape of the brain
  • Pre-natal brain development issues, with lower birth weight

Baxley points out that there is proposed legislation pending (H.B. 195) to allow for limited cannabis-medicinal dosage for terminally-ill patients under certain state-regulated circumstances, and points to a move by Utah legislators to place constraints on any use pending change to the federal drug classification system which currently lists cannabis as a schedule 1 drug (heroin, LSD) as illegal.

Meanwhile, a group of activists and Utah residents with chronic conditions launched a summer ballot initiative to ask voters to pass a broad medical marijuana law in 2018.

“We’re hoping that families will take a good look at what the data tells us about the experience of other states,” said Baxley of the issue. “There are risk factors and consequences.”

Caption:  Iron County Prevention Coalition Specialist Heidi Baxley (center) is one of dozen professionals who work on issues relative to drug, alcohol, and tobacco use. Also in photo are: 2nd row Randi Eberley, Canyon Creek Women’s Crisis Center; Shalise Jackson, Southwest Center; Angelica Judd, Iron County Children’s Justice Center; 3rd row Amy Bates, Utah Foster Care; Emily Scow, CASA; Janet Malachowski, Cedar City Hospital; and Julie Dastrup, Juvenile Probation; 4th row Merrit Bowden, Intermountain Healthcare; and Lauren MaAfee, Cedar City Library; 5th row Kari Spencer, Family Support Center; Eric Bonnett, DCFS; Kylaas Flanagan, Southwest Utah Public Health Department; and LaMar Macklin, Southwest Center. Photo by J. Aerts


What others say about : Health officials say cannabis should stay ‘in the closet’..

Douglas Rice

Most of the cannabis advocates agree that teens and youth should NOT be using cannabis recreationally. BUT there is a treatment window of opportunity to control symptoms of some illnesses, where medical use under a doctor’s supervision would be appropriate.
But I find it interesting that your group looks at data from New Zealand, and from Rocky Mtn High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (RMHIDTA), yet fails to consider data from Colorado State Dept of Health. Here’s the link if you’re interested in some info-

This Colorado report differs from “facts” provided by RMHIDTA. Youth use, according to the Health Dept report,
==”More than 5 percent of high school students use marijuana daily or near daily. This rate has remained stable since at least 2005.”
==For adults and adolescents, past-month marijuana use has not changed since legalization either in terms of the number of people using or the frequency of use among users.
== Based on the most comprehensive data available, “past month marijuana use” among Colorado adolescents is nearly identical to the national average.
So the idea that “numbers of kids using cannabis are skyrocketing” are fantasy.

As far as RMHIDTA’s reports on crashes and poison control, even the RMHIDTA report itself points out these numbers should not be used to jump to conclusion. Since THC stays in the system up to 30 days after ingestion, presence of THC in a traffic fatality doesn’t mean the person was high and caused the accident.
Yet RMHIDTA includes those fatalities in its report, so they show up as a “marijuana-related fatality”. That’s like saying if you died from a heart attack while mowing your lawn (3 days after returning from a Hawaii vacation), your death is attributed to an airliner crash.

=== Utah’s traffic fatalities increased from 2016 to 2017, although Utah doesn’t have legal cannabis. So a jump in numbers doesn’t mean there is a correlation.

=== A report from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states “Poor correlation between THC concentration and [driving simulator] performance was found, which again indicates that blood THC level is not a reliable indicator of impairment.” NHTSA Report to Congress, July 2017

Here’s a quick synopsis of recent studies on the medical benefits of cannabis:

And if that spurs your interest in medical benefits, here are 60 peer-reviewed studies, both pro and con, on medical cannabis.

Again, we don’t condone youth use. And kids need to focus on education and development before being exposed to cannabis. But, as medical professionals, you folks should be setting a better example.
Such as using the name “cannabis” rather than the racially-prejudiced term “marijuana”. If you don’t understand why, you should Google “cannabis vs marijuana” and take 30 minutes for some CME.
Stop using statistics from RMHIDTA, which do not correlate with data from CDC, NHTSA, or the states of Colorado and Utah that RMHIDTA does business in.
Stop bad-mouthing medicinal use of a plant with obvious and well-documented medical benefits, just because it doesn’t fit your view of medicine. As recently as this week, a federal judge has acknowledged the medical benefits of cannabis. I suggest to you that it is time you, as health professionals, do the same.

Thousands of people are dying from properly-used opioids, as well as recreational use of prescription drugs. There is NOT ONE documented case of a cannabis overdose death. In 30 years as a paramedic, I have yet to see an overdose death from cannabis. Yet I have friends and family that have died from opioid use.

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