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Doctors weigh in on public health as Minnesota legalizes recreational marijuana

Leaders at Hazelden Betty Ford will host a community conversation in two weeks addressing the use of marijuana and public health.

MINNEAPOLIS — With the legalization of marijuana now signed into law in Minnesota, it's still to be determined what this means for public health. 

"There are some weak short-term studies, so we don't have a lot of long, good long-term data on the medical benefits," said Dr. Alta DeRoo, Chief Medical Officer with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation

As of right now, there are only two approved marijuana-based medications for medical use. 

"They are dronabinol and epidiolex, and both of those treat seizures," explained Dr. DeRoo. 

While some may use the legalization of recreational marijuana to help manage ailments at home, it's the opportunity for easier access that doctors say may present issues for certain age groups.

"It can help out with some pain symptoms," said Dr. DeRoo. "Just the fact that it's going to be legalized for recreational use is going to be perceived by youth as it being less risky, much like alcohol."

Doctors say some studies have shown it negatively impacts brain development. 

"It affects the prefrontal cortex — the front of the brain. That's the last thing to develop and the youth or adolescents that get involved with marijuana will have an issue with that decision-making and executive function," explained Dr. DeRoo. 

Experts say it's not just teens. 

"For those few who have preexisting mental health issues or for pregnant persons or for the youth, this is a risky road to go down," said Dr. DeRoo. "Those folks who are using marijuana recreationally, 10% of them will develop into a substance use disorder with marijuana.”

Knowing there's still more to be determined. 

"I think that once we go down the road of normalizing a drug for people to use, that we need to also compensate for that gap in the public health that we may be missing," said Dr. DeRoo. 

Doctors are pushing for more mental health resources and funding for the treatment of substance use disorders. 

Leaders at Hazelden Betty Ford will host a community conversation in two weeks addressing the use of marijuana and public health.



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