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Editorial: Pot-related ER visits up 59 percent

With recreational marijuana now legal in Colorado and Washington, and medicinal marijuana available in more than 20 states, including Minnesota, many people seem to think the drug is harmless.

They may want to think again: More Americans are seeking treatment for cannabis-related health problems, according to a recent United Nations report.

People may consider marijuana the least harmful of illicit drugs, but the UNODC reports that there has been a noticeable increase in the number of people seeking treatment for cannabis-use disorders over the past decade.

In the U.S. from 2006 to 2010, there was a 59 percent increase in cannabis-related hospital emergency room visits and a 14 percent increase in cannabis-related treatment admissions.

Not surprisingly the report also found that there was more tetrahydrocannabinol in seized cannabis crops, with levels rising to 11.9 percent in 2011, from 8.7 percent in 2007. THC is the main mind-altering chemical found in marijuana.

Because of the relationship between increased potency and dependence, that trend may be contributing to the increased risk of drug-use disorders, the report said.

The primary reason for increased levels of THC is genetic selection by cannabis producers, and that is only going to get worse with legalization.

Producers are breeding marijuana plants with the highest concentration of THC with the aim of creating a product that enables them to sell smaller volumes for higher prices.

Alarm bells have begun to ring in the medical community.

A study published in January in the American Journal of Cardiology warned of an association between marijuana use and serious health problems, including sudden cardiac death, myocardial infarction and stroke.

Doctors are particularly concerned about young people misusing marijuana.

Risks posed to youth include lung problems, memory impairment, risk of heavy dependence, mental health problems and poor cognitive performance, according to the U.N. report.

Because of ever-higher THC levels, the National Institutes of Health warned last year that “daily use can have stronger effects on a developing teen brain than it did 10 or 20 years ago.”

Marijuana, like everything else, is best used in moderation or not at all.