(Joe Amon, Denver Post file)

Colorado doctors call for more study of pot’s health effects

DENVER — A year after legalizing recreational pot sales, Colorado has more questions than answers about the health effects of legal marijuana.

A panel of doctors concluded months of meetings Monday about the health effects of marijuana and how people are using it. Instead of reaching many conclusions, though, the doctors agreed the bulk of their recommendations should be calls for more research on the drug.

For example, the doctors looked at research on maternal pot use, or whether marijuana use by pregnant or nursing women affects their children.

They concluded there is “mixed evidence” that marijuana use by pregnant women results in birth defects. But their recommendation calls only for better education and surveys to find out more about maternal pot use, not a ban on selling pot to pregnant women.

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The head of the physician panel, Mike Van Dyke of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said the doctors wanted to be careful not to call for health restrictions in light of extremely limited data on marijuana’s health effects.

“We’re a year into it. We don’t have the answers yet,” Van Dyke said. “We don’t know what the health effects of legalization are.”

The panel included pediatricians, toxicologists and an addiction psychiatrist.

Among the gaps the doctors identified was pot use by adults. Doctors have years of survey data on how schoolchildren use drugs including pot, but not much on how adults use pot.

Dr. Laura Borgelt, a pharmacologist at the University of Colorado-Denver, pointed out that there’s little known about adults aged 18 to 25, people old enough to be out of the house but young enough to be trying pot for the first time.

“I don’t know that those questions have been asked of that age group,” Borgelt said.

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The panel also plans to ask for a study about the health effects of marijuana use by skiers, or whether pot use increases ski accidents. It’s a topic of interest in Colorado.

The doctors will send their recommendations to lawmakers by Jan. 31. Despite the scanty data, some lawmakers aren’t waiting to suggest new curbs on marijuana use for health reasons.

Rep. Jack Tate, R-Centennial, has suggested a bill requiring pot shops to post warnings about marijuana use by pregnant women, and to ban doctors from recommending medical marijuana to pregnant women. That measure awaits its first hearing.

The physician panel plans to keep working, meeting quarterly to review health data and new studies about marijuana.

Colorado recently approved almost $8 million for medical marijuana research, the money coming from medical marijuana patient fees, but doctors agreed much more research is needed.

“If we do nothing else, we need to make clear how much more research is needed,” Van Dyke said.

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Online: Learn more about the Retail Marijuana Public Health Advisory Committee.