Beware the downsides of medical marijuana

By December 20, 2015 Recent News

Charleston Gazette 17 December 2015
Marijuana was placed under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act in 1972 because it has “no accepted medical use.” Since then, 23 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized medical marijuana. Some states allow users to grow their own, while others allow only commercial growth and sales. Medical marijuana is still illegal under federal law nationwide.

Proponents of medical marijuana argue that it can be a safe and effective treatment for symptoms of cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, debilitating pain, glaucoma, epilepsy and other conditions. They cite dozens of peer-reviewed studies, prominent medical organizations and major government reports. Marijuana has been used as a medicine throughout world history.

Opponents argue that it is too dangerous, lacks FDA approval and legal drugs are available that make marijuana use unnecessary. They also say marijuana is addictive, can lead to harder drug use, interferes with fertility, impairs driving ability and injures the lungs, immune system and brain.

Marijuana is made up of more than 500 chemicals. Many of these are cannabinoids, which bind to receptors in the body and affect the immune system and brain.

Researchers have pinpointed two cannabinoids — THC and CBD — as beneficial. THC can make you high, while CBD does not.

When smoked, high temperatures can cause the chemicals in marijuana to combine and produce hundreds more. Research suggests that marijuana smoke contains up to 70 percent more carcinogens than tobacco smoke. Studies show that people who started smoking marijuana before age 18 had a greater decline in IQ and cognitive function than people who started smoking as adults. Teen users who continue to smoke experience an additional 8-point IQ drop, which could not otherwise be accounted for.

THC has biphasic activity. At low doses, it has certain effects and, at high doses, it has other effects. Someone using pot at a low dose might be calm, happy and hungry. Some could also see medical benefits. But, if you take in too much THC, you can become irritable or even psychotic.

Thirty years ago, marijuana averaged 1 percent to 2 percent THC content. Today, it can be 10 percent to 12 percent. Along with that THC increase comes the potential for increased and stronger side-effects. For synthetic medical marijuana, the average THC content is about 2.5 percent, which has been shown that to be a good level for the medical benefits without the bad side-effects.

One question about medical marijuana is why use it when so many legal medications are available.

Supporters respond that patients don’t use cannabis just to feel good. Instead, proponents believe that certain symptoms and diseases can be best treated with marijuana, as opposed to other medications.

Marijuana has been shown to decrease nausea and increase appetite. It helps lower intraocular eye pressure in glaucoma sufferers. Some types of pain respond better to marijuana than to conventional pain relievers. Others are tired of using medications that can be narcotic, addictive or produce unpleasant side effects.

Medical marijuana sold in legitimate stores can be controlled like other medications. In all states, the amount a person can have at any given time is limited. But, in the states where patients can grow their own marijuana, limits on the number of plants and how much can be kept on the premises vary. There is more leeway for those patients to “self-prescribe” or overuse, as long as they don’t get caught. It is illegal in all states to sell or share medical marijuana with others.

While there might be benefits to medical marijuana use, there is also potential for abuse or addiction. That can also be the case with most prescription and over-the-counter medications. Any drug, legal or not, can be overused or abused. Prescription drugs must go through rigorous trials and testing before going to market. For medical marijuana, that is not the case, and laws differ in each jurisdiction.

Medical marijuana might well be the wave of the future and does have real potential for the treatment of many ailments and diseases, but until all states and the federal government come up with consistent regulation and major trials are conducted to determine best uses, side effects, etc., it is still a haphazard situation. Once it is tested and regulated like other prescription medications, its uses could very well increase dramatically.

David L. Cottrell wrote this for Drug and Alcohol Presentations Inc., of Charleston.

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