Medical Marijuana

Many studies indicate an association between chronic marijuana use and increased rates of anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation and especially schizophrenia.

by Dr. Larry Wilson — 

In November 2010, voters will decide whether to legalize medical marijuana in Arizona, but is it safe for our state? This article presents facts not found in most news reports that will help you make an informed decision on this important issue.

What marijuana is and how it is used

Marijuana, also called cannabis, weed or pot, is a species of the hemp plant. Hemp is grown worldwide for its oil, food and fiber. The variety in question, however, contains much more of a psychoactive chemical, termed THC.

Pot can be smoked or added to common foods. Some people use it only occasionally — at parties, for example. While many may believe it to be harmless, driving while stoned is at least five times more dangerous than driving without the drug. Others use it to self-medicate for feelings of anxiety, depression or irritability. Its low cost makes it, by far, the most widely abused drug in America today.

How does marijuana affect the brain?

The main active chemical in cannabis is THC or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. THC damages very sensitive cells of the brain related to perception and coordination. These are sometimes called cannabinoid receptor cells. This is a misnomer, however. The cells attacked by THC are just very delicate cells.

THC and other chemicals in the plant can reduce some pain, nausea and other symptoms by numbing the sensitive cells that record pain. This is the rationale for the legalization and use of “medical marijuana.” However, this does not change the fact that the drug is highly toxic to the brain.

 Symptoms of brain damage from THC and other chemicals in marijuana — Symptoms include distorted perception, impaired coordination, difficulty in thinking and problem-solving, and problems with learning and memory. The main impact wears off after a few hours; research indicates, however, that some adverse effects can last for days or weeks.

Long-term use of marijuana —  Marijuana alters the brain in ways similar to that of other major drugs. For example, pot withdrawal in chronically exposed animals leads to an increase in the activation of the stress response system and changes in the activity of nerve cells containing dopamine. Dopamine neurons are involved in the regulation of motivation and reward.

The addictive potential of marijuana —  Many claim that marijuana is not addictive. This is simply not true. Long-term marijuana abusers trying to quit report irritability, sleeplessness, decreased appetite, anxiety and drug craving, all of which make it more difficult to stop. Some 6 percent of those who use marijuana will become addicted. This is about the same percentage of social drinkers who become alcoholics.

Marijuana and mental health — Many studies indicate an association between chronic marijuana use and increased rates of anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation and especially schizophrenia. The younger a person is at first use, the more likely his or her chance of developing a serious mental illness. This may occur because the brain is still developing and, therefore, most vulnerable to damage from THC and other chemicals in marijuana.

At the present time, the strongest evidence links pot smoking with schizophrenia. High doses of marijuana can produce an acute psychotic reaction. In addition, use of the drug may trigger the onset or relapse of schizophrenia in vulnerable individuals.

Aspects of marijuana use on the brain

Growth and development of the human brain should continue anywhere from age 30 to 40. However, the effects of marijuana retard the development of the finer brain centers. When this form of development does not occur on schedule, a person will not be able to function nearly as well in a complex modern society. This is the saddest aspect of marijuana use.

A person who uses pot even once a week is rarely aware of the destructive action of the drug, because he does not realize how much better he could function if his brain were not so affected.

Other effects of pot smoking

Effects on the heart — Studies estimate that, as with cigarettes, marijuana smokers have a four-fold increase in heart attack risk in the first hour after smoking the drug. This may be due to an increased heart rate, as well as the effects of marijuana on heart rhythms, causing palpitations and arrhythmias. This risk is greater in aging populations or those with cardiac vulnerabilities.

Effects on the lungs — Marijuana smoke contains 50 to 70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than tobacco smoke. Regular marijuana smokers show dysregulated growth of epithelial cells in their lung tissue.

A study of 450 individuals found that people who smoke marijuana frequently, but do not smoke tobacco, have more health problems and miss more days of work than nonsmokers. Many of the extra sick days among the pot smokers in the study were for respiratory illnesses.

Effects on daily life and society — Research shows that regular marijuana use reduces cognitive abilities. Several studies associate workers’ pot smoking with increased absences, tardiness, accidents, workers’ compensation claims and job turnover.

Arizona’s Ballot Proposition 203

Proponents of this initiative claim it will simply permit seriously ill people to obtain marijuana to allay pain, nausea and other symptoms. But this is not what has occurred in California, Colorado and Montana, where similar laws have passed. In these states, the following has happened:

(1) Most marijuana goes to drug abusers, not the seriously ill.

(2) Teen drug use is up significantly. Teens are most vulnerable to damage from THC due to their young age.

(3) Traffic accidents and traffic fatalities have risen sharply.

(4) Crime has increased significantly, although proponents claim that crime should decrease.

(5) The law protects pot smokers in ways we would never tolerate from people who abuse alcohol or prescription drugs.

Let us explore each of these problems in more detail.

 Problem #1 — Most marijuana ends up being used by drug abusers, teenagers, college students and recreational users with no serious medical problems. News stories by the Associated Press (“Medical Marijuana Facing a Backlash”) and The New York Times (“When Capitalism Meets Cannabis”) document this problem in Montana and Colorado.

Proponents of Prop 203 claim that the bill contains safeguards against abuse, despite experience in other states showing these to be ineffective. For example, one safeguard is that only licensed doctors can prescribe marijuana. However, in the other states, a handful of doctors have set up practices where they see 50 to 100 people a day and do nothing but hand out marijuana cards to anyone who can pay. In Montana, traveling marijuana caravans take pot doctors from town to town, handing out marijuana cards. This should be illegal, but it is occurring in other states with similar laws.

A second supposed safeguard is that Prop 203 limits marijuana to people with specific medical conditions. However, the list of approved conditions includes “severe and intractable pain.” This is totally subjective. Anyone can fake pain, and it is virtually impossible to disprove. It is a perfect loophole for drug abusers to legally smoke all the weed they want.

In The New York Times article “When Capitalism Meets Cannabis,” the reporter describes spending three days at several marijuana dispensaries. Everyone he interviewed had a diagnosis of severe pain, and not cancer or another illness. According to a narcotics officer who prefers to remain anonymous, in California, 98 percent of the medical marijuana patients do not have a serious or terminal illness. Of the patients, 70 percent are under age 40, which should be the healthiest, not the sickest group.

Also, surveillance cameras show a huge increase in foot traffic at marijuana dispensaries between Friday afternoon and Sunday morning, suggesting recreational rather than medical use.

 Problem #2 — Teenage marijuana use will increase. Research shows that teenagers who smoke pot heavily have difficulty with memory, attention and problem-solving, find it harder to learn, get lower grades, are less motivated, and are less likely to finish high school or college. Once they have finished or left school, they often have higher job turnover, less satisfying careers and earn less money than their non-pot-smoking peers. This is not to say that marijuana is the cause of these problems, but it certainly points to an association.

Teenage pot use has decreased over the past decade, as teens recognize the problems it can cause. But the decrease has been half as much in states with medical marijuana laws.

Some pro-marijuana advocates use only half this statistic, claiming that teenage marijuana use is actually decreasing in medical marijuana states. While true, they fail to mention that teen marijuana use has decreased everywhere and is decreasing far faster in states without medical marijuana laws.

Medical marijuana laws tend to make marijuana more available for everyone, which can be extremely dangerous for teens, in particular. In a report aired on National Public Radio this year, a young Colorado woman was quoted as saying all her friends had marijuana cards, so it was always available. When a drug is more available, many more people tend to use it. About 20 percent more teens use pot in states allowing medical marijuana.

If Prop 203 becomes law, parents need to know that: (1) their children will likely have friends who smoke pot, (2) their children will more likely smoke it, too, (3) they will likely start at an earlier age and, (4) they probably will smoke it more often than they would have without the passage of Prop 203.

Problem #3 — Many more DUIs and fatal auto accidents will occur. A research study by the University of Auckland compared a random sample of drivers with people who had either been killed or hospitalized from car accidents. Regular and heavy pot smokers were 9.5 times more likely to get into a serious or fatal accident compared to non-users.

Another study looked at patients in a hospital trauma unit who had been in car or motorcycle accidents. At the time of the accident, 32 percent were using marijuana. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 45 percent of people stopped for reckless driving who were not using alcohol tested positive for marijuana.

According to Montana narcotics chief, Mark Long, after passage of the Montana marijuana law, marijuana DUIs skyrocketed, as did the number of fatal car accidents where one of the drivers had marijuana in his bloodstream. Marijuana advocates often insist that marijuana never killed anyone, and that it is safer than alcohol. However, judging by the statistics, neither of these claims are true.

 Problem #4 — Crime will increase, not decrease as its supporters claim. Those in favor of medical marijuana or legalization argue that it will lead to less crime, especially at the border. However, evidence from other states indicates the opposite. The reasons are:

  • According to the Department of Justice, about 60 percent of marijuana-related crime occurs because people who are high or stoned do stupid, and often violent things.
  • An additional 20 percent of all drug-related crime occurs because users are unable to hold jobs, so they resort to crime to live, and not just to pay for their drugs.
  • Only 20 percent of crime comes from gangs and other violence among drug sellers. Unfortunately, these groups get most of the news coverage. If we legalize marijuana, this 20 percent will diminish. However, many more people will use the drug, increasing the other 80 percent of the crime associated with it.

A 2001 study published in the Journal of Addictive Diseases found a link between heavy marijuana use and serious crime, including attempted homicide, weapons offenses and reckless endangerment.

 Problem #5 — Prop 203 protects pot smokers in ways we would never tolerate from people who abuse alcohol or prescription drugs. Prop 203 says that marijuana cardholders cannot be arrested for DUI based on “the presence of metabolites or components of marijuana that appear in insufficient concentration to cause impairment.” In other medical marijuana states, when police have tried to prosecute stoned drivers, the Marijuana Policy Project uses its millions to litigate many cases, until prosecutors give up.

The proposed law also states that an employer may not discipline an employee or send him home based on a drug test showing “the presence of metabolites or components of marijuana that appear in insufficient concentration to cause impairment.” Also, no landlord may refuse someone as a tenant for being a marijuana cardholder, even if the cardholder is allowed to grow marijuana in the home.

The effect of Prop 203, especially when combined with the threat to litigate every case, will be that pot smokers will drive stoned with impunity. They can show up to work stoned or high with few consequences. Drug-free workplace rules will not apply. If you are a landlord, your tenants can remain stoned all day and grow marijuana in the bedroom, if they choose to do so.

Prop 203 gives pot smokers special protection that endangers the user and others. Medical marijuana is not necessary in Arizona. Also, Proposition 203 is a badly written law full of intentional loopholes designed to secretly legalize pot smoking on our roads and in our work places. This does not appear to be safe or sane for Arizonans.

References

Szalavitz, M, “The Link Between Marijuana and Schizophrenia,” Time, Jul. 21, 2010. www.time.com.

Many more references can be found at numerous sites, including www.keepazdrugfree.com/index/ and www.edgogek.com, which were used to prepare this article.

 

Dr. Lawrence Wilson has a medical degree and has been in the health field for more than 25 years. His books include Nutritional Balancing and Hair Mineral Analysis, Legal Guidelines for Unlicensed Practitioners, Healing Ourselves and Manual of Sauna Therapy and The Real Self. He also co-authored Toxic Metals in Human Health and Disease and contributed to The Dangers of Socialized Medicine. www.drlwilson.com or 928-445-7690.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 29, Number 4, Aug/Sept/2010.

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