Jul 20, 2014
DON'T LET MISSOURI GO TO POT: THE CASE AGAINST EASIER MARIJUANA ACCESS
At one time asbestos used in school construction, doctors recommending cigarettes to soothe sore throats and putting cocaine in soft drinks seemed like good ideas. Now we can only wonder, “What were they thinking?” Perhaps we can forgive our forebears because scientific evidence of the cancer causing properties of asbestos and tobacco and the addicting and health destroying nature of cocaine was not in existence at the time. That is not the case with marijuana.
Its unlikely future generations will absolve us of responsibility if the recreational and medical use of marijuana becomes national. The number of states permitting medical marijuana (23) and recreational cannabis for adults (Washington and Colorado) continues to increase. Short summary—bad idea! As research physicians we present the known adverse health implications of marijuana use.
While generally mellow, marijuana users only seem to become angry and agitated when any suggestion is made that their pot use might have adverse consequences. When we wrote on this subject in the Kansas City Star, they had to shut down The Star website discussion because of all the abusive and vulgar postings. It’s obvious that stoners would rather get mad than carefully consider any contrary evidence to their mental construct that chronic marijuana use is harmless fun.
The high growing cannabis plant has been used commercially in the United States since colonial times when it was imported from Caribbean countries. It was refined or spun into cloth, ropes, wax, resins, paper, fuel, pulp and other useful products. The Caribbean natives were aware of the psychoactive effects of smoked hemp which they called “ganja”. Presently smoked cannabis plant is also known by many monikers most commonly: pot, weed, Mary Jane, reefers, roach, buds, joint, green, and back to its original roots—hemp and rope.
The potency of present day marijuana is from 5 to 20 times stronger that the hippie “grass” used in the 1960’s. That increases the habituating and addicting properties of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) the major cannabis psychoactive ingredient. This accounts for the rising annual number of emergency room visits (400,000+) for panic attacks, acute psychosis and toxicity. A review of medical and mental damaging effects of marijuana can be found in Missouri Medicine 2012. Suffice here to say that THC is especially dangerous to children under age 15 and increases the incidence of mental health problems, in some cases the risk of Schizophrenia is increased 10 fold compared to the general population. Ambition and drive is blunted, memory impaired and IQ may be reduced permanently by as much as 8 points. Driving and working while using marijuana dramatically increases the chance of accidents and injuries.
The rapidly expanding commercial marijuana industry e.g. the profitable California based Medbox Corporation, has already produced cannabis food (marijuana laced brownies to be sold in vending machines) and candy like cannabis concoctions with names like “Pot Tarts” and “Kif Kat Bars” that appeal to youngsters. Deaths have occurred in children who overdosed on ‘cannabis candy.”
As we reported in Missouri Medicine, “Proponents of cannabis use argue that smoking cannabis provides relaxation and pleasure, enhances the sense of well-being, contributes to stress relief, and helps to deal with hard reality. Of course any enhancement of well-being in a mentally healthy person through use of a psychoactive substance is in some sense an oxymoron. Furthermore, cannabis use alters cortical dopamine, which plays a major role in higher cognitive functions, working memory, executive function, etc. Hence, the “relaxed” feeling most cannabis users report as a desirable acute effect, in all likelihood reflects cognitive dulling (non- or a-motivated syndrome) caused by altered cortical dopamine balance. In other words the weight of evidence indicates that cannabis creates cognitive dulling rather than reduction in anxiety, indifference rather than relaxation, and amotivation rather than inner peace, all closer to psychopathology than well-being.”
Numerous medical studies have shown that chronic marijuana use can permanently impair memory, intelligence, coordination, driving ability, impulse control, damage the heart, lungs, immune system, liver and increase the risk of certain types of cancers. The younger the user and the more frequent the use of marijuana the more potential for serious health problems. Australian psychiatrist David Castle, MD filled a 252 page text (Marijuana and Madness, 2nd Ed, Cambridge Press) with carefully referenced studies on physical and mental disease caused by marijuana. There were 49 respected contributing scientists from all over the world.
Already over 400 chemicals have been identified in marijuana including carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide and ammonia. “Hey man, you want a drag of cyanide and ammonia?” might not find as many takers among the tokers when the roach makes the rounds at parties.
The FDA and physicians rightfully consider cannabis a drug and subject to federally stipulated rigorous study protocols. The legislative route being used to introduce medical and recreational marijuana illegally and dangerously circumvents this FDA drug testing process. Federal law also mandates that marijuana use and possession is illegal but Presidents and the Justice Department have chosen to ignore the laws they swore to defend.
Legitimate FDA type research has been done on purified cannabis and useful products for cancer chemotherapy such as Marinol® and Cesamet® are available. These drugs do not produce psychoactive effects. The use of marijuana products such as “Charlotte’s Web” for childhood seizures and other illnesses is unproven, anecdotal and potentially harmful. Cannabis use for glaucoma treatment is never needed. Medical marijuana “cards” are widely abused. Searching on Google “How to fake needing a medical marijuana card” offers 871,000 helpful suggestions. The most frank and succinct being, “Like man you tell them you got pain. Every dude has pain. Pain work every time!”
Although dependence and addiction to alcohol and nicotine are among Missouri’s biggest social and health problems, the legal use of booze and cigarettes are cited by marijuana activists as reasons to legalize pot. Less than 8% of Americans smoke marijuana while 52% use alcohol and 27% smoke nicotine cigarettes. Missouri has over 10,000 tobacco related deaths per year. Addiction and abuse of legal medications are more of a problem than illegal drugs. Deaths from legal drug overdose exceed the number of deaths from automobile accidents and surpass all types of illegal drug deaths combined. It is catastrophically illogical to introduce another public health problem and source of habituation and addiction to our already overwhelmed health and social welfare systems.
How should one account for nanny-state social planners and big city politicians demonizing sugar, banning trans-fats and large size soft drinks while giving marijuana a pass? Why does the bent-out-of-shape crowd rail at ‘Big Tobacco, Big Food and Big Pharma” while ignoring “Big Weed” (e.g. CannabisInvestments.com) gearing up to make stores peddling smoked and eaten marijuana as ubiquitous as Starbucks and Subways? Revenue from taxing marijuana has failed to achieve projections.
As physicians we regard recreational and sham-medical marijuana as a looming public health problem with adverse consequences that could eventually rival those of tobacco use and alcohol addiction.
Washington and Colorado are now conducting de facto social and scientific experiments on the problems of widely available medical and recreational marijuana. Let’s wait at least five years to assess their results. Let’s stay off the “high” way.
Svrakic DM, Lustman PJ et al. Legalization, Decriminalization & Medicinal Use of Cannabis: A Scientific and Public Health Perspective. Missouri Medicine 2012; 109(2)90-98