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If You Thought Marijuana was Harmless, Medical Researchers Have News for You

By Dragan M. Svrakic, MD, PhD, Patrick J. Lustman, PhD, Ashok Mallya, MD, Taylor Andrea Lynn, PhD, Rhonda Finney, RN, and Neda M Svrakic

In recent years, advocates for the decriminalization of marijuana have cited its purported therapeutic value for an array of illnesses including anxiety disorders, glaucoma, and nausea associated with chemotherapy. Increasing, however, medical evidence suggests that marijuana can be detrimental to both physical and mental health. We believe that efforts to decriminalize (remove legal sanctions to) or legalize (remove all prohibitions against) marijuana are misguided.

Regulation, Legislation, and History

Part of the problem is that both the medicinal use of smoked marijuana, and legalization or decriminalization of the cannabis plant itself, are being promoted in a way that bypasses the normal FDA approval process required for drugs marketed in the United States. This forces legislators and voters to decide on proposals that affect public health and medical treatment without necessarily understanding the relevant scientific evidence.

True, cannabis has been used historically in various cultures to treat sundry medical ailments. It was even recognized as an official drug in the U.S. in the 1800s. In 1970, however, the Controlled Substances Act classified it as illicit and made possession a felony because, like other drugs in its category, it has a high potential for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use in the U.S., and lacks adequate guidelines for safe use under medical supervision.

This hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of significant parts of the population for using it, however. It’s long been considered relatively benign compared to opiates, stimulants, and even alcohol. Surveys reveal that 44% of men and 35% of women have used marijuana at least once, and regular use is on the rise.

Effects on General Health

It’s important to be informed, then, about the problems marijuana can cause. Concerns include the following:

    Pulmonary: Smoking marijuana has documented adverse effects including decreased lung function, chronic cough, airway inflammation, and abnormal cell growth that may precede cancer onset. Many of the same mutagens and carcinogens found in tobacco smoke also occur in marijuana; in contrast to tobacco, however, marijuana-induced lung injury doesn’t go away after you quit.
    Immunologic: HIV-positive cannabis users have been shown to have increased mortality versus those who don’t use cannabis.
    Cardiovascular: Marijuana stimulates the heart’s natural pacemaker and is unsafe in cardiac patients.
    Hepatic: Daily cannabis use can be harmful to patients with liver disease.
    Endocrine and Reproductive: Research shows that cannabis compounds—cannabinoids—affect a variety of hormone levels and can disrupt female reproductive health. Women who smoke marijuana while pregnant are more likely to have low–birth-weight infants, and THC, the major psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, is passed along in breast milk.
    Oncogenic: Studies show that cannabis use increases the incidence of testicular germ-cell tumors up to 70%, particularly in heavy or long-term users.

Mental Health

Among marijuana’s most troubling effects are those on mental health and cognitive function. Reported issues include mental slowness, tiredness, euphoria, anxiety, and paranoia. If euphoria doesn’t sound so bad, remember that what goes up must come down.

Researchers have shown that marijuana use decreases cortical dopamine, a chemical that plays a major role in cognition, memory, and executive functions. The feelings of relaxation, reduced anxiety, and peace reported by cannabis users are more likely cognitive dulling due to this dopamine decline. For that matter, active ingredients in cannabis, particularly THC, affect neurophysiological and behavior systems in ways similar to addictive drugs.

Cannabis users suffer mental health problems twice as often as nonusers. This raises an obvious chicken-or-egg question: do people smoke dope because they’re upset, or are they upset because they smoke dope? Increasingly, evidence supports the latter view. Long-term use is associated with anatomical abnormalities in the parts of the brain rich in cannabinoid receptors, and cannabis appears to significantly increase the risk of serious psychiatric illnesses such as schizophrenia and psychosis.

The Future

We believe that the future medical role for cannabinoid drugs lies with chemically modified extracts, not with unprocessed plants. Examples already exist, as in drugs approved to fight nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy patients, or those that show promise in wasting syndromes, neurologic disorders, and chronic pain. The public should be cautious about marijuana use in other contexts—particularly adolescents whose brains are still undergoing critical development or individuals predisposed to psychiatric illness. Anything else would be reefer madness.

Published March 19, 2012.
12 Responses
163305 tn?1333672171
A group of doctor's in Missouri repute marijuana's usefulness and claim it causes problems.
They show no research backing this claim.

By claiming that they support," chemically modified extracts, not with unprocessed plants" makes me wonder what pharmaceutical company they are working for.
The big phramas are not happy with medical marijuana. If people can grow their own medicine in their back yards, it certainly would cut into the pharmaceutical industry's potential profits, wouldn't it ?
                              *                *
Here are excerpts from recent  research backing the claims that it does help for various symptoms.

Pain Relief:
Jul. 12, 201

University of California medical researchers slipped an ingredient in chili peppers beneath the skin of marijuana smokers to see if pot could relieve acute pain. It could – at certain doses.

They monitored patients with AIDS and HIV as they toked on joints or placebos to determine whether marijuana could quell agonizing pain from nerve damage. It provided relief.


Pot compound seen as tool against cancer
September 18, 2012

Marijuana, already shown to reduce pain and nausea in cancer patients, may be promising as a cancer-fighting agent against some of the most aggressive forms of the disease.

A growing body of early research shows a compound found in marijuana - one that does not produce the plant's psychotropic high - seems to have the ability to "turn off" the activity of a gene responsible for metastasis in breast and other types of cancers.

Two scientists at San Francisco's California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute first released data five years ago that showed how this compound - called cannabidiol - reduced the aggressiveness of human breast cancer cells in the lab.

NEW YORK |  Jul 12, 2012
(Reuters Health) - One in eight people with the painful condition fibromyalgia self-medicate with pot and other cannabis products, according to a new Canadian study.

May 14, 2012
Smoked Cannabis Reduces Some Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis
ontrolled trial shows improved spasticity, reduced pain after smoking medical marijuana

A clinical study of 30 adult patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine has shown that smoked cannabis may be an effective treatment for spasticity – a common and disabling symptom of this neurological disease.
649848 tn?1534637300
I thought about those "chemically modified extracts", too.  I have a sister who has leukemia and she's been on a variety of drugs for the nausea and other symptoms of chemo; can't help wonder if they contain those chemically modified extracts.  

Of course, growing your medication in your own back yard would cut into pharma.

Just happened to run across that article while cruising around FB.
377493 tn?1356505749
Most marijuana sold on the streets is not pure.  In fact, I'd be surprised if you were able to purchase pure marijuana.  I also believe that anything smoked has the potential to cause lung problems, and there is no question in my mind that there are those that abuse it.  It's not necessarily considered addictive in the traditional sense, but people certainly do become dependent on it.

Still...I  believe it has it's place.   To begin with...I am far more wary of someone coming into my agency that is abusing alcohol or even legal prescription drugs.  If I know them simply to be pot smokers I am not overly concerned about how they will behave.  It is far less problematic then alcohol, so I guess I believe it to be hypocritical for alcohol to continue to be legal and have pot stay illegal (my twisted thinking..lol).

My other issue is the cost on the legal system by keeping it illegal.  I think it's a waste.

So, at the end of the day, for me, legalization - or at the very least decriminilization makes sense.  It's a fight we are fighting here too.  And for some, the benefits certainly outweigh the risk.  
163305 tn?1333672171
There has been a proliferation of states approving legal marijuana available through dispensaries and more are on the November ballot.

In the S.F. bay area a few labs have opened to study and grade the different strains, helping patients know which ones are good for which aliment.

This year the feds have cracked down against the states, closing model dispensaries and threatening landlords.
Why? Why now?

A few homegrown business that cropped up to help the dispensaries and patients are a  labs in the bay area which test the pot for assure the quality of medical cannabis through scientific analysis while by implementing independent standards for quality control.
These have been threatened by recent federal raids too. Why ?

The only reason that stands out is the Pharmaceutical companies not getting a piece of the pie.


One major benefit for medical cannabis providers and patients is being able to instantly identify strains rich in cannabidiol (CBD). CBD is a compound in cannabis that has many beneficial medical cannabis effects, an appealing treatment option for patients seeking anti-inflammation, anti-pain, anti-anxiety or anti-spasm relief. Strains with high CBD content are also preferred by many medical cannabis users because it does not promote the sometimes disconcerting euphoria often associated with marijuana.    

After working with a team of national experts in the field--chemists, engineers and programmers for 18 months--Steep Hill Lab developed QuantaCann. QuantaCann combines Near-Infrared Reflective (NIR) spectroscopy and thousands of calibration samples from Steep Hill’s vast database to deliver test results in seconds and directly to the provider. The system empowers clients to carry out the analysis themselves, with results analyzed instantly.

Due to QuantaCann, precise cannabis potency analysis is now available within seconds for patients. The QuantaCann software can also generate custom compliance reports that illustrate that regulating the industry and providing oversight is possible.

206807 tn?1331939784
The best Pot ever sold was in the 70’s. or early 80’s 120.00$ LB and 10.00 Ounce. It was relaxing. Not like the Krap they have now.
973741 tn?1342346373
Well, as usual . . .  I'm the only one here but not the only one who will be voting against legalization of pot.  I've never read anything here or elsewhere to convince me otherwise.  Just my opinion.  

(ps:  doctor prescribed marijauna for medical purposes i don't really have a problem with.  But otherwise, No way.)
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