By Chris Elkins
Chris Elkins writes for DrugRehab.com. He has a passion for writing about health-related topics and recovery from addiction. He possesses five years of journalism experience and a master’s degree from the University of West Florida.
Medical Marijuana: Not as Safe as You Think
You won’t find support for a medical treatment larger than the amount of support for medical marijuana. Weed is an approved treatment for various medical conditions in 23 states in the U.S. In the states where it isn’t legal, legislatures have voted on it or discussed it for years.
Advocates, and some experts, point to several medical studies touting marijuana’s potential to treat symptoms of several medical conditions, including:
- Crohn’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
With the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska, the public support for marijuana legalization is growing across the country. What started as one state, California, legalizing medical marijuana use in 1996 has turned into a nation-wide movement to normalize the drug.
Unfortunately, so many states are legalizing it and so many people are supporting it that many people believe marijuana is harmless. It’s not. A few studies have shown it can help patients with pain and reduce the size of cancer tumors, but other studies link to it to an increased risk of heart attacks, psychiatric disorders and cancer.
No drug can be approved for use in the public without multiple, large-scale studies proving its benefits outweigh its risks. But those studies don’t exist.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration classifies marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance, meaning it has no medical use. That makes it extremely difficult to conduct legitimate, large-scale studies on both its benefits and risks.
What We Know About Marijuana
One of the active chemicals in marijuana, THC, affects areas of the brain that control thinking, memory, coordination and pleasure. Like some legal substances (i.e. alcohol and tobacco) and numerous illegal substances (i.e. cocaine and heroin), marijuana affects a person’s judgement, attention and coordination. It’s also highly addictive, despite widespread misconceptions about drug addiction.
Marijuana is strongly associated with anxiety, mood disorders and some forms of psychosis. Studies debate the effects of long-term marijuana use on cognitive decline. Despite public opinion, we just don’t have enough evidence to say pot does or doesn’t make you stupid.
Another problem exists in the fact that different strains of marijuana have different effects. Approved treatments for diseases like cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS and epilepsy are heavily regulated. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspect the facilities where the drugs are produced, and the drugs themselves are inspected to ensure the correct dosage of chemicals are present.
Different marijuana strains have different chemical potencies. The drug’s effects also drastically change when it is eaten, smoked or consumed in liquid form. Studies conclusively show smoking marijuana elevates a person’s risk for lung cancer. The drug has cancer-causing tars similar to, and in some cases stronger than, those found in cigarettes.
Even with the cancer element removed, smoking anything increases a person’s chance of lung damage. Studies show daily marijuana use increases a person’s risk for respiratory problems. Heavy smokers increase their risk for bronchitis and persistent cough.
Long-term marijuana consumption also results in long-term changes in the brain. Like other dangerous drugs (i.e. alcohol, cocaine, crystal meth), brain scans show clear differences between the brains of long-term users and non-users.
Then there’s the short-term risk associated with marijuana. One study showed a person’s chance of having a heart attack increased between 300 and 500 percent for the first hour after they smoked pot. Some strains of marijuana cause short-term anxiety, paranoia, and psychosis and in rare cases hallucinations.
In other cases, marijuana can help symptoms of anxiety, but rates of depression and anxiety increase when marijuana consumption stops. Those symptoms of withdrawal are where marijuana addiction begins.
Medical marijuana isn’t as safe as supporters of legalization want you to think. It’s also not as dangerous as crystal meth or cocaine. It might be just as dangerous as alcohol, which should always be consumed with caution. But every other medical treatment in the U.S. has to go through scrutinized clinical trials before becoming available to the public. Marijuana hasn’t done that.
Doyle, K. (2016, February 1). Long-term marijuana use tied to worse verbal memory in middle age. Retrieved from: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-cannabis-verbal-memory-idUSKCN0VA3BO
Nohlgren, S. (2014, August 29). Potential health risk of medical marijuana: It’s complicated. Retrieved from: http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/elections/the-potential-health-risk-of-medical-marijuana-its-complicated/2195294
Williams, S. (2014, November 15). The most dangerous medical marijuana myth. Retrieved from: http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2014/11/15/the-most-dangerous-medical-marijuana-myth/18661303/
Zimmerman, K. (2015, January 14). Medical Marijuana: Benefits, Risks & State Laws. Retrieved from: http://www.livescience.com/24554-medical-marijuana.html