This article is not based on a Colorado medical journal…it’s from a review article that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine on June 5. It was authored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse at The National Institutes of Health. They stated that, “In light of the rapidly shifting landscape regarding the legalization of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes, patients may be more likely to ask physicians about its potential adverse and beneficial effects on health.” So in case you ask me…here is a summary of what they said in seven and a half densely worded pages (with graphs).
Twelve percent of people over the age of 12 report using marijuana in the past year. In case you didn’t know, the most common route of intake is by smoking the shredded leaves, flowers, stems and seeds of cannabis sativa. Hashish is created from the resin of marijuana flowers and is also smoked. Marijuana can also be used to brew tea and it’s oil based extract can be mixed into food products. (I am trying to be serious here and will not discuss brownies.)
The article’s objective is to explain the potential adverse health effects of marijuana use. (Actually that’s it’s title.) It reports that evidence clearly shows that long-term use can lead to addiction and approximately 9% of those who experiment with marijuana will indeed become addicted. That number goes up to about 1 in 6 among those who start using marijuana as teenagers and to 25 to 50% among those who smoke marijuana daily. According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 2.7 million people 12 years of age and older met the definition for dependence on marijuana, 5.1 million met criteria for dependence on any illicit drug and 8.6 million for dependence on alcohol. The NIH is particularly worried about adolescents…as compared to persons who begin to use marijuana in adulthood, those who begin in adolescence are approximately 2 to 4 times as likely to have symptoms of cannabis dependence within 2 years after first use.
The report states that in adolescents, certain brain regions are more vulnerable to THC, the primary ingredient in marijuana, than in adults. THC may impair the ability of neurons to connect in specific brain areas (functional connectivity). It goes on to state that regular marijuana use is associated with an increased risk of anxiety and depression… but that no one is sure that it causes this. (It might be used to self medicate anxiety and depression.) Heavy marijuana use has been linked to impairment in memory and attention that persist and worsen with increasing years of regular use and with initiation during adolescence. It has been linked to lower income, greater need for socioeconomic assistance, unemployment, criminal behavior and lower satisfaction with life. Just to add to this list of woes…they also report that the overall risk of involvement in an accident increases two fold when a person drives soon after using marijuana. (and 5 fold for drivers with a blood alcohol level above 0.08% and 27 for persons younger than 21 years if age!)
Another fact of interest: the THC content or potency of marijuana as detected in confiscated samples (I guess they did not buy and smoke joints to measure this) has been steadily increasing from 3% in the 1980s to 12% in 2012.
OK, now onto the positive…The Institute of Medicine has acknowledged the potential benefits of smoking marijuana by stimulating appetite, particularly in patients with AIDS, in combating chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting, severe pain and some forms of spastic muscle disorders. It may also decrease eye pressure due to glaucoma. Recent reports have also shown that it can reduce epileptic seizures.
The article concludes that legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco offer a sobering perspective of their potential harm, not because they are more dangerous than illegal drugs but because their legal status allows for more widespread use. And “as marijuana achieves a similar widespread use, so will the number of persons for whom there will be negative health consequences.”
Just thought I would share!