(PHOTO: Lemon kush / photo by Mark via Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.)
(Editor’s note: A medical marijuana dispensary called Magna Terra will be opening soon on Iber Road. Most of the public reaction we’ve seen online has been overwhelmingly positive, but there has been some concern as well. Here’s some context from Kanata resident Liz Hall, who works in the health care field.)
Marijuana is a complex plant containing dozens of chemicals (for example, cannabinoids) with a wide range of effects. There is a huge variation in the impacts of the drug between individuals. Many of the impacts are still poorly understood.
Most people are aware that we all have receptors for opioids (eg heroin, codeine) and that our bodies can make our own opioids in the form of endorphins to relieve pain naturally. We also have cannabis receptors (CB1 and CB2, for example) and our natural cannabinoids are involved in systems responsible for appetite management, inflammation, immune functions and pain management. Marijuana is not the only plant whose chemical components use the cannabinoid receptors. The Echinacea plant, well known as an immune system booster, also uses the cannabinoid receptors.
Statistics from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, tell us that 44% of Canadians have used marijuana at least once, and that 12% of students used marijuana daily in the past year. It is an illegal drug that has fair amount of social acceptability and frequent enough use in our culture that the police cannot enforce the law as it stands. Harm reduction approaches can allow use of safer forms of the plant, such as cannabis oil, to allow people to gain some of the benefits and minimize the risks.
THERE ARE RISKS
Marijuana has a long half life (1-3 days) and levels can accumulate (in fat in brain, liver, ovaries/testes mainly) resulting in subtle levels of impairment that can impact driving ability, motivation, and ability to process complex decisions. It is much easier for people to realistically predict that a social drink, which impairs for about an hour, will not interfere with critical decision-making. Predicting suspension of responsibilities for the longer periods of time marijuana can impair the brain is much less reliable.
Marijuana can hasten the development of psychotic illnesses like schizophrenia. Many questions about how marijuana use contributes to development of psychotic illnesses remain. Early use of marijuana, and frequent use of marijuana, are associated with higher rates of schizophrenia, and earlier age of illness onset. Repeated episodes of psychosis can result in cognitive decline.
Smoking any drug is the most dangerous way to have it enter your body. Risks of smoking marijuana are a lot like risks of smoking tobacco.
POTENTIAL BENEFITS ARE REAL
Not all the claims of benefits of use have been proven. Many of the benefits are related to some of the individual components of marijuana such as cannabis oil (cannabidiol/CBD). For example, childhood epilepsy can be treated with CBD. Some people use marijuana products to cope with pain, inflammation, nausea, and muscle control problems. So many different areas of the body seem to be impacted by the components of marijuana. Hopefully as the legal status of marijuana is relaxed, more research will result in meaningful health benefits from this plant.
SHOULD YOUR RISK IT?
That is a question for each individual. I think I would want a lot more answers before I would risk the development of a psychotic illness. I would want good advice from a medical professional about how cannabis use for a particular problem compares to other treatment options for the same problem. I also have some reservations about trusting health decisions to an organization that brags about their 14-hour “Cannabis Professionals” course being “in depth”.
If you want to learn more, the website www.erowid.org, has a huge section about marijuana with a sample of the vast amounts of controversial information. Careful though: it might take more than 14 hours to read it all.
Liz Hall, ICADC