COMMENT: Marijuana benefits are real, but so are the risks

Lemon kush / photo by Mark via Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.

(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.

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.

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.

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, 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


21 thoughts on “COMMENT: Marijuana benefits are real, but so are the risks”

  1. I would have preferred if the author had footnoted her claims with the studies that support them. Otherwise, it’s just opinion, and therefore a weak argument. The author shouldn’t cherry pick information and then expect readers to sift through pages of information.

    The statements are made – they should be supported. Lawyers don’t direct judges to a bunch of cases that contain a myriad of different facts and results, and say “read them”. I know it’s ‘just an article’, but it makes some pretty sweeping statements.

    Example:”Marijuana can hasten the development of psychotic illnesses like schizophrenia” and “I think I would want a lot more answers before I would risk the development of a psychotic illness.”

    However, that website states: “Cannabis use has been implicated in triggering psychosis and other mental health problems. Although these issues are complex and (as of 2015) still an active area of research, a 2011 report by the FDA in their role as US Department of Health and Human Services advisors to the DEA found no clear causal linkage between cannabis use and psychotic mental disorders.” Another thing lawyers cannot do is profess misleading information to try to advance their case.

    1. It was not intended to be a scholarly article or a legal argument.

      The mechanism of action with the link to psychosis is not yet understood. Statistical association between use and increased risk is fairly well established, though clearly it has that result in a minority of cases of use. Perhaps one of many articles that outline that risk would satisfy:

      I would suggest that if there is any family history of psychotic illnesses (eg Schizphrenia, Schizoaffective disorder, BiPolar Affective Disorder) the risks of marijuana may be too great until it is clear which how use and psychotic illnesses are related.

      1. Hi Liz,

        I am afraid you are caught up in reefer madness.
        I am aware you are stating what you truly believe as a medical professional but I feel your education on the subject has been influenced by pharmaceutical companies and the fear-mongering they breed.

        I agree with Jenny that there is not any research to back up your reefer madness.

        I checked out the link to the study you posted. I’m sure it was done in good faith. However, it would be challenging to find real cases. This is speculation. Scientific, but nonetheless, speculation.

        I have smoked cannabis daily for over 20 years. Some days, 5 or 6 joints or more. I first started recreationally because I never loved getting drunk, but later I continued smoking to to help with pain brought on from sports. I am educated, smart and successful. I have close relationships to my family and friends. I have opened and owned multiple businesses. I own my home. I don’t do any other drugs and never tried cocaine. I hardly ever drink. I do not smoke cigarettes and don’t include tobacco in my joints. I am happy every morning I wake up and content with my day when I go to bed. I am never irritable. My friends who smoke are happy and successful. I have never had a bad or scary experience in 20 years of dealing with marijuana dealers and growers. The vast majority are normal individuals who would go legit if they could.

        While I agree that cannabis should not be consumed by children or those prone to psychological disorders – these facts are applied 10-fold for prescription medication. A child who ingests cannabis once by accident will not suffer any serious side effects. A child who ingests a prescription pill? Potentially a much different story.

  2. Jenny

    Both sides are doing that the very pro weed people in some cases go to far by saying weed will cure anything.

  3. I have a young relative with schizophrenia which doctors said was triggered by his first use of marijuana. Also the smell comes through multi-unit houses and condos and you can really tell which people have used it long term by the look on their faces

    1. Hi Faith,

      This sounds like severe reefer madness by the “Doctor”. And a total cop-out on legitimate diagnosis. Please take into consideration that it is unheard-of for a child or anyone to develop schizophrenia from using marijuana. You would be hard-pressed to find evidence of other such cases online. This sounds like propaganda by doctors linked to financial kick-backs from pharmaceutical companies and their consequential fear of marijuana murdering their bottom line.

    2. Faith,

      I forgot to add that the wear and tear you speak about on the faces of people living in multi-unit housing is most often caused by hard drugs. I know the degrading effect you are talking about. It is not from cannabis. I am still beautiful 😉

  4. All prescribed medication has benefits and risks. Like all medications, the doctor is responsible for discussing this privately with their patients. I don’t see the same dissection here about opioids that can be purchased at the local Shoppers Drug Mart. Stop shaming people that have valid prescriptions, for conditions that you know nothing about.

    1. My preference would be to have the laws allow for the distribution of marijuana via pharmacies, where health care professionals with true in depth knowledge of medications (including opiate derivatives) can advise people. That solution would also decrease the stigma.

      1. Hi Liz,

        Big pharma selling cannabis is fine. If the prohibitionists who come in for their daily fix of Oxycontin can stand the smell that is. However imposing a monopoly or oligopoly will fail and must be avoided. Free and open market!

        Since doctors prescribe cannabis in the first place – there is really no added benefit which a pharmacist can provide that a budtender, who knows weed better than any pharmacist cannot.

        The problem is that pharmacists work for the pharmaceutical companies who stand to lose their shirts in this deal. Remember their interests are loaded. And they are trying to instill public fear as a tool to avoid losing their bras and panties in this world of legalization.

  5. I find it always very typical that weed smokers aggressively defend weed when someone says anything negative about it. They seem to never want to consider the possibility that there can be negative consequences to its use. They pretend that those claims are false and/or that they are immune. They pretend that there are only upsides. To me, this tells me that weed is FAR more addictive than they’re willing to admit.
    As for a local store looking to sell it, in order to be able to run a business like this, they’d have to have a certain amount of sales, to be able to pay for the overhead. The building, heating, insurance, employee costs, add it all up. I’m sure they’ve calculated it all in, and they only way to make it work is to sell it to probably a lot more people than the ones with a prescription. I bet one can buy it through so and so and it doesn’t go through the front door. I highly doubt a business could work without the addictive element…

  6. Joe: I’m not sure if you’re implying because I critiqued an article slanted against a medical marijuana dispensary that I must be a weed smoker! Many who defend minority rights are not minorities. Many defend a citizen’s right to a fair trial and due legal process, but are not criminals. I see absolutely no relevance between defending weed and being addicted to it, and I ask you to extrapolate your statement to other social issues to see how little sense it makes. I’m hoping to see some more reasoned arguments about this issue sometime in the near future…

  7. Thanks for publishing this “lay” summary of marijuana! I don’t have time to read huge reports and haven’t seen the pros and cons put down like this before. Personally, I have never tried pot in any form, partly because I don’t want to risk becoming addicted, and partly because I find tobacco smoke so obnoxious.

    I think people should be able to choose their drugs (within reason) and am glad to see there will be a dispensary in Stttsville. If people near here need the stuff, it’s better if they can get it legally closer to home than travel, especially if it can endanger driving. Also, if it’s obtained legally, then users don’t need to go to illegal pushers for it, and might be less likely to seek out or be introduced to pushers of even more controlling drugs.

  8. Keldine FitzGerald

    The issue in the states what has happened is many don’t go the legal route why they make the claim the weed is to weak.

  9. So, for everyone concerned about what marijuana will do to you health wise, are you also fighting for prescription medications available at your local Shoppers Drug Mart to be removed as well? Let’s face it, some of those have destroyed thousands of lives – broken apart families, stolen children from their parents. If you’re so concerned with what this weed can do and that it will be available in your neighbourhood, you should probably focus on all drugs available – some of which may be in your own medicine cabinets.

    1. Amanda, your anti science stance on this is telling. Fact is that medicine is controlled. It is based on tested science. It is called medicine because it works. It saves way many more lives, than the problems it causes. There are large number of people that take cholesterol and heart medicine that would otherwise not be able to survive. There are problems with incorrect filled orders, and incorrect prescriptions. Those are problems yes, but the solution for that is to address that particular problem. Not by attacking science based medicine as a whole. Marijuana is not a replacement for these medicines at all.
      And neither is homeopathy or naturopathy, which is both pure quackery.

      1. Joe you had me before calling homeopathy or naturopathy “pure quackery”.

        Many people provide and benefit from both of these forms of therapy and they deserve better than to have their treatment judged by a quack like you.

        Those cholesterol and heart meds you speak about…you take too many and you are dusted. Smoke too much weed and you are hungry.. Thoughts??

  10. I am stunned how only one person came to the defence of a dispensary in your community.

    This means more street dealers at the unemployment office and more of your kids, clear-headed, possibly in the classroom.

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