What is marijuana?
Marijuana, also known as pot or weed is probably one of the most consumed illicit drugs in the world.
The recent wave of legalization of this drug launched a wider discussion about the benefits and harms of this product.
Many states and cities faced with financial difficulties see the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana as a reliable source of income.
The justification to legalize “medical marijuana” is mostly based on studies that reported moderate benefits of this drug in treating nerve pain, and nausea.
Clearly, the number of studies supporting the usage of medical marijuana to treat additional medical conditions is continuing to grow, but most of these studies are small in size and lack acceptable quality.
The simple fact is that we don’t have enough data to support or refute the treatment of most medical conditions with marijuana.
The reason for this inadequacy is simply based on government’s restrictions on usage of so-called schedule 1 drugs including marijuana, LSD and heroin in medical research.
Therefore, most of our knowledge relies on the data extracted from individuals using marijuana for recreational purposes.
Long term effects of marijuana and its effects on body and mind
The source of marijuana is cannabis, which is the botanical term for a hemp plant.
Marijuana might contain up to 400 different chemicals, but two most researched chemicals are THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and cannabidiol.
Here are 9 facts about benefits, effects and adverse effects of marijuana you must know.
1: THC and cannabidiol have opposing effects.
THC is one of the major stimulating chemicals in marijuana and affects the mind and central nervous system of the user.
THC can cause anxiety and hallucinations.
In opposite, the cannabidiol shown to have calming and relaxing effect, and could help with anxiety.
2: The amount of THC has been increasing in herbal form of marijuana.
This development is a big concern.
The newer strains of marijuana are much stronger than previous ones. The amount of THC has increased from almost 3% in 1980s to 12% in 2014 and at the same time the concentration of cannabidiol has been falling.
This boost in the THC concentration might speed up the harm caused to the central nervous system and the spreading of dependency in the society.
3: Individuals who are exposed to marijuana at early age have higher chance of dependency compared to people who initiate this practice later.
According to 2012 data, approximately 2.7 million people were dependent to marijuana in United States and this number is continuing to rise.
4: Various strains of cannabis plant have different concentration of THC and cannabidiol, therefore the effects of each strain could be dissimilar on the central nervous system and mind.
This is one of the major reasons why studying marijuana is so difficult.
The concentration of the chemicals in this plant can vary based on where (e.g. temperature, light and humidity of the location) and when it grew.
This is why the findings of a study based on one strain of marijuana would be tough to reproduce.
5 : The method of administration and form of the preparation can influence the concentration of the chemicals in the body and consequently, their effect on the body and mind.
Marijuana can be consumed orally, smoked and vaporized.
There are different preparations of this plant such as stems, oil, hashish, hash oil, synthetics and extract.
The concentration of the chemicals in the body can change depending the method of the marijuana administration. Thus, the effect of this drug on the brain and body could be significantly variable.
6: Marijuana can impair people’s driving ability.
We are familiar with the warnings about alcohol and driving. “Don’t drink and drive” is a common saying seen on the highways of many countries.
But most of you are probably unaware of the negative effects of marijuana on driving.
Several studies suggest that marijuana can increase the risk of an accident by two to three times, via reducing the reaction time and impairing the critical thinking ability.
The adverse effects of ingested marijuana such as impaired reaction time can last up to 8 hours after consumption; this can manifest a serious safety issue on the street.
7: Underachievement is one of the prominent problems associated with long-term exposure to marijuana.
Marijuana use has been associated to higher rate of school dropouts, unemployment and low academic achievements.
These findings are more notable in individuals who were exposed to marijuana in their early teens.
8: Anxiety is one of the most common reported side-effect associated with marijuana exposure.
It’s a common belief that marijuana might help with anxiety symptoms, but actually, anxiety is one of the most common side effects related to marijuana usage.
This discrepancy is probably related to fact number 4, mentioned above. We know that higher amount of THC in a marijuana strain could increase anxiety and higher concentration of cannabidiol could calm the person, so, simply depending on what kind of marijuana a person consumes the effect could be different.
9: Marijuana can worsen psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations or delusions.
A large study suggested that a person who smoked marijuana had a larger probability of developing schizophrenic episodes compared to other people who never smoked marijuana.
I understand the financial pressure behind the legalization of recreational marijuana and moreover, I respect people who argue for expanding medical marijuana usage.
Looking at available research, I can tell you that we don’t have enough data on long-term harms and short-term benefits of this drug.
It might be true that prescribing marijuana for a narrow group of population such as patients with uncontrolled cancer pain would be defensible.
But I’m concerned that using the name of “medical marijuana” as an excuse to prescribe this drug to larger group of people without strong evidence of its benefits and understanding its long-term harms could backfire.
I believe that medical providers should be cautious with promoting marijuana usage until we’ve sound data on its benefits and long-term harms and until we’ve a better standardization of marijuana related products.