There is currently a push to legalize medical marijuana in Florida, making the drug available to patients under a doctors care and having a valid prescription. This post explores some of the benefits and dangers of medical marijuana. This is not medical advice and should not be relied upon, always seek the advice of a doctor for the treatment of any medical condition. Based on the scientific evidence available at this time, our opinion is that Florida voters would be well advised to vote against medical marijuana being legalized.
IS MARIJUANA SAFE?
Marijuana is claimed to be one of the safest recreational substances available, compared to cocaine, heroine, alcohol, and even cigarettes, all of which are more dangerous to the user’s health than marijuana.
Due to some of the pharmacological properties of cannabis, thirty-six states permit its use as a therapeutic drug for, among others, those suffering from AIDS; various painful, incurable and debilitating illnesses; the harmful side effects of cancer chemotherapy, and glaucoma. Additional research is being conducted concerning the use of marijuana on the treatment of anxiety and mental disorders.
However it is wrong to conclude that because the chemicals in marijuana have been found to present fewer dangers than some very harmful substances, the medical or recreational use of marijuana is perfectly safe. In a recreational context, marijuana has been shown to affect health, brain function, and memory. And in a medical context, marijuana is like any other powerful prescription drug: it has potentially dangerous side effects, and the decision to use it to treat patients must involve the same balancing test as the one required for chemotherapy or AZT: do the therapeutic effects of the drug outweigh its harmful effects? Though there are many more studies to be done on this issue, current data shows that the answer to this question may not always be "yes."
The citizens of Florida recently witnessed first hand the dangers of widespread proscribing of pain killers such as oxycodone and oxycontin. People were pouring into Florida in vans and busses to visit pain clinics and get their "prescriptions" for these pain pills. Florida became the biggest pill mill in the Unites States. Daily headlines read about doctors being arrested and pain clinics being raided. Many clinics had to resort to having security guards in the parking lot.
THE QUESTION OF MEDICAL MARIJUANA
The marijuana plant is made up of more than 500 chemical compounds. Many of these compounds are cannabinoids, which bind to receptors in your body and then affect your immune system and brain. Researchers have pinpointed two main cannabinoids—THC and cannabidiol, or CBD—as beneficial.
The problem is, when exposed to the high temperature of burning marujuana, the 500 or so chemical compounds in marijuana can produce hundreds or thousands of byproducts—many of which are thought to be carcinogens. Research suggests that marijuana smoke can contain up to 70 percent more carcinogenic materials than tobacco smoke.
So when you bring something you smoke to the medical world, chances are doctors will balk at the idea, because smoking is not an accepted route of administration for medication. There are so many variables in the smoking process.
This is, in part, why the FDA approved Marinol—a low-dosage formulation of synthetic THC that comes in capsule form. The drug is used to stimulate appetite in people with HIV and control the nausea and vomiting that’s associated with chemotherapy. It’s a good option for people with conditions like cancer who don’t respond to common drugs. It’s also incredibly versatile, it will lower intraocular pressure for glaucoma patients, reduce anxiety, and stimulate appetite.
The problem: Marinol is one of only two FDA-approved THC-based drugs and, unlike say, aspirin, your body doesn’t absorb it well. Only about 10 to 20 percent of the dose becomes available for your body to use. That makes it unpredictable: For some people, the drug works great; others see no benefit whatsoever. What’s more, it often makes those who it does work for higher than if they had smoked marijuana.
The problem then remains how do you create a THC delivery method that leads to better absorption while reducing its psychoactive effect. There is research in progress to develop a patch that would be applied to deliver THC in a way that solves Marinol’s absorption problems.
REGULAR CANNABIS USE
Scientists believe that regular cannabis use can have neurotoxic effects on young developing brain structures. A 2012 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that people who started smoking before age 18 showed a greater decline in IQ and cognitive functioning than people who started as adults. Heavy teen users—an average of four or more times a week—who continued to smoke as adults experienced an 8-point IQ drop.
THC has bi-phasic activity, which means that at low doses it has certain effects, and at high doses it has opposite effects. Using the drug to get high at the right dose will cause calm, happy, pleasant feelings. Using at the correct dose could see medicinal benefits, too. But taken in greater doses may cause irritable, or psychotic behavior. There are more emergency room admissions today than in the past due to marijuana use, because of the psychoactive side effects of the high THC content that the public uses.
VISIT A MEDICAL MARIJUANA DISPENSARY
If you go to a medical marijuana dispensary in any of the 18 states—or Washington, D.C.—where it’s legal, you have your choice of remedies: chocolates, drinks, and different strains of marijuana. None are FDA-approved, but show your medical marijuana card and you can use it to treat what ails you. Unlike medicines which go through rigorous testing before being approved by the FDA, marijuana is not FDA tested or approved. In essence you never know what you are going to get.
In Colorado, there are many conditions which can make you eligible for a doctor’s recommendation. If you have cancer, glaucoma, HIV or AIDs, cachexia, chronic pain—including migraines—severe nausea, epilepsy or seizures, or persistent muscle spasms, a medical exam and written documentation from a doctor stating that you may benefit from medical marijuana will get you access to varying amounts of marijuana.
How do you prove if the pain is severe or moderate? The answer it at there is no way to objectively tell how severely a patient is experiencing pain. As such many people can claim to be in pain simply to get a prescription for medial marijuana.
In California, a mental health condition—such as depression or anxiety—can get you a medical marijuana card. Walk up and down Venice Beach and you’ll see doctor-office storefronts boasting 24-hour live patient verification.
It’s really about legalization—not the health benefits or risks. While tobacco and alcohol—which are both legal—harm many more people than cannabis, we don’t use them as medicines.
HOW MUCH MARIJUANA IS ENOUGH
You don’t actually need much THC to see medicinal benefits. But street pot—as well as pot sold in dispensaries—is getting more potent. In the 1970s, the THC content was around 1 or 2 percent, Today it’s closer to 11 or 12 percent. It’s the lowest dose of Marinol—2.5 milligrams of THC —that works best for appetite stimulation in HIV patients. This is equivalent to smoking about a half-gram at 1 percent THC.
EFFECTS OF HABITUAL MARIJUANA USE ON THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
The most potent argument against the use of marijuana to treat medical disorders is that marijuana may cause the acceleration or aggravation of the very disorders it is being used to treat.
Smoking marijuana regularly (a joint a day) can damage the cells in the bronchial passages which protect the body against inhaled microorganisms and decrease the ability of the immune cells in the lungs to fight off fungi, bacteria, and tumor cells. For patients with already weakened immune systems, this means an increase in the possibility of dangerous pulmonary infections, including pneumonia, which often proves fatal in AIDS patients.
Studies further suggest that marijuana is a general "immunosuppressant" whose degenerative influence extends beyond the respiratory system. Regular smoking has been shown to materially affect the overall ability of the smoker’s body to defend itself against infection by weakening various natural immune mechanisms, including macrophages (a.k.a. "killer cells") and the all-important T-cells. Obviously, this suggests the conclusion, which is well-supported by scientific studies, that the use of marijuana as a medical therapy can and does have a very serious negative effect on patients with pre-existing immune deficits resulting from AIDS, organ transplantation, or cancer chemotherapy, the very conditions for which marijuana has most often been touted and suggested as a treatment. It has also been shown that marijuana use can accelerate the progression of HIV to full-blown AIDS and increase the occurrence of infections and Kaposi’s sarcoma. In addition, patients with weak immune systems will be even less able to defend themselves against the various respiratory cancers and conditions to which consistent marijuana use has been linked, and which are discussed briefly under "Respiratory Illnesses."
In conclusion, it seems that the potential dangers presented by the medical use of marijuana may actually contribute to the dangers of the diseases which it would be used to combat. Therefore, I suggest that marijuana should not be permitted as a therapy, at least until a good deal more conclusive research has been completed concerning its debilitating effect on the immune system.
The main respiratory consequences of smoking marijuana regularly (one joint a day) are pulmonary infections and respiratory cancer, whose connection to marijuana use has been strongly suggested but not conclusively proven. The effects also include chronic bronchitis, impairment in the function of the smaller air passages, inflammation of the lung, the development of potentially pre-cancerous abnormalities in the bronchial lining and lungs, and, as discussed, a reduction in the capabilities of many defensive mechanisms within the lungs.
Marijuana smoke and cigarette smoke contain many of the same toxins, including one which has been identified as a key factor in the promotion of lung cancer. This toxin is found in the tar phase of both, and it should be noted that one joint has four times more tar than a cigarette, which means that the lungs are exposed four-fold to this toxin and others in the tar. It has been concretely established that smoking cigarettes promotes lung cancer (which causes more than 125,000 deaths in the US every year), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (chronic bronchitis and emphysema) and increased incidence of respiratory tract infections. This implies, but does not establish, that smoking marijuana may lead to some of the same results as smoking cigarettes. It is notable that several reports indicate an unexpectedly large proportion of marijuana users among cases of lung cancer and cancers of the oral cavity,pharynx, and larynx. Thus, it appears that the use of marijuana as a medicine has the potential to further harm an already ill patient in the same way that taking up regular cigarette smoking would, particularly in light of the fact that those patients for whom marijuana is recommended are already poorly equipped to fight off these infections and diseases.
MENTAL HEALTH, BRAIN FUNCTION, AND MEMORY
It has been suggested that marijuana is at the root of many mental disorders, including acute toxic psychosis, panic attacks (one of the very conditions it is being used experimentally to treat), flashbacks, delusions, depersonalization, hallucinations, paranoia, depression, and uncontrollable aggressiveness. Marijuana has long been known to trigger attacks of mental illness, such as bipolar (manic-depressive) psychosis and schizophrenia. This connection with mental illness should make health care providers for terminally ill patients and the patients themselves, who may already be suffering from some form of clinical depression, weigh very carefully the pros and cons of adopting a therapeutic course of marijuana.
In the short term, marijuana use impairs perception, judgment, thinking, memory, and learning; memory defects may persist six weeks after last use. Mental disorders connected with marijuana use merit their own category in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) IV, published by the American Psychiatric Association. These include Cannabis Intoxication (consisting of impaired motor coordination, anxiety, impaired judgment, sensation of slowed time, social withdrawal, and often includes perceptual disturbances; Cannabis Intoxication Delirium (memory deficit, disorientation); Cannabis Induced Psychotic Disorder, Delusions; Cannabis Induced Psychotic Disorder, Hallucinations; and Cannabis Induced Anxiety Disorder.
In addition, marijuana use has many indirect effects on health. Its effect on coordination, perception, and judgment means that it causes a number of accidents, vehicular and otherwise.
Based on the current research, and the problems encountered in those states that have legalized medical marijuana, the citizens of Florida should vote NO on the question of medical marijuana.
For more information or a free consultation on your legal issue contact Scott and Fenderson PLLC, your injury law and family law attorneys, at 727-321-0099. http://www.scottandfenderson.com