PROBLEMS WITH CANNABIS
Scene from Reefer Madness Some people who smoke cannabis a lot get paranoid or extremely lazy. Some don’t leave their homes much, and spend most of their time getting high. Long term, heavy users sometimes have distorted perception, slow reaction times, impaired coordination and marginalized driving skills, especially when they are high.
In extreme cases heavy users develop irrational fears, become seriously withdrawn and lose control. There have been reports of heavy users suffering from schizophrenic attacks and having their blood flows interfered with to such a degree they had their limbs amputated. But it is not clear whether cannabis was responsible for these maladies.
Many of the studies are incomplete, flawed in some way or have inconclusive results. They some insight on the issues they address but fail to make point conclusively or not. Claims made in the 1970s and 80s that marijuana causes brain damage, chromosome damage, sterility, infertility and even homosexuality were never proven.
One of the main arguments traditionally made against marijuana is that is of it lead the use of harder drugs such as cocaine and heroin. Marijuana does not seem to be a "gateway" to harder drugs. Studies have shown that beer and cigarettes seem to be gateways to marijuana but marijuana is not a gate way to other drugs.
Websites and Resources: U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) justice.gov/dea/concern ; Vaults of Erowid erowid.org ; United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) unodc.org ; Wikipedia article on illegal drug trade Wikipedia ; Frank’s A-to-Z on Drugs talktofrank.com ; Streetdrugs.org streetdrugs.org ; Council of Foreign Relations Forgotten Drug War article cfr.org/drugs/forgotten-drug-war ; Illegal Drugs, country by country listing, CIA cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook
Books: Buzzed by Cynthia Kuhn Ph.D. Scott Swartzwelder, Ph.D., Wilkie Wilson Ph.D. of the Duke University Medical Center (Norton, 2003); Consuming Habits: Drugs in Anthropology and History by Goodman, Sharratt and Lovejoy; Drug War Heresies: Learning from Other Vices, Times and Places by Robert MacCoun and Peter Reuter (Cambridge University Press).
Cannabis and Poor Health
The primary dangers from cannabis are posed by tars, carcinogens and other substances in the smoke. Cannabis smoke contains more than 400 different chemical compounds, some which are carcinogens. According to major report done by the United States government, "Numerous studies suggest that marijuana smoke is an important risk factor in the development of respiratory disease" and is associated with an increased risk of cancer, lung damage and poor pregnancy outcomes.
Studies have shown that marijuana and hashish can be harmful to the lung, impair brain functions, slow down the immune system and affect the physiology of fetuses. One study showed that middle-aged people their risk of a heart attack rose by nearly five times in the first hour after smoking marijuana. Others show that marijuana changes the heart rate and lowers blood pressure.
Studies on cell cultures at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois shows that THC affects the development of immune-system cells. In the laboratory immature white blood cells exposed to THC never developed to the a point where effectively fight disease.
A five-year Canadian study showed that babies born to mothers who smoked marijuana were more likely than babies of nonsmokers to have problems with vision, tremors and reflexes although these problems usually disappeared or declined several months after the babies' birth.
Cannabis and the Lungs
A study done by the New England Journal of Medicine has shown the amount of carbon monoxide in the bloodstream of a marijuana user who smokes one joint is five times the amount of carbon monoxide in the bloodstream of tobacco smoker who smokes one cigarette. The same study showed that the amount of tar in the lungs of a pot smoker is four times that of cigarette smoker.
One reason for the high carbon monoxide and tar figures is that is that marijuana smokers generally inhale more smoke than cigarette smokers and hold the smoke in their lungs almost four times as long which gives the tar more time to settle in the lungs and the carbon dioxide more time to be absorbed into the blood.
U.C.L.A. respiratory specialist Donald Tashkin told Discover magazine, "smokers of only a few joints a day have as much microscopic damage to the cells lining in their airways as smokers of more than a pack of cigarettes a day." It is "the same kind of change that one sees in long-term tobacco smokers who go on to develop lung cancer."
University of Arizona respiratory specialist John Bloom told Discover that people who smoked several joints a day had lung damage worse than tobacco smokers. "This group is under 40 years of age," he said. "It is unusual to find evidence of abnormality, even from tobacco smoking, in this young group. Considering that they were smoking an average of 6.7 [joints] each week, it seems that a relatively small amount of smoking these things causes an apparent effect."
Links between cannabis smoking and lung cancer have not been shown with the certainty as links between tobacco and lung cancer but this is mainly because cannabis smoking is a relatively new phenomena and lung cancer often takes decades to reveal itself and cannabis and cancer have not been studied as throughly and as long as tobacco and cancer.
Cannabis and the Brain
Brain of marijuana user According to a 1997 World Health Organization Report, cannabis "acutely impairs cognitive development and psychomotor performance, which increase the risk of motor vehicle accidents among those who drive intoxicated." A significant number of people involved in automobile accidents have THC in their blood. Most of these people had alcohol in their blood too.
Marijuana has been shown to diminish academic and athletic performances and cause confusion. Studies with rats show that THC disrupts the normal functioning of the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved with memory.
Marijuana causes changes in brain chemistry and hinders some chemicals that relay signals in the nervous system. A 2002 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that near-daily marijuana users scored more poorly on cognitive test and showed worse memories and attention spans than non users.
In a study on how drugs affect the mind certain illegal drugs were injected into spiders to see how their webs would turn out. When spiders was given tranquilizers and marijuana their webs were smaller.
In recent years there has been an increased number of reports of psychosis and schizophrenia associated with cannabis. While THC has been linked to psychotic reactions another chemical in cannabis—cannabisidiol—dampens these psychotic affects. On explanation for the recent reports is that new potent forms of cannabis have high concentrations of THC and lower doses of cannabisidiol.
Is Cannabis That Bad?
Marijuana brain No known person has ever died of a marijuana overdose. It is less toxic than many common foods. There is no evidence that marijuana is seriously psychologically or physically addictive. Only 9 percent of users developed a dependency and show withdrawal symptoms when they quit. Studies however indicate that heavy users who give up the habit suffer form anxiety and loss of appetite. People who were heavy users in their teens and 20s generally give up the drug by the time they are 30. Few remain heavy users into their 40s. .
A World Health Organization study released in February, 1997 determined that cannabis was safer than alcohol or tobacco. The findings had previously been suppressed due to political pressure. An editorial in Lancet, Britain's most respected medical journal, called for the legalization of marijuana. It asserted that "the smoking of cannabis, even long-term, is not harmful to health” and it “would be reasonable to judge cannabis less of a threat than alcohol or tobacco.”
Some people say that smoking the modern, more-potent versions of cannabis is more dangerous than the less potent versions in the old days. Some say this argument is a red herring because smokers today smoke less of the drug than people did in the 1960s and 70s.
In a study by a team led by Prof. David Nutt of Britain’s Bristol University published in the British medical journal Lancet, alcohol and tobacco were ranked as worse than cannabis and ecstasy using a ranking system that took into consideration physical harms caused by a substance, the potential for addiction and cost to society from its use. In the study heroin and cocaine ranked as the most dangerous drugs followed by barbiturates and street methadone. Alcohol was listed as the fifth most harmful drug with tobacco coming in ninth. Cannabis was 11th.
Medical Use of Marijuana
Marijuana is used to relieve the nausea and pain suffered by cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. It also reduces the "wasting syndrome" in AIDS patients by stimulating appetite. Other drugs work better than marijuana in treating the nausea from chemotherapy but marijuana works well when patients don't respond to the normal treatments.
Marijuana is used treat the symptoms of arthritis, epilepsy, strokes, asthma, alcoholism. insomnia, and Alzheimer disease. It also helps slow the advance of glaucoma, and is used to treat the symptoms of multiple sclerosis and helps control multiple sclerosis spasms and tremors. Some multiple sclerosis patients say that marijuana use has brought feeling back to their legs and stopped chronic joint pain. It is also used by paraplegics.
Studies have shown that ingredients from marijuana could produce promising drugs for pain control; it may slow artery disease and prevent hardening of the arteries; and is already, surprisingly enough, is the source of chemical that are the key ingredient in new obesity-fighting oils. . Animals studies have shown that cannabinoids are a effective as codeine in treating mild to moderate pain. Cannabinoids act on a different set of brain receptors than opiates such as morphine.
A 1999 report by the independent Institute of Medicine (IOM), commissioned by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy back the medical uses of marijuana.
Chemicals in marijuana have shown promise as bacteria fighters and as a schizophrenia drug. The antibacterial properties of THC have been known since the 1950s. Recent research by Giovanni Appendino of the University of the Eastern Piedmont indicates THC and other cannabisoids are particularly effective against microbial agents already resistant to several classes of drugs. While THC has been linked to psychotic reactions another chemical in cannabis—cannabisidiol—dampened these psychotic affects and has been used on psychiatric hospitals on psychotic patients with fewer side effects than widely-prescribed anti-psychotic drugs.
In one drug bust in Texas, a truck was found with 502 bales of cannabis, weighing 10 tons and worth $25 million.
In 2005, a suspected 51-year-old Australian drug smuggler died in southern Thailand when 60 hashish-packed condoms he swallowed burst in his body, and badly affected his colon and liver.
Combating and Decriminalizing Marijuana Use
In a 2002 survey, about 80 percent of the people asked said they though marijuana should be legal for medical purpose and 72 percent agreed that people arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana should be fined not jailed.. A number of states in the United States already allow medical the use of marijuana Among those who support legalizing marijuana outright are the billionaire philanthropist George Soros. The country singer Willie Nelson is a major legalization advocate
In 1994, U.S. Customs seized 559,286 pounds of marijuana. Officials believe, at most, this represents 10 percent of the cannabis entering the United States and does not include the cannabis that is produced domestically.
The greatest drug haul in terns of bulk of all time was the seizure of 3,200 tons of Columbian marijuana over 14 months by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration in 1982.
The Montana-based company Ag/Bio Con Inc. has bioengineered a fungus that attacks only marijuana. Drug enforcement people like the idea. Drug users and environmentalists are worried.
Image Source: DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration); Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Buzzed, the Straight Facts About the Most Used and Abused Drugs from Alcohol to Ecstasy by Cynthia Kuhn, Ph.D., Scott Swartzwelder Ph.D., Wilkie Wilson Ph.D., Duke University Medical Center (W.W. Norton, New York, 2003); National Geographic, Time, Newsweek, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Wikipedia, The Independent, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated March 2011