The medicinal properties of cannabis were referenced by the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung 4,500 years ago and multiple ancient cultures employed cannabis as an herbal treatment. In the United States, cannabis was widely employed between 1850 and 1937 in tonics and tinctures.
Almost nine thousand years later, in the early 1900’s recreational use of marijuana, the Mexican name for cannabis, was introduced to the United States by Mexican immigrants following the Mexican Revolution. In the 1930’s the Great Depression caused resentment toward Mexican immigrants, creating concerns around the use of marijuana. In 1937, The Marihuana Tax Act was passed by Congress, criminalizing marijuana and restricting possession to individuals who paid an excise tax.
Then in 1970, the Controlled Substance Act passed, placed marijuana in the most restrictive use category, Schedule 1, deeming it a drug with no medical value and high potential for abuse. Medical professionals at the time, seeing marijuana’s potential use as medicine, advised against placing marijuana in such a restrictive category.
Because of marijuana’s Schedule 1 categorization, medical marijuana research has been stunted. n order to conduct marijuana research you need a special license from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to conduct schedule 1 drug research. You must also apply for an IND (Investigational New Drug application) from the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and , until recently, obtain the marijuana from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) farm at the University of Mississippi.
In August 2016, the D.E.A gave researchers a small victory. The D.E.A said it will allow universities and private companies to apply to grow marijuana for scientific research. Although the drug is still classified as a Schedule 1, this will at least help to supply an adequate amount of the drug for research use.
More research needs to be conducted in order to fully understand the uses and benefits of marijuana both medically and recreationally.
Marijuana contains many chemical compounds including at least 70 cannabinoids and a large number of terpenes. It is the latter which gives marijuana its distinctive smell. Research has focused primarily on two cannabinoids: Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD).
The “high” euphoric feeling you get from smoking can be attributed largely to THC. However, as wonderful as THC makes you feel, it lacks many medical properties of CBD and may result in adverse psychological side effects. CBD, which does not cause significant euphoria, has been shown to help alleviate everything from social discomfort to severe pain. Currently, investigators are even studying CBD’s anti-cancer activities and believe that cannabinoids can reduce the spread of specific cancer cells.
IS SMOKING MARIJUANA SAFE?
The consumption of marijuana, regardless of quantity or potency, cannot induce a fatal overdose. According to a 1995 review prepared for the World Health Organization, “There are no recorded cases of overdose fatalities attributed to cannabis, and the estimated lethal dose for humans extrapolated from animal studies is so high that it cannot be achieved by … users.”
A more recent review on the, “Safety and Toxicity of Cannabis” published in 2015, concludes that among the average adult user, the health risks associated with marijuana, “are no more likely to be dangerous” than many other behaviors or activities, including the consumption of acetaminophen (the pain relieving ingredient in Tylenol).
This being said, marijuana should not be viewed as a “harmless” substance. Like any drug, marijuana will have varying effects on different users. Because of the drugs physiological and euphoric effects, different populations are more at risk to the adverse side effects.
Adolescents, pregnant or nursing mothers and patients who have a family history of psychiatric, or mental illness are all more vulnerable to the effects of marijuana. As with any medication, patients should consult their physician before deciding if the use of medical marijuana is safe and appropriate.
According to the NIH, National Institute on Drug Abuse, the overuse of marijuana can lead to “Marijuana Use Disorder,” which can take the form of addiction. People who suffer from this disorder might experience some, or all the following symptoms when trying to quit marijuana: irritability, mood and sleep difficulties, decreased appetite, cravings, restlessness, and/ or various forms of physical discomfort.
THC has also been shown to have acute and long-term adverse effects on the parts of the brain that are important for learning and memory, which do not mature until after adolescence. This is why it’s so important for adolescents not to experiment before their brains are fully developed.
Another reason to hold off on smoking marijuana before your brain is fully developed is because smoking as a teenager increases your likelihood to become dependent on marijuana. According to a 2014 article published by the New England Journal of Medicine, “approximately 9% of those who experiment with marijuana will become addicted… the number goes up to 1 in 6 among those who started using as teenagers.”
In 2012, the National Survey on Drug Use, estimated 2.7 million people 12 year of age and older met the DSM-IV criteria for dependence on marijuana. This may seem like a large number, but keep in mind that the same report also showed a whopping 8.6 million people dependent on alcohol.
Whether you still believe marijuana to be safe or unsafe, it is still a drug. If you are interested in the use of medical marijuana, consult your physician. And if you are interested in using marijuana recreationally, wait until your brain is fully developed, and then do it in a safe and legal way in the presence of others who can help if you experience adverse side effects.
WHAT THE DOCTOR SAYS:
“Medical marijuana research has been stigmatized and hindered within the medical community by poorly conceived federal laws. Identification of the benefits and risks posed by the chemical components of marijuana await legitimate medical research. However, from a medical standpoint, the recreational use of marijuana appears to pose less health risk than legal tobacco or alcohol use.”