Cannabis Confusion

By Mark Ackerman, PA

I remember several years ago watching a really funny anti-marijuana commercial. It was about several men in their mid-30’s sitting around a table in an attic of one of these guy’s house. He was talking about how smoking weed was not really that bad for you and how the popular opinion of using Marijuana was so wrong. The guys were all laughing when suddenly you could hear a car pull up in the driveway. In a panic the man who was talking starts yelling at his buddies “Quick, put out your joints, my mom is home.”
The advertisement was clearly telling people that one of the down sides of smoking dope was that you would never grow up. Clearly, men in the 30’s should not be living at home with their mom’s to be taken care of. But interestingly, this commercial and many anti- marijuana commercials like it are all nostalgia now. The common thought among 85% of Americans these days is that Marijuana smoking is no big deal and not really harmful to anyone. But recent medical research has come out against that view.
The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) recently published an article, with, original research done by Dr. Ryan Sultan, a psychiatrist at Columbia University. Dr. Sultan, studied 68,263 American adolescents (age 12-17). The group was then subdivided between nonusers, recreational (non-disordered) users and those with addictions to marijuana (Cannabis Use Disorder). The findings showed a high association between marijuana use and psychiatric disorders in both the Cannabis Use Disorder group and the recreational users.
Not surprising, those adolescents using marijuana on a regular basis and defined as having a Cannabis Use Disorder, had much higher rates of depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, psychosis, schizophrenia, difficulty concentrating, lower academic performance, fighting and aggressive behavior than did either of the two other groups. The interesting thing however is that those with “recreational” or non-disordered cannabis use had 2-4 times the level of psychiatric problems as those who didn’t use cannabis at all. In addition, the non-disordered (recreational) group outnumbers the Cannabis Use Disorder group by 4 to one in size.
Now of course, a lot of people will argue with the above associations stating that a lot of people who have these psychological problems are really just using marijuana to treat their symptoms. But further evidence is telling researchers the opposite. It would seem, for example, that cannabis use has some positive effects on depression and anxiety. However the current research and antidotal evidence has shown that repeated use of cannabis actually causes these problems instead of ameliorating them.
And as for not “growing up” as in the commercial cited above, it has been shown that recurrent cannabis use does, especially in adolescence, remodel the brain. We know that the average brain is not fully developed until the age of 25 in most people and cannabis use is so detrimental to that process, that, it does lead to a large increase in truancy, delinquency and a lower IQ- even in those people who are only using it recreationally.
As for adults using marijuana, the latest antidotal evidence is pointing towards a significant increase in both COPD and Dementia in chronic users of Marijuana. More research needs to be done in these areas but there is growing concern that the drug is not as benign as once thought.
Possibly one of the contributing factors to these findings is that marijuana is now about 90% potent compared to the marijuana that was being used in the 1960’s. Another way of saying this is that the amount of THC in marijuana (the chemical responsible for marijuana’s psychoactive effects) has increased from about 3% to an estimated 90% during this time period.
The bottom line of course, is that while more and more states look to legalize this drug on the principle that it is safe, I think there is mounting evidence to the contrary leading to a real confusion (not to mention psychological confusion) about advocating for it.
As it stands now, this is not your grandmother’s marijuana anymore.