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Marijuana – Is It Really Dangerous?

By Dr. Michael Sheehy, Chief of Population Health and Analytics

It’s hard not to notice that people’s attitudes to marijuana have changed pretty dramatically over the years. Once known as the drug of the counterculture, marijuana use has become almost mainstream in our society. And many states, including Massachusetts, have either decriminalized marijuana use or made it legal.

However, just like alcohol and tobacco, using marijuana does have consequences for people’s health. Some of the shorter-term effects can include interference with motor coordination as well as memory and concentration. Regular marijuana smoking, just like cigarette smoking, has been known to cause respiratory problems. Some people can also become addicted to the active ingredient in marijuana (delta-9-tretrahydrocannabinal, also known as THC). Frequent or heavy users of marijuana have been known to experience serious withdrawal symptoms just like users of other drugs.

The marijuana that people smoke is also more powerful today than ever before. According to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine the active ingredient in marijuana is believed to have tripled since the 1980s.* Some of the new edible products made from marijuana can also be problematic. Since they are eaten and not smoked, people can accidently consume more marijuana than they intended. Children can also mistake edible marijuana products for candy or snacks, leading to overdoses and visits to the emergency room.

So although our society is more accepting of marijuana usage, the dangers are still there. Young people, whose brains are still developing, are particularly vulnerable to the health risks of marijuana. It is believed that people who smoke marijuana frequently as teens can have measurable declines in their IQ as adults.* Researchers also believe that marijuana can impair a teenager’s critical thinking skills for days after it is used. Using marijuana also impairs judgement, leading to risky behaviors that teens are already prone too.

Although marijuana is mainly known as a recreational drug, it is being increasingly used to treat medical problems. The American Medical Association has recognized that medical marijuana can play a role in treating nerve pain, preventing muscle spasms, and restoring appetite for people with certain illnesses. Some of the compounds in marijuana are also undergoing study for the treatment of difficult to treat illnesses, such as multiple sclerosis and childhood epilepsy. As time goes on, there are likely to be more medicinal uses found for marijuana.

So like many things in life, there’s both a good side and a bad side to this controversial plant. If you choose to smoke marijuana, you should be aware of the health dangers. You should also tell your doctor if you are a regular user. Marijuana can interfere with other drugs that your doctor prescribes, sometimes with serious consequences. (You should know that Reliant Medical Group has a policy of not prescribing medical marijuana for illnesses. This is because clinical studies have not yet shown that medical marijuana is safer to use and more effective than other treatments that can be prescribed.)

If you choose to use alcohol, tobacco, marijuana or any drug, it’s important to know the short-term and long-term effects on your health. Just because marijuana has become increasingly legal in many states doesn’t mean the health consequences from using it have gone away. You can learn more about the health effects of marijuana here.

*Nora D. Volkow, M.D., Ruben D. Baler, Ph.D., Wilson M. Compton, M.D., and Susan R.B. Weiss, Ph.D. Adverse Health Effects of Marijuana Use. N Engl J Med 2014; 370:2219-2227.

7 Responses

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  1. Posted by Gary

    I agree with Roz, physicians and healers need to adopt all sides of marijuana. And as with alcohol or any other substance…moderation is the key.

    December 19, 2017 3:50 pm Reply
  2. Posted by Linda

    It’s clear that more research needs to be done, and the sooner the better. Like other medications, evidence based information for the correct concentration, route of administration, number of times/day for which conditions, etc needs to be sorted out in a better way than it is currently. And on the flip side of Anthony’s comment, Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome is something that is often diagnosed after thousands of dollars worth of tests are performed and multiple ER visits and/or hospital admissions have been endured by people who suffer from this condition (feeling better with hot baths/showers is a tip off), who ultimately find out that the only cure is to stop using MJ.

    October 28, 2017 12:38 pm Reply
  3. Posted by Deborah

    Hi…..I do believe that the medical marijuana oils edibles are in the people’s interest with medical issues. Naturally. not smoking .Because we’ve seen what “smoking” can cause. Then again ,the “side effects” of prescription medicine..the side effects are sometimes worse than than the medical condition being treated. I’ve read how it helped with seizures , etc.etc. Dr’s even prescribe it for the side effects for from chemo… What does it really come down too.?Pharmaceutical waiting for the approval now? Dr.Sanjay Gupta with CNN has done excellent research on this topic …

    October 28, 2017 9:48 am Reply
  4. Posted by Anthony

    Only one paragraph in this article is given to the medical benefits of cannabis? That is somewhat concerning and delegitimizes the life-changing benefits the substance has brought to scores of people who used to be very very sick all the time.

    I have a friend who spent years fighting severe intestinal disorders, going through thousands and thousands of dollars with these “treatments” that often brought on side-effects that were nearly worse than the symptoms themselves. He once got rushed to the hospital with a 105-degree fever due to medications that interacted badly…he almost died that night.

    Then he tried medical cannabis, and overnight, his life changed. No more awful drugs. No more side effects. Just a healthy stomach.

    While running a small business with his father (that he helped bring from their basement to their own brick and mortar location), he has been using marijuana multiple times per day for years.

    If the author is going to say “there’s both a good side and a bad side to this controversial plant,” please give adequate reasoning for both sides of the argument.

    Sorry, rant over. I understand that people shouldn’t be consuming absurd doses of the plant and expect no harmful consequences…but that goes for alcohol and tobacco as well. Nobody should be drinking a liter of vodka a day and nobody should be smoking an ounce of herb every day.

    October 27, 2017 12:35 pm Reply
  5. Posted by Jennifer Sheldon

    By all means, state your source for these claims.

    October 26, 2017 9:53 pm Reply
  6. Posted by Ray Gauthier

    If you weigh the good with the bad the good is better than the bad!

    October 26, 2017 8:21 pm Reply
  7. Posted by Roz Levine

    Marijuana is here to stay. It would be very helpful for doctors to become knowledgeable & even specialists and help those of us who do use medical mj to use it correctly, etc.

    October 26, 2017 5:30 pm Reply

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