Lack of research clouds medical marijuana

By Hugh Gray - Contributing Columnist
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Information for this article was retrieved from the Hazelden Center, WebMD.com, Medical News Today, the Blunt Truth of S.C. and S.C. Behavioral Health Association.

As Newberry County’s nonprofit provider of addiction prevention, treatment and recovery services, Westview has an important responsibility, and is uniquely qualified, to comment on the effects of marijuana use, which we see every day among the people we serve.

Last year, almost half of Westview’s clients were diagnosed with some level of marijuana abuse. That’s more than any other drug but alcohol. And it’s understandable that the numbers are so close, given that the effects of marijuana on the brain are more similar to alcohol than tobacco.

Many people wrongly believe that marijuana is like tobacco since the two are often smoked. Like alcohol though, marijuana can affect your:

* Ability to think and solve problems

* Coordination

* Reaction time

* Judgment

* Memory

* Mood

We know marijuana is dangerous to many users and addictive to some, and that young people are particularly vulnerable.

The effects of marijuana can be even more serious in young people. “If you’re a young person and you’re using regularly, there’s a whole host of problems that can occur,” says Kevin Hill, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the Substance Abuse Consultation Service at McLean Hospital.

Regular marijuana use during the teen years has been linked to:

* Lower IQ

* Changes to areas of the brain involved with learning, memory, and attention

* Anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems

* Dropping out of school

* Worse performance in college

While the debates over legalization continue, many young people view marijuana as less risky, and not surprisingly, more and more of them are smoking marijuana for the first time. Early use of marijuana is especially troubling. The human brain develops throughout adolescence and well beyond, into the mid-20s. Marijuana use can harm learning, thinking and memory development and can contribute to mental health issues, not to mention medical problems.

“There’s a much higher risk in people whose brains are developing — those 25 and under,” said Hill.

We also know the earlier a young person starts to use any mood and mind altering substance, the greater the possibility of developing addiction. One of the recurring themes we hear from the youth we treat is regret – of wasted time, lost opportunities, squandered talent, impaired memory, reduced performance and disinterest in healthy activities.

Expanded social acceptance will almost certainly result in more new users, higher frequency of use among established users and increases in marijuana-associated health and social problems. Therefore, Westview encourages you to be an educated community, especially young people and their parents, about the dangers and potentially addictive dynamics of all drugs, including marijuana.

And, while the use of marijuana as a “medicine” has some merit, why not move it to an appropriate status so that it can be studied fully as a medicine.

“There is not enough high-quality scientific evidence to support the use of cannabis as an effective and safe treatment for chronic pain or post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Catharine Paddock, PhD, in October of 2017, after studying two systematic reviews of cannabis use published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

She continued to say that, in those systematic reviews, researchers examined data from 27 chronic pain trials and found only “low-strength” evidence that cannabis relieves neuropathic pain and “insufficient evidence” that it alleviates other types of pain.

Our society needs, and should demand, much more evidence on the usefulness of medical marijuana than we currently have. Once that happens, we can know the benefits versus the harms of medical marijuana. Once that happens, it can be prescribed by physicians, not recommended. And it can be dispensed through a pharmacy, not something more like a tobacco merchant.

Not only that, but also, the authority of local governments to determine what businesses are allowed to open in their communities should be recognized. We at the local level should be able to determine issues that could so negatively impact our communities, especially when it allows marijuana in our schools. This is definitely NOT the time to put more substances in schools that can put youth at risk for mental health issues.

Many questions and concerns abound when it comes to the issue of medical marijuana in South Carolina. Feel free to contact your state legislators, ask questions and share your opinion.

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By Hugh Gray

Contributing Columnist

Hugh Gray is the executive director at Westview Behavioral Health Services and can be reached at 803-276-5690.

Hugh Gray is the executive director at Westview Behavioral Health Services and can be reached at 803-276-5690.