I’ll preface this article by saying I am a person in long term recovery. I do not have, thankfully, chronic pain or glaucoma. I am not currently on chemo. In other words I have no medical reason to use marijuana in any of its forms. As a person in recovery I have chosen not to poke that particular bear. But, with all the media attention Marijuana has been getting what with it’s legalization here in Oregon and other states, as well as reports from some of my own patients (usually in terms of Cannabidiol or CBD) I thought it was time to explore the issue myself.
As an addictions counselor it’s fair to say, that despite working in medication assisted treatment for several years now, that the majority of my education comes from an “abstinence based” background. It’s how I choose to live my own recovery. However, after seeing the number of people who come through my doors with addiction issues revolving around pain pills, that started using due to chronic pain, and that are legal and prescribed by a doctor, I figured it would be fair to look at different side which is slowly gaining acceptance in the medical community and even in parts of the the recovery community.
I’ve tried to keep bias out of this and keep my research focused on “actual” research, first hand accounts, and reputable sources. After all, you don’t do research on sugar by getting all of your information from the sugar lobby.
So what’s the deal? How bad, or good, is marijuana. Is it a miracle drug (spoiler, it’s not) or just a hoax perpetuated by those who want to legally sit on their couch all day long taking bong hits, watching the cartoon network, and eating Cheetos. Like most things with extreme views on either side, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
1. Marijuana is Not Harmless- Current studies on marijuana have found that just like alcohol, marijuana slows your reaction time and has led to, on multiple occasions, traffic accidents and fatalities. 50-60% of marijuana users experience increased anxiety. Smoking marijuana can be 3-5 times more damaging to a persons lungs then cigarettes. Chronic marijuana abuse can lead to psychotic reactions. Chronic marijuana use has been shown to lead to progressive cognitive defects including ongoing memory impairment; specifically more so in people who began marijuana use in their teens. One last added bonus, gentleman, is that chronic use of marijuana can lead to an increased chance for testicular cancer.
2. It’s also not the deadly scourge that the government wanted you to believe.- There are no (to my knowledge) records of overdose on marijuana. Part of the reason for that is that in order to achieve a lethal level of the drug you would need to smoke 100lbs, per minute, for 15 minutes. Now don’t ask me how they figured this out. Somewhere there are a bunch of stoned researchers doing this in the name of science. For adult “recreational/occasional users,” of marijuana, there was little evidence of the complications listed above. It still isn’t good for your lungs, but unless you are taking bong hits all day, the effects mentioned above can generally be avoided.
3. Part of the problem is that the marijuana today is not your parents pot.- The THC levels in marijuana have steadily risen over the years. Bigger and better and all that. In 1992 the average THC level was 3%. By 2004 it had gone up to 10% with some being as high as 20%. We’ve come a long ways since the days of Woodstock where a joint might have 1-2% THC to now. That THC is what causes a lot of the problems addressed in section one. Not to mention that THC is what causes the majority of the euphoric effect of marijuana and to a person unaware of the potential of those effects, it can be quite harmful, frightening and even psychosis inducing.
4. Medical applications? Yes…..but….Marijuana is still considered a schedule one narcotic by the federal government. Know what schedule one narcotics don’t get a lot of? Research. Currently there is no indication of appropriate dosage levels in terms of medical marijuana. And taking into account the wide varieties of strains produced, it makes it that much harder. It has shown to have positive effects on Glaucoma, and nausea in patients currently in chemotherapy.
5. However…about CBD’s- OKAY, this is where I had to dig a little deeper. I’m not presenting “High Times,” take on anything marijuana related. Cannabidiol (CBD) is a compound found in marijuana. CBD isn’t what gets you high and so it isn’t present in high levels in most marijuana available. That being said CBD’s has shown a lot of promise in treating people with epilepsy, specifically children, with CBD. Even the DEA has stated that due to the extremely low levels of THC in CBD that they are encouraging further research into the beneficial effects.
The take away from this article is this. The prohibition of marijuana has been about as useful as it was with alcohol. The only thing the prohibition managed to do was put thousands of otherwise decent, law abiding people in jail. In terms of damage done with chronic use, alcohol kills thousands if not millions of people yearly due to the complications arising around alcohol abuse, whereas marijuana, while harmful to your lungs and the neurological complications from it’s abuse doesn’t come anywhere near alcohol.
For people with addiction issues, my advice is to leave marijuana alone. When I see people come back into treatment, following a relapse back into active addiction, it was almost inevitably started with marijuana or alcohol consumption. For a person with addiction there is no “just” anything. For those of us in recovery there is no “just pot,” or “just booze.” It’s a dangerous, and ignorant assumption that the brain of an addict is going to magically compartmentalize one substance apart from the rest. Addiction is about a disease, not a substance, and the sooner those of us with addiction, get that through our thick skulls, the better off will be.
For people who don’t have this disease of addiction and seem to use marijuana much like they might alcohol, being infrequent use, is there such thing as “just pot”? I’d say educate yourself, recognize the harmful effects and then my answer is…maybe? As marijuana gains more main stream acceptance, and as more states legalize it, more research will become available, which will allow people WITHOUT ADDICTION ISSUES to make an informed choice.