To give you a brief history, the use of the cannabis plant dates back to 2,500 B.C. when the Chinese used it as a pain reliever and for its euphoria-inducing qualities. During American colonial times, doctors used it for a variety of medicinal and health purposes, including pain relief and appetite control. In the 1950’s, the U.S. government imposed mandatory jail sentences and fines for the possession and distribution of marijuana. Marijuana was classified as a Schedule 1 substance in the 1970’s placing it on the same level as heroin and cocaine. In the last decade, although there has not been much reform of Cannabis policy –the clamor of debate and controversy continues today. Recently, the US is experiencing real change in the state laws governing marijuana and in the enforcement of Federal legislation that has fueled genuine and heated debate both for and against these changes.
Recreational marijuana use is legal in four states and the District of Columbia. It is also legalized in some form in twenty-five states. In 2012, ballot measures legalized Marijuana in Colorado and Washington.
In Alaska and Oregon adults 21 and older can now transport, buy or possess up to an ounce of marijuana in public, six plants in Alaskan homes and eight ounces in homes in Oregon. Voters in Nevada are considering a ballot initiative later this year. Moreover, Louisiana lawmakers amended the state’s existing medical marijuana law permitting doctors to recommend rather than prescribe medical marijuana, which runs counter to the federal legislation. The law also expanded the list of eligible conditions for cannabis treatment. Possession of small amounts of marijuana has been decriminalized in some states while others have passed medical marijuana laws- some broader than others allowing for limited use. The types of medical conditions that allow for treatment vary from state to state. For example, some states have passed laws allowing residents to possess cannabis oil if they suffer from certain medical illnesses. Decades ago, Virginia enacted legislation allowing for the possession of marijuana if individuals received prescriptions from doctors. However, Federal law prohibits doctors from prescribing marijuana, rendering those laws invalid. In April, Pennsylvania became the latest state to legalize medical marijuana.
Mounting concern promoted by an alliance of organizations and individuals named Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) are professionals working in the mental health and public health sector dedicated to a health-first approach. They are bipartisan people who seek a middle road between incarceration and legalization. They are treatment providers, medical doctors, lawmakers, teachers, law enforcement officers and others who believe in a commonsense, third-way approach to marijuana policy, based on reputable science and sound principles of public health and safety.
Understandably, professionals in the addiction space want to accomplish fair policies regarding both the medical and recreational use (not abuse) of marijuana. This is more easily said than done! A recent visit to Denver’s legalized dispensary helps one understand the dilemma. While there are many smokable marijuana varieties
(having upwards of 24% active Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to choose from with an array of names and mood claims, there are also edibles such as gummy squares containing 7 mg of THC per square and some waxes containing from 69-89% THC. With good intentions, the dispensary staff try to help people navigate this array, explaining the possible dangers of over –indulgence and suggesting caution especially about the over consumption of gummies (no more than one or two at a time) and providing careful instructions concerning waxes.
The missing piece is the human condition.
While some believe that legalization is about making a small number of business people wealthy and reducing unwanted incarceration, others are calling for a middle-road approach, primarily seeking only decriminalization, moving us backward. Would this provide the impetus for drug cartels to harvest and illegally sell again? The answer is not so simple. RAND
(Research AND Development) Corporation recently reported
that drug trafficking groups received a minority of their revenue from marijuana, the big money for them is in human trafficking, kidnapping, extortion, piracy and other illicit drugs.
However, without being long-winded lets lay down some interesting facts –pro and con concerning the utilization of another intoxicant in society.
What is the Scientific Truth?
Clinically, Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is a subset of Reward Deficiency Syndrome (RDS) a framework based on a known hypodopaminergic trait (genetic) further impacted by environmental elements (epigenetic). It is to be understood that the human brain contains not only the natural receptors (cannabinoid-CB1 and CB2) that respond to cannabis but also endogenous substances that act like THC.
Much of the information here can be found at ‘How THC Affects the Brain” http://headsup.scholastic.com/students/the-science-of-marijuana.
Marijuana’s main active ingredient THC was first identified as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and began the ‘Science of Marijuana’ in the mid1960s. It took twenty years for scientists to identify [cannabinoid (CB) receptors] the sites in the brain and body where marijuana acts. Next, researchers discovered the body’s own natural chemicals [anandamide and 2-AG (2-arachidonoyl glycerol] which also act on CB receptors. This group of chemicals is called cannabinoids, and together with their receptors, make up the endocannabinoid (EC) system. The EC system affects so many different bodily functions because it works in many areas of the brain. Cannabinoids work by regulating how cells communicate—changing how they send, receive, or process messages. See how the EC System operates in the Neurones in the figure below.
Inhaled marijuana, rapidly releases THC that quickly attaches to cannabinoid receptors. THC overwhelms the natural EC system preventing the natural chemicals from doing their job properly and changes the balance of the whole EC system. In doing so, some level of relief from everyday stress is provided by indirectly increasing the release of dopamine via a cascade of neurotransmission within the reward system of the brain. This is the so-called “heaven” sought out by millions daily. In the following figure, the differences between the natural anandamide and THC on brain and behavior are represented. The function of the brain structure that contains high numbers of CB receptors and the altered effect of the THC user are listed.
Certainly, the literature is rife with controversy concerning many scientific aspects related to the “heaven” and “hell” effects of marijuana. One could make a case for either by selecting any appropriate literature citation. However, having an honest approach to this complex pharmacological risk compared to benefit inventory seems not only parsimonious but necessary for our lawmakers to vote responsibly. Without endorsing or agreeing with certain scientifically vetted issues on the subject (this would entail an in-depth scientific review) the following represents current thinking about the issues that are surrounding Marijuana Legalization.
Thanks to the SAM website for much of the following discussion
Is Marijuana Addictive?
There is some evidence that marijuana is both addictive and harmful to the human brain, especially when used as an adolescent. One in every six 16 year-olds (and one in every eleven adults) who try marijuana will become addicted to it. The retort here is that 33% of Americans carry polymorphic genes that provide a high risk for psychoactive drugs to be abused and become addictive.
Can Marijuana product physical withdrawal not just psychological?
Different addictions have different symptoms, but whether its food, sex, marijuana, or heroin – your brain knows it wants more of that feeling of pleasure. Unlike alcohol, heroin, cocaine and tobacco, most chronic marijuana users who attempt to stop “cold turkey” will experience a milder array of withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, restlessness, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and/or cravings. Science has shown that 1 in 6 kids who ever try marijuana, according to the National Institutes of Health, will become addicted to the drug. Potentially, one explanation is that today’s marijuana is not your “Woodstock weed” – it can be 5-10 times stronger than marijuana of the past,
Does Marijuana Make You Dumb?
While there is a plethora of data suggesting that short –term memory is impaired, there is also evidence that many successful people have smoked marijuana throughout their careers. However, research shows that adolescents who smoke marijuana once a week over a two-year period are almost six times more likely than nonsmokers to drop out of school and over three times less likely to enter college. Evidence from a large cohort published four years ago found that using marijuana regularly before the age of 18 resulted in an average IQ of six to eight fewer points at age 38 versus to those who did not use the drug before 18.
Marijuana makes you lack satisfaction and motivation
While there is evidence that regular marijuana use is associated with lower satisfaction, lack of intimate romantic relationships and referred to as “a-motivational syndrome” surprisingly, a new paper in 2016 showed that when regular heavy daily marijuana users stopped using and were compared to so-called healthy non-users, the measured motivation was similar for both groups. This suggests that Marijuana seems different from most other addictive drugs but does not make it safe, especially for adolescents.
Are Marijuana Users Clogging our Prisons
Most Americans are unhappy with the fact that illegal possession of small amounts of marijuana should constitute incarceration. It is true that there have been some very unfair cases in the past, whereby people were jailed for only marijuana possession. However, a survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics showed that 0.7% of all state inmates who were behind bars for marijuana possession only, had pled down from more serious crimes. In total, one tenth of one percent (0.1 percent) of all state prisoners were marijuana-possession offenders with no prior sentences. Other independent research has shown that the risk of arrest for each “joint,” or marijuana cigarette smoked is about 1 arrest for every 12,000 joints. This of course does not mean that self-medicating marijuana users should be arrested.
Is Marijuana a medicine
The answer to this question is that more research should be conducted on the 22 alkaloids present in marijuana plants. There is significant growing evidence that certain cannabinoids have potent anti-tumor activity, anti-depressant characteristics, helpful with HIV/ AIDS, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, cardiovascular issues, sleep, anxiety, and anti- nausea. There is also some evidence for improvement in ADHD and focus at lower doses. Understanding this potential does not negate the fact that most states that permit the use of medical marijuana, less than 2-3% of users report having cancer, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, MS, or other life-threatening diseases.
Does Marijuana Cause Lung Cancer
The evidence on lung cancer and marijuana is mixed –but marijuana contains 50% more carcinogens than tobacco smoke, and marijuana smokers report serious symptoms of chronic bronchitis and other respiratory illnesses. However, in some studies, the opposite was found showing that the combination of smoking marijuana with tobacco reduced the incidence of lung cancer. The growing use of vaporizers and edibles should reduce the use of tobacco.
Is Marijuana A Gateway Drug
We know that most people who use Marijuana won’t go onto other drugs, but 99% of people who are addicted to other drugs started with alcohol and/or marijuana. However, regarding some scientific facts in mice, it is now known that THC (not marijuana per se) administered to pregnant females cause epigenetic effects for up to two generations so that the resultant generations have an increased sensitivity for subsequent heroin abuse and addiction. Scientifically, the real gateway drug is nicotine, especially for cocaine abuse.
Alcohol and Nicotine are legal, why shouldn’t marijuana also be legal?
Most scientists would agree that both alcohol and nicotine are far worst that marijuana in causing sickness and even death from its abuse. In fact, our currently legal drugs – alcohol and tobacco – provide a good example since both youth and adults use them far more frequently than illegal drugs. According to recent surveys, alcohol is used by 52% of Americans and tobacco is used by 27% of Americans, but marijuana is used by only 8% of Americans. However, with the rise in THC content of current recreational products like wax (up to in some cases 97%) we are being faced with an increase in psychosis and toddler intoxication from edibles.
One important issue brought up by the SAM organization that requires some discussion involves the concept of legalization and the change in the presence of drug cartels in mainstream America. SAM suggests that legalization will not do much to deter the drug cartels presence in America. They suggest that legalization of marijuana will involve unwanted taxes that will, in turn, result in people seeking cheaper tax –free products through illegal means. I find this hard to believe because we have not seen this with the legalization of alcohol in the United Sates. The boot-legers are gone, and as such this defense seems unfounded.
Based on restrictive marijuana laws regarding research especially in the smoked form, and Marijuana being placed in schedule 1 since the 60s, research on the plant has been almost non-existent. In fact, in one extreme case, a professor at a well-known University in America was fired for suggesting a study for smoked marijuana as an adjunct for PTSD. However, many scientists and some politicians have asked the US government to place marijuana in a lower category than Schedule 1 and are awaiting a response. There are however signs of a possible shift in attitude within the federal government. In May, the D.E.A. issued new rules to increase the government’s production of marijuana for research this year from 21,000 grams to 650,000 grams. At the National Institute on Drug Abuse, records show that at the beginning of this year there were 28 active grants for research into the possible medical benefits of marijuana in six disease categories. Additionally, other National Institutes of Health entities have been supporting marijuana research. As for independently funded marijuana research, the federal government has cleared 16 projects since 1999, 13 of them at the University of California, San Diego.
With the current information, many chronic marijuana users never go on to more ‘heavy-duty’ drugs. However, the use of marijuana is a ‘double-edged sword’ – it can be “Heaven or Hell.” More research is required and is in the pipeline. With that said we have yet to understand how to fully utilize its ‘magical’ properties – and to discover the best way as a society, that we can do with or without it.
Kenneth Blum, B.Sc. (Pharmacy), M.Sc., Ph.D. & DHL; received
his Ph.D. in Neuropharmacology from New York Medical College
and graduated from Columbia University and New Jersey College
of Medicine. He also received a doctor of humane letters from Saint Martin’s University Lacey, WA. He has published more than 550 abstracts; peer-reviewed articles and 14-books.