As you might have suspected, “medical marijuana” is a hoax, rolled out like a Trojan horse for legalization by pro-marijuana forces and not by any specialty within the medical community – which overwhelmingly agrees with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar that there is “no such thing as medical marijuana.”
This is not to say that no component of the Cannabis sativa plant has any medical use. In fact, marijuana derived cannabidiol – CBD – has been approved in Texas for intractable epilepsy and may have other applications. But its intoxicating half-brother, tetrahydrocannabinol – THC – is responsible for the addiction risk and psychiatric problems. Only a few years ago, both were present at a concentration of 1 percent in the plant naturally, but the marijuana industry has bred today’s strains to more than 20 percent THC – the difference between a 12-ounce beer and a 12-ounce tequila. Whether supporters realize it or not, this powerful movement is about selling a powerful drug: THC.
Alarming reports of a doubling of marijuana related traffic fatalities in Colorado and a 40 percent increase in aggravated assault cases in Washington state should concern lawmakers. More chilling is the growing body of evidence for psychiatric harm – especially to young brains, including depression, chronic apathy, suicidality, memory and concentration problems and paranoid thoughts. Hospital admissions for schizophrenia, the most severe and costly diagnosis in mental health, increased more than 50 percent since 2006. One reason according to the 2017 National Academy of Medicine Panel is that “Cannabis use is likely to increase the risk of developing schizophrenia and other psychoses; the higher the use, the greater the risk.”
The evidence for medical use is limited. Chemotherapy-induced nausea? Unproven in quality studies. Pain relief? Only half of studies showed short-term benefit – but so did opioids and we now know how counterproductive those can be in long-term treatment. We also know that chronic pain patients using marijuana take more opioids and have worse pain control.
It does offer some relief for multiple sclerosis-induced muscle spasm and there may be a few other narrow applications. But is it a safe and effective long-term treatment, even for these? We should answer these questions first.
We might also ask which doctors are more likely to start prescribing marijuana? The best and already busy or the ones the state board already knows by name?
Now, veterans are being used to advance the agenda. But does marijuana help or hurt post-traumatic stress disorder? If it helps, is the benefit from the THC or the CBD? Studies are pending.
Of course, no one is being prosecuted for using marijuana for a legitimate medical condition, but promoting it as “medicine” now is reckless.
Estimates of addiction rates for chronic users range from 10 percent to 20 percent, but that likely understates the risk with today’s much higher potency strains. While the potency of the drug and scientific evidence for harm and addiction are rising, teen’s perceptions of those harms are at record lows. Yet, the marijuana (now repackaged as “cannabis,” you might have noticed) movement must strike quickly. Because the marijuana coalition is showing signs of fracturing under the weight of the evidence, and lack thereof.
Marijuana progressives are realizing that today’s marijuana is not nearly as benign as they were told and has a disproportionate impact on minorities, the poor and the poorly parented – just the groups they are trying to help most. The numerous (more than McDonalds and Starbucks in the city combined) marijuana dispensaries in Denver are overwhelmingly in poor neighborhoods. The tax on marijuana is regressive and, at least in Colorado (surprise!), none of it went to teachers.
Marijuana libertarians are dismayed that after legalization, the illegal market continues, that prosecutions for marijuana violations go up not down, and that the government gets bigger, not smaller.
Marijuana fiscal conservatives remain intrigued about the potential for tax revenue from sales of a product they don’t use. But even in Colorado, this funds just 2 percent of the budget. That looks like free money only because we don’t yet know how to measure the broad social costs associated with increased use.
Of course, the hard-core supporters are the chronic users and their deep-pocketed potential suppliers who are seeking social acceptance of the behavior. But that’s the rub. Reform of marijuana laws may be needed and decriminalization per se might not be such a terrible thing. The real damage comes from the misinformation campaign that precedes this and the normalization and commercialization that follows.
The oft repeated yarn that no one is safe while the Legislature is in session is truer than ever. Whatever drug-law reforms are considered this session, legislators should recognize that, while there’s still much that we don’t know about marijuana, what we do know should give us pause before rolling the offering of “medical marijuana” through the gate.
Matt Poling of College Station is a family physician and member of Smart Approaches to Marijuana.
This article provided by NewsEdge.