Let’s be clear about marijuana’s side-effects

All medicinal plants have side-effects and can be as harmful as pharmaceutical medicine when used improperly. Marijuana has proven useful in treating nausea, AIDS-wasting and inflammatory pain. While it can also be used to treat glaucoma, it is less effective and more toxic than prescribed eye drops.

Marijuana is clearly addictive; persons using marijuana during their first 20 years are 2 – 4 times more likely to become addicted. Younger persons are also more likely to suffer altered brain development, including cognitive impairment with measurably lower IQ. Short-term use interferes with the ability to learn new information, focus and complete new tasks. Long-term use increases the risk of psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia, and results in poor educational outcomes. Long-term use is also associated with dissatisfaction with life situation.

While marijuana does not appear to carry the same lung cancer risk as tobacco, the risk for chronic inflammation, heart attacks and strokes is still not known. Lack of information does not mean safety; lack of information means the research has not yet been done.

Like alcohol, marijuana impairs driving. Driving with the lowest detectable amount of marijuana in the blood increases accident risk by 2 times. Accident risk with average marijuana use is 3 – 7 times that of a non-user. If a driver drinks alcohol and uses marijuana, the risk of an accident is up to 27 times that of a non-user.

There are many chronic and terminal illnesses for which marijuana may be an appropriate therapy for symptom relief. As a recreational drug, it is not safe and can profoundly impact the future of young persons. In the wake of growing legal acceptance, marijuana benefits should be balanced with the risks.

Allan P. Frank, MD, MS