Marijuana – Dangerous Or Medically Revolutionary?

medical marijuana
medical marijuana
Leacsaidh MacDonald Marlow

Marijuana or cannabis, more commonly known as weed, is a class B drug which is currently illegal in a large group of countries worldwide, of which the UK is one. It is known to have been used for at least 5000 years globally for medical, recreational and spiritual purposes. Up until recently very little was known about the action of cannabis in the body, with the 1990s bringing most of our current understanding into the mechanism of this drug. Leacsaidh MacDonald Marlow discusses Marijuana and the effects it can have on the body… 

Its usage and legality remain a contentious issue, with arguments both for and against its legalisation being frequently furthered by emerging research into the medical benefits of marijuana and its potential for disease treatment, as well as its implication in both physical diseases such as cancer and psychological disorders like paranoid schizophrenia.  

frequent cannabis users have memory impairment and generally perform worse on logic and reasoning tests

Marijuana is understood to have significant effects on the body, including obstruction of the airways, movement impairment, as well as being a carcinogen – with frequently observed cases of mouth, jaw, tongue and lung cancer. Furthermore, recent studies have shown that pregnant women who smoked marijuana frequently during, or soon before, their pregnancy period had babies that were 10 times as likely to have leukaemia as those from mothers who did not smoke cannabis. 

Studies conducted on frequent cannabis users who had been using the drug consistently for at least 10 years yielded results which suggest that, on average, frequent cannabis users have memory impairment and generally perform worse on logic and reasoning tests. While it is difficult to prove correlation given that the baseline IQ of all participants is different, one such study which observed a group of users and non-users on one occasion and then the same group a decade later showed that the users displayed measurable decline in memory and cognitive reasoning skills, relevant to their own previous scores. Moreover, marijuana has been implicated in the onset of, or increase in, psychotic symptoms such as paranoia, and psychological disorders such as schizophrenia. There is sufficient evidence that excessive use of cannabis in adolescence especially is linked to later development of schizophrenia. Approximately 9% of people who use marijuana become addicted, and adolescents with a predisposition to schizophrenia, e.g. due to family history, are significantly more likely than others to suffer addiction. This can lead to either a worsening of their existing symptoms, or an earlier onset of paranoia symptoms. However, there is no evidence to suggest that using marijuana can induce the development of paranoia or schizophrenia in those who aren’t already predisposed, rather its usage should be avoided by those who are more susceptible to the development or worsening of psychosis. 

Clinical research into the potential benefits of cannabis-based medicine has been limited given that the current legal restrictions

There is evidence of cannabis being used in a medicinal context for millennia, treating arthritis, depression and other chronic pain disorders. In America it was even frequently prescribed by doctors in the early 19th century prior to its criminalisation by the federal government under the Controlled Substance Act. Cannabis was specifically used in many cases to reduce fever, which modern research can now attribute to THC’s ability to reduce body temperature

Despite the psychotic symptoms associated with THC, a different part of the cannabis plant, CBD, has been shown to have anti-anxiety properties, with studies in 2012 showing it to cause responses otherwise seen when using antipsychotic drugs. CBD is not intoxicating upon consumption in the way that THC is, it is widely available commercially and is often used by those with anxiety or stress disorders. A trial in 2017 also showed a reduction in the number of seizures suffered by children with epilepsy when ingesting CBD

Clinical research into the potential benefits of cannabis-based medicine has been limited given that the current legal restrictions, especially in the UK, make it difficult to obtain enough for valid clinical trials. Therefore, despite the promising evidence that medicinal marijuana may have for those living with chronic pain or neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s, the legal cannabis industry in the UK does not have enough influence to push the trials of many cannabis-based medicines. However, many other western countries, for example Canada, are taking legal steps to decriminalise both medical usage and regulated recreational usage of marijuana, and it is possible that the UK may follow a similar path to increase regulated access to marijuana for medical purposes.

Leacsaidh MacDonald Marlow

Featured image courtesy of Jeff W via Unsplash Image license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

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