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Guest Commentary: Despite Being Legal For Medical Purposes, Marijuana Still Harmful Psychoactive Drug

Since our community is taking a serious look at supporting a “medical” marijuana manufacturing plant, I thought it would be important to share information on this drug. Much of my information is from the National Institute of Health and medical literature.

The recent vote to allow the medical use of marijuana in Missouri, and the vote to support its use for both medical and recreational purposes in several states, have erroneously led to the opinion that the risks associated with the use of marijuana is less than previously expressed. Marijuana has been the most commonly used illicit drug in the U.S. for many years. It can be ingested in baked goods such as cookies and brownies; it can be smoked, vaped, brewed as tea, etc. Marijuana, the most common name for cannabis, is a psychoactive drug from the cannabis plant with tetrahydrocannibinol (THC) which represents the psychoactive component.

THC content in marijuana has risen in the last few years, which has contributed to the potentially more harmful effects of marijuana today. Edibles are particularly harmful, as they take more time to produce the high associated with marijuana. Taken orally, THC bypasses the lungs, thereby taking longer to enter the bloodstream, and people tend to “eat more” to achieve that high. This leads to a higher likelihood of overdose, which can sometimes be life-threatening. And we have all heard of the risks of vaping THC, with the unfortunate loss of lives reported in the news recently. Other physical effects of marijuana include breathing difficulties, increased heart rate, adverse affects on neonatal brain development leading to learning disorders, possible IQ decrease, and a severe form of nausea and vomiting after prolonged use. The drug is also associated with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts in teens.

THC, when smoked, passes directly to the lungs and immediately enters the bloodstream. Here, it can be associated with additional harmful effects on the lungs, similar to cigarettes inducing coughing, phlegm production, and an increased risk of lung infections.

THC works on specific brain receptors that play a role in normal brain development and function. And, like other psychoactive drugs, such as LSD, MDMA (ecstasy/Molly), alcohol and others, THC can lead to altered senses, altered sense of time, impaired bodily movement, mood changes and impaired memory, to name a few. In higher doses, it can cause hallucinations, psychosis and delirium. Marijuana use has been shown to affect brain development and function in teens, with evidence of impaired thinking, impaired memory and concentration difficulty. Whether these changes are permanent is still under research. The effects on the unborn child can be significantly harmful and include a multitude of problems beyond the scope of this discussion.

For years, we have been fighting a war on opiate abuse, and a seemingly endless war on other harmful drugs that enter this country, and we have now legalized another potentially harmful drug that could adversely affect our children and unborn babies. Do not be deceived, marijuana is a psychoactive drug with potentially harmful effects, no matter how it’s packaged. And although it has been legalized in Missouri for medicinal use, it is still not regulated or controlled. The federal government still considers marijuana an illegal drug. Psychoactive drugs date back many years in our history — remember LSD in the late 1930s? It was also released and promoted for medicinal use.

Much of what I have stated can be challenged, but it cannot be refuted. The “legalization of marijuana” has not made it any safer. And it would behoove all of us to be as informed as we can be as we move forward in this community. Don’t lose sight of the “true” picture.

[Dr. Joseph Sharlow is a surgeon on staff at Ste. Genevieve County Memorial Hospital.]

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