Using marijuana, alcohol or other drugs is a personal decision that should be made with an understanding of the potential risks.
There is no shortage of opinions about the health effects of marijuana, some exaggerated and some minimized, and my Aug. 25 column “What To Tell Your Child About Marijuana”
elicited many of them.
If you’re looking for the facts, however, there is a growing body of science and more than 260 new clinical trials investigating marijuana in the U.S. alone. Here’s a comparison of science to the most common statements about marijuana:
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Claim: Adolescents would be better off using marijuana than alcohol.
The evidence for long-term problems for children is strong for both alcohol and marijuana abuse. Children are especially vulnerable because they don’t always understand the full implications of their actions at a time of rapid physiological, psychological and emotional development. Getting high on a regular basis affects memory, attention, learning, performance in school, behavior, long-term cognitive ability and mental health. Whether it’s alcohol or marijuana, its use also leads to dependence. For a science-based review of the effects of marijuana on children, see the University of Washington Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute website at: LearnAboutMarijuanaWA.org/factsheets/adolescents.htm
Claim: Marijuana use increases cancer risk.
There is a lot of reliable evidence. Unregulated pesticides and other known residues may be part of that risk. The Epidemiologic Review of Marijuana and Cancer Risk published by the International Agency for Research on Cancer is an objective review of the facts.
Claim: Marijuana cures cancer.
Sorry, there is no reasonable evidence to suggest marijuana cures cancer, although it has been used successfully to treat side effects of treatment.
Claim: Marijuana is a valid therapeutic drug.
Medical marijuana from your doctor (incorrect self-treatment can worsen some conditions) may change your life positively. Early data is encouraging, even though many of those trials do not meet the standard for making confident medical claims. New research in progress will give us a more accurate understanding of marijuana’s ability to address the pain and side effects of treatments for cancer, HIV, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, Crohn’s disease and more. I prescribe medical marijuana for my patients when I feel they will benefit.
Claim: Marijuana can be used safely.
As with alcohol and tobacco, marijuana’s effects are a complex combination of factors including frequency of use, dose and personality of the user, to name a few. There are users who continue to function without apparent adverse effects and others who need treatment including from public health. There is no formula yet defining the point at which it transitions from a recreational diversion to abuse.
If you want accurate information about marijuana go straight to the research. The National Library of Medicine website is a great starting point, and it’s free. Another balanced source is the National Institutes of Health Research Series on Marijuana at drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana-abuse.
There are many opinions out there, but in the end, the science rules.
Dan Labriola, N.D.: DrLabriola@nwnaturalhealth.com. Labriola is director of the Northwest Natural Health Specialty Care Clinic and medical director for naturopathic services, Swedish Medical Center’s Cancer Institute. The clinic website is nwnaturalhealth.com.