Michael Orlin: Marijuana not totally safe
As a medical professional I feel compelled to respond to Colette Wilson’s letter about marijuana’s safety. I am on St. Joseph’s Hospital Pain Management team, and we have studied the medical use of marijuana. It is incorrect to say that marijuana is a totally safe drug. The known side effects include immunosuppression, increased risk of heart attack and high blood pressure. These side effects are probably related to problems created through smoking marijuana: marijuana smoke contains 400 different chemicals (including 60 cannabinoids, the active ingredients). Some studies have shown marijuana smoke to be 50 percent to 70 percent more carcinogenic than cigarette smoke. Other studies have shown that people who don’t smoke tobacco but smoke marijuana have a lower risk of developing lung cancer than tobacco smokers, but those who smoke both have significantly higher odds of developing the cancer. These effects are over the long-term and thus are hard to quantify, but it is almost certainly wrong to say that no one has ever directly died from the use of marijuana causing lung cancer or complicating other medical conditions (not taking into account how the sensory altering effects can lead to deadly accidents).
Alcohol poisoning is a direct effect from the use of too much alcohol, and should not be categorized in the same way as marijuana use, which has no known similar effect. Alcohol abuse has well known effects over the long-term, such as liver cirrhosis and malnutrition. Whether marijuana is safer than alcohol is an apple and oranges question. Marijuana is a drug, and like any drug has benefits and problems. Users, and those considering using MJ for medical reasons should take the advantages and disadvantages into consideration. Most literature available is biased towards either the pro or the con side of the argument, so it takes careful deliberation of the known effects. And, medical marijuana should never be prescribed for anyone under 18, who don’t typically have the judgment skills to make good decisions about the use of this psychoactive drug, just as they don’t for alcohol use.
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