Dagga is not so safe, says doctor

2012-04-30 00:00

I WOULD like to caution Dale McKinley against using medical arguments. Also, quoting one doctor does not make his premise medically sound. After all, one will even get some doctors who smoke cannabis or dagga themselves, who would argue in favour of the health benefits of dagga or cannabis. Making use of the odd multiple sclerosis patient smoking dope to make him or her feel better also does not ratify it scientifically either. Would he really want a team of doctors and anaesthetists to perform open-heart surgery or brain surgery on him while they are high on dope?

In recent years, considerable progress has been made, including the discovery of specific cannabis receptors in the brain. These findings tie in with its effects on psychomotor and cognitive functions and its mood-altering capabilities.

Cannabis contains more than 400 substances. With a slight generalisation, cannabis can be said to produce two kinds of intoxicating effect. On the one hand, there are euphoric and calming effects (similar to those of other drugs with a sedative effect, such as alcohol and benzodiazepines). The taker experiences calm, relaxation, a feeling of happiness and of distance from everyday life. On the other hand, there are more dramatic impacts on the taker’s emotions and cognitive functions, such as fragmentation of thought processes, major disruption of temporal perception, distortion of sensory impressions (sound, touch, light, etc.), reduced ability to maintain attention, considerable deterioration of short-term memory/imprinting ability and, in certain cases, a noticeable introversion and dissociation of the taker from other people. At high doses some have hallucinations and delusions.

 

CANNABIS IS ADDICTIVE Cannabis abuse can evolve into cannabis dependence. The dependence is not only psychological but also physical. The latter aspect is manifested during detoxification as withdrawal symptoms such as moderate anxiety, irritability and sleeplessness.

 

CANNABIS AND MENTAL DISORDERS The following mental disorders are known or strongly associated with cannabis abuse: acute confusion, psychoses, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, depression, suicide and impulsively violent behaviour.

 

THE EFFECTS OF CANNABIS INCLUDE suppression of the immune system, birth defects, emphysema, tumours of the head and neck, heart disease, testicular cancer, and bladder cancer, etc.

 

THE DANGERS TO NON-USERS

Cannabis use is strongly associated with juvenile crime. It plays a role in car accidents. Some of the most consistently identified problems with marijuana use are the effect on memory, concentration, co-ordination and reaction time. In the United States in 2009, data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the USA, showed that marijuana was the most prevalent drug found in drivers involved in fatal vehicle accidents. Approximately 28% of fatally injured drivers tested positive for marijuana.

 

MEDICAL MARIJUANA OR CANNABIS AS MEDICINE

Cannabis is not safe. Neither cannabis nor pure THC can be compared with new anti-nausea medications. Cannabis can actually enhance pain because of a very narrow therapeutic window. The progression of glaucoma is not slowed, and ophthalmologists do not consider it a reasonable treatment. Cannabinoids may reduce muscle spasm, but they damage gait in multiple sclerosis patients. While cannabinoids stimulate appetite, they appear to increase body fat rather than lean body mass. No credible evidence exists that marijuana is beneficial for depression, drug abuse, headaches, or menstrual cramps. Time and again we find that most frequent medical-excuse users are young people manipulating the system by complaining of pain syndromes that are usually seen in much older patients

Smoking any substance causes the smoker to inhale cancer-causing substances. It is for that reason that no medicine is administered by smoking it. Cannabis smoke contains seven times more tar and carbon monoxide than cigarette smoke. According to researchers from the French National Consumers’ Institute, smoking three cannabis joints will cause you to inhale the same amount of toxic chemicals as a pack of cigarettes.

 

SOME ENDORSEMENTS

Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, noted in March 2007: “The debate over the drug is no longer about liberty, it’s about health. Evidence of the damage to mental health caused by cannabis use — from loss of concentration to paranoia, aggressiveness and outright psychosis — is mounting and cannot be ignored. Emergency-room admissions involving cannabis are rising, as is demand for rehabilitation treatment ... It is time to explode the myth of cannabis as a ‘soft’ drug.”

The American Glaucoma Society: “Although marijuana can lower the intraocular pressure, the side effects and short duration of action, coupled with the lack of evidence that its use alters the course of glaucoma, preclude recommending this drug in any form for the treatment of glaucoma at the present time.”

Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, May 2007, research showed smoking marijuana during pregnancy may damage the foetal brain causing life-long cognitive and motor deficits.

The American Academy of Paediatrics: “[A]ny change in the legal status of marijuana, even if limited to adults, could affect the prevalence of use among adolescents.” While it supports scientific research on the possible medical use of cannabinoids as opposed to smoked marijuana, it opposes the legalisation of marijuana.

Researchers from the University of Oulu in Finland interviewed over 6 000 youth, aged 15 and 16, and found that “teenage cannabis users are more likely to suffer psychotic symptoms and have a greater risk of developing schizophrenia in later life”.

Professor Robin Murray from London’s Institute of Psychiatry stated that the British government’s “mistake was rather to give the impression that cannabis was harmless and that there was no link to psychosis”.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society has stated that it could not recommend medical marijuana be made widely available for people with multiple sclerosis for symptom management, explaining: “This decision was … because studies to date do not demonstrate a clear benefit compared to existing symptomatic therapies and because side effects, systemic effects, and long-term effects are not yet clear.”

The British Medical Association voiced extreme concern that downgrading the criminal status of marijuana would “mislead” the public into believing that the drug is safe. The association maintains that marijuana “has been linked to greater risk of heart disease, lung cancer, bronchitis and emphysema”.

The American Cancer Society “does not advocate inhaling smoke, nor the legalisation of marijuana”, although the organisation does support carefully controlled clinical studies for alternative delivery methods, specifically a tetrahydrocannabinol skin patch.

 

• Dr A. Van Eeden is the chief executive officer of Doctors For Life International.

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