Marijuana: Caution/Danger!

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“Doc, how about some of that medical marijuana!?” I’ve been getting that question quite a bit lately. Recent legalization of medical marijuana in Utah and legalized recreational use in surrounding states has created a lot of interest.  Unfortunately, good research on its medical use is still lacking.  Evidence does support its use in treating chronic pain, nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy, and muscle spasms related to multiple sclerosis, but beyond that we just don’t know.  As we all await better science on the topic, let’s not forget the dangers.

Here are some things we do know:

Marijuana and associated compounds are associated with dizziness, dry mouth, nausea, fatigue, somnolence, euphoria, vomiting, disorientation, drowsiness, confusion, loss of balance and hallucination. They slow short term memory and cognitive function and are associated with poor school and work performance.  Depression and psychosis also increase with marijuana use. It also impairs the ability to operate automobiles and motorcycles. Auto accidents are 2-7 times more likely if driving while under its influence.

Even more concerning is the research regarding marijuana use in young people. Marijuana compromises memory and the ability to think and speak clearly.  In those who began using before age 21, these changes did not go away when they stopped using.  Permanent changes in the brain are being identified and IQ is on average 6 points lower in adulthood in those who used marijuana growing up vs those who did not. These changes seem to be dose related – the more you use the greater the loss of brain power. The increasing use of vaping marijuana is especially concerning in that these devices routinely deliver many times greater amounts of drug.

Marijuana is a potent drug that we’re still trying to understand. While there is potential for good, we know there is harm. It is addictive and has damaging effects on our physical and mental health – and for our children, the damages may be permanent.  In this rapidly changing world of marijuana, let’s keep away from children (and young adults) and proceed with caution!

Dr. Jeff Chappell, MD

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