Has Marijuana Policy Outpaced Science?
Harvard Medical School researcher states that although there have been promising studies extolling the benefits of marijuana use, further research is advisable.
Some marijuana advocates believe that marijuana laws are outpacing science, as several states like Massachusetts are legalizing the drug for medical use. Scientists are grappling with the lack of information on the effectiveness of using marijuana as a medicine and its effect on the brain and health in general. Legalization of marijuana is facing a disconnect against both state and federal governments as marijuana is classified as a controlled substance. This article explores medical and recreational marijuana and its effects on health.
The MIND Program – Marijuana Investigations for Neuroscientific Discovery
What scientists know about marijuana are from studies from chronic recreational users, but very little is known about the effects on casual users. There is a big difference between the medical and recreational use of marijuana, as medical users usually do not want higher levels of the THC drug found in marijuana. Recreational users are more inclined to enjoy high concentrations of the drug and concerns about the youngest users are well founded. However the potential medical effects of cannabis cannot be underestimated, but sound clinical research in this field is scarce. This has given rise to a trial called the MIND program developed at the McLean Hospital.
In the MIND program's first study, a group of patients certified for medical marijuana were put through a trial. For three months patients were tested for how marijuana affected their conditions ranging from chronic pain, PTSD, anxiety, and sleep disorders. Many individuals felt a relief in symptoms, better sleep, and mood levels. The researchers also found that patients performed better cognitively with improved executive functions and a reduced need for painkillers.
Youth at Risk of Serious Cognitive Impairment
In a recent study on medical marijuana, striking differences were found in recreational users, especially in cognitive performance in executive functions of the brain. The biggest differences occur with adolescents who regularly used marijuana before age 16. This can seriously and irreversibly alter the brain structure and functions in youths.
For recreational users of marijuana, the drug THC is responsible for altering individuals state of being. But for medical use, the THC is lower in dose and compounds like CBD are responsible for relief. One possible reason that medical marijuana users don't experience any cognitive impairments is due to the average age of 49, well above the more vulnerable ages from adolescence to 20.
Researchers have hope for some patients who are dependent on opioid drugs. The idea is to supplement their treatment with cannabinoid-based products while reducing or even eliminating opioids. Some people are expressing concern over the ethics of replacing one addiction for another.
More Studies Needed on Medical Marijuana Use
Experts are expressing the need for more studies on medical marijuana. Given the federal government's laws on marijuana as a controlled substance, researchers are finding it difficult to legally conduct trials of cannabinoid substances. Scientists need to understand what effects marijuana has on people's cognitive functions. Not being able to do clinical trial studies limits the researcher's abilities to find out if medical marijuana works for their patients.
As legalization looms in Massachusetts, it's important to inform the public to keep an open dialog with kids and young adults about marijuana use at a young age. Preaching abstinence may make kids more likely to try recreational marijuana – the worst thing parents want to happen as young brains are neurodevelopmentally immature to the negative impact of marijuana. Providing the truth on cannabis, and letting the public make informed decisions regardless of medical or recreational use, may be the best approach.
Harvard Gazette http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/02/playing-catch-up-on-marijuana/