Marijuana — A Family Doctor’s Perspective

The marijuana plant, also popularly called cannabis and ganja, has long been used for its psychoactive and medicinal properties. Cannabis is also used in religious practices and spiritual rites. It is believed to have originated from Central and South Asia but is now grown all over the world. In the street, the drug is referred to as “pot”, “weed”, “grass” and “herb” with many more modern code names.

The leaves and flowers are the parts of the plant commonly dried and used for smoking, drinking and cooking. The psychoactive (mind-altering) ingredient in the plant is tetrahydrocannabinol THC.  There are over 400 compounds found in cannabis which include 84 cannabinoids.

Commonly reported mental and physical effects of THC are:

  • Sleepiness and relaxation
  • Outburst of laughter
  • Hyper-excitation
  • Appetite
  • Meditative mood
  • Dry mouth

In my family practice I have observed these behavior and symptoms in heavy users of the drug.

Recreational Drug Use

Cannabis is reported to be the most abused illicit drug worldwide. THC acts on the receptor in the brain to trigger feeling of euphoria which is commonly described as “feeling high”.  Other areas of the brain are affected by THC and these are the areas which determine focus, memory, coordination, pleasure, time and sensory perception. Other unwanted side effects include a feeling of paranoia, anxiety, impaired motor skills and marked redness of the eyes. Many artists claim that their creative abilities are enhanced by the mind-altering effect of the drug.

Medical Marijuana

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons - Marijuana Plant.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons – Marijuana Plant.

Medical marijuana requires a prescription written by a physician and this practice is legal in The Netherlands, UK, Canada, Australia and Belgium and some states in the U.S. Research on the medical benefits of medical cannabis has intensified in the U.S. and Canada. Much more needs to be done to establish efficacy and safety of the drug for medical use. Well established benefits for mainly cancer, multiple sclerosis and HIV patients include:

  • Anti-nausea: effect to suppress nausea
  • Anti-emetic: prevents vomiting
  • Analgesics: give relief from pain
  • Antispasmodic: relaxes contracted muscles

A Word of Caution

Smoking in general has always been discouraged by the medical profession as there is a body of clinical research which has demonstrated the deleterious effects smoking has on not only the lungs but also on several of the body systems. The debate still rages on whether cannabis use could lead to cardiovascular diseases, some cancers and mental illness.

There are safety concerns as there is the risk of children ingesting the weed accidentally. Pre-teens and teens must be discouraged from smoking because of the adverse effect the drug has on memory, cognition and of course the addiction. Pregnant and lactating women should definitely not smoke at all as the deleterious effects are for both mother and the unborn or young baby.

The social and legal consequences of smoking are still to be taken seriously even in jurisdictions where the possession of small quantities of cannabis for personal use, has been decriminalized.

The Future of Medical Marijuana

The development of pharmaceuticals made from cannabis with evidence-based efficacy and safety profile has a huge future. Pain management and the control of nausea and vomiting in cancer patients have already been documented in many scientific papers. Jamaican scientists have patented two drugs made from cannabis, one for the treatment of asthma and the other for the treatment of glaucoma. There seems to be cautious optimism that there is a bright future for more research and the development of the Medical Marijuana Industry.

Readers Bureau Contributor