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There has been an argument for years about the use of marijuana for medical purposes and recently several states have made it legal for people to smoke marijuana including Colorado. But it is important to understand the facts behind this drug just like any other. Here are some quick facts:

  1. More than half of new illicit drug users begin with marijuana. Next most common are prescription pain relievers, followed by inhalants (which is most common among younger teens).[1]
  2. In 2011, there were 18.1 million current (past-month) users—about 7.0 percent of people aged 12 or older—up from 14.4 million (5.8 percent) in 2007.
  3. Research has shown that some babies born to women who used marijuana during their pregnancies display altered responses to visual stimuli, increased tremulousness, and a high-pitched cry, which could indicate problems with neurological development. In school, marijuana-exposed children are more likely to show gaps in problem solving skills, memory, and the ability to remain attentive.[2]
  4. NIDA reports that 1 in 11 people who use marijuana get addicted.[3]

Marijuana also has been shown to have long lasting effects when used heavily.  A recent study  posted posted the following conclusion; heavy cannabis use begun in the teen years and continued into adulthood brings about declines in IQ scores. Regular marijuana use in adolescence is known to cause a cluster of behaviors that can produce detrimental effects and alter a young person’s life and potential. Beyond potentially lowering IQ, teen marijuana use is linked to school dropout, other drug use, mental health problems, etc. Regular marijuana use stands to jeopardize a young person’s chances of success—in school and in life.[4]

Medical uses of marijuana have included treatment for cancer cells in the brain. Joycelyn Elders former surgeon general stated,”The evidence is overwhelming that marijuana can relieve certain types of pain, nausea, vomiting and other symptoms caused by such illnesses as multiple sclerosis, cancer and AIDS — or by the harsh drugs sometimes used to treat them. And it can do so with remarkable safety. Indeed, marijuana is less toxic than many of the drugs that physicians prescribe every day.”[5] Another second opinion from the National Eye Institute stated the following,” “In an effort to determine whether marijuana, or drugs derived from marijuana, might be effective as a glaucoma treatment, the National Eye Institute (NEI) supported research studies beginning in 1978… However, none of these studies demonstrated that marijuana — or any of its components — could lower IOP [intraocular pressure] as effectively as drugs already on the market. In addition, some potentially serious side effects were noted, including an increased heart rate and a decrease in blood pressure in studies using smoked marijuana. The identification of side effects from smoked marijuana, coupled with the emergence of highly effective FDA-approved medications for glaucoma treatment, may have led to diminished interest in this research area.”[6] Mayo Clinic when asked for a position statement on marijuana use as a medical treatment stated the following; “”Risks should be taken into account when considering the use of marijuana for medical purposes.”[7] Finally one of the most recent court cases ruled in favor of the DEA’s position that medical marijuana could not be ruled less dangerous. Part of the ruling included the Department of Health and Human Services giving the DEA its evaluation that marijuana lacks a currently accepted medical use in the United States.[8] There will need to be a lot more studies and evidence based research before the use of marijuana becomes widely accepted for medical use even though it is currently being used for treatment of some disease processes.

[1] Drug Facts, National Trends (Dec, 2012) National Institute of Drug Abuse, http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/nationwide-trends

[2] Can Marijuana Use During Pregnancy Affect the Baby? NIH, http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/marijuana-abuse/can-marijuana-use-during-pregnancy-harm-baby

[3] http://drugfactsweek.drugabuse.gov/files/teenbrochure_508.pdf

[4] Marijuana’s Lasting Effects Jan. 2013, National Institute of Drug Abuse. http://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/directors-page/messages-director/2013/01/marijuanas-lasting-effects-brain

[5] Elders, Joycelyn, MD. Former US Surgeon General, Editorial Providence Journal,  March 26, 2004.

[6] National Eye Institute, Glaucoma and Marijuana Use. nei, nih. Gov. March 17, 2009.

[7] “Marijuana as Medicine: Consider the Pros and Cons,” Mayo Clinic website Aug. 25, 2006

[8] Frommer, Fredric, Federal Appeals Court Refuses to Reclassify Marijuana as Less Dangerous. Associated Press Jan 23, 2013. CNSNEWS.COM