Contrary to the generally accepted idea that using pot is beneficial, experts suggest the health benefits of marijuana may need to be tested further.
Experts like Dr. Herbert Kleber – a Columbia University psychiatrist and drug abuse researcher – says in an NPR report, “We should have been doing a lot more research to find out just how useful it is, how it affects the brain, et cetera, et cetera.”
A great deal remains unknown about the drug’s health effects and benefits. But solid research validating the effects and benefits of marijuana is hard to come by because cannabis is still tightly restricted by the federal government. It is classified as a Schedule I narcotic, in the same category as drugs like heroin, LSD and PCP. Therefore proper clinical testing can be tricky.
“That’s been the hard part – in terms of studying the plant, and getting permission to study it for therapeutic benefit,” says Dr. Stephen Ross, director of addiction psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York.
Still, social attitudes regarding marijuana use have grown more liberal, as seen with the legalization of the recreational cash crop in certain states. Marijuana has brought in millions in tax revenue in Colorado alone.
Marijuana use rates – both recreational and medicinal – have risen significantly in the US in recent years. Currently, 20 states and the District of Columbia now allow medical marijuana in some capacity, with more states mulling over similar legislation.
— Marijuana Majority (@JoinTheMajority) March 16, 2014
The use of weed has also outpaced cocaine, according to Health Day. For example, Americans’ use of cocaine fell by half from 2006 to 2010, but marijuana use increased by more than 30 percent during that time.
Much of this can be attributed to the suggestion that pot or cannabis provides some health benefits.
— Integr8Mass (@Integr8Mass) March 10, 2014
Cannabis has both psychological and physiological effects on the human body because of chemical cannabinoids like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Because the cannabinoids are capable of breaching the blood-brain barrier – which is there to otherwise protect the neurological organ from harm – the THC within the drug can have psychotropic effects and influence the brain.
Marijuana contains more than 100 cannabinoids, which bind to receptors. Through this mechanism, marijuana can increase heart rate and blood pressure, which may be problematic for some with preexisting conditions, explains CBS News.
A similar mechanism triggers the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine into the pleasure center of the brain which can encourage the risk for addiction. And an excess of THC in the system can lead to auditory hallucinations.
Although the use of marijuana has been cautioned to those with heart disease, and if smoked heavily can potentially effect lung-health in the long-term, consuming and smoking pot has been shown to help those undergoing chemotherapy. Marijuana has been found to alleviate the treatment’s nauseating side effects, promoting the patient’s appetite, in turn, improving overall wellbeing.
Marijuana has also been used as an aid in child epilepsy and other seizure disorders, as a treatment option for PTSD in recovering war vets, for glaucoma, some anti-inflammatory conditions, and for pain management.
[Photo Credit: Alexodus]