A Physician’s Perspective on Medical Marijuana
More than half my patients seem to have medical marijuana cards and partake in occasional or routine cannabis use so, I feel it is important to understand the effects cannabis can have on one’s overall health.
As a physician, my concerns with marijuana are similar to that of any substance that may alter one’s state of mind. The top 5 concerns:
- Marijuana can cause addictive behavior – the use of marijuana has been linked to addiction of other harder drugs. Think of alcohol. Alcohol is legal and can alter one’s state of mind. However, just because a mind altering drug is legal, does not mean it is safe to use routinely. Marijuana can be habit forming just like alcohol. It alters the state of mind. It is not safe to drive or operate heavy machinery under the influence of marijuana. Combination of marijuana and alcohol can be very dangerous because they alter reflexes in opposite ways. Longterm use of marijuana can also cause chronic long term effects on memory and intelligence, mental health, hormonal imbalances, and can lead to cancers.
- Habitual use of marijuana can cause anxiety. People try to treat psychological issues with marijuana which seems to help calm them down and relax. However, continuous use can lead to temporary withdrawal symptoms that can exacerbate anxiety. So, these patients tend to smoke more. The anxiety becomes more exacerbated. These patients end up going to see their physicians with more problems. It is often difficult to treat mental health issues with marijuana. Patients may require other medications but they can interact with the marijuana. Sometimes, patients have worse anxiety after smoking marijuana than they did previously.
- New strains of marijuana pose potential unknown long term effects on patients. There are different types of marijuana plants nowadays that were not around back in the 1960s and 1970s when the original research on cannabis was done. These designer plants have different effects on the brain and body. The effects have not been thoroughly researched on patients.We do not know all of the potential long term effects that may result from smoking or ingesting these plants yet.
- Anything in smoke form can be toxic to the lungs. Whether a person smokes a plain piece of paper, a tobacco cigarette, or a marijuana cigarette; the chemicals that are burned during the smoking process are inhaled directly by the smoker and can cause other harmful effects leading to potential lung problems and unknown cancers. The secondary smoke can also effect people around the smoker. Children and babies are highly susceptible to ingesting second hand and even third hand smoke. Second hand smoke comes from inhaling the smoke from someone else smoking. Third hand smoke comes from the ingestions of toxins from the lingering odor left after the smoke (i.e. on clothes and furniture). Scientific evidence suggests that because children are continually developing, they are more susceptible to being affected by the second and third hand smoke. The exposure to toxins in the second and third hand smoke can cause changes in their cellular DNA. These cellular changes can lead to future chronic health problems including cancers.
- Marijuana can interact with other drugs and with prescription medications. Unfortunately, because the medical research is not conclusive yet, physicians are still trying to figure out how various medications effect patients using marijuana. This area of research is quite complex. We have to consider the strain of marijuana plant being used, how it is being used and how it may interact with specific types of medications. We also need to consider the individual’s pharmacogenomic metabolism. Different people may react differently to marijuana and medications depending on these factors.
It is important to tell your doctor if you are using marijuana. This will help your doctor help you. There may be alternative and better ways to treat your medical condition than requiring the use marijuana so, talk to your doctor. Your doctor should be non-judgmental and review your medication list and the potential interactions with marijuana. If you decide to continue use of marijuana, you and your physician should work together to make sure you understand the risks and benefits. At Modern Family Medicine, we offer comprehensive medical care and work with our patients to make sure they are making educated and healthy decisions. We are now accepting new patients! To schedule your appointment, call (602) 363-1631 or go to our website www.modernfamilymedicine.com.
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Please note that we do not prescribe medical marijuana.