Making sense of medical marijuana: Part 2

Part 2: Dangerous, addictive drug? The case against medical marijuana

Opponents of medical marijuana point to the various mental and physical dangers associated with use of the drug. According to Health Canada, studies also show that the average level of THC (the “mind altering” component of marijuana) has increased by 300 to 400 per cent over the last few decades , which can make medical marijuana quite potent.

  • Marijuana has several mental and physical effects on the user. Its impact on cognitive functioning includes short-term memory loss, an impaired ability to concentrate and impaired judgment. Its short- and long-term physical effects include increased heart rate, a drop in blood pressure, heart problems and lung and breathing problems.
  • Those who use medical marijuana are at a higher risk for driving accidents because marijuana impairs judgment, motor coordination and reaction time. One study recommends that patients who achieve a substantive “high” while smoking marijuana for medical purposes should abstain from critical tasks such as driving.
  • There is debate about the addictiveness of marijuana – some claim it can be very addictive, others argue it can be habit-forming, while some claim it isn’t addictive at all. According to Health Canada, it’s estimated that one in nine marijuana users will develop an addiction to the drug. That number rises to 17 per cent for people who started using marijuana as teens. For people who smoke marijuana daily, the risk of addiction increases to between 25 and 50 per cent.

Many in the medical community question the very legitimacy of medical marijuana. The Canadian Medical Association believes there is “insufficient scientific evidence available to support the use of marijuana for clinical purposes,” adding there is also insufficient evidence on clinical risks and benefits, including the proper dosage of the drug and potential interactions with other drugs.

Indeed, clinical studies supporting the safety and efficacy of smoked cannabis for therapeutic purposes are limited, although slowly increasing in number. There are no clinical studies on the use of cannabis edibles (think “hash brownies”) or topicals for medical purposes.

Physicians also argue that safe medications already exist for nearly all the conditions for which marijuana is purportedly beneficial.

Still, those who use medical marijuana tout its benefits in helping manage various medical conditions, chronic pain in particular, so there appears to be strong anecdotal support for its use.

In the end, it comes down to individual patients and their physicians. Canadians who meet Health Canada’s criteria for accessing marijuana for medical use must weigh the potential risks and benefits of this drug against other treatments for their condition, in consultation with their physician. With the impending legalization of marijuana in Canada, the onus to make an informed decision may largely shift to the patient. In this case, patients may still wish to consult with their physician or receive guidance from a trusted source such as Best Doctors, to ensure they’re making informed decisions about their health care.