As We See It

The risks of marijuana are many

Updated: 2013-12-04T23:38:17Z

By Ravikumar Chockalingam and Dragan Svrakic

Special to The Star

Imagine the public outrage if a toxic drug was approved without any regulation for “recreational” use in adults and children that suppresses the immune system, causes schizophrenia, mental illness, brain and lung disease including cancer and death. Also, many long-term and frequent users of this toxic drug have lowered IQs, impaired memory, poor judgment and diminished driving ability.

Finally, suppose this toxic drug is sold “for medical use” to treat diseases for which safer medications are available and at the same time puts them at greater risk of addiction to other substances. Public outrage would be unprecedented; the FDA would be severely and rightly criticized for not subjecting this toxic drug to study. Trial lawyers would be everywhere soliciting lawsuits against the manufacturer.

The toxic drug is marijuana (cannabis) and this nightmare health scenario has occurred in other states. It might occur in Missouri or Kansas if ill-informed and misleading groups like John Payne’s Show-Me Cannabis (As I See It, 10/20/2013) have their way. There is already a considerable amount of medical research showing marijuana to be harmful that is never mentioned by advocates of legal marijuana.

Sadly, this research is largely ignored or underreported by the media. When properly viewed, as a drug subject to FDA study, marijuana would be declared not safe, not effective and not approved based on studies already published in medical journals.

As physicians we attest that the dangers of “medical marijuana” far exceed any therapeutic usefulness, particularly in the context of safer and more evidence-based alternate treatment. Legal cannabis is a bad drug trip the public should avoid.

Like deadly asbestos fibers, the long-term adverse medical consequences may take decades to appear.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that 55 percent of marijuana users are between 12 and 18 years old. They frequently go on to use more dangerous drugs. Marijuana users have higher “driving while intoxicated” convictions than alcohol users. In 2004, during the five years following legalization of cannabis in California, marijuana-related fatal motor vehicle accidents increased. Marijuana use on the job is common and more problematic than alcohol use.

Cannabis users have slower reaction times, impaired thinking, reduced levels of alertness and poor memory compared to non-users. This leads to higher on the job accident rates and defective or dangerous workmanship.

With 2.5 million new users of marijuana in 2012 age 12 and older (6,800 new users per day) legalizing marijuana will dramatically increase these numbers. Marijuana use in elementary, middle and high school will become common. Parents and educators should be dismayed that long-term marijuana use has been associated with an irreversible eight-point drop in IQ. No wonder cannabis has long been known as “dope.”

Marijuana is a noxious drug with proven medical side effects that trump any reason to legalize its use. Our understanding of this drug and its consequences negates all reasoning to make this readily accessible to public.

Ravikumar Chockalingam of St. Louis is a psychiatry resident at Barnes Jewish Hospital-Washington University School of Medicine. Dragan Svrakic of St. Louis is an associate professor of psychiatry at the Washington University School of Medicine and the St. Louis Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

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