The health effects of cannabis – informed opinions
Enter a bar or public place and gauge opinions about cannabis and there will be a different opinion for each person questioned. Some ideas will be well-informed from reputable sources, while others will not be formed on any basis. Certainly, investigation and conclusions based on the research is difficult given the long history of illegality. Nevertheless, there is a tidal wave that cannabis is good and should be legalized. Many states in America and Australia have embarked on legalizing cannabis. Other countries are following suit or considering options. So what’s the position now? Is it good or not?
The National Academy of Sciences published a 487-page report (NAP Report) this year on the current state of evidence on the subject. Many government grants supported the committee’s work, an eminent collection of 16 professors. Fifteen academic reviewers kept them, and about 700 relevant publications were considered. The report is therefore seen as state-of-the-art in medical and recreational use. This article relies heavily on this source.
The term cannabis is loosely used here to denote cannabis and marijuana, the latter coming from a different part of the plant. More than 100 chemical compounds are found in cannabis, each with other benefits or risks.
Someone “stoned” from smoking cannabis may experience a euphoric state where time is irrelevant. Music and colors take on greater significance. The person may get the “nibblies” and eat sweet and fatty foods. This is often associated with impaired motor skills and perception. When high blood concentrations are reached, paranoid thoughts, hallucinations, and panic attacks can be “trip” features.
Popularly, cannabis is often characterized as “good shit” and “bad shit,” referring to widespread contagion practices. The contaminants can come from soil quality (e.g., pesticides and heavy metals) or be added afterward. Sometimes lead particles or small glass beads to increase the weight sold.
A random selection of therapeutic effects appears here in the context of their evidence status. Some products will be shown to be beneficial, while others carry risks. Some products are barely distinguishable from the placebos of the study.
- Cannabis in the treatment of epilepsy is inconclusive due to insufficient evidence.
- Nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy can be relieved by oral cannabis.
- A reduction in pain severity in patients with chronic pain is likely to benefit cannabis use.
- Spasticity in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) was reported as improvement in symptoms.
- There has been limited evidence of increase in appetite and decrease in weight loss in HIV/ADS patients.
- Limited evidence shows that cannabis is not effective in treating glaucoma.
- Based on limited evidence, cannabis is effective in treating Tourette syndrome.
- Post-traumatic disorder has been helped by cannabis in a single reported trial.
- Limited statistical evidence points to better outcomes for traumatic brain injury.
- There is not enough evidence to claim that cannabis can help Parkinson’s disease.
- Limited evidence has dashed hopes that cannabis could help improve symptoms in dementia patients.
- Limited statistical evidence can be found for a link between cannabis smoking and heart attack.
- Based on limited evidence, cannabis is not effective in treating depression
- The evidence for a reduced risk of metabolic problems (diabetes, etc.) is limited and statistical.
- Social anxiety disorders may be helped by cannabis, although the evidence is limited. Asthma and cannabis use is not well supported by the evidence for or against.
- Post-traumatic disorder has been helped by cannabis in a single reported trial.
- A conclusion that cannabis can help schizophrenia patients cannot be supported or disproved based on the limited nature of the evidence.
- There is moderate evidence that improves short-term sleep outcomes for individuals with sleep-disordered sleep.
- Pregnancy and cannabis smoking are correlated with a lower birth weight of the child.
- The evidence for a stroke caused by cannabis use is limited and statistical.
- Cannabis addiction and gateway issues are complex, taking into account many variables beyond the scope of this article. These issues are fully discussed in the NAP report.
The NAP report highlights the following cancer findings:
- The evidence suggests that smoking cannabis does not increase the risk of certain cancers (ie lung, head and neck) in adults.
- There is modest evidence that cannabis use is associated with one subtype of testicular cancer.
- There is minimal evidence that parental cannabis use during pregnancy is associated with a greater risk of cancer in the offspring.
The NAP report highlights the following findings on the issue of respiratory diseases:
- Regular cannabis smoking is associated with chronic cough and phlegm production.
- Quitting smoking cannabis will likely reduce the production of chronic cough and phlegm.
- It is unclear whether cannabis use is associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, or impaired lung function.
The NAP report highlights the following findings on the human immune system issue:
- There is a lack of data on the effects of cannabis or cannabinoid-based therapies on the human immune system.
- There is insufficient data to draw comprehensive conclusions about the effects of cannabis smoke or cannabinoids on immune competence.
- There is limited evidence to suggest that regular exposure to cannabis smoke may have an anti-inflammatory effect.
- There is insufficient evidence to support or refute a statistical association between cannabis or cannabinoid use and adverse effects on immune status in individuals with HIV.
The NAP report highlights the following findings on the issue of the increased risk of death or injury:
- Pre-driving cannabis use increases the risk of being involved in a motor vehicle accident.
- In states where cannabis use is legal, there is an increased risk of accidental cannabis overdose injury in children.
- It is unclear whether and how cannabis use is linked to all-cause deaths or accidents at work.
The NAP report highlights the following findings on the issue of cognitive performance and mental health:
- Recent cannabis use deteriorates performance in the cognitive domains of learning, memory and attention. Recent use can be defined as cannabis use within 24 hours of evaluation.
- A limited number of studies suggest that there are impairments in the cognitive domains of learning, memory, and attention in individuals who have quit smoking cannabis.
- Cannabis use during adolescence is associated with limitations in later academic performance and education, work and income, and social relationships and social roles.
- Cannabis use likely increases the risk of developing schizophrenia and other psychoses; the higher the use, the greater the risk.
- In individuals with schizophrenia and other psychoses, a history of cannabis use may be associated with better performance on learning and memory tasks.
- Cannabis use does not appear to increase the risk of developing depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
- For individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder, nearly daily cannabis use may be associated with greater symptoms of bipolar disorder than for non-users.
- Heavy cannabis users are more likely to report suicidal thoughts than non-users.
- Regular cannabis use likely increases the risk of developing social anxiety disorder.
It should be reasonably clear from the foregoing that cannabis is not the panacea for all the health problems that some well-meaning but unwise cannabis proponents would have us believe. Still, the product offers a lot of hope. Thorough research can help clarify the issues. The NAP report is a solid step in the right direction. Unfortunately, there are still many barriers to researching this amazing drug. Over time, the benefits and risks will be more fully understood. Trust in the product will increase and many of the barriers, social and academic, will fall by the wayside.
After about 6 years of purchasing women’s clothing from China, India, Thailand, Bangladesh and Indonesia, we found a need to ensure the delivery is as follows:
• No child labor
• No cancer-causing azo dyes
• No harsh processing chemicals that harm the environment.
• Fabric from renewable sources
• Natural fire retardant fabric
We went one step further and asked ourselves:
what can we add to our range of clothing that improves the well-being of the wearer?
We came up with surprising answers. View this space.
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