Every single month, there are more than 22 million Americans use marijuana, medicinal or recreational, in the 28 states plus the District of Colombia where it’s legal in some form. Last year, national sales of marijuana reached an estimated $7.1 billion – which is what they are expected to reach in California alone in 2018.
And yet, a new comprehensive report on the health effects of marijuana indicates that so much of the benefits – and real dangers – of the drug are unknown because, as researchers explain, the federal government has continuously blocked efforts to conduct research that would provide concrete – reliable – answers.
The study, conducted by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, presents approximately 100 conclusions related to the health effects of cannabis and cannabinoid use. The report also makes a series of recommendations for agendas of government, health organizations and researchers to expand and/or improve the kinds of studies being conducted so the public will be adequately informed about their current and future health decisions.
Ballot initiatives across the country just this last year resulted in legalization of recreational marijuana in a number of states, including California. What this means is we’re going to continue to see the use of marijuana go up, while the public’s fear of the danger and risks associated with the drug will go down. But the NASEM report, prepared by a panel of 16 experts, cautioned that this was something of a “natural experiment on a grand scale” because the truth is that without enough evidence-based research, we don’t exactly know the types of health risks – or benefits – that are at stake.
The report, which was conducted over the course of nine months, analyzed some 10,000 studies that looked at the relationship between cannabis and an array of issues, from cancer to traffic accidents to psychiatry and more. The authors of these works were doctors, traffic safety advocates, neurobiologists, sociologists and others.
California’s Department of Public Health was one of 15 entities that sponsored the report, with the agency spokesman asserting the goal was to gather credible information. The timing is particularly important was legislators prepare to lay the foundation for marijuana regulations in California.
Although the authors of the report noted there were many uncertainties when it came to marijuana and its use, some elements were pretty certain. For example, there is pretty ample evidence that marijuana has psychoactive effects that can help with chronic pain and that appears to help some patients sleep better. There is also strong evidence to support the assertion that cannabis and its compounds are an effective way to combat the nausea suffered by chemotherapy patients, as well as the muscle stiffness suffered by those ailing from multiple sclerosis.
Conversely, there is also pretty strong evidence that pregnant women who use the drug are more likely to have babies who are smaller and have certain other disadvantages. Also, long-term smoking of the drug is associated with respiratory problems and ongoing bouts of bronchitis.
But beyond this, there are a lot of conditions for which patients use the drug, yet there isn’t much evidence to support that it’s effective. Some of these uses include epilepsy, abstinence from harder more addictive drugs and Parkinson’s disease. The evidence is largely anecdotal. That doesn’t mean it’s ineffective, only that it hasn’t been well enough studied to support a strong causative assertion.
Further, statistical links to marijuana use and car accidents is high, but more research is necessary to explore why that is. For example, those most likely to drive under the influence of marijuana are young men. Well, this group is more likely than others to get into accidents as it is.
The overarching point of the report was that marijuana, like so many other substances, has value as a powerful medicine, but can also be potentially dangerous, and both of these aspects need to be more thoroughly explored.
The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.
Experts have only a hazy idea of marijuana’s myriad health effects, and federal laws are to blame, Jan. 12, 2017, By Melissa Healy, The Los Angeles Times
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Has Your Cannabis Dispensary Staff Received Adequate Training? Dec. 31, 2016, L.A. Marijuana Lawyer Blog