Our Readers' Opinions
September 16, 2016
Charge against marijuana – Part 2 – Marijuana and its treachery

By Tyrone Jack

Marijuana has some people thinking that it is nature’s gift to humankind: a non-addictive drug, that is safe at any dose, that opens the mind, lifts the spirit and transports the user to a more profound reality. It has convinced many that its illegality status is “outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world,” as one of its users wrote in 1971.{{more}}

I charge today that this position by “Marijuana” is treacherous; in fact, science will show that marijuana alters the trajectory of a young person’s life. Its long-term use is associated with psychiatric, respiratory, cardiovascular and bone toxicity. It has tendencies to cause tumours; it is able to disturb the growth and development of an embryo or fetus and is capable of inducing mutation or increasing its rate. It is associated with an elevated rate of heart attacks and irregular heart rhythms. It has multiple molecular pathways to the formation of cancer and has been linked to cancers at eight sites, including children who are exposed during pregnancy. Heavy abusers of cannabis were found to suffer damage to social life, work or career and intellectual abilities; school work and the achievement of goals were found to suffer. It causes selective impairment of executive functioning. [WHO] (Executive functioning: relates to a set of mental skills that help you get things done such as: analysing, planning, sequencing, prioritizing, organizing, self-monitoring, displaying emotional control and completing tasks.)

Cannabis has now been implicated in the origination of many major long-term psychiatric conditions, including depression, anxiety, psychoses, bipolar disorder, working memory deficit and an amotivational state. Respiratory conditions linked with cannabis include reduced lung density, lung cysts, and chronic bronchitis.

Regular marijuana use in adolescence is known to be a part of a cluster of behaviours that can produce enduring detrimental effects and alter the course of a young person’s life, thwarting his or her potential. Without a clear understanding of the mental and physical effects of marijuana’s use on our youth, our families, and our society, we will never understand the ramifications it will have on the lives of our younger generation, the impact on their future, and its costs to our society. [DEA]

Legalization of marijuana, no matter how it begins, will come at the expense of our children and public safety. There will be: increased use and this will create further dependency and treatment issues, impaired health, induce lack of motivation and delinquent behaviour. There will be increased risk of accidents among persons who drive or operate complex machinery when intoxicated by cannabis.

Marijuana today is not the marijuana of the 1970s; today’s marijuana is becoming far more powerful. Analysis from the US, Australia, New Zealand and Europe indicates potency is the highest ever reported since the scientific analysis of the drug began. The average amount of 9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in seized samples has reached 15.1 per cent, with samples going as high as 40 per cent. This compares to an average of just fewer than four per cent reported in 1983 and represents more than a tripling of the potency of the drug since that time. Higher THC content can increase anxiety and depression; increase the risk of psychotic symptoms and dependence; and increase adverse effects on the respiratory and cardiovascular system in regular users; it is also associated with severe aggression.

Marijuana damages the brain

Let us not be fooled; this addictive drug wipes out memories, steals IQ points and triggers psychosis, leaving behind groups of slackers vegetating on the side-walk, some in their parents’ homes, unmotivated to work or go to school. The consequences are especially damaging for teens. Quoting Dr Nora D Volkow, director of the American National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): “We are increasingly concerned that regular or daily use of marijuana is robbing many young people of their potential to achieve and excel in school or other aspects of life…THC, a key ingredient in marijuana, alters the ability of the hippocampus, a brain area related to learning and memory, to communicate effectively with other brain regions. In addition, we know from recent research that marijuana use which begins during adolescence can lower IQ and impair other measures of mental function in adulthood.”

A study published in the March 2008 Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry cited the harm of smoking marijuana during pregnancy. The study found a significant relationship between marijuana exposure and child intelligence. Researchers concluded that “prenatal marijuana exposure has a significant effect on school-age intellectual development.”

Accumulating evidence suggests that long-term, heavy cannabis use may cause enduring neuropsychological impairment – impairment that persists beyond the period of the acute intoxication. Studies of long-term, heavy cannabis users fairly consistently show that these individuals perform worse on neuropsychological tests. Heavy marijuana use damages the brain long-term. Marijuana use when the brain is vulnerable may interfere with its normal development. “The developing brain is at risk,” says pharmacologist Kari Franson of the University of Colorado Denver.

In a study published in the JAMA on August 20th 2015, Dr Tomas Paus, a neuroscientist at the Rotman Research Institute, Baycrest in Toronto, and his colleagues used MRI to study the brains of more than 1,500 teenage boys. They found that over the four years, those who had smoked pot and also had genes that increased their risk of schizophrenia showed thinning in the cortex – the outer, gray matter of the brain, compared with those who had the same genes, but had not smoked pot. The findings hint that marijuana itself could be responsible for the thinning in the cortex, Dr Paus said. The brain regions that showed the greatest cortical thinning also have high concentrations of cannabinoid receptors CB1, which bind the active ingredients in marijuana.


Amygdala – Can alter emotional states

Basal ganglia – Reduces motor activity; users may move less

Cerebellum – Can impair coordination

Cortex – May alter complex thinking, making it hard to pay attention or switch quickly between two tasks

Hippocampus – Memory centre becomes less efficient, making it harder to learn and remember new information

Hypothalamus – Stimulates appetite, giving marijuana users the well-known “munchies” effect

Nucleus accumbens – Can make users want to use again by targeting this area, which is part of the brain’s reward system.

Dependence and Addiction Rate

Dependence/Cannabis use disorders (CUD) is a disease state in which a user feels withdrawal symptoms when not taking the drug. Frequent marijuana users often report irritability, mood and sleep difficulties, decreased appetite, cravings, restlessness, and/or various forms of physical discomfort that peak within the first week after quitting and last up to two weeks. Marijuana dependence occurs when the brain adapts to large amounts of the drug by reducing production of and sensitivity to its own endocannabinoid neurotransmitters.

“Marijuana use disorder” becomes addiction when the person cannot stop using the drug, even though it interferes with many aspects of his or her life. Marijuana use that begins in adolescence increases the risk they will become addicted to the drug. “The risk of addiction goes from about 1 in 11 overall to 1 in 6 for those who start using in their teens, and even higher among daily smokers.

Researchers have found that levels of dopamine are lower in long-term cannabis smokers and those who began using the drug at a younger age. Lower dopamine, in a part of the brain called the striatum, is linked to less ambition and motivation at a neuronal level. The study, released on July 1, 2013, was conducted by scientists at Imperial College London, UCL and King’s College London.

Marijuana induces abnormal brain structure, Psychotic symptoms and increases the risk of schizophrenia That cannabis can induce psychoses has not been in doubt since the 1970s; studies from around the world were well correlated. Chopra and Smith, for example, described 200 patients who were admitted to a psychiatric hospital in Calcutta between 1963 and 1968 with psychotic symptoms, following the use of cannabis. The most common symptoms “were sudden onset of confusion, generally associated with delusions, hallucinations (usually visual) and emotional lability… amnesia, disorientation, depersonalisation and paranoid symptoms. Most psychoses were preceded by the ingestion of a large dose of cannabis and there was amnesia for the period between ingestion and hospitalization.” They argued that it was unlikely that excessive cannabis use was a sign of pre-existing psychopathology because a third of their cases had no prior psychiatric history. The symptoms were remarkably uniform regardless of prior psychiatric history, and those who used the most potent cannabis preparations experienced psychotic reactions after the shortest period of use.

1n 2005, a Danish study team, Mikkel Arendt et al, looked at cannabis-induced psychosis and subsequent schizophrenia-spectrum disorders: they followed up study of 535 incident cases with no prior history of psychoses for three years after the initial episode of cannabis-induced psychoses and they concluded that cannabis-induced psychotic disorders are of great clinical and prognostic importance. In the results schizophrenia-spectrum disorders were diagnosed in 44.5 per cent of the sample. New psychotic episodes of any type were diagnosed in 77.2 per cent. Male gender and young age were associated with increased risk. Development of schizophrenia-spectrum disorders was often delayed, and 47.1 per cent of patients received a diagnosis more than a year after seeking treatment for a cannabis-induced psychosis. The patients developed schizophrenia at an earlier age than people in the comparison group (males, 24.6 v. 30.7 years, females, 28.9 v. 33.1 years).

Researchers from the University of Oulu in Finland in June 2008 found that “teenage cannabis users are more likely to suffer psychotic symptoms and have a greater risk of developing schizophrenia in later life.” According to several recent studies, marijuana use has been linked with depression and suicidal thoughts, in addition to schizophrenia. Dr Andrew Campbell, a member of the New South Wales (Australia) Mental Health Review Tribunal, published a study in 2005, which revealed that four out of five individuals with schizophrenia were regular cannabis users when they were teenagers. In addition, a laboratory-controlled study by Yale scientists, published in 2004, found that THC “transiently induced a range of schizophrenia-like effects in healthy people.”

Australian researchers report that long-term, heavy cannabis use may be associated with structural abnormalities in areas of the brain which govern memory, emotion, and aggression. Brain scans showed that the hippocampus was 12 per cent smaller and the amygdale seven per cent smaller in men who smoked at least five cigarettes daily for almost 10 years. Dr Mura Yucel, the lead researcher, stated then that “this new evidence plays an important role in further understanding the effects of marijuana and its impact on brain functions.” Other more recent studies confirm these structural abnormalities that resemble schizophrenia.

Over the past decade, Northwestern scientists, along with scientists at other institutions, have shown that changes in brain structure may lead to changes in the way the brain functions.

A recent Northwestern University study was published in the Schizophrenia Bulletin: “Cannabis-Related Working Memory Deficit and Associated Subcortical Morphological Differences in Healthy Individual and Subjects”. The results of this did not only point to cannabis abuse being associated with working memory impairment, but that it affects the neural circulatory system. Utilizing Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), they were able to show that both normal and schizophrenia subjects who were characterised as having CUD or cannabis dependence exhibited significant changes in brain morphology in the subcortical region, when compared to cannabis clean subjects. The observable inward shape differences induced by marijuana to the surface of the brain regions (Striatum, Globus pallidus and Thalmic) in normal subject resembles that observed normally in the schizophrenia patient and where schizophrenia patient were the control subject the inward shrinkage was even more marked.

Dr. Mathew Large from the University of New South Wales reports that …in addition to early cannabis smoking inducing schizophrenia, it brings it on earlier by an average of 2.7 years. He added there is now conclusive evidence that smoking cannabis hastens the appearance of psychotic illnesses by up to three years. “For young people who smoke cannabis regularly, instead of having around a one per cent chance of developing schizophrenia during their life, they will end up with something like a five per cent chance of developing schizophrenia,” Philip Mitchell, head of Psychiatry at the University stated.

Robin Murray is a professor of psychiatry at London’s Institute of Psychiatry and consultant at the Maudsley Hospital in London. Murray claims that “…at least 10 per cent of all people with schizophrenia in the UK would not have developed the illness if they had not smoked cannabis.”

The health consequences of cannabis use in developing countries are largely unknown because of limited and non-systematic research, but there is no reason to expect that biological effects on individuals in these populations would be substantially different to what has been observed in developed countries. Consequences might be different, in my view, substantially worse, given the economic, cultural and social differences between the countries. The fact that there is now overwhelming evidence that marijuana use can trigger schizophrenia in people already vulnerable to the mental illness should shape our marijuana policy. What price tag do we apply to the increasing numbers of young people we witness falling to marijuana induced psychoses in SVG?

Legalization for recreational or medicinal use sends a message to our young people that the substance is safe. Nothing can be further from the truth in St Vincent and the Grenadines where the THC content in our marijuana is significantly high.

I will continue in Part 3 to lay further charges against “Marijuana” for causing much physiological damage to the human body.