Andrew Lenhardt, MD | Marijuana/ Hope or Hype?

Marijuana: Hope or Hype?

            Marijuana and forms of cannabis are asserting themselves into our culture in many ways. Public opinion has shifted. Medical Marijuana is increasingly popular. People are using CBD oil for anxiety, sleep, arthritis, and other conditions.

            There are two main compounds found in cannabis plants: CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). The basic idea is that CBD has therapeutic properties and THC gets a person high. It isn’t quite that simple and THC has potential therapeutic value as well.

            In the era of social media, things can change quickly. Marijuana as a recreational drug has been around for a while and with strong opinions on both sides. The hippies loved it. The traditionalists who got loaded on booze every weekend considered weed smokers as “stoners” who checked out of life.

            My experience with CBD has generally been positive based on conversations with patients. CBD-predominant products like topical creams, gummies, and oral options seem safe and many report benefits. Extensive research is being done in the United States and other countries to determine the benefits of different cannabis strains for conditions like chronic pain, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, glaucoma, epilepsy, Crohn’s disease, and others. More research is needed to answer some of the most basic questions including what might be the optimal CBD/THC ratio for the various conditions.

            In American medicine, you often just follow the money to know what’s hot. Many doctors, entrepreneurs, and business people are falling all over themselves to get a piece of the action. Cannabis is here to stay and will likely be part of the healthcare landscape well into the future. Unless it cuts too much into Big Pharma’s stake and then it could get rough.

            As with many social trends, it feels like the pendulum has swung too far too quickly. Many teenagers and young adults take a casual approach to marijuana smoking. Vague references are made about it at least being safer than alcohol.

            There is a world of difference of course between occasional, recreational use of substances, and daily abuse and dependence. We need to all work to keep our kids from slipping down that rabbit hole.

            Cannabis has addictive potential and many deleterious effects especially on a young, developing brain. I was at a functional medicine conference in San Diego last month with topics covering neurology, psychiatry, and the brain. A study was presented on the results of SPECT brain scans. These scans are different from MRI and CT scan that take static images of the brain. SPECT scans evaluate blood flow and activity of different regions of the brain.

            The study compared scans from a variety of scenarios including diagnoses like bipolar, chronic anxiety, major depression, and also subjects who were chronic users and abusers of alcohol, cocaine, opiates, and other substances. The brains with the worst patterns were those of schizophrenics. What came as a shock to most in the audience was that chronic daily marijuana smokers had the second worst brain scan results.

            There was some debate amongst the experts on the topic. Joseph Pizzorno, a practitioner I regard as perhaps the top expert in the world on the negative effects of toxins, said he thought maybe the marijuana smokers’ scans looked so bad because cannabis growers often use pesticides and other chemicals to increase their crop yield. More research is needed to answer that question.

            Having reasonable conversations with teenagers can be a challenge, but it’s generally better to be more aware as a parent and overinvolved whether they like it or not. Good luck.

Andrew Lenhardt, MD