Lack of marijuana research could lead to public health risks

Marijuana may contribute to health risks

Aaron Drew, 22, smokes a blunt at 4:20 p.m. at Civic Center April 18. He comes to this event every year to smoke weed and listen to music. Photo by Alyson McClaran • amcclara@msudenver.edu

Colorado may have unintentionally opened a can of worms a after it legalized marijuana in 2012.

A study from Colorado published in December 2016 revealed that there may be a link between chronic marijuana use and acute pain symptoms in certain people. Marijuana’s illegal status under federal law has led to a dearth of research on the plant’s pharmacological effects.

“This is a small population that does actually adversely respond to cannabis the way there is a large amount of population that responds adversely to opioids,” said Steven Bennett, who holds a P.h.D. in Neuroscience.

“We owe this plant the scientific rigor that we’ve given everything else we discovered like strychnine and saccharin. ‘Does cannabis do this?’ We don’t know. I would say that everybody that is afflicted with this syndrome or with what they perceive as a syndrome, deserves an answer,” Bennett said. He was referring to Cannabinoid Hypermesis Syndrome, which may manifest after chronic marijuana use.

CHS is characterized by cyclic nausea, vomiting and abnormal pain. The syndrome was first reported in 2004 in Australia. Symptoms can be relieved with compulsive hot showers but the best treatment for CHS appears to be the cessation of cannabis use.

It is uncertain why only some individuals are affected by CHS disease. According to a study published in the American College of Medical Toxicology, scientists found a link between chronic marijuana use and CHS symptoms but were unable to determine the cause of the disease. It is also unknown what consumption amount triggers the symptoms.

Andrew Monte, Doctor at UCH Hospital, said that without treatment the syndrome can lead to other conditions such as renal failure, hyponatremia, GI bleeding and severe dehydration.

“Many people still believe marijuana is solely an antiemetic,” Monte said. An antiemetic is anti-nausea medicine.

Monte said that because patients believe marijuana is a pain reliever, they continue intake despite that it may be causing their symptoms.

“And most importantly for patients, the syndrome is horrible. It can cause people to lose their jobs and the vomiting is profoundly uncomfortable,” he said.

The United Nations reports that 277 million people worldwide have used cannabis and according to National Center of Biotechnology Information each year 2.6 million Americans become new users. Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area reports that the latest 2013-2014 results show Colorado college adults ranked number one in the nation for current marijuana use, up from number three in 2011-2012. Despite the rising number of marijuana users, there is not much research on the pharmacological effects of the plant available for the public.

The number of people currently suffering from CHS may be statistically insignificant and its negative e ects may be compared to any other drug intolerance or food allergy, but for the small portion of the population suffering from the disease, and for the increasing number of people resorting to cannabis medically or recreationally, the topic does matter.

Michael James, who’s name was changed to protect his privacy, has a rare form of epilepsy. Using traditional drugs would alter everything about him.

“Life was easier just having the episodes”. The use of cannabis has improved his condition, “I have not had an episode in 10 years. No night spasms or anything.”

James says that doctors cannot prove if cannabis is helping with epilepsy. But they know the epilepsy no longer strikes.

“It’s so vague and gray, they’re just happy it’s not a part of my life,” he said.

Lack of federal funding as well as lack of public will for research into marijuana may limit how much scientists can learn and understand about cannabis, even as more and more people partake of the drug day a er day.

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