“Hey, Doc! You Support My Stance on Marijuana, Don’t You?”

Marijuana. Mary Jane. Pot Weed. Cannabis. THC.

I spend a majority of my clinical time talking to people aged 15-30, and boy do I hear a lot about the wonders of weed. Marijuana is a panacea it seems. It’s the answer to the heroin epidemic and to alcohol related automobile crashes and everyday life stress. 

And then their parents come in. They tell a different story. Pot is ruining their kids’ lives. Drugs are drugs, and using substances is the approximate cause of their teens’ anger, failing grades, and defiance. Pot makes their twenty-something lazy and irresponsible.

Both groups want me to take a stand on marijuana. Is marijuana good, or is it bad? Is Dr. Deuter for it, or against it?

My answer is yes. I’m for it, and I’m also against it.

Let me explain: Aspirin is good, and it’s bad. It can thin the blood in an elegant way. If you have chest pain and think it might be a heart attack, chew an aspirin while you’re reaching for the phone to call 9-1-1 and you’re more likely to survive. But aspirin can also cause a bleeding ulcer, which can kill you. If you take too much of it over many years, it can increase your chances of having a heart attack, and that can kill you faster. So aspirin can save your life, or it can end your life. Depends on the circumstances. 

Now back to weed: Cannabis studies show great promise in a number of areas. Childhood seizures are the most compelling area of research to me. It seems cannabis may be the answer for certain types of seizures, some of the worst ones. Cannabis also has evidence for effectiveness in the nausea associated with chemotherapy, for cancer pain, and for glaucoma. Studies indicate promise in anxiety disorders, insomnia, and PTSD.

But marijuana has not really been studied as extensively as some of the alternative treatments. Because it has been classified as a substance of abuse, the number of studies and the quality of good medical data are simply still lacking. The data is coming in, but we know surprisingly less about the benefits and risks of pot than most medical professionals would like in order to make an informed recommendation. We need controlled trials and comparisons with known effective treatments. Otherwise marijuana recommendations are made via old wives tales, and my grandmother treated infant coughs with spoonfuls of whiskey. It worked, but it probably wasn’t a very good idea.

And then there are the known negatives of cannabis. Frequent marijuana has some downsides. It causes an “amotivational syndrome.” If you have ever known a pothead, you know what I’m talking about. People who smoke have slowed cognition and concentration problems. Pot smoking may cause paranoia. It increases the risk for schizophrenia and other mental disorders. Getting high on one drug might make you brave to try another. And on and on…

So here’s my answer: I’m not in favor of recreational drug use of any kind. Especially during the developmental period (up to age 25, when the brain is still changing). Getting high means messing around with the normal daily functioning of the brain. I don’t think teens or young adult should ever EVER get high, not on weed, and not on anything else either. I think people should wait to drink or try any mind-altering substance until after age 25, after which you’ll be less likely to be interested anyway. 

And with regard to the use of marijuana as a medicine, well I can get on board for that. As I said, the evidence in childhood seizures is compelling. I don’t think that our psychological bias against a chemical is a good reason to rob children of a potential life saving treatment. Studies need to be done so we have all the facts to use it properly. 

So I’m sorry kids. I have heard your arguments, and I have analyzed your so-called evidence. No, I don’t agree that your daily use of weed is “no big deal.” And no, I won’t “explain it” to your parents and ask them to “back off.”

Posted on January 16, 2017 .