Where Addiction Meets Your Brain

The Neurobiology of Addiction

Marijuana Revisited

Cannabis Is a Dangerous Drug

Well, still another scientific article comes out showing the brain damage marijuana causes. If anyone is interested, look up Neuropsychopharmacology (2014)39, 2041-2048. It demonstrates the loss of gray matter in the brain of adolescents who use cannabis. It affects the motivational, emotional, and affective processes. The more you use and the younger you start, the more the effect of the drug. And the effect of the drug is very simply to make you unmotivated and emotionally flat.

So, since really young people rarely read this blog, maybe there is no point to writing this, but this is really important stuff. I remember when one of my teenagers was thinking about smoking marijuana and approached me about “a friend” who had questions about it, I would present the data. It didn’t stop my kid from experimenting. Facts are really worthless if someone has already made up their mind to do something. But just because people will not listen does not make the facts go away.

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Cannabis is a dangerous drug. It is addictive to about 10 percent of the population. It is being legalized and is more and more available. You may not think of it this way, but it is 1984, the novel. Vast numbers of people are either taking opiates or benzodiazepines or smoking weed. Feeling emotions is not in style. Feeling pain, emotional or physical, is positively outlawed.  “It [cannabis] has medicinal qualities and it is safer than alcohol,” one commentator said this morning on a New York radio station. I kept myself from ripping the radio out of my car, but I really wanted to call the station to have an intelligent discussion about this. The talking points about marijuana are so tiresome and pedantic. Define “medicinal qualities.” Define “safe.” Is brain damage safe? What medicinal qualities are we talking about? Pain control? Anxiety? Depression? Glaucoma?

Sorry, I don’t buy the arguments. It’s about the money on the seller’s side and getting high on the user’s side. It works well for sellers and users. Society does not benefit. If you could be a fly on the wall of my office, what you would hear is the story of teenagers smoking marijuana at 12, pills by 16, and heroin by 20. The morbidity and mortality for heroin users is 64 times greater than for the general population. I think safety is not a part of these statistics.

If someone has a condition that can be treated only with cannabis, then produce the reputable scientific papers to support its use. There is not enough illness in Colorado to support the amount of cannabis being bought and sold there. It is a charade that is nothing more than legalizing a commodity that makes people a little more forgetful, depressed and anesthetized.

If it is not important to have your child’s IQ maximized and it doesn’t matter if their intellectual and emotional potential is reduced, then I say don’t worry about cannabis or alcohol or opiates being used by whomever wants to use drugs. Legalize them all and distribute them widely. It will make you feel better.

Brain cells are, however, terrible things to waste.  Hope your surgeon doesn’t buy the argument about safety the next time you need to have your heart operation.

Joseph Troncale, M.D. FASAM, has been working in addiction medicine for 20 years. He is the Medical Director of the Retreat.
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