Marijuana can help some patients, landmark report says

Marijuana Health Effects Report Calls for More Research

Varieties of cannabis available today are more potent than ever, and come in many forms, including oils and leaves that can be vaped, and lots of edibles, from brownies and cookies to sweets - even cannabis gummy bears.

A committee of the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine looked at more than 10,000 scientific abstracts to reach its almost 100 conclusions.

A federal focus on paying for studies of potential harms has also impeded research into possible health benefits, the report said. Several of these findings were also included in the National Academies of Sciences' previous report on marijuana, which was released in 1999. Based on the report, researchers could not reach to a particular result due to the fact that the federal drug enforcement agency imposes so many restrictions that scientists were unable to analyze the use of the drug accurately. It lays out substantial evidence that associates the use of cannabis with the development of psychoses and schizophrenia, but also provides studies that show its potential benefits, such as relief of chronic pain and chemotherapy-induced nausea. For adults with multiple sclerosis-related muscle spasms, cannabis taken orally was found to improve symptoms. "Those who use cannabis particularly at a younger age have a higher than average risk of developing psychotic illnesses, and those with a family history of psychotic illness may increase the risk of developing a psychotic illness following the regular use of strong cannabis". There is also little evidence to link marijuana to any degree of unemployment or states of low income.

For pregnant women who smoke marijuana, there's strong evidence of reduced birthweight but only weak evidence of any effect on pregnancy complications for the mother, or an infant's need for admission to intensive care.

It is well established that smoking tobacco can increase the risk of lung, head, and neck cancers, and some studies have suggested that smoking cannabis can do the same. But they add that it's unclear whether the drug increases the risk of developing asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The report covered research into the therapeutic effects of cannabis, links to marijuana use and cancer, mental health issues, respiratory disease, and other ailments. Colorado and a handful of other states were able to legalize recreational use of pot because the Justice Department under President Obama basically chose to look the other way.

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Substance Abuse Disorders Some parents worry that their teens' use of cannabis can cause problems, and the report was mixed in its conclusions on that.

The report finds that there's substantial evidence that smoking during pregnancy leads to lower birth weight; that smoking and driving leads to more vehicle crashes; that long-term smoking is associated with respiratory diseases like chronic bronchitis; and that marijuana use, especially heavy use, may lead to the development of schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders (especially for those already at genetic risk of those diseases).

"It spells out very clearly that marijuana can be toxic and unsafe to children and also, it's risky to the adolescent brain", Marsh says.

Marijuana use comes with pros and cons.

"That's because we are taking marijuana off of the street corner", he says, "and out of the hands of drug dealers, who have nothing but incentive to sell to everyone and anyone". The study's authors said the increasing legalization of medical marijuana across the country makes this a "pivotal" moment in the national conversation.

"By legalizing it and normalizing it", he says, "it's become just another everyday thing that adults partake in - it doesn't have that same draw to it that it used to". However, there's not enough research done on the issue to offer a definite answer.

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