*Note: This article is part of a larger report featured on Wondergressive entitled ‘Cannabis Cures Cancer and More: A Through History and Review of the Evidence‘
Copyright © 2013 [Eric Feinberg]. All Rights Reserved.
To read Part 1 of this post please click here.
What the Critics Have to Say About Cannabis
(And Why They’re Wrong…)
Critics are quick to point out the consistently noted dangers of cannabis ingestion. These are the same arguments that have been used for decades. They remain aggressively debated without compromise, despite decades of rational evidence suggesting falsity and fallacy. The seemingly valid concerns regarding cannabis use that top the critics’ list are: the gateway drug theory, short-term memory loss, psychosis, decreased intelligence, harm from cannabis smoke, depression, an elevated heart rate, and worries over driving while high. Let’s allow science and logic to save the day, shall we?
An historically major issue concerning cannabis is the worry that it may induce schizophrenic symptoms or intensify various forms of latent schizophrenia. The subjective experience of ingesting cannabis is highly personal and varies greatly among users around the world. Common experiences include:
- Greater enjoyment of food taste and aroma
- An enhanced enjoyment of music
- A greater enjoyment of comedy and humor
- Distortions in perception of time and space
- Short-term memory loss
- Improved long-term memory recall
- Creative thinking
- New perspectives
- Increased libido
- Elevated mood
- Heightened sensitivity to external stimuli
At extremely high doses common experiences include:
- Altered body image
- Auditory/visual illusions
- Hallucinations (extremely rare)
- Mild dissociation of mind and body
- Panic attacks
While the vast majority of the effects of cannabis are viewed as positive, panic attacks and paranoia are obviously unwanted. Between 20 and 30 percent of recreational users experience intense anxiety and/or panic attacks after smoking cannabis.
Related Article: The Incredibly Diverse Medicinal Properties of Cannabis
While these symptoms usually occur due to thoughts of legal ramification for ingesting cannabis, exaggerated worry over a thought process, or general anxiousness over trying something new, it has been reported that the symptoms can happen spontaneously as well. It is possible and plausible that these symptoms could lead to greater and more persistent symptoms of psychosis. However, there are multiple aspects of the psychosis worry that needs to be discussed.
First, through our increasing knowledge of cannabinoids and the role they play on the endocannabinoid system, researchers have discovered that certain cannabinoids have a marginally stronger effect than others with regards to producing hallucinations delusions, and subjective psychological stress.
While the THC (the most psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis) offers incredible physio/psychological health benefits, it has been linked to being the sole culprit of producing more schizophrenia-like symptoms.
Related Article: The History and Legality of Cannabis Use Around the World
When comparing multiple subjects under the influence of only THC, a mixture of THC and CBD (cannabidiol), and no cannabinoids, researchers found that only THC produced subjectively negative psychological effects. The subjects with no additional cannabinoids in their system and the subjects with the mixture of THC and CBD both experienced a nearly identical psychological effect. The only major difference was that the subjects who had ingested the mixture reported less anhedonia (unable to experience pleasure) then the other two groups. The researchers concluded that if anything, their research highlighted
the importance of distinguishing between different strains of cannabis.
Once we break cannabis down into its component cannabinoids it is easy to see why users describe such incredibly varied experiences. Cannabidiol is extremely effective in treating and preventing symptoms of schizophrenia, as research continues to suggest. Many researchers believe that cannabis legalization will herald a revolution in the treatment of various psychological disorders, including schizophrenia. According to a 2005 double-blind study analyzing the antipsychotic effects of cannabidiol, researchers found that:
cannabidiol treatment was accompanied by a significant increase in serum anandamide levels, which was significantly associated with clinical improvement. The results suggest that inhibition of anandamide deactivation may contribute to the antipsychotic effects of cannabidiol potentially representing a completely new mechanism in the treatment of schizophrenia.
Other studies on the topic affirm that many subjects report
while self treating themselves with cannabis.
Even in the Netherlands, where cannabis use is widespread and often harshly judged internationally, scientists have reported an utter lack of evidence that cannabis use leads to schizophrenia. The report states that:
A group of Dutch scientists say that there is no proof that cannabis induces schizophrenia. These findings will be embarrassing for the Dutch government, which has been bearing down on Marijuana Coffee Shops saying the drug induces schizophrenia.
The truth is that much of the research done thus far has been skewed and largely unscientific. Under proper guidance, and using the correct strains, researchers all around the world agree that cannabis is a wonderfully effective psychotropic medication. Researchers discussed the consistently shown promise and proof of cannabis as an effective psychotropic medication in the British Journal of Psychiatry:
I considered Arseneault et al‘s (2004) search for evidence of the association between cannabis and psychosis as quite skewed. They did not explore the evidence regarding positive, therapeutic or beneficial psychoactive effects of cannabis in mental health in the context of appropriate, rational and clinical usage…Signalling, mostly inhibitory, suggests a role for cannabinoids as therapeutic agents in central nervous system disease where inhibition of neurotransmitter release would be beneficial. Evidence suggests that cannabinoids inhibit the neurotransmitter glutamate, counteract oxidative damage to dopaminergic neurons and may be potent neuroprotective agents (Croxford, 2003)…knowing [cannabis’] potent neuroprotective function, its potential role in psychiatric practice should not be discarded lightly.
The most important thing to remember is that symptoms of schizophrenia generally (nearly always) precede cannabis use. Schizophrenia and general psychosis have far more to do with genetic make up than anything else (refer to the graph).
Research regarding the connection between cannabis and psychosis, especially symptoms of schizophrenia, remains historically lacking and skewed with regards to component cannabinoids in cannabis. Cannabis produces highly varied subjective experiences, and research has revealed that each cannabinoid within cannabis has a markedly different effect on individuals. Multiple recent studies have shown that cannabis, specifically the cannabinoid CBD, is a highly effective agent in treating schizophrenia and other psychological disorders. Most importantly, symptoms of schizophrenia precede cannabis use in the vast majority of cases. There is currently no clear evidence that cannabis is directly responsible for causing psychosis and schizophrenic symptoms in users.
This is one of the most commonly used arguments against the use of cannabis as a form of medicine or recreation. Like the psychosis argument debunked above, the depression argument is always portrayed in a skewed and exaggerated fashion. The most important thing to remember as we discuss this is that correlation does not imply causation.
It is well known that many already depressed individuals (ranging from mild to incapacitating depression) use cannabis as a form of self-medication. This often takes place after finding no success with taking a whole slew of expensive, addictive, and biologically destructive prescription drugs handed out by the oh so helpful DSM devotees.
Related Article: The Power of Hemp Seeds: Behold Powerful Nutrition
What researchers have found is that the vast majority of people who use cannabis to treat their depression find it to be highly physically/psychologically therapeutic and helpful. All people react differently, just like with any substance. Regardless of subjective experience it is clear at the biological level that cannabis has an anti-depressant effect on the body and mind. With regards to decreased depression associated with cannabis use an additional study incorporated:
Over 4400 adult internet users [who] completed The Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression scale and measures of marijuana use. We employed an internet survey in an effort to recruit the most depressed and marijuana involved participants, including those who might prove unwilling to travel to the laboratory or discuss drug use on the phone or in person. We compared those who consumed marijuana daily, once a week or less, or never in their lives. Despite comparable ranges of scores on all depression subscales, those who used once per week or less had less depressed mood, more positive affect, and fewer somatic complaints than non-users. Daily users reported less depressed mood and more positive affect than non-users. The three groups did not differ on interpersonal symptoms.
Cannabis users, whether they ingested the substance less than once a week or every day, reported far less depressive symptoms and far more happiness and satisfaction than non-users. The study goes on to say that:
The media continues to report links between marijuana and depression. In a recent review, Degenhardt, Hall, and Lynskey (2003) identified a modest relationship only among problematic users. Many studies show no link between cannabis and depression despite appropriate statistical power, measurement, and design (Fergusson & Horwood, 1997; Fergusson, Lynskey, & Horwood, 1996; Green & Ritter, 2000; Kouri, Pope, Yurgelun-Todd, & Gruber, 1995; McGee, Williams, Poulton, & Moffitt, 2000; Musty & Kaback, 1995; Rowe, Fleming, Barry, Manwell, & Kropp, 1995). One neglected source of depression among marijuana users may stem from medical use. Separate analyses for medical vs. recreational users demonstrated that medical users reported more depressed mood and more somatic complaints than recreational users, suggesting that medical conditions clearly contribute to depression scores and should be considered in studies of marijuana and depression. The data suggests that adults apparently do not increase their risk for depression by using marijuana.
Just like we discussed in all of the other arguments, the public only sees what the media picks and chooses to show, which is usually negligible data that has been exaggerated and skewed to fit their hype. The previous study also brought up an excellent point that has never been discussed before: are the results of studies concerning cannabis and depression that get aired by main stream media corrupted by reports of depression that originate from medical suffering? The use of cannabis is so wide spread around the world, especially in the US, that it should not be discounted.
Related Article: Cannabis Protects Brain From Damage While Binge Drinking
After adjusting for differences in baseline risk factors of marijuana use and depression, past-year marijuana use does not significantly predict later development of depression.
Finally, in a longitudinal study completed in 2009 regarding cannabis and suicide,researchers found that:
Although there was a strong association between cannabis use and suicide, this was explained by markers of psychological and behavioural problems. These results suggest that cannabis use is unlikely to have a strong effect on risk of completed suicide, either directly or as a consequence of mental health problems secondary to its use.
The depression argument is false in many of the same ways as the psychosis argument. In the vast majority of cases depressive behavior precedes cannabis use. Additionally, in most cases where cannabis is used to self-treat depression it is found to be successful. Cannabis is a clear biological antidepressant and exhibits incredible therapeutic properties. Depression is highly subjective and everyone experiences it differently. The truth is that in multiple studies both light and heavy cannabis users report far less depressive symptoms than non-users. There is no evidence whatsoever that cannabis use predicts or causes depression. Many depressed people use cannabis and report positive results far more often than people using contemporarily prescribed prescription medication.
Driving While Stoned
(*Note: this report does not advocate driving while under the effects of any substance, including cannabis. The aim of this section is to view the credible findings on how cannabis affects drivers.)
The claim that ingesting cannabis somehow affects driving ability makes sense at first glance. Unfortunately all of the reports historically presented by mainstream media have focused on theory and self-report tactics, rather than actual evidence and proof. They continuously focus on potential ratios, theoretical effects, and skewed speculation.
Related Article: Federal Judge Urges Decriminalization of Marijuana
Biologically, it is true that
cannabis impairs driving behavior. However, this impairment is mediated in that subjects under cannabis treatment appear to perceive that they are indeed impaired. Where they can compensate, they do.
Despite biological theories for how cannabis might potentially affect a driver, experiments using driving simulations in the lab find that:
drivers who drank alcohol overestimated their performance quality whereas those who smoked marijuana underestimated it. Perhaps as a consequence, the former invested no special effort for accomplishing the task whereas the latter did, and successfully. This evidence strongly suggests that alcohol encourages risky driving whereas THC encourages greater caution, at least in experiments.
The [findings] contrast with results from many laboratory tests, reviewed by Moskowitz (1985), which show that even low doses of THC impair skills deemed to be important for driving, such as perception, coordination, tracking and vigilance. The present studies also demonstrated that marijuana can have greater effects in laboratory than driving tests. The last study, for example showed a highly significant effect of THC on hand unsteadiness but not on driving in urban traffic.
It is apparent that despite multiple laboratory studies displaying favorable results, real world driving tests are even more positive. When we actually test the effects of cannabis on drivers in the real world, we see very little safety issues, if any at all.
Drivers under the influence of cannabis, unlike alcohol, realize they are under the effects of a substance and successfully compensate for their altered state of mind by driving slower and by giving themselves more space between other vehicles. One of the first actual road tests with cannabis studies drivers in the lab, on the highway, and in congested urban areas. The results affirmed that as far as cannabis’ effect on actual driving performance:
Driving quality as rated by the subjects contrasted with observer ratings. Alcohol impaired driving performance according to the driving instructor but subjects did not perceive it; marijuana did not impair driving performance but the subjects themselves perceived their driving performance as such….Thus there was evidence that subjects in the marijuana group were not only aware of their intoxicated condition but were also attempting to compensate for it…drivers become overconfident after drinking alcohol…and more cautious and self critical after consuming low THC doses by smoking marijuana.
Drivers under the effects of cannabis pay more attention to the road; drive more slowly, and leaving themselves more room between other cars.
The truth is that alcohol is a far more serious problem than cannabis when it comes to driving. Studies performed from 1982 to 1998 demonstrate time and time again that alcohol is significantly more dangerous than cannabis on the road. Alcohol use is also far more prevalent in crash statistics.
Blood and/or urine from fatally injured drivers in Washington State were collected and tested for the presence of drugs and alcohol. Drug and/or alcohol use was a factor in 52% of all fatalities. Among single vehicle accidents, alcohol use was a factor in 61% of cases versus 30% for multiple vehicle accidents. Drugs most commonly encountered were marijuana (11%), cocaine (3%), amphetamines (2%), together with a variety of depressant prescription medications.
The study even found that it was far less likely to find alcohol in a person’s system in the presence of cannabis, implying that cannabis use lessened the prevalence of alcohol use on the road:
Trends noted included an association of depressant use with higher blood alcohol levels, while marijuana use was associated with lower blood alcohol levels.
With regards to comparisons between cannabis and illicit substances overall, Accident Analysis & Prevention, a peer-reviewed journal, reported in its July 2004 article titled “Psychoactive Substance Use and the Risk of Motor Vehicle Accidents,” by K.L.L. Movig, et al.:
The objective of this study was to estimate the association between psychoactive drug use and motor vehicle accidents requiring hospitalization.
The risk for road trauma was increased for single use of benzodiazepines and alcohol…High relative risks were estimated for drivers using combinations of drugs and those using a combination of drugs and alcohol. Increased risks, although not statistically significant, were assessed for drivers using amphetamines… No increased risk for road trauma was found for drivers exposed to cannabis.
With regards to comparisons between cannabis and substance-free drivers:
The largest study ever done linking road accidents with drugs and alcohol has found drivers with cannabis in their blood were no more at risk than those who were drug-free. In fact, the findings by a pharmacology team from the University of Adelaide and Transport SA showed drivers who had smoked marijuana were marginally less likely to have an accident than those who were drug-free. A study spokesman, Dr Jason White, said the difference was not great enough to be statistically significant but could be explained by anecdotal evidence that marijuana smokers were more cautious and drove more slowly because of altered time perception. The study of 2,500 accidents, which matched the blood alcohol levels of injured drivers with details from police reports, found drug-free drivers caused the accidents in 53.5 per cent of cases. Injured drivers with a blood-alcohol concentration of more than 0.05 per cent were culpable in nearly 90 per cent of accidents they were involved in. Drivers with cannabis in their blood were less likely to cause an accident, with a culpability rate of 50.6 per cent. The study has policy implications for those who argue drug detection should be a new focus for road safety. Dr White said the study showed the importance of concentrating efforts on alcohol rather than other drugs.
The BBC and CNN both filmed their own research on the actual effects of cannabis on driving ability. The BBC study focused on a single driver and found that he actually drove better while ‘high’; driving more cautiously and paying more attention to the driving test. The CNN study was a bit more extensive and controlled.
The study, conducted in Washington where recreational cannabis use is legal, focused on 3 volunteers who drove under the effects of different amounts of cannabis. They drove alongside a driving instructor with drug recognition experts (police officers with specific drug recognition training) watching them from outside the vehicle. The volunteers included a heavy daily user, a weekend user, and an occasional user. Even at 7x the legal limit of driving under the influence, 5x the legal limit, and 4x the legal limit respectively, all of the volunteers passed their driving tests, received positive reviews from the driving instructor, and would not have been pulled over by the drug recognition experts.
Related Article: Uruguay to Legalize Marijuana
States with medical marijuana laws are also reporting that since cannabis became legal medically and/or decriminalized, they have witnessed decreases in deaths resulting from car accidents:
A report from the University of Colorado, Montana State University, and the University of Oregon found that on average, states that have legalized Medical cannabis had a decrease in traffic-related fatalities by 8-11%.
It’s just safer to drive under the influence of marijuana than it is drunk….Drunk drivers take more risk, they tend to go faster. They don’t realize how impaired they are. People who are under the influence of marijuana drive slower, they don’t take as many risks.
From a theoretical point of view it makes sense that people would be concerned over potential risks of ‘driving while stoned.’ However, the research speaks for itself. Laboratory and real world test results have confirmed time and time again that cannabis does not have a detrimental effect on driving ability. People under the effects of cannabis, unlike alcohol, realize their altered state of mind and compensate successfully for it. In most instances cannabis users drive more safely; driving slower, paying more attention to the road, and remaining more cautious and vigilant. Cannabis does not pose any serious danger to drivers or anyone else on the road.
Cannabis Smoke and Lung Damage
There are endless reports that claim cannabis harms the lungs and bronchial airways, as well as increasing the risk of lung cancer. What you’ll quickly notice though is that the studies these reports are quoting from are completely theoretical studies based on comparisons with cigarette smoke, as opposed to actual findings from research. Additionally, they only focus on one mode of cannabis ingestion, one that destroys many of the medical benefits of cannabis; smoking.
It is true that there are over 50 potentially carcinogenic substances found in cannabis. Additionally, because smoked cannabis is not completely dry and is smoked without a filter, there is roughly 4 times more tar than the amount found in cigarettes. One can see why studies would speculate that cannabis may increase the risk of lung cancer. As usual, when you look at the actual science, the opposite is true.
Related Article: Smoking: A Pre-existing Condition Under Obamacare
First of all, there is currently not a single known case of cancer originating from the ingestion of cannabis. As stated numerous times in this report, there has never been a death that cannabis was directly responsible for.
Endless studies, despite a hypothesis to the contrary, are unable to find an increased risk of cancer due to cannabis use. in fact, as stated previously,
studies indicate that THC has anti-tumorigenic and anti-metastatic effect against lung cancer [and most other forms of cancer].
A study in 2005, the largest ever conducted of its kind, left Donald Tashkin, a pulmonologist at UCLA‘s David Geffin School of Medicine, scratching his head. Tashkin and his research team had hypothesized an association between cannabis and lung cancer, but even after 30 years of observing thousands of subjects they were unable to find a connection between cannabis and lung cancer.
We hypothesized that there would be a positive association between marijuana use and lung cancer, and that the association would be more positive with heavier use. We expected that we would find that a history of heavy marijuana use – more than 500 to 1,000 uses – would increase the risk of cancer from several years to decades after exposure to marijuana. What we found instead was no association at all, and even a suggestion of some protective effect.
The heaviest users in Tashkin’s study smoked more than 60 joint-years worth of marijuana, or more than 22,000 joints in their lifetime. Moderately heavy users smoked between 11,000 and 22,000 joints.
That’s an enormous amount of marijuana [however] in no category was there any increased risk, nor was there any suggestion that smoking more led to a higher odds ratio. There was no dose-response, not even a suggestion of a dose response, and in all types of cancer except one, oral cancer, the odds ratios were less than one. This is the largest case-control study ever done, and everyone had to fill out a very extensive questionnaire about marijuana use. Bias can creep into any research, but we controlled for as many confounding factors as we could, and so I believe these results have real meaning.
That being said, Dr. Tashkin wisely notes:
It’s never a good idea to take anything into your lungs, including marijuana smoke.
Smoke does not belong in your lungs, and just as this report does not advocate driving while under the effects of cannabis, it equally does not recommend smoking cannabis. What this report does suggest is using a vaporizer, cooking the cannabis into food, or making a cannabis oil. All of these methods make this entire argument irrelevant as they do not involve any form of smoke.
The media has bombarded the public with seeming ‘proof’ that cannabis leads to lung cancer. The truth is that all of this ‘proof’ has been entirely speculative. Despite cannabis smoke containing carcinogens and up to 4 times more tar than the amount found in cigarettes, long term studies confirm that there is no increased risk of lung cancer from smoking cannabis. On the contrary, the cannabinoids found in THC work to fight against cancer and even protect healthy cells. Most importantly, because cannabis can be ingested in many ways that don’t involve smoke, this entire argument is irrelevant.
*Note: This article is part of a larger report featured on Wondergressive entitled ‘Cannabis Cures Cancer and Everything Else: A Through History and Review‘
Driving While Stoned
Cannabis Smoke and Lung Damage