The first commentary that I penned 11 years ago this month for the St. Albert Gazette was entitled “Marijuana – The Fun Drug”. Except, of course, it wasn’t. At that time I called for the Canadian senate to take on an evaluation of the whole matter. I reckoned that it was a subject worthy of sober thought. It hasn’t taken it up and some may wonder if the House of Senate is capable of having a sober thought so long as the PMO is in control of the puppet strings.
Nonetheless, the time has come for Canada to look at how we should deal with the issue of the production control, legal marketing and public access of marijuana in our country. The timing, as so often happens on major social matters, is being driven by external factors where we are playing catch up to what is happening south of our border.
President Obama set the new tone of American government executive thinking when he soft-pedaled the deleterious effects of marijuana recently. Stating his review of the “scientific evidence,” he told America that he would not want his daughters to smoke pot but left it open in terms of reasons. He also opened the way for handling of the money raised at sales outlets of recreational marijuana by exempting federally chartered financial institutions from the prohibition of being bankers for illicit drug handlers.
One might then conclude that marijuana is no more dangerous from a health and public safety point of view than tobacco or alcohol. And indeed he, and many of the rest of us, is hopeful that some extract of marijuana plants may soon prove to be medically beneficial.
Unfortunately, we are not yet at a point in our knowledge of the biological effects of the 60 cannabinoids that are found in marijuana plants to determine what components and dosages are medically and biologically helpful.
We do know that the plant’s principal ingredient Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can be permanently destructive. THC inhaled in pregnancy can cause childhood attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Exposure to THC under age 18 years causes drops in IQ which appear to be irreversible. It impairs both short term and long term memory – again on a permanent basis. Smoking marijuana has been reported to be a factor in psychosis. THC is also addictive. It is not a benign substance when it floats around the developing brain of human beings.
At the same time, some elements of marijuana – such as cannabidiol – in liquid form may help control intractable seizures in children. Some cannabinoids are reported to benefit patients with multiple sclerosis and post traumatic stress disorder, improve appetite in chemotherapy patients, and provide pain relief in a variety of acute and chronic pain conditions. We just don’t yet know which, how many or how much of the 60 to use safely.
President Obama has allowed the scientific community to look at this plant in a much less menacing manner. He put politics before sound public policy but, in the long run, may have inadvertently changed the focus of dealing with street drugs from a criminal to a public health issue.
Meanwhile, as we stumble along trying to catch up, it’s still not too late to find a positive use for the Canadian senate – even in its present constitutional state.
Alan Murdock is a local pediatrician.