Highs and lows

What’s known and not known about mar­i­juana

Cape Breton Post - - Science - BY MAL­COLM RIT­TER

A new mar­i­juana study joins a lim­ited record of sci­en­tific knowl­edge about the harms and ben­e­fits of pot.

The re­search pub­lished Wed­nes­day is the first rig­or­ous test of a mar­i­juana com­pound in treat­ing a cer­tain form of se­vere epilepsy.

It found that an in­gre­di­ent of mar­i­juana — one that doesn’t give pot smok­ers a high — re­duced the number of seizures in chil­dren.

In the U.S., more than two dozen states al­low med­i­cal use of mar­i­juana. Fed­eral drug reg­u­la­tors have not ap­proved mar­i­juana it­self, but they have al­lowed man-made, chem­i­cally re­lated medicines to treat loss of ap­petite in peo­ple with AIDS, and nau­sea and vom­it­ing caused by cancer ther­apy. A mar­i­juana ex­tract is sold in Bri­tain for nerve pain and other prob­lems from mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis.

In Jan­uary, a U.S. ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee con­cluded that the lack of sci­en­tific in­for­ma­tion about mar­i­juana and its chem­i­cal cousins, called cannabi­noids, poses a risk to pub­lic health. The ex­perts called for a na­tional ef­fort to learn more.

In a re­port from the Na­tional Acad­e­mies of Sciences, En­gi­neer­ing and Medicine, they also rounded up what is known. Here are some of its con­clu­sions.

There’s strong ev­i­dence that mar­i­juana or cannabi­noids:

- Can treat chronic pain in adults

- Can ease nau­sea and vom­it­ing from chemo­ther­apy

- Can treat mus­cle stiff­ness and spasms in mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis as mea­sured by what pa­tients

say, but less strong ev­i­dence if the changes are mea­sured by doc­tors

On the other hand, it also found that pot smok­ing may be linked to:

- Risk of devel­op­ing schizophre­nia and other causes of psy­chosis, with the high­est risk among the most fre­quent users - Risk of a traf­fic ac­ci­dent - More fre­quent chronic bron­chi­tis episodes from long-term use

- Lower birth­weight in off­spring of fe­male users

There’s some ev­i­dence that pot or cannabi­noids may:

- Im­prove short-term sleep in peo­ple with some med­i­cal con­di­tions

- Boost ap­petite and ease weight loss in peo­ple with HIV or AIDS

- Ease symp­toms of post-trau­matic stress disor­der and im­prove out­comes af­ter trau­matic brain in­jury

Sim­i­larly, some ev­i­dence sug­gests pot use may be linked to: - Trig­ger­ing a heart at­tack - An in­creased risk of devel­op­ing a lung con­di­tion called chronic ob­struc­tive pul­monary dis­ease

- Pregnancy com­pli­ca­tions

when used by the mother

- Im­paired school achieve­ment and out­comes

- In­creased sui­ci­dal thoughts and sui­cide at­tempts, es­pe­cially among heav­ier users

- Risk of devel­op­ing bipo­lar disor­der, es­pe­cially among regular users.

There’s not enough ev­i­dence to know if mar­i­juana or cannabi­noids can:

- Treat cancer

- Ease symp­toms of ir­ri­ta­ble bowel syn­drome

- Help with move­ment prob­lems as­so­ci­ated with Parkin­son’s dis­ease

- Im­prove men­tal health out­comes in peo­ple with schizophre­nia

Sim­i­larly, there’s not enough ev­i­dence to know if mar­i­juana is linked to:

- In­creased risk of heart at­tacks over time from chronic use

- De­vel­op­ment of post-trau­matic stress disor­der

- Changes in the course or symp­toms of de­pres­sion dis­or­ders

- De­vel­op­ment or wors­en­ing of asthma

- Ac­ci­dents or in­juries on the job.

AP PHOTO/RICHARD VO­GEL

A new study re­leased on Wed­nes­day about us­ing a mar­i­juana in­gre­di­ent to treat epilepsy joins a lim­ited record of sci­en­tific knowl­edge about the harms and ben­e­fits of pot. Ex­perts have called for a na­tional ef­fort to learn more about pot and its chem­i­cal cousins.

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