A Non-Politicized Look at Marijuana

In the past four decades there have been over 11,500 reports on marijuana—making it more studied than the atom. The results are inevitably debated, and one can find in all those studies what one wants to oppose or defend smoking pot. Here is an unpoliticized take on a handful of facts regarding marijuana and health.

Reality Check

THC has several proven therapeutic benefits.

It is widely understood that THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the chief active ingredient in pot) can relieve nausea in patients receiving chemotherapy; stimulate appetite in people with AIDS; lower eye pressure in glaucoma patients; and reduce some of the symptoms associated with spasmodic diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

The medical evidence against marijuana pertains to its primary delivery form, which leads us to the fact that…

Reality Check

The most clear-cut problem with smoking cannabis is the smoke.

Inhaling smoke of any kind is unnatural and unhealthy. Like tobacco smokers, chronic pot smokers are at increased risk for oral, respiratory and pulmonary problems.

Reality Check

Treating glaucoma with medical marijuana is a mixed bag.

A primary cause of glaucoma, which can lead to blindness, is pressure within the eye. Intraocular pressure can be partially relieved with marijuana (specifically, in patients with “open-angle” glaucoma). However, the medical benefit lasts only a bit longer than the high does; to stave off glaucoma, the patient must smoke continually. Patients who self-medicate this way should expect all the associated side effects, including problems from smoke inhalation and being high all the time.

Reality Check

The body carries a record of pot usage.

Tests to urine, blood, saliva and hair can all detect the use of marijuana, though there is no test yet to measure impairment. Urine tests show marijuana use within one to five days for occasional users, one to three weeks in regular users, and up to six weeks in users who smoke several times a day. Blood and saliva tests can register positive results for a few hours after smoking (longer for chronic users). Hair carries a record like the rings on a tree—it can show marijuana usage for however long the hair has been growing.

Reality Check

Marijuana may impede fertility.

Tests have suggested that marijuana use may adversely affect the production, morphology (shape) or motility (forward motion) of sperm. In women, THC may disrupt the delicate chemical environment that is optimal for fertilization. Any couple who wants to increase the chance of conceiving should abstain from smoking.

Reality Check

The cognitive effects of marijuana appear to be temporary and reversible.

A marijuana high is accompanied by impairments to cognition and to fine motor skills, making it difficult to successfully complete complex tasks while under the influence (e.g., driving a car, fixing a computer, leaving a Black Crowes concert).

The impairments tend to last only for the duration of the euphoric effect. Chronic users may experience longer periods of cognitive fogginess, though clear thinking and good learning skills usually return within weeks once the user abstains. Most studies do not support deficits in long-term memory.

This all assumes, of course, that you do not cause permanent damage to yourself by doing something stupid while you’re high.

by Rich Maloof for MSN Health & Fitness

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