February 20th, 2017

Making good decisions about medical or recreational use of cannabis hinges on having accurate information about it. As restrictions on cannabis are lowered, interest in the facts is increasing. For example, medical cannabis is moving slowly toward becoming a reality in Maryland – more than 200 physicians have registered to be able to recommend it, and patients will soon be able to register to obtain it. As this evolves, I am seeing increased interest in the medical community for information.

Last week, I gave a talk on medical cannabis to 100 physicians at the annual meeting of the Maryland Chapter of the American College of Physicians. The Maryland State Medical Society is planning to devote an entire issue of its journal to medical cannabis. It is also planning an educational program dedicated to the topic as is the Baltimore City Medical Society.

For several years, I have been teaching medical students at Georgetown University about the “endocannabinoid system” – the extensive system in our bodies that controls the action of cannabis. Few medical schools have included this in their curricula, leaving new doctors in the dark.

Inaccurate information comes from two sources. One is law enforcement, especially the Drug Enforcement Administration.  The distortion is not as obvious as it was in the 1936 scare mongering movie, “Reefer Madness,” which referred to cannabis as “the burning weed with its roots in hell … that leads to debauchery, murder, suicide and the ultimate end — hopeless insanity.” The DEA has, however, promoted misinformation about the degree of danger. Recent good news is that it has removed from its website assertions that cannabis is a gateway drug and causes cognitive damage and psychosis in adults.

As negative distortions diminish, however, I expect to see increased misinformation from the other direction – the emerging cannabis industry.  In DC, the limitation to using medical cannabis for qualifying conditions for which there is good scientific support has been removed. In Maryland, it will be allowed for It will likely overemphasize the positive and diminish the dangers of its product. The alcohol and tobacco industries have demonstrated how effective misleading campaigns about substances can be.

Approximately 9 percent of people exposed to cannabis become addicted to it and our ability to predict who is in danger is not reliable. At this point, it’s clear that cannabis should not be used by teenagers, pregnant women, or people with a history of substance abuse or psychosis. I urge you to maintain a healthy skepticism about information relating to cannabis and to try and discern bias. I plan to use this site to continue getting out the facts, and I welcome questions on this issue.

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