January 18, 2017

New Report Outlines Effects of Cannabis

A new report on the health risks, benefits and effects of cannabis strongly suggests the benefit of marijuana used for chronic-pain relief.

Published by the Health and Medicine Division, part of the U.S. National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, the 400 page analysis combed through more than 10,000 scientific studies and came to nearly 100 conclusions.  The report, authored by a panel of experts led by Marie McCormick, a pediatrician and public health researcher at Harvard, concluded that cannabis does have a verifiable medicinal uses.

Although the analysis covered a wide range of topics, from the current policy landscape through to recommendations on further research, the main agenda was that of the medicinal value.  It concluded that:

  • Cannabis and cannabinoids were effective at treating chronic pain, particularly that related to MS.  Also effective for treating chemo-related nausea and vomiting.
  • Cannabis and cannabinoids use is not linked to cancers that arise from smoking, such as lung and neck cancers.  However, smoking may increase respiratory problems if it’s done on a regular basis.
  • Smoking marijuana while pregnant can result in lower birth weights, but it’s unclear if there are long-term effects in children.
  • There is not enough research to know how marijuana use relates to heart attack, strokes, or diabetes.  There is slight evidence that smoking cannabis could trigger a heart attack.
  • There is a small amount of evidence that marijuana could have anti-inflammatory effects, but otherwise not enough to know how cannabis and cannabinoids affect the immune system or those who are immune-compromised.
  • Using marijuana may increase the risk of developing mental health issues, such as schizophrenia, anxiety, and to a lesser extent depression.
  • There is little evidence that marijuana is a gateway drug, however, there is a clear link between people who use marijuana and those prone to developing substance dependence.
  • Using marijuana immediately impairs learning, memory, and attention.  There is some evidence that impairments could linger in those who stop smoking, and could affect educational achievement and employment for those who start young.

The report also went on to suggest that the U.S. federal government has not legalized cannabis and continues to enforce restrictive policies and regulations on research into the health benefits or harms of cannabis products.

“These policies and regulations may impose barriers to conducting research on the health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids has been limited in the United States, leaving patients, health care professionals, and policy makers without the evidence they need to make sound decisions regarding the use of cannabis and cannabinoids.”

Although 25 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes, while 4 states and the District of Columbia have made marijuana legal for recreational use, the current stance by the U.S. federal government, upheld by the Drug Enforcement Agency, makes it difficult in the continuance to conduct further research.

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