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Marijuana

Cannabis

It’s April 20th.

For the marijuana smoking counter culture, today is known as 420, pronounced four-twenty – National Weed Day. Many marijuana (MJ) users celebrate by convening  across the nation to light up a joint, smoke a bowl, or eat some pot brownies. Unlike Halloween, in which you probably wouldn’t find anyone in costume on the other 364 days, MJ use is ubiquitous and ever-present in the mainstream.  Whether you’re watching TV or listening to music on the radio, attending a sporting event or concert, you’re as likely to be exposed to something MJ-related (like Weeds, Bob Marley, or the downwind smell of pot) as you are to something Kate Gosselin-related at a supermarket checkout line.

MJ is the most prevalently used illicit substance in the world. It is often referred to as the “gateway” drug as once naive recreational drug users may later progress to experimenting with harder drugs such as dropping ecstasy, snorting a line of cocaine, or smoking crystal meth. MJ has more aliases than the National Hockey League has fans. In the medical profession, MJ is frequently referred to as Cannabis, the Greek name of the plant, and THC, its main active ingredient.

Many consider MJ use to be harmless, positive, and even beneficial. Recreationally, MJ is associated with facilitating philosophical thinking, enhancing creativity, and heightening subjective experiences. How many moviegoers do you think were high when they munched on popcorn as they trancedly watched Avatar in 3-D? Medically, MJ has been legalized in 14 US states for treatment of chronic conditions such as glaucoma, pain disorders, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, HIV unintentional weight loss, and some neurological disorders.

Legalized for medicinal use only in a minority of states, MJ is criminal and illegal on the federal level. As such, the federal governing agency of prescription meds, the FDA, strictly regulates MJ among the highest of controlled substances. MJ is classified as a substance with high abuse potential, no current accepted medical use, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision. You may get a marijuana card, but you’re absolutely not gonna get a prescription for MJ says Uncle Sam.

The medical marijuana debate remains controversial in the medical profession. Although MJ has been shown to improve the aforementioned medical conditions, it nevertheless has adverse effects on the lungs, heart, and immune and reproductive systems. Moreover, it has the potential to cause cancer.  

In psychiatry, the position on MJ use errs on the side of restriction. Aside from addiction, MJ has been associated with increasing the risk of common psychiatric disorders like anxiety, bipolar, and psychosis. Chronic heavy users of “the chronic” may also experience a generalized lack of interest, decreased motivation, and impaired cognitive functioning. You may want to stay off the grass if you’re gunning to be the school valedictorian. Many MJ users may go through their entire lives without any significant functional impairment, experiencing at worst a “bad trip” from time to time. But what if that bad trip was lasting and permanent like schizophrenia? Is that a journey worth embarking on?

The origin of 420  in reference to weed has as many postulations as that of Tupac’s death. Some think 420 refers to the number of chemicals found in MJ, the police code for MJ use, or Adolf Hitler’s birthday. The leading belief seems to credit a group of pot-smoking teenagers who met up daily to get high after school at 4:20pm back in the early 70s. Whatever the reason, as far as I’m concerned, 420 can mean the number of arguments you can make for or against the use of MJ.

Since I’m a psychiatrist, you can probably surmise where I stand on the issue of marijuana use.

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