The science behind cannabis safety

Drug safety is on the minds of most all Americans. Virtually every day we see ads that tell of possible side effects of some medication. Multiple side effects from pharmaceutical medications are so common that disclaimer warnings are the most prominent portion of the ads. Attorneys are constantly telling horror stories of “Bad Drugs”. Daily we see advertisements for law suits over some complication or adverse side effect of an FDA approved medication. Patients are looking for alternatives to taking medications with multiple other unintended negative effects to their health.

Adverse side-effects of medications can target specific organs like kidneys or liver, others can affect your blood components and cause coagulation (Blood Clotting) problems, heart attacks, strokes and death. The list is endless, and not all problems are immediately apparent after use of the medications. Some effects may occur years later. Physicians refer to the adverse effects, and any organ failure caused by medicines as Morbidity. Mortality is of course when the patient dies of an immediate or delayed complication of drug consumption. So Drug complications are either Morbidity or Mortality (M&M).

There were many scientifically baseless accusation leveled at cannabis “Marijuana” which were proven incorrect but their myth still is considered truth by some. Since there is a virtual ban on scientific research on cannabis in the United States, most all studies have been done outside the States. There are virtually no repeatable studies that show cannabis to be harmful except for some mild bronchitis that seldom occurs and is reversible with cessation of smoking. (cannabis is not a gate-way drug and does not cause schizophrenia or Brain Damage, does not cause men’s breast to grow, is not addictive, Etc.) The question of Morbidity of cannabis is still being debated by some. There is no question about mortality associated with cannabis consumption, as no death has ever been directly attributed to cannabis. This fact is so remarkable as to be almost unbelievable but true. Even aspirin, one of the safest over the counter medication kills 1200 people a year in the United States. It is impossible for anyone to accidentally or even intentionally kill themselves with cannabis. When humans overdose from drugs, the most common immediate cause of death is asphyxiation (low blood oxygen) and heart attack. Many drugs do this by depressing centers in the brain stem which control respiratory and heart rate. When opiate receptors in the Brain Stem are overstimulated it causes depression of breathing and lowering of heart rate to such an extent life cannot be supported. The lowered respiratory rate lowers oxygen in the blood and prolonged low oxygen causes heart attacks and death.

Fortunately there are no cannabinoid receptors in the Brain Stem and so no matter how much cannabis you consume you can’t suppress your brain stem function. This simple fact is what is responsible for cannabis safety. Since cannabis has no adverse effects to other organ function like kidney or liver, it is safe on long term (chronic) exposure. Chronic diseases need to be treated with medicines that are safe when used on a chronic basis! I will discuss the types of cannabinoid receptors and their importance in my next article.


From: Treating Yourself Magazine Issue 31