A Harvard researcher breaks down the health benefits and risks of cannabis


In the year In 2018, Massachusetts legalized the recreational sale and use of cannabis for adults. Since then, cannabis has grown statewide, with more than 250 dispensaries opening and sales reaching more than $1.5 billion last year alone. As of 2012, 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational cannabis for adult use, and recent surveys show that nearly 18% of Americans have used it in the past four years. Despite this recent embrace of cannabis, lingering questions remain about the health risks and benefits associated with its use. To help you better understand what the latest research is telling us, GBH’s All things considered Host Arun Rath spoke to Dr. Peter Greenspoon, a cannabis specialist and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. He is also the author of “Seeing Through Smoke: A Cannabis Specialist Uncovers the Truth About Marijuana.”

Price: To begin, I am curious about the current state of cannabis research. I know it’s been difficult to do research for a long time and I get the sense that we’ve seen some important research in the last few years. So what did we learn?

Smile Well, absolutely. Cannabis research was done early on, but with the war on drugs and US government policy, all research focused on finding harm, not benefit. In the last 50 years of cannabis research, you had to find an IQ drop or sperm count, a decrease in motivation, or something harmful about cannabis to get funding. Finally, that is starting to light up a bit, and we can examine both the pros and cons. However, I would like to point out that cannabis is still classified as Schedule I in the Controlled Substances Act, which by definition says it has a medical utility and no serious misdemeanor liability, neither of which is true. Obviously, it has a lot of medical utility and there are many cannabis-derived FDA-approved drugs on the market. Therefore, it has medical utility and low to moderate tort liability, not high liability. We still have the same schedule to lock down very serious and dangerous drugs, which makes it very difficult to do research. We’re doing better and more balanced research now, but a lot of research, for better or worse, is being done in other countries, such as Europe and Israel, where there aren’t such strict and severe restrictions on cannabis research. .

Price: What are some of the biggest recent discoveries?

Smile Well, it’s a little hard to summarize. In the year There were 1400 studies published in 2022. People have a lot of confirmation bias with cannabis, but what I think is coming out, which I find really interesting, is that with legalization, teenage use is not increasing, which is really good. I think we’re finding that cannabis is helping older Americans, especially many other drugs, polypharmacy, drugs that they’re suffering from. We continue to learn that cannabis can be a helpful way to treat both insomnia, chronic pain, and because it treats chronic pain, like opiates or non-steroids that cause many heart attacks, many ulcers and many kidney diseases. So, by being able to study more about the benefits of cannabis, I think we’re confirming a lot of what people have been saying casually in terms of its benefits.

Price: I know from our reports some of the experimental uses for relief in patients with dementia and other neurological problems.

Smile When I look at medical cannabis as a clinic, I ask, “Is cannabis safe?” I don’t say. I say, “Is cannabis safer than anything else I’m using?” And the drugs we use for older Americans, in general, are more dangerous. That’s why it’s a great alternative to many cannabis plants. For dementia, there is no good treatment yet. But for many of the behavioral disorders and problems—aggression, confusion, and anxiety—we put these patients on heavy neuroleptics like Haldol and Thorazine, and people are finding cannabis a more palatable alternative. . If you look at the studies, they almost all result in improved quality of life.

Price: When we get to the point where they’re doing more about safety and security, we’ve also seen some recent studies that seem to link the presence of cannabis to lower opioid levels.

Smile Absolutely. I have been treating people with opiate addiction for at least the past decade, and I have found cannabis to be very beneficial in helping people with opiate addiction. Helps with pain, anxiety, insomnia and withdrawal from opiates. Unfortunately, I can say that I have personal experience. Fifteen years ago, when I was addicted to opiates, cannabis was more effective than other drugs for opiate withdrawal symptoms, which are unfortunate. You will not die from them, but they are very miserable. Now, the area we haven’t gotten to yet is the area called methadone and buprenorphine and Suboxone. We have very good evidence that overdose deaths are reduced by 50% to 80%, and we don’t have that evidence yet for cannabis. So I definitely use it to get people off opiates and for chronic pain, but when it comes to opiate addiction, I usually take Subox and use cannabis as an adjunct just because there’s not the same level of data and other things being equal, you have to go with the data.

Price: Back to the risk, you mentioned how much previous research tends to find bad things with cannabis. With recent studies, do we have a better understanding of what risks might exist?

Smile My father was a prominent cannabis specialist at Harvard Medical School for at least half a century, Dr. Lester Greenspoon. We’ve spent a lot of money to decriminalize and harm cannabis, something that’s really smart, and we’ve found it to be relatively safe. Many injuries are yet to be released. For example, they have gone to great lengths to show that cannabis causes lung cancer. Although doctors do not recommend smoking anything, cannabis has not been linked to lung cancer. That said, there are certain populations that we don’t recommend because cannabis is more dangerous. We don’t recommend it for teenagers because it can harm their developing brains. “Wait and eat,” we say to toddlers. We don’t say, “Say no.” For pregnant women or breastfeeding women, there is no proof that it is safe in these situations. Again, this may come back to safety because if someone has a serious chronic condition, for example, when they are pregnant, none of the other drugs are particularly safe. So, you try to figure out which one is the least toxic, which is generally the most stressful part of being a doctor. Finally, people with a history or family history of psychosis should avoid cannabis, as it can exacerbate or worsen psychosis. So there are people who should not use cannabis or use it with extreme caution. Overall, if you don’t fall into one of those categories and use it responsibly and responsibly, it’s a fairly safe drug.

Price: Dr. Greenpon, it’s always a pleasure talking with you. thank you so much.

Grinding: I am happy. Thank you very much for these great questions.


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