CANNABIS CULTURE – Comedy icon Bill Murray once said he, “finds it quite ironic that the most dangerous thing about weed is getting caught with it.” Medically speaking, he is right. Yet, there are still some potential dangers that anti-cannabis reefer madness propagandists tend to point at when trying to justify prohibition.
For those who use cannabis irresponsibly, yes, cannabis could well be dangerous. But that’s a choice made by people, not the fault of the plant. A plant that has never killed anyone by ingestion.
If you get behind the wheel after ingesting a 1000 mg THC edible, then yes, you are behaving dangerously. If you leave your meds within easy reach of children, then again yes, cannabis could well be dangerous. Should you be operating heavy machinery whilst under the influence, then you’ve guessed it – cannabis could prove to be dangerous.
Yet, these issues aren’t usually what people mean when they ask, “Is cannabis safe?” What they mean to ask is, “Is cannabis safe for my health?” The only answer that can honestly be given is, “We do not know precisely how dangerous cannabis is or could be, because we haven’t studied it properly.” So far, we can only go on what we observe. There has been no death attributed to cannabis overdose, which makes cannabis safer than most prescription and even many over-the-counter medications.
However, this is not to say there might not be any dangers in cannabis whatsoever. One of the most obvious ones would be in the smoking of cannabis. Now, cannabis smoke may not be as carcinogenic as tobacco smoke, but intuitively it makes sense that burning something and inhaling the resultant smoke into your lungs is perhaps not the healthiest way of taking cannabis. Hence why we have developed vaporizers (although their safety hasn’t been proven yet), tinctures, transdermal patches and other smokeless forms of cannabis ingestion. In the case of edibles, it is perhaps safest to microdose, especially if the edible is THC-heavy. Though ingesting large amounts of THC all at once is not necessarily dangerous, it can prove to be a negative experience.
Another big one is, “Could cannabis have negative interactions with other drugs and medications?” The answer here is “Yes, but we need to look at this in more detail.” There are several major and moderate adverse drug interactions between cannabis and other drugs and medications such as propoxyphene, buprenorphine, and naloxone. Now, you’ll notice that these drugs are often opioid- or opiate- based and you might be thinking, “I thought cannabis could help people get off opioids.”
Yes, this is true, but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t negative interactions between certain types of opioids and cannabis. Combining the two could increase drowsiness, confusion, dizziness, difficulty in concentrating, and impairment in motor coordination. However, the main danger doesn’t necessarily come from the cannabis itself, but from quitting opioids cold turkey and/or not tapering their opioid use carefully. Another problem is one of, “If you’re still taking the same amount of opioids as you did before you started using cannabis, then you will no doubt more likely face negative interactions between cannabis and opioids.” Another thing worth mentioning is, “Everyone’s different.” What works for one person might not work for another.
There are other negative drug interactions. Alcohol is definitely one of them. Others include drugs that work on the liver enzyme Cytochrome P450, which is the protein in the human body that metabolizes drugs. Anti-epileptic drugs such as phenytoin induce Cytochrome P450 activity, as do benzodiazepines and barbiturates. CBD, although non-toxic and generally harmless, may well interact negatively with barbiturate- and benzodiazepine- based drugs as it deactivates Cytochrome P450 enzymes. This means that certain drugs aren’t metabolized properly (opioids as well), and so can cause severe liver damage, or in the case of epilepsy, quell the efficacy of an anti-seizure drug and potentially even cause seizures.
CBD’s effects on Cytochrome P450 are an enigma to many scientists and doctors, and we are still trying to figure it out. Some have stated that CBD may in fact induce Cytochrome P450 activity as opposed to preventing it. Indeed, it seems that CBD could potentially both induce and reduce Cytochrome P450 activity, depending upon which drug it is interacting with and at what dosage. Also, as CBD has an effect on the immune system, it could also prove to have immunosuppressive effects. This means CBD may prevent certain antibiotics from working properly.
Are there any other dangers? Mental health is definitely one of them, but it seems to be a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario: did the mental illness come first or the cannabis? Can cannabis help make apparent latent mental health issues, or could it help solve them? Mental health issues are complex beasts, and we must also take into account the type of mental illness we are dealing with.
Giving a schizophrenic THC probably isn’t a good idea (although CBD on its own may well be an antipsychotic), but it could prove useful for someone suffering from anxiety or depression. Needless to say, the debate here rages on, and we are probably not going to get any definitive answers on this subject as of yet. For now, it seems safe to say that cannabis can prove to be beneficial for some people with certain types of mental health problems, but detrimental to another person’s.
However, it seems clear that specific cannabinoid and terpenoid profiles can have either positive or negative effects on a person’s mental or physical health. So, where one particular type of cannabis strain or product can exert a positive effect, another can exert quite a negative effect. For example, different cancers respond to different cannabinoid concentrations in different ways.
So, are there any other dangers? Well, cannabis could potentially lead to an increased risk of stroke and high blood pressure, but on the other hand may help prevent and even treat the after-effects of stroke and reduce high blood pressure. It seems the jury’s out on this one. As for addiction and tolerance, it could be said that, for some people, cannabis dependence is a problem. However, unlike with addiction to other substances, cannabis dependence is not deadly and there are far fewer permanent physiological changes (though there may be some).
Another factor we ought to consider when talking about the dangers of cannabis is age. Where older people in their 30s upwards may find cannabis helps with their medical condition or general health and wellness, whereas for children and teenagers without any pressing medical need for cannabis, it could prove harmful, just like many other medications and drugs. Loading a developing brain with phytocannabinoids could prove problematic, but loading a brain that could be slowing down may be beneficial!
You see, if we are to treat cannabis as medicine, we have to be as objective and honest about it as possible. We must balance the positives against the negatives when dealing with a specific medical condition (i.e. will cannabis work effectively and properly, and will it not do too much damage over the long-term?). We must understand how to dose properly, and we definitely need to find some consistency in our cannabinoid-based medications. This is the only way we’ll minimize any dangers cannabis may have.