April 20 is commonly known as National Weed Day around the country, with festivities like Denver’s annual 420 music celebration in which thousands attend in celebration of cannabis culture.
The movement for marijuana legalization has also been gaining momentum. Pennsylvania recently became the 24th state in the U.S. to permit marijuana use in some capacity.
Pot, kush, weed
Marijuana contains a chemical known as THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, which is part of a class of compounds known as cannabinoids. THC is responsible for marijuana’s psychological effects, among other things.
THC rapidly passes from the lungs into the bloodstream when smoked and is transported to the brain.
THC acts on specific receptors known as cannabinoid receptors, which once active, are responsible for the euphoric feeling that goes along with smoking pot.
Marijuana, however, can also be used through consumption of food, in which case the effects of THC would be delayed as the user wouldn’t feel anything for 30 minutes to one hour. This is because the drug has to first be broken down in the stomach before entering the bloodstream.
Users of marijuana may be thrilled to know that there have been many positive effects associated with the drug. Doctors, for example, are now effectively treating patients who suffer from chronic pain with marijuana. Chronic pain has been associated with diseases such as diabetes, cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis.
This pain is often-times neuropathic, meaning that it is caused by damage to the nervous system. Consequently, it can be very difficult to treat with standard painkillers.
Cannabinoids have been proven to contain anti-cancer properties as they have been shown to inhibit the growth of tumors, according to a study in the Nature Reviews Cancer journal.
Two key components of marijuana, cannabidiol and THC, have been shown to reduce one of the most aggressive adult cancers, glioblastoma multiforme, a deadly cancer of the brain.
Mark Scheeren, chairman of Saint Jude Retreat House, an organization designed to help overcome addiction, gave some insight on potential benefits to medicinal marijuana.
“There is great research out there that demonstrates THC being successfully used to treat epilepsy in those with seizure disorders,” Scheeren said. “Marijuana has also been used to help patients with cancer undergo chemotherapy as it helps reduce the severe nausea that the chemotherapy causes.”
Medicinal and societal risks
The risks of marijuana smoke have been a hot topic for debate among politicians and health care providers around the country.
While marijuana usage has been linked to lung issues like chronic bronchitis or inflammation, there hasn’t been conclusive research linking smoking weed to cancer.
The evidence has thus-far been inconclusive on the drug’s long term health effects.
A 2014 study by the National Academy of Sciences found that marijuana usage actually causes shrinkage of the brain.
Research published in the JAMA Psychiatry journal from the following year directly refuted that claim, stating there was no difference in brain size when users were compared to non-users.
“It’s interesting because they’ve done research linking Marijuana to cancer but if you keep looking, you can find one that disproves that link,” Scheeren said.
Scheeren, however, said he believes the risks are higher to society as a whole, rather than on an individual basis.
“Having marijuana be illegal actually does more harm than good,” Scheeran said. “A lot of the damaging effects of marijuana come from the increased violence associated with a black market item.”
Time Magazine reported last year that since the partial legalization of marijuana in the U.S., homicide rates near the Mexican border have fallen.
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