SHOULD marijuana use for medical purposes be allowed in the Philippines?

In April 2010, a report released by “Harvard Mental Health Letter” said chemical compounds found in marijuana—also known as Cannabis sativa—named delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol stimulate the brain, triggering psychological and physical effects. These compounds were found to have chemical interactions with each other which results in the reduction of anxiety, irritability, and stress.

“Part of the reason marijuana works to relieve pain and quell nausea is that, in some people, it reduces anxiety, improves mood, and acts as a sedative,” the report stated.

However, marijuana’s medical efficacy remains debatable until experts come up with a solid proof considering that the risks could outweigh the possible benefits.

“So far, the few studies evaluating the use of marijuana as a treatment for psychiatric disorders are inconclusive, partly because this drug may have contradictory effects in the brain depending on the dose of the drug and inborn genetic vulnerability,” the report added.

Dr. Andrea Carigma, a pharmacology professor at the Faculty of Pharmacy, noted that although marijuana has medicinal qualities that may be used to stimulate appetite for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome patients suffering from weight loss, she is still not in favor of legalizing marijuana use because of the threats it poses to its users.

“Marijuana has been documented to impair the cognitive functions of the brain, and therefore, may cause a threat to the person using it,” she said.

“If there is justification that a person should need marijuana for medical purposes, then a physician with the appropriate license should prescribe its use, in compliance to Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.”

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A research conducted in Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Illinois, USA showed that persistent use of marijuana can cause physical and functional changes in the brain—especially to teenagers who have been smoking marijuana for three years—due to abnormal changes observed in the structures of the brain.

“The study links the chronic use of marijuana to these concerning brain abnormalities that appear to last for at least a few years after people stop using it,” said Matthew Smith, leader of the Feinberg study, adding that the use of marijuana at an earlier age leads to a more irregular shape of the brain.

Carigma echoed Smith, saying that long exposure to marijuana might result in a person’s inability to process information accurately.

“Clinical and experimental evidence indicates that the long-term use of Cannabis may produce subtle forms of cognitive impairment of memory, attention and organization, and integration of complex information,” Carigma said.

Another study conducted by Megan Howden and Matthew Naughton of Monash University in Australia suggested that respiratory diseases can also develop with constant use of marijuana.

“Evidence suggests that regular Cannabis smoking is associated with a modest impairment in lung function, consisting mainly of a slight increase in airway resistance and hyperinflation,” the study said.

“There is certainly an association of marijuana smoking with respiratory symptoms. The findings of inflammation could correlate with the observed lung function impairment.”

However, Carigma believes that although both marijuana and tobacco have been shown to cause potential damage to the respiratory system, the former could be more dangerous as it could impair the cognitive function to a much greater extent.

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She added that addiction caused by constant and prolonged marijuana use can be overcome by the same principles used to treat addiction of other sorts—abstinence and support.

“Abstinence can be achieved through direct interventions or careful monitoring of patients, while the other can be achieved through the use of individual, family, and group therapies,” said Carigma.

Domino effect

Being the second most widely used illegal drug in the country next to shabu, marijuana, once legalized, could cause more problems.

“The legalization will widen the scope of marijuana as it will be more affordable to the youth and low-income workers due to the increased supply of the substance, affecting their way of life,” said Lezel De Villa-Andaman, chief legal officer of the office of Senator Vicente Sotto III, a longtime campaigner against illegal drugs.

“This may also cause an increase in crime rates, which would discourage foreign investors from coming in.”

She said that although a bill calling for the legalization of marijuana has already been filed in Congress, its passage will go on a tough road because many legislators are against it, since beneficial claims remain unsubstantiated by medical science. A.C.D. Bonganay

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