Doctors predict marijuana will be the ‘next big tobacco’ if legalized in Connecticut

Health

Up the Eastern Seaboard: from Delaware to New Hampshire, five state medical societies banded together, urging lawmakers to press pause on pot.

Claudia Gruss, MD, President of the Connecticut State Medical Society said, “We really don’t know the long-term effects on our population and there are some very troubling signs that we’ve seen in other states that would suggest that we do need more research and should go slow before we make cannabis available to every adult in the state.” 

Gregory Shangold, MD, has been an emergency room doctor for 17 years, and he is already seeing the effects.

“We’re seeing a lot more of these patients that are demonstrating psychotic behaviors and with daily use, some people have this intractable vomiting syndrome,” Shangold said.

After pot was legalized in Colorado, emergency rooms saw a 3-fold increase in pot-related visits.

Shangold added,”We’ve been seeing, even with the medical marijuana, more youths getting access to it even though they’re not necessarily prescribed the medicine.” 

Advocates for legalization say revenue would benefit the state, but doctors on the front lines warn of public health costs. Shangold is especially concerned about children and teens; he recently treated a 16-year-old.

“He was jumping off of a balcony,” Shangold explained, “and came in with lacerations and required chemical restraints so that we could get imagery of his brain for the trauma.”

Deepak D’Souza, a Professor of Psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, has been studying the effects of marijuana for 20 years. He fears cannabis could be the next big tobacco.

“Many people don’t know that cannabis is addictive,” D’Souza said. “There’s absolutely no question that it is addictive.” 

He said the THC in pot alters the brain’s cannabinoid, which regulate chemical messages.

“People who use cannabis even if it’s just once a day, we find about a 15 to 20 percent reduction in brain cannabinoid receptors,” D’Souza added.

Related: Cannabis 101: Cannabis cultivation in the classroom

For frequent users, it can mean long-term impairments in memory, attention and even IQ. Symptoms don’t always go away when someone stops using.

D’Souza said, “Our lab and many, many labs have shown that acutely, cannabis can mess up your memory and attention and also many of the cognitive processes that are critical for driving such as estimating distance, estimating time.”

Doctors say they don’t have the tools they need. For instance, when crash victims arrive here in a trauma room, they can only test negative or positive. 

And it could be positive even if you smoked pot a month ago.

“We don’t have any mechanism to quantify people’s exposure to marijuana,” Shangold said.

Research on pot is limited. The federal government classifies it as one of the most restrictive drugs preventing federal dollars from being spent on research. Many studies are from decades ago when THC content was lower. Today’s pot is a lot stronger.

D’Souza said there needs to be more research into an alarming connection between pot and serious mental illness.

D’Souza said, “If you have schizophrenia, using cannabis is a bad idea. If you have a risk for schizophrenia, as in a family history of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, using cannabis could precipitate the illness.” 

He believes more people will get addicted, and there are no approved treatments for marijuana addiction.

“I really think we have to carefully think about the consequences of this and think about balancing the revenue that we think we’re going to generate with the costs associated with this, which includes driving, serious mental illness, and the impact on young people,” D’Souza said.

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