Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Medical Marijuana

My officemate went to a day-long discussion of this sponsored by Dartmouth Medical School.  Apparently they had good arguers on both sides.  There was an interesting moment when she leaped to the conclusion that one of the opponents, a woman who holds a dozen patents, probably has patents for competing pharmaceuticals and that's why she's opposed - a POV for which she has no evidence but illustrates how we like narratives to explain things to ourselves.

But mostly, what I could see in the written back-and-forth gave me little reason to even reconsider my current view (I was sort of hoping for something more to chew on, you see): Medical marijuana is nowhere near as effective as its proponents claim.  Nor is it anywhere near as dangerous as its opponents claim.  There are anecdotes of folks who had no relief until they switched to weed, after trying all the approved treatments.  But actual benefits that sit still and let themselves be measured by actual trials are harder to come by.

But I'm not opposed to folks having that, even if the value is only subjective, because the harm is not obvious.  One can certainly find anecdotes, and one can imagine things going wrong.  But the side-effect profile of marijuana isn't that bad, compared to many prescription pharmaceuticals.

This is pretty much my opinion of sex education in the schools and gun control legislation as well.  Have it, don't have it, doesn't make much difference in people's behavior.  These are symbolic arguments about what sort of people will get to enforce their values on other people.  Liberals in cities are nearer both criminals and police.  They don't want to be gun-buying people themselves, so they want there to be fewer and fewer guns, as that will increase their safety.  They get angry at people who they think are contributing to their danger by not allowing "sensible" gun control laws.  People in suburbs and especially rural areas are far from both criminals and police.  They prefer a do-it-yourself approach and resent folks who want to increase their danger by taking their guns away.  Everyone has stories and imaginations.  It's all trade-off, of course, but there seems to be slightly less crime when concealed carry is allowed and there is less gun control. 

High school sex education, peer support networks, scarey movies, abstinence coaching, etc - all seem to have little effect, whether for pregnancy or STD's.  Yet everyone is just sure that saying X or not saying it is Really Important.  Parents seem to have a lot of influence, and choice of friends. Go figure.


karrde said...

I've seen claims that there is a small but measurable correlation between marijuana use and certain psychological disorders.

Don't know how well-sourced that claim is.

Even if it is true, the cause could be the tendency towards the psychological disorder and the effect could be the marijuana usage.

Outside of that, the other argument is that it is a gateway drug. Since everyone who uses harder, more-addictive drugs once used marijuana. (How many people who have used marijuana go on to harder drugs? Or did someone forget to ask that question?)

What if marijuana were legal, available to those over 18, and known to be correlated with schizophrenia, while tobacco was illegal, black-market, and only suspected to be correlated with lung cancer? Would we see the same arguments about tobacco?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

karrde - your final question we do chuckle over in team rooms of hospitals. Also, that one can have unprotected gay sex in the parks of some cities with nothing more than social disapproval, while smoking cigarettes will get you a fine. Ironies abound.

But then, they always do, in every society.

As for the correlation, it is indeed so that marijuana smoking increases your risk of schizophrenia. It does not seem to be that this only means that the type of person who smokes marijuana is also the type whose schizophrenia will express. There seems to be some causation. Yet it also currently believed that if you do not have the gene for it, all the weed in the world will not give you schizophrenia.

As most schizophrenia expresses early, between 16-24, and even late-onset (fourth decade) seems to be identifiable in retrospect in one's 20's, for most of the customers for medical marijuana this is not an issue. Even at worst-case, heavy use paranoia and unmotivation, probable but not entirely established, why would that be worse than pain and nausea for someone in their 50's?

Texan99 said...

I've hung around fairly heavy drug users for most of my life, and I have to say that I can't take seriously any statements about the risks of marijuana use. About the worst I can say for it is that it goes along with slacker behavior. Also, that smoking pot evidently is even worse for your lungs than smoking cigarettes. Whatever are the disadvantages of marijuana, they are so tiny next to the dangers of booze, nicotine, speed, pain meds, etc., that they scarcely warrant talking about. I've known more than a few people whose company became unbearable once they began regimens of anti-anxiety meds or antidepressants (their doctors referred to them as being "obtunded," which is about right), but none I couldn't stand to be around when they were smoking pot.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I would say if you have any blood relatives with schizophrenia, you should stay away from weed. Other than that, I see the harm as far less than with other substances.

Sam L. said...

"There was an interesting moment when she leaped to the conclusion that one of the opponents, a woman who holds a dozen patents, probably has patents for competing pharmaceuticals and that's why she's opposed -..."

The dreaded "pecuniary interest". Always suspicious to A&H crowd, and "helping professions". Like the docs accused of wanting to cut off legs or whatever, by some politician of recent note.