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Hidden Dangers of Medical Pot

Missourians have been watching as medical marijuana becomes legal in other states, particularly since Illinois legislation passed. Citizens wonder whether what they’ve heard is true – marijuana is a safe and effective treatment for a variety of illnesses and, if not legalized completely, should be available for medical use. It’s only recently that the other side of the issue has made its way into our newspapers.

The Missourian published an informative opinion piece on the topic, and it’s worth hearing another viewpoint on the safety of marijuana. According to the author, there’s a clear link between marijuana use and mental illness. He quotes Dr. Samuel Wilkenson, a physician at the Yale School of Medicine, who said, “medical and scientific literature continues to accumulate, however, it is becoming clear that the claim that marijuana is medically harmless is false.”

Cited in the article is the strong connection between marijuana use and schizophrenia, a debilitating mental illness that can present with hallucinations or delusions requiring extended psychiatric treatment or hospitalization. The disease isn’t always that crippling though, and many patients are able to live normal lives – except that studies show mild schizophrenia can be made worse, sometimes much worse, when marijuana is consumed. With about three million US citizens with schizophrenia, that alone would be a concern, but there also seems to be a link between early marijuana use and developing symptoms of the disease in the first place.

No studies have shown exactly how marijuana increases the incidence and severity of schizophrenia – use of the drug is not tracked and it would be unethical to place patients on something that might cause harm, just to see what happens. Further, even where medical marijuana is available, use among young people – those most at risk – is restricted. But we know that high school students are experimenting with marijuana. That’s the underlying worry when arguments about legalization come up: will use in young people spike when marijuana is as easily available as prescription drugs are?

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