The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Marijuana

By Denise A. Valenti, via Multibriefs

On Aug. 11, 2016, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) ruled that marijuana will remain as a Schedule I drug, along with heroin, ecstasy and others. The DEA holds the position that there are only negatives associated with marijuana.

However, we must look at the good, the bad and the ugly for a complete picture when it comes to marijuana.

The bad — which is the DEA's big concern — is that marijuana seriously damages the adolescent brain as well as the developing fetal brain. The ugly is that states with legal recreational use of marijuana have now seen double the rate of fatal accidents in which the driver has tested positive for only marijuana.

But the federal government does not acknowledge any good. Nowhere among the reports are the discussions related to promising Alzheimer's disease treatments. The report does not tell of the anguish and pain families suffer having children with uncontrollable seizures that are only reported anecdotally resolved by marijuana compounds.

No one disagrees with the need for more controlled, quality research, but having marijuana remain as Schedule I hinders science.

"Drugs, substances and certain chemicals used to make drugs are classified into five distinct categories or schedules depending upon the drug's acceptable medical use and the drug's abuse or dependency potential," according to the DEA. "The abuse rate is a determinate factor in the scheduling of the drug; for example, Schedule I drugs have a high potential for abuse and the potential to create severe psychological and/or physical dependence."

Schedule I drugs, substances or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Some examples of Schedule I drugs are heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), marijuana (cannabis), 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy), methaqualone, and peyote."

By ruling that marijuana remains a Schedule I drug, the federal government is making the statement that marijuana has no medicinal value. Those who originally filed petition to have marijuana rescheduled disagreed.

Gov. Gina M. Raimondo of Rhode Island, Gov. Jay R. Inslee of Washington and Bryan A. Krumm of New Mexico appealed to the federal government to change how marijuana was classified. Much of the motivation was to enable research in order to gain greater knowledge of the benefits as well as the side effects of marijuana.

As a psychiatric nurse practitioner, Krumm was particularly motivated. His practice concentrates on post-traumatic stress disorder. He and his colleagues are desperate to develop solutions for the severe mental health crisis among veterans. Each day 22 veterans commit suicide, but many feel proper doses of monitored marijuana can be a viable treatment for PTSD. All would agree that research is warranted.

As a Schedule I drug, research is nearly impossible. The federal government does allow for research on marijuana grown and distributed by the federal government. But having been developed in the 1970s and having limited content of medicinal quality, federal marijuana is a poor substitute for the products that are available in states with medicinal marijuana and recreational marijuana.

The restrictions not only hamper medical research, but also discourage and limit research regarding the impact of marijuana on the public. The federal government's marijuana has at most 6.7 percent THC (the ingredient that causes a high) and 0.49 percent CBD (the ingredient considered beneficial for seizures).

This compares to 20 percent THC in a popular strain, Purple Cotton. Some concentrated forms of marijuana can have very high potency up to 50-90 percent THC. Research on the bad and ugly aspects of marijuana using only the available federal government strains is not helpful in understanding issues, such as driving and addiction.

The good, the bad and the ugly. Keeping marijuana as Schedule I is not going to improve or change the reality that marijuana is all three. Restrictions on product and barriers to research are only making it harder to improve the lives of those marijuana is influencing.

Dr. Denise A. Valenti is a residency-trained, low-vision/blind-rehabilitation optometrist with additional education and expertise in the field of age-related neurodegenerative diseases with the emphasis on Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease. Her research has included the study of imaging of retinal neural tissue using Optical Coherence Tomography and functional assessment of neural processing in the visual system using Frequency Doubling Technology. Dr. Valenti provided direct clinical care for more than 25 years and currently is active in research and consultation related to vision, aging, neuroprocessing and cognitive functions.

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