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Drug definition

A discussion on a local call-in show gave me a lot to think about. To be fair to the moderator, he did not raise the topic of marijuana and its merits, but as I said the content of the discussion caused me to reflect on how we in Barbados plan to treat the use of marijuana.

Marijuana cultivation and use is illegal in Barbados that point has to be made. But I find that the authorities seem to be on the back foot regarding the status of marijuana use. To be clear I am not saying they are losing the battle, but it seems as though those we have entrusted to protect are under onslaught, and from the very persons who have benefited from the good of society.

I heard on the radio, a respected qualified contributor lay facts concerning the negatives of marijuana use in Barbados being challenged with her data by the moderator, but I have admitted users allowed to lay their unsubstantiated “facts” with no question as to where there proof came from.

Marijuana has often been touted as one of the safest recreational substances available. You can find on the Internet many sites that state that cocaine, heroin, alcohol, and even cigarettes are more dangerous to the user’s physical health than marijuana.

In addition, the celebrated pharmacological properties of cannabis have led 36 states in America to permit its use as a therapeutic drug for, among others, those suffering from AIDS; various painful, incurable and debilitating illnesses; the harmful side effects of cancer chemotherapy, and glaucoma.

However, it is foolhardy to conclude that because the chemicals in marijuana have been found to present fewer dangers than some very harmful substances, the medical or recreational use of marijuana is perfectly safe.

In a recreational context, marijuana has been shown to affect health, brain function, and memory. And in a medical context, marijuana is like any other powerful prescription drug: it has potentially dangerous side effects, and the decision to use it to treat patients must involve the same balancing test as the one required for chemotherapy or AZT. Do the therapeutic effects of the drug outweigh its harmful effects?

Though there are many more studies to be done on this issue, current data shows that the answer to this question may not always be “yes”.

A drug can be defined as that natural or synthetic substance which (when taken into a living body) affects its functioning or structure, and is used in the diagnosis, mitigation, treatment, or, treatment, or prevention of a disease or relief of discomfort. I guess this definition includes marijuana as well.

Simply put, regardless of whether marijuana is considered a plant, herb or grass, and so it is, because of the effects on the body, it has to be considered in the same light as any synthetic drug. Accordingly it would have side effects and must be investigated for any potential damage long term use may cause

Investigation will suggest that marijuana in itself is not addictive, but the high is, so it has a chemical rather than a physical additive potential. Investigators Fratta et al looked at the molecular mechanisms of cannabinoid addiction and discovered that long term use of marijuana, as is common to other drugs of abuse causes brain neuroadaptations that persist long after drug effects and can contribute to the negative effective states during withdrawal, which will result in relapse.

In English, the brain adapts to suit the pleasure derived from using ganja, and eventually will require more and more of the ganja to justify the changes in brain chemistry.

These same investigators discovered that females and adolescents are most susceptible to cannabinoid addiction and that brain shape (morphology) and complexity are affected by cannabinoids.

Studies in Spain conducted by Cuenca-Royo AM et al in the Psychiatric Interview for Substance and Mental Disorders tested 289 young persons (18-30) who used ganja regularly in Barcelona. Twenty eight per cent studied presented no psychiatric disorder, but 62 per cent presented with some form of substance use disorder.

Vukadinovic et. al proved a causal role of cannabis in the etiology of schizophrenia. However, whilst there is physical evidence of this phenomena, how it happens has not been clearly seen. There is thought, though that the thalamus of the brain is involved. Evidence suggests that ganja causes excitability of the thalamic neurons by its direct effect on T-type calcium channels (thus the thalamus sends erratic signals).

The damaging effects of ganja on young brains are worse than originally thought, according to new research by Dr. Gabriella Gobbi, a psychiatric researcher from the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre. The new study, published in Neurobiology of Disease, suggests that daily consumption of cannabis in teens can cause depression and anxiety, and have an irreversible long-term effect on the brain.

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