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home : health : health October 21, 2018

2/13/2018 2:11:00 PM
Is marijuana harmless?
By Audry Van Houweling, PMHNP

Is marijuana harmless?

No. But let's get our priorities straight.

I have lived most of my life "by the book." I think I tried marijuana once...OK maybe twice. Curiosity, I suppose, mixed with a bit of peer pressure back in my younger years. Despite my anticipation of some wild trip, I think I just ended up eating more potato chips and falling asleep on the couch. Underwhelming, you could say.

Years later, I am now a psychiatric nurse-practitioner. Having worked throughout the Northwest, you would have to be living under a rock to avoid the chatter marijuana has incited throughout our region. There has been both celebration and staunch opposition. I have been asked many times what side I stand on, and I generally give the same neutral answer: "Marijuana is not harmless. There are potential consequences and possible benefits. In most cases, there has not been enough research to allow for definitive answers. There are substances that have proven to be far more dangerous than marijuana."

At the end of the day, thinking about my clients using marijuana - quite frankly - does not haunt me.

I am haunted by clients prescribed dangerous cocktails of potentially addictive and dangerous medications. I am haunted by the ongoing laissez faire attitude still taken with alcohol and tobacco consumption - legal substances that kill far more people than all other illicit substances combined. I am haunted by the ease with which youth can procure potentially lethal doses of opioids, methamphetamines, cocaine, and alcohol. I am haunted by parents who are desperate to save their child trapped by the opioid epidemic or worse yet, devastated by a recent loss.

Conversely, I am haunted by the children struggling to understand their parent's addiction. I am haunted by the weeks, months, or even years clients in crisis will have to wait to get access to mental health care or substance abuse treatment.

The marijuana debate has been widespread and somewhat consuming, but in my humble opinion, by exhausting so much time on the topic, we are neglecting priorities.

Yes, marijuana can be associated with cognitive changes. Yes, there has been an increase in non-life-threatening marijuana related visits to emergency rooms nationwide. Yes, marijuana (depending on some variables) may induce serious psychiatric symptoms. Are these consequences serious? Potentially, yes. Do we need more research into potential implications and side effects? Absolutely.

Have there been any recorded deaths directly related to a marijuana overdose? According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, the answer is no. None.

In regards to other statistics...

As of 2015, Oregon had the third most alcohol-related deaths in the country behind Wyoming and New Mexico.

As of 2017, Oregon had the highest number of seniors hospitalized for opioid-related issues in the country.

As of 2013, Oregon topped all other states for the non-medical use of pain relievers.

As of 2017, Oregon was ranked dead last in the country by Mental Health America for rates of mental illness and access to mental healthcare.

As of 2016, Oregon's suicide rate was greater than 30 percent of the national average.

In 2016 alone, more people died nationwide

(64,070) from drug overdoses compared to total lives lost in the Vietnam War (58,200).

Numbers do not lie. I am neither celebrating nor condemning the legalization of marijuana. Ultimately, given priorities and our country's hierarchy of needs, marijuana is quite simply not scary enough compared to vastly more dangerous problems currently impacting so many.

My hope is that we can regroup, step down from our pedestals, and take a step back from what has become such a deeply politicized topic. We have plenty of work to do otherwise.

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