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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Pot can damage young brains

Dr. Elizabeth Osuch asks:Is pot as harmless as we think?"
As a grandfather with a young granddaughter, the talk by Dr. Elizabeth Osuch on the dangers threatening young pot smokers was of great interest to me.

"Is pot really harmless?" This is the question asked by Dr. Elizabeth Osuch. The answer: She doesn't think so, certainly not when it's being smoked by young people. The mix of chemicals, she said in a recent talk, "can disrupt and kill (young) brain cells."

Osuch is the Rea chair of affective and anxiety disorders with the department of psychiatry at the UWO Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry. She is also the founder and executive director of the First Episode Mood and Anxiety Program (FEMAP) at London Health Sciences Centre.

On Wednesday night Dr. Osuch discussed her research with an interested public at a well-attended presentation which almost filled the Wolf Hall in the London Central Library.
Sampling pot second only to alcohol.

Recently the Ottawa Sun reported a Leger Marketing poll commissioned by QMI Agency that found more than half of Canadians believe marijuana possession should be decriminalized.

This acceptance of marijuana by a majority of Canadians may be part of the reason that cannabis is second only to alcohol as the drug of choice among young people in grades seven to 12. Osuch made this point with a graph from the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey of 2009. Almost 30 percent of students surveyed reported having used pot at some point in their young lives.

Dr. Elizabeth Osuch talks to the media.
The doctor said, "The adolescent brain is a work in progress." It is more vulnerable to substance abuse. And some youths are more at risk than others as vulnerability is mediated by genes.

"The risk for addiction is based on genetic make-up," said Osuch. But, the risk of brain damage is faced by all and is based primarily on two factors: One being age. The younger the brain the more danger of damage.

Osuch said a study by Eric Downer and Veronica Campbell revealed that exposure to marijuana during pregnancy could have damaging effects on the unborn child and " . . . early-onset (before age 17) marijuana use might also have damaging effects on brain composition." In adults the findings were not as clear.

A second major factor is the strength or potency of the marijuana being smoked. The question of whether or not the potency of common pot has increased substantially since the '60s has been an ongoing debate for years. Osuch firmly believes potency of pot has increased dramatically and backs her position with numbers released by the London, Ontario, police department. These figures show the effective THC concentration in 2010 can be from 20 to 30 times greater than that found in marijuana confiscated by the force just 25 years ago.

The scales are tipping for THC.
Decades ago the two main active ingredients in marijuana, THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol), were found in almost equal concentrations. This is not true today. THC, which impairs and destabilizes brain function and causes acute psychotic symptoms in some users, is no longer balanced by CBD which does not impair performance or induce psychosis and actual may reduce anxiety and stabilize brain function.

Cutting marijuana with tobacco, a practice of some teenage users, actually enhances THC absorption and increases the dangers posed by the drug. Osuch said rather than diluting the effect of pot, "It is an interesting way of getting more THC." Plus, tobacco smoke adds its own set of dangers to the mix.

According to Osuch, regular marijuana use in adolsecence also increases the risk of schizophrenia but this is not the old Reefer Madness scare story. This is a measured warning. This is a real and reported danger faced by a minority of users. Why a minority? These people have a genetic make-up making them more likely to exhibit psychotic symptoms from marijuana use, especially when using cannabis with high THC potency.

Doing dope when young is playing Russian roulette with a smoking joint. Risky behaviour? Most certainly. But adolescents are more likely than adults to take risks.

The dangers posed by pot smoking are not as clear cut when it comes to adults, but when pressed by a questioner Osuch said firmly, "You don't want to make a habit of it (smoking dope)."

I don't smoke --- not tobacco and not pot. If you have followed my blog you will know that I don't have the brain cells to donate. If marijuana was legal and controlled, maybe I would willing to sample the stuff but I doubt it. Breathing in pollutants is not my idea of a bright way to get a buzz. Smoking junk of unknown composition, unknown potency, unknown origin is not my idea of a wise way to take a drug. And make no mistake about it --- pot is definitely a drug.

As for wondering if young people and pregnant woman should refrain from using pot, why would that even by a question?

Note the short black column far right. This represents pot smokers' performance.

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