Productive thoughts on THC and CBD: Benefits and warnings

I recently listen to Joe Rogan’s debate with Dr. Mike Hart and Alex Berenson who wrote the book Tell Your Children the Truth about Marijuana, Mental Illness and Violence which demonizes marijuana as just another drug with minimal to no proven medical applications.

It was a spirited debate, they didn’t get too far into the weeds (no pun intended) and it was a productive endeavor. It highlighted some issues about THC (inhaled and edible) and CBD (non-psychoactive) that need to be explored and understood, especially as legalization becomes more popular around the country.

I have had various experiences with marijuana in terms of my own usage and the pervasive use among my friends in college and high school. I have two children of my own and the world of marijuana they are inheriting is drastically different then what I could have ever imagined. I am exploring the ideas because we need to be objective about benefits and potential dangers of THC. It’s simply not for everyone, which should be an obvious stance.

Bereson starts the debate by saying he doesn’t consider THC a medicine, but just simply a “recreational intoxicant”. This is not only intellectually dishonest, but obnoxiously provocative. This was unfortunate because I completely agree with the skepticism around the cultural perception that marijuana is “harmless” and a panacea for solving the world’s problems.  But here we must make the distinction between CBD and THC something that often got hazy during the debate.

CBD is a non-psychoactive substance with clinically proven benefits for treating a multitude of ailments such as concussions, dementia, and seizure disorders. I can personally attest to the efficacy of CBD oil. My best friend’s mother Janice has severe Alzheimer’s. She is also battling stage 4 bone marrow cancer. When I saw her 6 weeks ago, she was nearly catatonic, producing unrelated and often incoherent one to two word utterances. She has been taking full spectrum CBD and after 4 weeks she became responsive and after 6, interactive, being able to provide reciprocal statements. CBD is the only different variable in her treatment.

Curious of the efficacy of this substance, I did some research. I started taking it myself to improve my sleep. I have been taking it twice a day for two weeks and my head physically feels lighter, my sleep is better. My own experience is merely anecdotal, but the clinical application for Janice is nothing short of miraculous. The nurse who has tended to Janice for the past 3 years is absolutely shocked by the drastic turn around. She reports how responsive Janice is and how her delightful sense of humor is shining through what used to be a catatonic mannequin.

I work with special needs children, mainly those on the autistic spectrum, some of which have seizures as well. CBD is an option but coming to scientific conclusions about its benefits to this population could drastically improve the quality of life for both the children and the parents. This is not an invitation to throw CBD at all these cases, but to explore the efficacy. The need is great in this domain.

To dismiss CBD as a useless drug is intellectually dishonest. There have been countless miracle stories with CBD oil, and it is a near zero-risk high-reward option, one that should absolutely be researched further. To group CBD oil in the same category as THC is dangerous and counterproductive. We must be custodians of this difference.

THC has significant medical applications such as increasing appetite, alleviating side effects of chemotherapy and treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). THC has been found to be helpful in reducing tumor growth in some forms of breast cancer.

Edible THC is another drug entirely. The concentrated effect of edible THC can last for days, which can be unnerving… to say the least. This is something society needs a better education on: the difference between smoking and ingesting THC.

My major concern is with edibles and vapor THC. The fact that such a strong dose can be administered instantly can unhinge the unprepared participant. Because of the high potency, it takes less to do exponentially more. This can be devastating.

If we compare it to the various ways the alcohol is consumed, we understand that there is a grain alcohol equivalent that can be deadly if consumed. The main concern about THC is the difficulty in matching dosage amounts to effects.

One of the strongest arguments for legalization is to ensure that the potency and purity of the product is categorized and measured. This way no pollutants are added and there can be a quantifiable dose. It also prevents interactions with drug dealers who have other more dangerous substances for sale.

But the risks of THC are most serious for adolescents. This was an acknowledged concern for all three of the participants in the debate. This is where Bereson had the most compelling arguments about THC, however, because of his implicit bias and his cherry-picking of facts, his credibility was severely lacking. This was his fatal flaw and his greatest disservice to the potential dangers of THC.

The contrarian approach to THC is an important one, but only if it is in good faith and with a compassionate understanding of the benefits it can provide. The dismissal of THC as another recreational intoxicant is what has led to its poor cultural interpretation. The only way to make sure that THC is integrated into society in a productive manner is to be honest about its benefits and especially its dangers.

THC, like any other intoxicating substance, needs to be monitored and regulated. It is particularly problematic to teens because their brains haven’t fully developed. Family history of psychosis is also a disqualifier for THC use as it can amplify the intense effects which can lead to nervous breakdowns. Any genetic predisposition to mental illness needs to be monitored without or without THC.

As THC becomes more available through legalization, we need to have a sober approach of evaluating the individual risks. Since it affects everyone differently, we cannot expect it to be a smooth transition. It simply isn’t for everyone. But at the same time, the medical and personal benefits are so great we cannot throw the bong out with the water.

Matthew CriscuolaComment