Living With Marijuana?

Jasmine Wing inhales the highs and the lows of cannabis use.

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When Channel 4 aired the programme Drugs Live earlier this month, it relit the oft-debated topic of the most widely used illegal drug in the UK… cannabis.

The programme itself was described as the weirdest television event of the year, and on top of that there were hundreds of comments, blogs, findings, twitter, everything….I don’t know about you, but it all got a bit confusing for my liking.

So in the midst of all this hot air, I aim to give a clear, sober account of the pros and cons of this drug.

The Highs

1) Marijuana reduces the pressure inside the eye, and this is said to ameliorate and even prevent the eye disease, glaucoma. It is estimated that more than 500,000 people suffer from glaucoma in England and Wales alone.

2) Marijuana can also be used to prevent and help control epileptic seizures. This was shown in a study undertaken in 2003 by Robert J. De Lorenzo, of Virginia Commonwealth University. Cannabinoids such as the active ingredient in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (also known as THC), bind to the brain cells responsible for controlling excitability and regulating relaxation.

3) Cannabidiol stops cancers by turning off a gene called ID-1. Some studies in the U.S, Spain and Israel suggest that compounds in cannabis could even kill cancer cells. A chemical called CBD found in marijuana is also found to stop cancer from spreading.

4) Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the active ingredient of a prescribed drug called Sativex. This licensed drug is used to relieve the pain of muscle spasms for those suffering with multiple sclerosis. It is also given to those with arthritis. Marijuana alleviates pain, reduces inflammation, and promotes sleep, which may help relieve pain and discomfort for people with rheumatoid arthritis.

5) In 2010, researchers at Harvard Medical School suggested that the drug may help reduce anxiety, however though higher doses of the drug may increase anxiety.

The Lows

1) Like tobacco, cannabis contains cancer-causing chemicals known as carcinogens, which means that use of cannabis can only increase risk of lung cancer. It also can aggravate asthma and cause wheezing among those who do not have asthma. If cannabis and tobacco are mixed when smoking the risk of lung cancer is heightened still further.

2) Some research suggests that cannabis can disrupt sperm production in males. Likewise it affects fertility in women by disturbing ovulation.

3) It is well known that cannabis can be detrimental to mental health but it is important to note the cannabis can also damage your brain. Regular use of the drug increases your risk of developing psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia. If you have a history of mental illness in your family and smoke cannabis you are at higher risk. Also if you start smoking cannabis in your teens this heightens the risk.

What is to be done?

CRI centre in Canning town offers a free drug and alcohol recovery service. Newham Drug & Alcohol Service is committed to supporting individuals and working towards recovery. They offer reduction programmes and counselling interventions. They have clinical staff, doctors and nurses available on site.

East London is no stranger to the drug. Internet entrepreneur David Crane is trying to raise £250,000 for a new cannabis cafe in Hoxton – more salubrious than the one which currently exists somewhere between Liverpool Street and Mile End.

A recent study showed cannabis is by far the most popular illegal drug among Britons. More than 90 per cent of drug users have used marijuana and approximately 750,000 of Britons are taking drugs every day.

More than 80 per cent of the general public believe that the ‘war on drugs’ will never end. But for now, the battle rages on. In October 2014 two men were charged after police raided an industrial unit in Waltham Abbey. They seized cannabis plants said to have been worth £1.5 million on the street. Soon afterwards, police raided another cannabis factory in a council block in Bromley-by-Bow. A further factory was raided containing more than 100 plants in Walthamstow in January this year.

Illegal or legal it seems that almost everyone’s doing it: cannabis won’t be going away any time soon.

Jasmine Wing is Rising East’s Health and Wellbeing Editor