California joined a handful of states that have legalized recreational use of marijuana. The state is in dire financial straits and is hoping to capitalize on the revenue from taxing its sale. California becomes the 29th state, along with the District of Columbia, to legalize the use of pot for either medical and/or recreational use. The active chemical in marijuana is commonly referred to as THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) which interacts with specialized neuro-receptors in the brain. This system of specialized receptors is known as the Endocannabinoid System (EC) and is found in several areas of the brain. THC and other cannabinoids bind to these receptors and slow communication between neurons within the brain. In some cases this may be beneficial and in others it may be harmful. EC receptors in the spinal cord and the brain stem diminish pain signals to the brain and relieve nausea. Receptors in the hypothalmus increase appetite. Cancer patients have found all these effects extremely beneficial and it was not a tough sell to get approval for legalization of “medical” marijuana. Other EC receptor regions within the brain produce more troublesome reactions to THC. Receptors in the basal ganglia of the brain slow reaction time and cerebellar receptors impair coordination. Other areas within the brain alter judgment, impair memory and may trigger panic and paranoia. THC is considered responsible for aggravating and possibly causing overt psychoses, including hallucinations and delusions. THC compounds can be consumed in several ways. Smoking results in the most rapid absorption and onset of action in the brain. The marijuana leaves can be smoked directly or the oils can be “vaped” or inhaled through a bong. One of the most popular trends is to consume THC in food or drinks. Emergency room visits for THC overdoses are usually from eating the compound because there is a delayed response when taken orally and levels in food products can vary widely.
Like alcohol, THC alters perception and may be addictive secondary to THC tolerance. THC may alter neuronal connections, particularly in young (teenage) brains. A large study in New Zealand found an average loss of 8 points in IQ in individuals who used THC between ages 13 and 38. Smoking marijuana during pregnancy is linked to lower birth weight and an increased risk for abnormalities in the fetal brain. THC is excreted in breast milk and could affect an infant’s developing brain. Growing, distributing and smoking marijuana is still a federal offense and THC is considered a scheduled drug. Under Obama the feds “looked the other way” as states began legalizing its use. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has indicated that this will no longer be the case. State legislators apparently feel that marijuana is safe and public opinion generally is in agreement. Except for its medical use, the risks outweigh any supposed benefits to the general public. Californians have always believed they are more progressive than Middle America. For states that continue to approve recreational marijuana my response is, “Be careful what you wish for!”