Posted by: Sara Valente2 JAN 2013
Recently, two American states - Colorado and Washington, have legalised the recreational use of marijuana with a legal age limit of 21 years old. Some reasons behind the reform are about winning the war on drugs, taxes and preventing drug-related crimes. My first reaction however was how this change would affect public health and how this may impact pharmacists.
It is argued that cannabis is a ‘gateway’ drug to more harmful and addictive drugs later on such as cocaine and heroin. This has been suggested by some researchers who have found links between people who used cannabis in the past and who would later abuse other drugs but there is still ongoing debate. Cannabis is a substance that is subject to abuse and just like alcohol, it can depend on the user how addicted or dependent they become.
Although marijuana is considered by some people as ‘a safe recreational drug’, compared to cigarettes and alcohol, there is ongoing research about the negative health effects of smoking cannabis. There is no doubt in my mind that smoking cannabis long-term will cause respiratory issues that are similar to smoking cigarettes. Even though there are plenty of restrictions on advertising of smoking cigarettes and highlighting the negative health implications, the warnings are still ignored by smokers and the same will happen with those who smoke cannabis. COPD is a major disease with increasing mortality rates and it is a disease that pharmacists face regularly. One of the first priorities that pharmacists have when helping patients with their disease management is offering help with smoking cessation. The potential for cannabis addiction may not be as substantial as it is with cigarettes but it may create new health issues where pharmacists will need to provide support.
Other studies have suggested that cannabis can have an effect on cognitive function such as memory loss and anxiety and even effects on the cardiovascular system although further research is still needed to validate these findings. If people want to use cannabis recreationally then it is also their responsibility to be aware of how much they use and what effects it can have on their health. Perhaps one day in the future students on a pharmacy course will be learning about what counselling points and advice to give to those using cannabis and even promoting awareness.