Opioids kill One Way; Cannabis Kills in Another Way

By John Dossett, MD, South Londonderry Township, Pennsylvania, originally published in Penn-Live on July 16, 2017, as one of the top five editorials of the week.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is reporting that between 30,000 and 40,000 Americans are dying each year from opioid overdoses. Most of these are not suicides but, are the consequences of people using “stuff” which is profoundly more potent than they imagined.  From our local communities, to the state, and federal government levels, we are alarmed and we should be.

Parallel to the “opioid epidemic” is the “cannabis epidemic” which is going unnoticed and unreported. We see weekly hype about so called “medical marijuana,” but, little about the tragic consequences of cannabis overdoses.

Why? One reason is that opioid overdoses kill and cannabis takes the lives of its victims in a less dramatic way.  Cannabis-induced psychosis robs the victims of their meaningful life.

The proverb says, “There are many ways to lose one’s life and dying is just one of them.”

The parallel to opioids is that the “weed” of today has been hybridized (genetically engineered) to be 5 – 6 times more potent than the weed of 20 years ago (4% THC compared to 19% THC).  In addition, the contemporary delivery systems (example- vaping) increase the amount of THC getting to the brain. These unexpectedly high “doses” of today may include manic psychosis and schizophrenia like symptoms. The victim didn’t understand what she/he was getting. What was expected to be a few hours of pleasure has become a life-changing psychosis.

I predict that our fascination with “medical marijuana” will only accelerate this tragic epidemic of THC-induced psychosis.

If there is to be a place for “medical marijuana,” give it to the FDA where it can be studied by legitimate scientists who are not funded by the producers, distributors and charlatan practitioners. Clearly, the profits are huge and the costs to human lives are huge.

There may be a few serious conditions in which a small amount of cannabis helps to relieve suffering. Example: End stage cancer. Responsible physicians will use it wisely and compassionately just as they do with opioids.

The tragic hidden problem is aided by a very small number of “charlatan physicians” who will sell their souls to the callous industry. For a fee and without being seen, cannabis users can receive a “certificate of need.” This document allows the user to go into a retail cannabis dispensary and purchase whatever he/she wants from a large inventory of cannabis products.
Said again, opioids kill by suppressing respiration. Cannabinoids ruin lives by inducing psychosis.  Both are tragic.

Dr. Dossett is a pediatrician in Hershey, Pennsylvania

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