ALAMOSA— Karen Randall, M.D., an emergency room physician working at a major hospital in Pueblo, spoke to concerned citizens gathered in Alamosa Saturday about the dangers of marijuana and her experiences with marijuana cases in the ER since the drug became legal in 2012.
Randall is one of several Pueblo physicians who supported an ad recently in Pueblo news publications regarding their concerns about the dangers of marijuana to the public, especially young people. The ad listed the following disturbing drawbacks to the drug that are seldom acknowledged by cannabis lobbyists and growers.
• Marijuana products have been found to be contaminated with fungus, heavy metals, pesticides and chemicals. A study conducted by concerned officials in Calaveras County, Calif. shows the problem in their state was widespread, and because of these and other concerns, Calaveras County shut down some 200 marijuana grow operations.
• Marijuana harms the unborn child and is concentrated in breast milk.
• Marijuana can trigger violence in those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or make PTSD worse.
• Marijuana smoke is associated with lung disease and some cancers.
• Marijuana use has been shown to decrease IQ in younger users.
• Marijuana can cause mental illness and is associated with the onset of schizophrenia.
• Marijuana can cause cyclic vomiting.
• Marijuana is linked to increased driving fatalities.
• Legal marijuana brought increased use by eighth and tenth graders in Washington, according to a report by JAMA Pediatrics, Feb. 2017.
• Marijuana harms the developing adolescent and young adult brain.
These statements are backed by scientific studies performed at recognized research institutions. Randall reminded her audience at the beginning of her lecture that the marijuana grown today is not the same drug smoked by those attending Woodstock nearly 50 years ago.
In the 1960s-1970s, a marijuana joint packed about 1-3 mgs. of THC, the psychoactive element in the plant. Today the average is 18 mgs., with dab wax or “shatter” levels running at about 60 mgs. Some varieties reportedly run as high as 99.9 mgs.
Cases of psychotic episodes
related to THC
Randall related her own experiences with patients who have become psychotic after ingesting marijuana. One 16-year-old with no previous history of drug use who had used pot for less than a year was admitted to the behavioral health unit. He subsequently attacked the staff and stabbed a guard. Those on duty at the time were unable to restrain him.
Only marijuana was found in his system.
After leaving the unit he went home and eventually injured family members so badly they had to be placed in the ICU for head injuries.
Another woman from out of state experienced a frightening psychotic episode with edibles while driving on I-25. A grandmother was unknowingly fed marijuana edibles by family members and was admitted to the hospital vomiting, screaming and fighting with caregivers.
Another man was charged with an act of terrorism after staging a protest when his wife was refused admission to the ER several times. The real issue, Randall said, amounted to cannabis use which she wouldn’t address.
A widely publicized incident in the Denver area where a young man was shot by police for yielding a machete was later related to THC-induced psychosis, Randall noted. She added that roughly one-third of every ER shift is now dedicated to handling drug-related incidents.
Randall admits that marijuana extracts without the THC component (such as the one used in the anti-epilepsy preparation Epidiolex made from cannabinoids) does help some of those rare cases of pediatric seizure disorders. However, she cautioned, the preparation is inappropriate for some who actually began having seizures after taking it. Seizures also can be caused by high doses of THC.
“[Cannabinoids] should be treated like a medicine,” Randall explained. “People are getting it from unmonitored places and these dispensaries have no guarantee of consistency, strength or absence of contaminants.”
Other adverse effects of cannabis
Cognitive decline in frequent users is another concern, Randall said. One study followed 1,000 people and among those who smoked earlier in life and over a longer period of time, significant cognitive deficits were found. The part of the brain that controls memory was the most affected. Early-onset dementia was also identified as a risk for long-term users.
Other indirect effects of legalization, Randall pointed out, are the rising absenteeism rates from schools in Pueblo, now at 27 percent overall and 47 percent among eighth graders. Another adverse impact is the homelessness rate in Pueblo which Randall says has risen from the 2,000s prior to legalization to 7,800 in 2016.
“We don’t have enough resources to address these problems,” Randall emphasized. “And we have no low-income housing.” Those arriving to work the grows or those hoping to start grows also have dramatically increased the demand for food stamps and medical coverage.
Randall hopes that by bringing eyewitness reports of these dangers to the public, she can help educate other about the high cost of the Colorado marijuana experiment.