Marijuana use not a cut-and-dried issue

Dr. Charlie Reznikoff, a general medicine physician at Hennepin County Medical Center and an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota, gave an in-depth presentation about marijuana at Chisago Lakes High School in Lindstrom Nov. 26. Photo by Derrick Knutson
Dr. Charlie Reznikoff, a general medicine physician at Hennepin County Medical Center and an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota, gave an in-depth presentation about marijuana at Chisago Lakes High School in Lindstrom Nov. 26. Photo by Derrick Knutson

Some people in Minnesota and other states where marijuana is illegal might buy a bag anyway, light up and think, “What’s the harm? It’s legal in Colorado and Washington, and marijuana laws in California are pretty lax. It should be legal here.”

Others see marijuana as an addictive, potentially destructive drug that should be banned everywhere.

According to Dr. Charlie Reznikoff, a general medicine physician at Hennepin County Medical Center and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota, labeling marijuana as “all good” or “completely bad” isn’t the right was to go about addressing the substance.

Reznikoff came to Chisago Lakes High School in Lindstrom Nov. 26 to talk about the impacts of marijuana: physical, psychological and socioeconomic.

The Chisago County Tobacco and Marijuana Education Team and Community Partnership with Youth and Families sponsored the presentation.

Usage among age groups

Reznikoff said about 80 percent of people who use marijuana start between the ages of 12 and 19. Of those who use the substance, most quit by age 26, he noted.

He said about 50 percent of Americans have tried marijuana sometime during their lifetimes, but only 1 to 4 percent could be labeled as “heavy” users.

He said heavy use usually peaks when people are of college age, 18 to 25.

Physical effects of marijuana

Reznikoff said there are definite physical side effects of using marijuana.

“The big one of marijuana is chronic bronchitis,” he said. “I think even young people who smoke it will feel less physically fit. They’ll cough more, they’ll feel shorter of breath and they’ll feel less athletic.”

He also noted there’s a small risk pneumonia related to marijuana use.

Reznikoff said unlike tobacco, which is known to cause cancer and heart disease, there isn’t definitive medical evidence to link marijuana use to either one of those maladies.

But he said heavy marijuana use might be a sign of something else: mental health disorders.

“Daily marijuana users who are in their teens are very likely to have a mental illness,” he said.

He noted those disorders often include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression.

“When I hear, “Daily marijuana user, age 17,” I think, “Have you had a thorough psychiatric evaluation?”

Reznikoff said people with those disorders sometimes use marijuana to “self medicate,” and some people with ADHD have claimed smoking marijuana allows them to concentrate better.

Medicinal, not medicine

Reznikoff said marijuana does have medicinal properties, but that does not make it a medicine.

“There are definite medicinal effects to marijuana,” he said. “Anyone who says otherwise, that’s just not true.”

He noted the substance is a fairly potent pain reliever, stronger than Advil or ibuprofen. He said it’s comparable to some low-dose narcotic pain relievers.

He also explained marijuana can relieve nausea in many people, except in rare cases where smoking or ingesting it can actually make a person vomit.

Reznikoff argued marijuana is an inferior treatment for glaucoma, because there are eye drops that are very effective in treating that disorder.

But even with the medicinal properties of marijuana, Reznikoff wanted to make a clear distinction between it and medicine.

“Just because it’s medicinal does not mean that it is all pure and good,” he said. “It does not mean the benefits outweigh the negatives.”

He added, “A drug is something that you put into your body that changes your health. A medicine is something that improves your health.”

Is it addictive?

Reznikoff said he doesn’t know why there’s controversy about marijuana being addictive.

“Yes, it’s definitely addicting,” he said.

However, he noted there is too much emphasis on addiction.

“It’s addictive, it happens,” he said. “But you can hurt yourself with a drug without being addicted to it.”

He noted studies have shown marijuana impairs one’s ability to drive, and a person doesn’t have to be addicted to the substance to use it, get high, hop in a car and subsequently get into a car accident.

Socioeconomic effects

Reznikoff also mentioned there have been studies done that look at the socioeconomic effects of regular marijuana use.

He said a recent New England Journal of Medicine report looked at a cohort in New Zealand over numerous years.

“Those who smoked marijuana heavily, especially in adolescence, had achieved less scholastically and scored lower on IQ tests, he said. “Their socioeconomic status was also lower (than average).”

However, he noted some people could argue the particular group studied in this cohort, and other cohorts in similar studies, were “going to achieve less, anyway, and marijuana was just something they did along the way.”

“It’s very difficult to prove cause and effect,” he said.

Compassion for the terminally ill 

Marty Super, a Minneapolis resident and member of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, was at the meeting and questioned some of what Reznikoff said during his presentation.

He said people should be able to smoke marijuana to deal with medical maladies.

He said his wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer — a brain tumor — and eventually died.

The tumor and the treatment she was receiving to combat the cancer caused pain and nausea.

“We tried six different pharmaceuticals (to deal with the symptoms),” he said. “The last one, each patch cost $450. They didn’t work and there were lots of side effects. We purchased marijuana on the black market and that took her nausea away.”

Reznikoff referenced an Institute of Medicine opinion when addressing Super’s comments.

“The Institute of Medicine said it doesn’t support medical marijuana, but in the case of someone dying, have a little compassion,” he said. “They’re on high-dose morphine, for God’s sake. They’re on high-dose all sorts of drugs.”

Reznikoff said he agreed with Super’s assertions about giving marijuana to terminally ill patients.

“If I could give medical marijuana to those dying of a terminal illness and not have to deal with the 97 percent of 25-year-olds who want to smoke marijuana recreationally and have legal coverage, I’d go for it,” he said. “I have no issue with that.”

  • Esoteric Knowledge

    It’s really amazing to me that people who claim to be doctors, and some how are able to get Ph.D.s are so extremely ignorant and lie to the public.

    “It does not mean the benefits outweigh the negatives.” What negatives doctor? Answer: “Uhhh…durrr…”

    He claims it to be addictive, but apparently has no idea what addiction is. He claims it lowers your IQ but he is just parroting a proven bogus study. And says marijuana smokers have a lower socioeconomic status, well it sure helps that many bussiness and the federal government have a policy of trying to murder this class of people by not allowing them jobs because they can’t pass a test that is in clear violation of the 4th Admendment. And the federal government won’t give student loans to kids that have a marijuana arrest on their record. It is policies that sabotage a class of people, so the people who create these policies can promote their own lies.

    The doctor does “not have to deal with the 97 percent of 25-year-olds want to smoke marijuana recreationally”, and that is the point. The terror of having a population that you can’t have complete, God-like control over, that there might be a level playing field so the poor will be able to go to college and out-debate and embarrass Ph.D. holders with rich mommies and daddies, and expose the fact that marijuana smokers are smarter than average, and expose the many lies, bigotries, and blood-thirsty, immoral, lawbreaking, ruthless, life destroying attacks of feared minority classes that hangs American society together.

  • Jillian Galloway

    Marijuana is milder, safer and less addictive than alcohol. So why aren’t we allowed to choose marijuana instead of alcohol? We have to tell our legislators to legalize marijuana like wine at the federal level. Marijuana regulation is a states’ issue!

  • Gatewoodact

    The longest running Medical Marijuana supplier is the US Government. Marijuana is a panecea and can treat a number of ailments. You can read about Uncle Sam’s secretive marijuana program here:
    since 2006 the federal government has been aware that marijuana could slow or prevent alziheimer’s desease. Here’s the study:
    I’d like to recommend to Dr. Reznikoff Please read “Marijuana as Medicine: The Science Behind the Controversy. right here:

  • Marty Super

    I’m the person quoted in the story as having questioned some of his assertions, to be fair he was speaking to a room full of parents of high school and younger children’s parents so he was kind of tailoring his talk to them. Talking to him later he was much more marijuana “friendly” than either his talk or this story suggests.