Health Director: Consider Medical Marijuana With a Clear Head

The widespread use of marijuana for medicinal purposes throughout our state is cause for concern. Smoking or eating herbal marijuana is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a medicine.  Many people are using marijuana to treat conditions for which there is no evidence of effectiveness. In fact, marijuana is harmful to many people’s health, whether it is smoked or eaten.

However, the FDA has approved the prescription of pills containing THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) as one option for just two groups of people: cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy who have severe and persistent nausea and vomiting that does not respond to other treatments, and for people with AIDS wasting syndrome who have no appetite.

Effects of short-term marijuana use can include slowed reaction times, impaired decision-making skills, lack of judgment and impulse control, changed perception and attention, and drowsiness, all of which can create problems when driving or performing tasks that require concentration. It can also cause problems with short-term memory and increased heart rate and blood pressure.

More severe and longer-lasting effects may occur among regular users. These effects can include bronchitis, lung cancer, memory problems, lower sperm count, increased infections and several types of mental health and social problems.  One joint can have the same effect as up to five tobacco cigarettes – users can suffer from chest tightness, wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath.

A recent story in the San Francisco Chronicle revealed that more teenagers in California are admitted to inpatient addiction programs for marijuana use than for any other drug, including alcohol, and that teens are becoming more complacent about the risks of the drug because there is so much talk of its health benefits.

And a recent report showed that admission to detoxification and drug-treatment programs for marijuana dependence rose 117 percent in California between 1998 and 2008.

Marijuana is not safe or harmless.  There are good reasons that most local doctors do not provide recommendations for marijuana.  If you or someone you know is considering a recommendation for this drug, please have a candid conversation about marijuana’s short- and long-term effects with your physician before you decide.

Donnell Ewert, MPH, is director of Shasta County Public Health. While at Wheaton College, he participated in the Human Needs and Global Resources program, which included a seven-month internship in Honduras – an experience that sparked his interest in public health. He earned his master’s degree from UCLA after evaluating a program that used goats to increase the nutritional intake of malnourished children. He worked briefly as a health educator with migrant farm workers in Virginia before becoming an epidemiologist for the health departments in Los Angeles and the state of Indiana. Donnell came to Shasta County Public Health as an epidemiologist in 1999, after doing humanitarian health work in Kazakhstan. He has been the department director since 2007. He and his wife, Mary, have two teenage daughters.

, MPH, is director of Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency. While at Wheaton College, he participated in a Human Needs and Global Resources program, which included a seven-month internship in Honduras – an experience that sparked his interest in public health. He worked briefly as a health educator with migrant farm workers in Virginia before becoming an epidemiologist in Los Angeles and Indiana. He came to Shasta County Public Health as an epidemiologist in 1999, and became HHSA Director in November 2012. He and his wife, Mary, have two daughters.
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16 Responses

  1. Avatar Damon Miller says:

    Gosh, good thing Big Pharma drugs are 100% safe with no side-effects or addictive qualities.

    For example: How many fatal overdoses of marijuana have been documented? How many fatal overdoses of Oxycontin?

    Shame on your for spouting propaganda and deception and shame on A News Cafe for letting you.

  2. Avatar Damon Miller says:

    On further reflection, double shame on A News Cafe for resorting to the Record-Searchlight's patented "trolling for pageviews by writing about marijuana" tactics.

  3. Avatar Charlie Price says:

    Donnell, Thank you for the thoughtful article. It concerns me that many in California and elsewhere have pathologized a recreational drug. Now people have to be "sick" in order to use it without legal consequences. Legalizing the drug is at least a reasonable option, putting the drug on the same footing as alcohol. I have no problem with taking prescribed marijuana for ameliorating nausea and vomiting in chemo patients or for appetite enhancement in AIDS patients. Making it a "medicine" for ailments like PTSD, depression, anxiety, and ubiquitous malaise, may be more scam than truth.

  4. Avatar Adrienne jacoby says:

    A thoughtful, enlightened article. Too bad there are still knee-jerk reactions in some quarters. Glad to see it on newscafe.

    . . . and, further .. . don't know what we did to deserve such an eminent health provider with such a well rounded pedigree . . . but what ever it is, I'm glad Director Ewart and his family have made their home in Redding.

  5. You contradict yourself. Initially you make a blanket statement that the FDA has not approved it, and then you state that they have approved it for specific conditions.

    Obviously it works for people with the conditions listed there.

    You should focus your concerns so as not to mislead people, which is irresponsible. The last thing we need is more fuzzy information about a controversial matter of crucial concern to a number of people suffering from painful diseases.

  6. Avatar D. Nethery says:

    My eldest son was diagnosed with HIV many years ago. The medications prescribed to him, made him very ill and he lost a tremendous amount of weight.

    He had no appetite and his Dr. prescribed many "pills" to help him. They were FDA approved, but did nothing to help him. He finally tried smoking marijuana.

    Of course it was totally illegal at that time, but when I saw how much it helped him, I would have grown it for him, had he not been able to get it. He is still alive and I hope will outlive me. I am glad it is now legal for others who may really need it.

    As for the FDA, I have no faith in them any more . They have approved so many medications that have been found to be harming and killing people. Side effects?

    Have you ever watched the commercials for new medications and the side effects they can cause? One of the biggest problems we have in the U.S. is prescription pill addiction. I say, give marijuana a chance.

  7. Avatar Budd Hodges says:

    Donnell… I enjoyed your assessment of cannibis sativa and the possible side effects on the user. Marijuana has always been a controversy in this country and probably always will be. It, no doubt , will be legal in this state and others within the next few years if voters have their way.

    I'm hoping the FDA never gets the chance to regulate an inocent herb such as Marijuana. Take a look at the record of The Federal Drug Administration. It's long list of approved drugs include some that have caused both short and long term illness and or side effects and even death.

    Many chemo cancer patients find increased appetite comes from smoking or ingesting cannibis without the harmful side effects possible by several FDA approved drugs. Many of which are addictive and very much overpriced for the user.

    The positive uses for the weed are many and far out weigh the negative.

    Granted, like tobacco and alcohol, if used in excess it can be harmful to both mind and body but don't advocate that it should be banned and against the "law', because it isn't going to happen.

  8. Avatar Ginny says:

    Apples & Oranges are two different things. As a volunteer at a drug rehab run by addicts in 1970, they themselves said people could not handle the drug.

    Too many are using now because they SAY they are SICK. Saying and being for many are two different things. There are many who are no sicker than what many of us are who take nothing more than an aspirin.

    Helping a cancer patient is one thing. Helping a person too little able to face and live life as it is, is a shame. And, the more users on the roads driving cars is going to hit CA big time one day. Let's pray it isn't one of your loved ones who dies because of a driver who is impared.

    Thank God. Someone is telling the truth about a drug that can be very harmful..

  9. Avatar Damon Miller says:

    Yes, apples and oranges are two different things. Why would drug addicts be able to handle a drug? It's self-selecting bias. That's like talking to alcoholics and concluding that nobody can handle booze.

    We've tried prohibition and it doesn't work. Continuing the drug war over what might be the most harmless drug this side of caffeine is insanity and a waste of money.

    Actually, caffeine is probably more deadly that marijuana; it's actually possible to fatally overdose on caffeine– unlike marijuana.

    • Avatar Ginny says:

      You think drug addicts can't reason? At least they admit they were addicts!

      And, what a lot of guts those young and old had. What a shame more today don't have those type of guts. Excuses are long overdone.

  10. Avatar Pat J says:

    Thanks for doing this article even though many of your readers don't agree with it. I like Ginny do agree, and who needs another bad habit? I hope this discussion stays civil. We all have a right to our opinions.

  11. Avatar J P Adams says:

    Many government funded study results are based on exaggerated supply and consumption models.

    Very few if any consume cannabis at such quantity levels.

  12. Avatar Joe Giambrone says:

    Some of this demonizing is the opposite of considering with a "clear head."

    People can be addicted to all sorts of things, food, sex, cigarettes and coffee.

    Why some want to single out marijuana as this great evil, when it clearly is not and has proven medicinal benefits, is a bit on the absurd side.

    If you're going to talk about the issue coherently, you must acknowledge basic reality, such as the cancer patients who get relief from the pain and nausea of chemotherapy. This politicized demonization of the archaic "Reefer Madness" variety is frankly silly.

    The drug is illegal primarily because it's so easy to grow that it would be difficult to tax, and it would compete with the big entrenched liquor and other drug industries.

  13. Avatar JeffG says:

    woohoo, thanks for this article. Looking forward to the next installment: Stranger Danger

  14. Avatar Joanne Lobeski-Snyde says:

    Like alcohol, marijuana puts people out of commission for work or important tasks while they are under the influence. And like alcohol, the use by young people can sap the drive, energy and enthusiasm for learning when they need it the most. Many people report health benefits from marijuana. And many people report recreation benefits from this drug that are less harmful than alcohol. If the legal constraints of marijuana use matched the constraints of alcohol, I would be satisfied.

  15. James Montgomery James Montgomery says:

    Donnell is right.

    The critics of Donnell's position make some good points. There are some legitimate medical uses for marijuana, and the FDA is pretty much in the pocket of the pharmaceutical industry. Pot prohibition has put a tremendous burden on law enforcement and the taxpayers, while empowering the Mexican Mafia. These are all good arguments for legalizing pot.

    They are not, however, good reasons for using pot, unless you actually have cancer or AIDS or glaucoma. Pot reduces clarity of mind and steals motivation. It makes you less than you could be. I know from personal experience.

    If you are using pot for stress reduction, consider switching to other methods, such as meditation, exercise, fishing or sports. You will be glad you did.