VANCOUVER — Not all medicinal marijuana is created equal. That’s what some experts are saying as they warn about the health risks and curtailed effectiveness associated with smoking medicine.
As medical pot becomes increasingly mainstream and Canada moves toward legalizing the substance, health experts are emphasizing the need for doctors and patients to consider the sometimes serious side effects linked to the various ways of consuming the drug.
Paul Farnan, an addictions specialist at the University of British Columbia, likened a recommendation to smoke medicinal marijuana to a doctor handing out a prescription to light up an opium pipe.
“We know there’s something in opium that helps pain, and we’re able to pharmaceutically develop morphine and other analgesics, but we wouldn’t say to people, ‘You have pain? Why don’t you smoke opium?’ ” he said.
“We’re kind of saying to people, ‘We think there’s some stuff that cannabinoids will be helpful for. Why don’t you just smoke cannabis?’ First of all, cannabis is actually a really dangerous thing for your lungs.”
Mikhail Kogan, medical director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., said he sees no reason for people to smoke marijuana medically anymore.
Rectally is actually a lot more preferred because of the volume of absorption
It’s difficult to absorb enough of the drug through the lungs, and gastric acids interfere when someone eats it, he said, adding that it’s more effective to take the drug by other means, such as under the tongue.
“Rectally is actually a lot more preferred because of the volume of absorption. You can put a lot more and it gets absorbed a lot better, but not everybody is open to this way of administration,” Kogan said.
“We have so many other products now, so many modes of delivery, that smoking in my opinion is very archaic and has very little clinical applicability,” he added.
“Having said that, I think that probably the majority of people still smoke because it’s the most available method.”
Health Canada officially recommends against smoking marijuana.
“Many of the chemicals found in tobacco smoke are also found in cannabis smoke,” reads its website.
The Canadian Medical Association has no formal position on the consumption of medicinal pot, but it officially opposes the inhalation of any burned plant material.