Marijuana or Cannabis or Tetrahydocannabinal (THC). It is now legal in 23 states plus the District of Columbia for medicinal use. For recreational use it is legal in Oregon, Colorado, Alaska, Washington and the District of Columbia. For recreational use smoking inhalation produces a euphoric effect or “high”. The medicinal use is as an appetite stimulant, vomiting and nausea inhibition and pain relief for many illnesses such as cancer and AIDS.
Cannabis contains over 500 different chemicals, most notable is a unique group of compounds called CANNABINOIDS. These compounds react with specific receptors in the brain, spinal cord and nerves. These naturally occurring receptors play a role in pain, memory, mood, appetite control and brain growth. THC is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis. Smoking the dried leaves produces a pleasant, dreamy state in which attention, cognition and psycho-motor performance are impaired.
There is evidence to show that THC is involved in brain damage and cardiovascular disease and therefore cannot be considered a “safe” drug. There are THC receptors in our immune cells and tissues which when activated affect our body’s inflammatory response and mechanisms of immunity. The drug Naloxone is used to reverse the effects of opiate overdose in morphine and heroin addicts. Naloxone has been shown to reverse the effects of THC, suggesting a link between opiates and THC. Even though marijuana is safer than cocaine, heroin and other abused narcotics, there is evidence that show that chronic use of THC causes brain damage. This brain damage is manifested by attention and memory impairment and a decreased ability to process complex information. This could be especially damaging during adolescence when the brain is still developing.
Marijuana has also been associated with adverse cardiovascular effects including myocardial infarction (heart attack), cardiomyopathy, and sudden cardiac death. The effects of THC on our immune system suggest that there may be a therapeutic benefit: protection against the damage caused by acute and chronic inflammation. These inflammatory diseases include multiple sclerosis, arthritis, lupus and periodontal disease.
As with tobacco, cannabis smoking can cause dry mouth or xerostomia. Dry mouth can produce an oral environment that leads to tooth decay, periodontal disease and bad breath. Smoke from cannabis and tobacco are similar and contain many of the same carcinogens or cancer-causing agents. The research evidence regarding the link between oral cancer and marijuana smoking is unclear and often conflicting and requires further investigation.
For the complete article, “What every dentist needs to know about cannabis”, see General Dentistry, January/February 2016