Health care providers and cannabis experts stress that the general safety profile of cannabis is unlike most other drugs, including many legal pharmaceuticals. Still, cannabis use can cause short-term and long-term effects in different populations depending on the type and amount of cannabis used.
Side EffectsConsuming excessive amounts of THC may lead to side effects including:
Adverse side effects are more common in women, according to Dr. Piomelli. A small number of inexperienced users may experience vomiting, he adds, which can be treated easily with a hot shower or putting hot chili pepper ointment on the skin.
Smoking RisksSmoking cannabis (or any other substance, for that matter) poses a risk for people with pulmonary disease, adds Bernazani. When mixing cannabis and tobacco together, a person also assumes the risks associated with tobacco use, such as lung, head and neck cancer, warns Brooke Worster, M.D., chief medical consultant at Ethos Cannabis and assistant professor at Thomas Jefferson University.
Vulnerable PopulationsFor growing adolescents, it’s unclear how regular cannabis use may alter their bodies and brains—perhaps forever, says Dr. Piomelli. Similarly, little clinical data exists to address how general cannabis use could affect a pregnant person and their fetus(es), he adds. Smoking cannabis is linked to smaller fetus size, although it’s unclear whether the act of smoking or cannabis itself is responsible for this observation. Regardless, Dr. Piomelli cautions against regular cannabis use in both of these populations.
THC may also exacerbate symptoms of schizophrenia and other forms of psychosis in people already predisposed to such psychological conditions.
Drug InteractionsCannabis may produce adverse effects when interacting with other drugs a person may already take, such as warfarin (a commonly prescribed blood thinner), certain chemotherapy agents, anti-seizure medications, anti-rejection medications used after a transplant surgery or other medications with a “narrow therapeutic index,” warns Bernazani. Drugs where small differences in dose or blood concentration can lead to serious therapeutic failures and/or adverse, life-threatening reactions have a narrow therapeutic index, according to the FDA.
Medical marijuana users push back on McHenry County state’s attorney’s stance
Lori Fisher of Spring Grove uses medical marijuana for treating post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and pain after she survived a head-on collision.
For Fisher, marijuana “is a tool that when used correctly allows you to function appropriately.”
Fisher’s personal experience with marijuana, along with two other medical marijuana users interviewed by the Northwest Herald, are at odds with the public stance McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally took last week.
Kenneally said there is no proven medical benefit to marijuana use, and he does not want the county’s recreational dispensaries telling their customers otherwise. Instead, Kenneally said, there are health risks associated with marijuana use, and state regulatory agencies have not sufficiently warned consumers.
“As such, it has fallen to local government agencies to protect consumers,” he said in a statement.
Kenneally also threatened to sue dispensaries if they do not remove references to the medical benefits of marijuana from their marketing and add signage “to warn customers of the mental health dangers associated with use, including psychosis, depression and suicidal ideation.”
He has come to an agreement to that end with two of the four marijuana dispensaries in McHenry County, Kenneally said.
The three McHenry County residents with medical marijuana cards disagree with Kenneally’s stance. So did state Sen. Cristina Castro of Elgin, chairwoman of the Illinois General Assembly’s Subcommittee on Cannabis.
Illinois began allowing people with qualifying conditions to use marijuana for medicinal purposes 10 years ago, and legalized recreational marijuana beginning Jan. 1, 2020. Since then, marijuana dispensaries have proliferated across the state.
McHenry County currently has four recreational marijuana dispensaries, in Lake in the Hills, Crystal Lake, Cary and Richmond. Two more are expected before the end of the year: a second Crystal Lake location and one in McHenry.
Nicole Vaughn of Wonder Lake said she used medical marijuana to treat rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia diagnoses. She also runs a marijuana marketing company and works with the Compassionate Clinics of America to help people receive a medical marijuana card, she said.
Kerri Connor if Ringwood said she used medical marijuana to treat her rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and ankylosing spondylitis, as well as the aftereffects of a 2015 breast cancer diagnosis. She turned to marijuana after 13 years on opiates, she said.
“Just what it does for swelling, how it brings down inflammation … that is huge,” Connor said.
Connor said the drug she was put on to prevent a recurrence of her breast cancer — and the drug given to protect her bone density from that drug — caused her to lose teeth. That has stopped since she began using marijuana.
“Weed helps keep the inflammation down and my teeth in,” Connor said.
She’s since written books about marijuana and spirituality, including “Wake, Bake and Meditate.”
Castro, a Democrat, pointed to Ashley’s Law, which allows medical marijuana on school grounds, as an example of the medical use of cannabis. Signed by former Gov. Bruce Rauner, the law was named for Ashley Surin of Schaumburg, who uses a CBD oil to treat epilepsy caused by previous cancer treatment.
“To sit there and say there is no medical benefit … I don’t know if (Kenneally) has even asked people how medical cannabis affects them,” Castro said.
Much of what is happening with marijuana as a treatment for any condition is experiential, not experimental, said Monika Juszczyk, a Pennsylvania-based doctor who certifies Illinois patients for medical marijuana cards with the Compassionate Clinics of America.
“It comes from people and real-life experience,” she said.
Marijuana also is not a panacea for all ills, Juszczyk adds.
“I would never say medical marijuana is the solution for all human suffering,” she said.
Full-Spectrum CBD: What It Is, Benefits And Risks
While research into the specific benefits of full-spectrum CBD is limited, some studies point out the various benefits that CBD may offer. For instance, full-spectrum CBD (as opposed to broad-spectrum CBD or CBD isolate) may offer enhanced benefits due to the proposed mechanism of the entourage effect, though further research is needed to substantiate these claims.
“With sustained use, [some] evidence suggests CBD [may help] reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, seizures and neurological disorders and may improve heart and brain health conditions, too,” says Benjamin Caplan, M.D., a board-certified family medicine physician in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, and medical cannabis expert who specializes in helping patients with pain management at CED Clinic.
Other potential benefits of full-spectrum CBD, according to Dr. Caplan, may include reduced anxiety and depression symptoms, improved sleep, pain alleviation, reduced inflammation, nausea and vomiting relief, and epileptic seizure management.
May Reduce Anxiety and Depression and Improve SleepA 2019 case series in The Permanente Journal examined the chart notes of 72 patients with anxiety or poor sleep, almost all of whom received 25 milligrams of CBD in capsule form per day (a handful received higher doses based on individual factors) alongside other prescribed treatments for their symptoms. The researchers observed a decrease in anxiety levels in 79.2% of patients within the first month, as well as an initial improvement in sleep scores for 66.7% of patients. Additional trials examining the effects of full-spectrum CBD are needed to further evaluate these potential benefits.
May Reduce PainAlthough human studies on the use of CBD for pain relief are lacking, some emerging evidence suggests its potential effect. A study in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences examining the administration of CBD and THC as an oral mucosa spray in doses of 2.5 milligrams and 2.7 milligrams respectively found that patients reported a reduction in pain during treatment periods ranging from one to several weeks. More specifically, evidence suggests CBD can help mitigate the neuropathic pain associated with multiple sclerosis, cancer or rheumatoid arthritis. Further research is required to explore full-spectrum CBD’s full pain management potential.
May Reduce Nausea and VomitingUsing full-spectrum CBD alongside antiemetics (anti-nausea medications) in patients with nausea and vomiting as a result of chemotherapy led to better symptom management in a 2020 study in the Annals of Oncology. Although one-third of the subjects experienced full-spectrum CBD-related side effects, such as sedation and dizziness, 85% of those who took part in the study preferred this form of treatment compared to the placebo.