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This Doctor's Patients Have Issues With Alcohol And Opioids. Marijuana? Not So Much

This month, cannabis activists were disappointed to learn that the DEA has (again) refused to reclassify marijuana. It remains a Schedule I drug, meaning that the federal government considers it to be as dangerous as heroin, and lacking any accepted medical value. 

Unsurprisingly, the issue sparked controversy among policy-makers, politicians and pundits. But what do doctors - the people dealing with the adverse effects of drugs firsthand - think?

Enter Nathaniel P. Morris, a doctor at the Stanford University School of Medicine. "As a resident physician specializing in mental health," he writes in Scientific American, "I can't make much sense of this."

Morris contextualizes his argument by stressing the importance of discussing substance abuse with patients under his care. Patterns of substance use, he writes, are "a vital component of any clinical interview, particularly in mental health care, and helps us understand patients' habits and their risks for medical complications." 

He goes on to cite the grave dangers of alcohol (both from intoxication and withdrawal), cocaine, opioids, and methamphetamine - but he admits that "for most health care providers, marijuana is an afterthought."

Morris is quick to note that cannabis is not harmless, citing its effects on adolescent brain development, but stresses that "the federal government's scheduling of marijuana bears little relationship to actual patient care."

It's a nuanced point that is sometimes lost in the often charged discourse around cannabis legalization. Compared to the myriad risks and dangers posed by other Schedule I substances, marijuana has little effect on, in Morris' phrasing, "the realities of clinical practice".

Read Morris' complete piece here - it's a great read. His last paragraph, in particular, is a breath of fresh air:

"In hospitals across the country, patients writhe in agony from alcohol withdrawal, turn violent from crystal meth, and struggle to breathe after overdosing on prescription opioids. These are the cases that keep health care providers on edge. These are the patients we follow closely. When our pagers go off, we hurry to the bedside, give medications, alert security or even begin resuscitation," writes Morris. "With marijuana? Not so much."

h/t Scientific American


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