Patrons at a marijuana dispensary in Nevada. Photo: Beverly Yuen Thompson

Stéphane Gayet: Weighing the mental health risks of marijuana use

Peji: Is Skunk or Superskunk a time bomb?

By Dr. Stéphane Gayet
Translated for Native Sun News Today

With the emergence of new categories of cannabis such as skunk or superskunk at the end of the 1990's, several studies have shown the risk of mental illness linked to the use of these new varieties. British psychiatrists have investigated these substances in cases of psychosis, paranoid delirium and schizophrenia. Can a link be demonstrated?

Indian hemp or Cannabis Indica is an annual herbaceous plant which has a straight hem and is very similar to common hemp on Cannabis Satica, plant used in the production of hemp, a textile material. The Indica variety is rich in tetrahydrocanabinol (THC) while the Satica variety only contains a few traces of that element. The principal names given to Indian hemp or "cannabis" are "hashish" (term of Arabic origin) "grass", "marijuana" (term of Spanish origin), "maryjane" and "shit."

Actually, these words are not strictly equivalent, for each one is frequently associated with a particular mode of preparation from the raw plant. Terms such as grass, marijuana and maryjane are likely to designate the dried grass, and those of hashish and shit are generally used to designate the resin (richer in TCH) which is extracted from the plant.

Because it contains a great deal of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), its principal active ingredient, cannabis is classified as a narcotic, classically considered as a "soft drug", which is a less and less adequate label given the actual processes of production of derivatives laden with THC increasingly in use. Like all other narcotics, cannabis releases an analgesic or pain relieving effect, and is sometimes used in therapy.

The leaves, flowers and stems of the female Indian hemp plant or "cannabis" are used after they have been dried and cut up: this is the natural cannabis or "grass" variety. This natural cannabis can be smoked or chewed. "Kif" is generally natural cannabis mixed with some tobacco for smoking. It is, however, more and more frequently resin which is mixed with tobacco to be smoked as rolled "joints" or in water pipes of the hookah type.

If the notion of "soft drug" could at one time be justified in regards to the use of natural cannabis as a dried herb, it is no longer a fit description for the concentrated forms of resin and oil (the richest variety, less in use) which are really dangerous. It should be said that the strong present day tendency towards an increasing concentration of THC in derivative products of cannabis is in part the result of a genetic selection of potent herbs and cannabis roots obtained through genetic manipulation. These strong forms of cannabis are notably cultivated in the Netherlands and are called Misty, Ice Blue, Nederweet, Amnesia, Sinsemilla, Skunk or yet Superskunk.


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Not only resin offers more concentrated levels in THC than grass, but in addition new breeds of cannabis have been created, which are naturally enriched in THC. The most potent cannabis resins contain a level of THC which easily surpasses 20%, when the initial rate of natural cannabis used to be quite inferior to 10%. THC has an exceptional affinity and real toxicity for the human brain. This product has intoxicating and sedative properties which can be sought after by its users. However, it perturbs short term memory and long-term memory retention. It also causes problems of equilibrium and coordination of movements.

THC has additional disinhibiting effects which can translate into a certain aggressiveness towards oneself or others, dangerous behavior (a source of accidents in as much as it affects both static balance and dynamic coordination of movements) sexual disinhibition (relations not protected or consented). It also has an anti-anxiety affect which is much appreciated and sought after by anxious individuals.

However, this anti-anxiety property wears off with time (tolerance which is not to be confused with dependence); after several months or years of use of cannabis, anxiety re-occurs with much more intensity than before. This substance also acts as an anti-depressant. That is the reason depressed people can become regular users of cannabis. But in such case also, tolerance occurs with months or especially years of use. Like anxiety, depression ends up occurring anew, much more seriously than before, with hereafter a risk of suicide. Indeed, the rate of suicide among young people would be linked to the frequent use of cannabis. But that which is of even more concern is the well-established link between the use of cannabis and the onset and aggravation of schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia is a chronic form of psychosis with symptoms of delirium (typically, paranoid delirium, so labeled because it is less structured than paranoiac delirium), hallucinations, abnormal sometimes automatic behavior, poor language sometimes incomprehensible, a loss of contact with reality and often regression of intellect and memory.

What are the long-term risks of using such forms of cannabis as Skunk or Superskunk?

Evolved schizophrenia represents a major mental and social handicap. The risk of schizophrenia (illness commonly known as "insanity") is the highest when use of cannabis is precocious and substantial. Several studies on this topic are quite alarming. High risks of chronic psychosis from the use of recent potent forms of cannabis are due to the important cerebral toxicity of THC present in Skunk and Superskunk. It is of serious concern in France which has a high use of cannabis among youngsters (unfortunately France is at the top of the European community in this use).

Before there is an evolution towards schizophrenia, we have observed that cannabis brings about memory loss. We speak of problems of short-term memory, but cannabis also affects long-term memory. A deficit which is reversible at the start of an addiction to cannabis becomes irreversible with months and years of use, constituting a more or less severe handicap.

We must also speak of the important secondary effects of cannabis on the body: the smoke of cannabis is more irritating than the smoke of tobacco. Its temperature of combustion is higher, which augments the production of carbon monoxide (CO). A larger quantity of carcinogenic tars are inhaled (seven times more). Therefore, cannabis engenders more cancer than tobacco while both are often associated. It has been demonstrated that THC diminishes immune defenses. Smokers of cannabis frequently suffer from pulmonary infections. As we know that these defenses protect us from cancer, these smokers face a greater risk of cancer. Together with the production of CO, cannabis can result in arteritis of lower limbs, heart attacks and strokes.

Additionally, cannabis diminishes the amount of testosterone in men, with a certain reduction of libido and erections, and of secondary sexual traits such as muscular volume or hairiness. It also reduces the number of sperms (decline of masculine fertility.) It can cause cancer of the testicles in its most aggressive form. In women, cannabis affects pregnancy: premature birth is more frequent, the weight of the newborn is smaller, and the risk of sudden death of the newborn is increased. Also noted is an increase in the delay of motor development as well as in problems of attention with or without hyperactivity. Finally, children of a mother who uses cannabis during pregnancy have an increased propensity to develop an addiction.

Children of a mother who uses cannabis during pregnancy have an increased propensity to develop an addiction.

Do the normalization and habit of cannabis use take enough into account these new aspects of risks?

As observed earlier, France is a very big consumer of cannabis, especially among adolescents, for whom exists a problem of "public health" of extreme concern. And yet, the issue of decriminalizing this drug is often invoked and even firmly proposed while little is said of the grave secondary effects of this substance. This very alarming French situation is linked to an obvious lack of information, rendered even more serious by disinformation campaigns organized by production networks, wholesalers and retailers of cannabis, true mafia lobbies which are extremely powerful and influential.

All evidence demonstrates that the sale of cannabis is very lucrative and intense, especially in France. It is the foremost as well as the most ancient drug used in the world. Long considered a "soft drug", the cannabis of today is a concentrated potent drug obtained from grass roots which have been selected and modified, causing intellectual, corporal and social ravages (accidents, poverty, marginalization, suicides...) Prevention in France does not appear to be in keeping with the dimensions of an undeniable problem.

This article was written in French by Dr. Stéphane Gayet, and published in 2018. It was translated with Dr. Gayet's authorization by Helene E. Hagan in the U.S. Professor at the University of Strasbourg and public speaker, Dr. Gayet exercises his medical profession at the University Hospitals of Strasbourg. He is an officer or board member for a number of public organizations in the province of Alsace, France, and practices as a specialist in Internal Medicine, liver diseases, gastroenterology, infectious diseases and Public Health.

Copyright permission Native Sun News Today

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