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What is the Safety Profile of Cannabis?

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The National Organization of the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) reports that...

"Cannabinoids have a relatively unique safety record, particularly when compared to other therapeutically active substances. Most significantly, the consumption of cannabinoids — regardless of quantity or potency — cannot induce a fatal overdose because, unlike alcohol or opiates, they do not act as central nervous system depressants. According to a 1995 review prepared for the World Health Organization, “There are no recorded cases of overdose fatalities attributed to cannabis, and the estimated lethal dose for humans extrapolated from animal studies is so high that it cannot be achieved by … users.”

"Cannabinoids also appear to be largely non-toxic to healthy cells and organs" writes Dr. Mitch Earleywine in the 2002 Oxford University Press publication, Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific Evidence, “Cannabis is essentially non-toxic.” 

"A systematic review of clinical trials over a 40-year period, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, found no higher incidence of serious adverse effects from cannabis-consuming subjects compared to controls, and cited ‘dizziness’ as the primary reported non-serious adverse event reported. 

Additionally, in some initial trials, cannabinoids have demonstrated neuroprotective properties against toxic agents and have shown profound anti-cancer properties. Stated the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine in their 1999 review, Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base, “Except for the harms associated with smoking, the adverse effects of marijuana use are within the range of effects tolerated for other medications.” A more recent meta-analysis assessing the effects of long-term exposure to cannabis concludes, “Overall, by comparison with other drugs used mainly for ‘recreational’ purposes, cannabis could be rated to be a relatively safe drug.”

Nonetheless, cannabis should not necessarily be viewed as a ‘harmless’ substance. Consuming cannabis will alter mood, influence emotions, and temporarily alter perception, so consumers are best advised to pay particular attention to their set (emotional state) and setting (environment) prior to using it.

It should not be consumed immediately prior to driving or prior to engaging in tasks that require certain learning skills, such as the retention of new information.

Further, there may be some populations that are susceptible to increased risks from the use of cannabis, such as adolescents, pregnant or nursing mothers, and patients with or who have a family history of mental illness.

Patients with hepatitis C, decreased lung function (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), or who have a history of heart disease or stroke may also be at a greater risk of experiencing certain adverse side effects from cannabis. As with any therapy, patients concerned about such risks should consult thoroughly with their physician before deciding whether the medical use of cannabis is safe and appropriate for them.

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