By Dr. Eli S. Neiman, DO, AOBNP, FACN, PC
There is much misinformation surrounding the effects and widespread use of marijuana (cannabis, pot) and that includes the frum Jewish community. Many think that marijuana is harmless because it comes from a plant.
Wake up community!
Marijuana is harmful to the brain and the body. Cocaine, heroin, and mescaline -like marijuana- are also plant derivatives. All that is “natural” is not safe and pot is clearly a gateway drug to further drug use, abuse and addiction.
It is alarming to keep hearing about our youth either dead or brain dead from drug overdose with the body count in our Tri-State area communities now numbering in the hundreds over the past couple of years.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy statement on the impact of marijuana on adolescents and children published 1/26/15 “reaffirms its position against legalizing marijuana and its opposition to medical marijuana outside the FDA regulatory process.”
The AAP position paper further states, “for adolescents, marijuana can impair memory and concentration, interfering with learning, and is linked to lower odds of completing high school or obtaining a college degree. It can alter motor control, coordination and judgment, which may contribute to unintentional deaths and injuries. Regular use is linked to psychological problems, poor lung health and higher likelihood of drug dependence in adulthood.”
The Drug Enforcement Agency lists marijuana as a schedule I drug. “Schedule I drugs are substances or chemicals, defined as drugs with high potential for abuse including heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), marijuana (cannabis), 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy), methaqualone, and peyote. Marijuana is a hallucinogenic drug. A hallucinogenic drug is any substance that can produce visual or auditory hallucinations and distort one’s sense of reality. All hallucinogenic drugs can also affect thought and mood, making people feel like they are in a dream (or in some cases, a nightmare). The National Institute on Drug Abuse clearly states that 30% of marijuana users develop dependence.”
The active hallucinogenic component of marijuana is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The potency, or THC concentration, used to be 1-2% in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Now, in our present generation and due to technological advances in growing stronger and more psychoactive strains of the plant, the THC concentration averages in marijuana are a whopping 6-51%. The potency of one marijuana cigarette today is on average the equivalent of 17 in the past as per the recent literature. The known risks of depression, anxiety, cognitive deficits, concentration difficulties, slowing of mentation, and increased risk of psychosis and schizophrenia are known side effects of marijuana well documented in the medical literature. Most of the above studies were done with the less potent form of the drug, so imagine the brain alteration from the high potency marijuana the young and the adults are using today.
“The research, conducted over 20 years by Professor Wayne Hall, PhD, an adviser to the World Health Organization and leading expert on addiction at King’s College, London, links use of cannabis to a wide range of harmful side-effects, from mental illness to lower academic attainment to impaired driving ability. Studies show that smoking pot while pregnant is linked with reduced birth weights, while long-term use can cause cancer, bronchitis and heart attacks, according to papers. One in six teenagers who regularly smoke cannabis become dependent on it, as are one in ten regular adult users. Cannabis doubles the risk of psychosis and schizophrenia, with withdrawal symptoms including anxiety, insomnia, loss of appetite and depression. Driving after smoking cannabis doubles the risk of a car crash, with the risk heightened yet further if you have had a drink.”
Yes, marijuana is not harmless and can kill you.
“Besides increased risk of myocardial infarction (heart attack), marijuana use has been temporally related to cardiac arrhythmias, sudden cardiac death, cardiomyopathy (enlarged heart), stroke, transient ischemic attack (mini-stroke) and arteritis (inflammation of vasculature).”
If you recall your history, the opium dens in China destroyed that society until the governing body at the time was forced to take very harsh measures to abolish its use and abuse so their country could again thrive. That same drug epidemic that dumbed down the parents, youth, and nation in China, is happening to us now.
While studying at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI, I saw firsthand that most of my classmates who got involved with heavy marijuana use did not make it to law school, medical school and other graduate programs. Most of my classmates who smoked pot did not complete majors in the more difficult subjects like physics, biology, engineering, chemistry, accounting, finance, mathematics, statistics, and actuarial sciences.
Most importantly, the yungelite in frum communities who are smoking marijuana are making poor decisions, and are often no longer able to sit at the top tables in yeshivas or toil away learning Shas, Daf Yomi, Mishnah, Halacha, Chassidus or Mussar. Some are drifting away from frumkeit or gone. Many youths who are using marijuana are “hanging out” and becoming involved in high-risk activities with other kids at risk. All it takes is one of their “chevrah” pulling out a vial of heroin and we are another step closer to another death in our community, G-d forbid.
Recreational smoking of this addictive and psychoactive drug is damaging our society and our children. Again, marijuana is a known gateway drug to heroin, crack, cocaine, and other hallucinogenic compounds. Most people often start with “recreational” marijuana use and then move on to other drugs when they feel their void is still not filled.
Let’s make an effort to close the door on this gateway drug in our communities. Let’s wake up and address this sinister problem and get this fixed before more community disasters occur. In my practice, as a neurologist, I am seeing the fallout and family destruction from the use of this “innocent” drug.
Rav Moshe Feinstein clearly prohibits recreational use of this drug and calls such use an issur D’Orisa. See Rav Feinstien’s letter on the topic of marijuana use in Iggros Moshe (Siman Lamed Hey, Beis D’Rosh Chodesh Iyar, 5733).
I recently heard someone mention that a few Baalei Teshuva wanted to use marijuana on Purim many years ago and the Lubavitcher Rebbe‘s response was to refer them to Rav Feinstein’s above mentioned letter on this topic.
Medical centers and research scientists are actively looking at cannabidiol oil (CBD) which is a non-hallucinogenic compound in marijuana, that may be medically helpful for certain disorders.
At the American Epilepsy Society meeting (Dec 2016), there were presentations of abstracts and several studies which have shown that for two rare and often catastrophic epilepsies (Dravet Syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut), CBD oil may be helpful as a second or third line agent (to stop seizures). Proper dosing of CBD has not yet been established. Side effects of CBD included but were not limited to: severe drug-drug interactions effecting blood levels on four commonly used concomitant anticonvulsants, alteration in liver function test, pyrexia, somnolence, vomiting and diarrhea. Until all multicenter, randomized, double blinded, and placebo controlled studies are completed and FDA approval is granted and proper dosing is established, no one should be using the drug.
FDA evaluation is not yet complete and a pill is not yet marketed for medical use for medically and surgically intractable epilepsy or to help with cancer or neuropathic pain (lo aleinu). Sativex or nabiximo, a CBD and THC spray has been found in some studies to alieve some painful spasms in multiple sclerosis patients. Again, it must only be prescribed by a licensed physician or neurologist who can monitor the effects. Marijuana is a very potent drug and should not be used recreationally or without a physician’s close supervision. For a great synopsis of all the most recent abstracts presented on the topic of Cannabidiol (CBD) use in seizure treatment presented at the most recent American Epilepsy Society Conference see the American Academy of Neurology Journal “Neurology Today” Jan, 19, 2017 Issue 2. In addition, recent Ophthalmology Journals are now reporting that smoking the new high potency strains of marijuana is causing retinal damage in some users – another reason not to smoke pot.
A few weeks ago a man in his 40’s who heard me addressed as doctor, approached me and said he uses marijuana “recreationally” and started a conversation with me about this topic in shul. He told me he “trusts” his drug dealer where he gets his pot and he uses it to “relax” on his drive home from work. He says he drives in the far-right hand lane so he does not “hurt anyone.” This may sound ludicrous, but this was a real conversation. Obviously, I told him not to use drugs or drive under the influence of drugs. These pot smoking clowns are obviously not a dugma chaya for our children. I have seen families destroyed, with the most common scenario being a husband who spends his evenings “chilling out” (getting high) with his buddies. Most of these drug using fathers are often not around physically or emotionally to be a proper husband and parent. Substance use and abuse strains marriages and can lead to divorce.
The dependence and addiction a Jew is supposed to have is to be dependent only on Hashem and attached to Torah and mitzvos. Our job on this earth for 120 years is to purify our thought, speech, and action which is not possible under the effects of hallucinogenic drugs. Smoking marijuana is an addictive, hallucinogenic, brain altering (new studies show marijuana does cause abnormal white matter changes in the brain as seen using advanced brain imaging techniques), and carcinogenic drug.
A certain academician in the 1960s promoted “Turn on (to drugs) Tune in (hippy music) drop out (of university).” We as a community need to be “turning on and tuning in” to Hashem and Torah learning and not “dropping out” of Yiddishe life and frumkeit. Yes, there may be other underlying reasons for students and adults to turn to drugs, but one must stop the drug use immediately and recognize that a problem exists. Once the substance use and abuse is stopped the addict can spend the time dealing with the psychiatric and spiritual reasons for which he/she chose that foolish path. Current users or “chillers” as they like to call themselves should immediately find themselves a 12-step program to rid themselves of this addiction and dependency.
Yes, I am sure I will get “fan mail” from pot head professionals telling me they are doing just fine and are able to make a parnassa while still smoking pot with their buddies in someone’s basement, garage or behind the house (like a loser). If you are one of the above users, just ask yourself one simple question and it will save you much time and ink in writing to me: Do you want your Bais Din, Rav, local Rabbi, mechanchim, schochat, mohel, sofer, physician, surgeon, nurse, pharmacist, children’s bus driver, accountant, or lawyer high on marijuana when providing service, care, or advice?!
Some quacks will also write to me saying marijuana is a cure all for everything from itchy scalp to toe nail fungus. Save the ink please. No one should be gambling with their neshamah and physical health. When you play with fire you get burned.
Lastly, I will probably also get letters by chevrah saying it helps them “daven” or improves their hisboddedus. I urge this crowd as well to save their ink. We have two fine examples of Nadav and Avihu showing us what Hashem thinks about intoxicated service and prayer. Sifrei Mussar and Chassidus clearly state that intoxicated service to Hashem is prohibited, and that Hashem wants service of the heart and mind with a complete unadulterated truth, and with a deep emes. Dope is for dopes. As Uncle Yossi Goldstein ZTZL, a famous mechanech of yesteryear, used to say on his records and during his Torah classes, “If we do our best, Hashem will do the rest.”
Neurologist Dr. Eli S. Neiman leads the Advanced Neurology Center in Monsey, New York, and has published many papers and book chapters in peer-reviewed journals read internationally