How Dangerous is Recreational Marijuana?

Very. Why? One of the main reasons is the predominant cultural opinion that says its safe.  It is hammered into our heads by the cultural myth makers in the media.   And if you think I am for more restrictions, I am a libertarian that thinks it should be legal!! Lets not, however, ignore its risks!

Right now, we have a huge societal push to make marijuana normative.   The writers for TV and movies create characters that laud, joke, and rely on marijuana.   It is culturally pervasive in our entertainment and mass media.   These writers often rely on it themselves and use their characters to justify their own use.   As of this writing – I live in LA and have interacted with people in “the industry.”   Its pervasive here in LA and probably where you live as well.

This undercurrent of the supposed benign nature of marijuana is wholly unjustified scientifically. Just because it may cause less violence than some other drugs like cocaine, crystal meth, heroin etc doesn’t mean that it is safe.   What concerns me most about marijuana from a medical perspective is the damage it seems to do the brain’s reward centers. (1)(2).

I am not, however, going to focus on the medical studies that show damage, nor its seeming beneficial use for chronic pain or cancer, what I am going to focus on is the concept of self-medication.  People self-medicate using all sorts of chemicals from caffeine to alcohol to marijuana and others.    They do it, however, mostly subconsciously.

Most of my friends that use marijuana use it when they feel like they need it even if they don’t express it that way.  For many users, they are self-medicating in the attempt to create an internal biological balance.  We are all familiar with the concept of balance.    After a long day of active work, we seek relaxation.  After lots of relaxation we seek activity.   After lots of socializing, we often want some alone time. It’s the natural duality of our life.  Our bodies even have built into them a sympathetic nervous system that governs the fight or flight and the parasympathetic which governs the rest and recharge.   It’s the natural yin and yang of life.

When we self-medicate we are seeking to come from one extreme to a balance.  Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) through the yin and yang concepts has probably the most profound understanding of this on a physical / emotional / and spiritual level.    We will focus on the physical in this blog post.

Marijuana is an extreme yin substance.  That means, for people who are in overdrive all the time, in the yang mode of existence all the time, marijuana can bring some balance by giving them yin.   In my friends, this is the primary mode of use.    Sugar and white processed flour is also yin, which can also be seen as a way to try and balance.   Submission is another form of balancing as seen in the extreme in S&M play : the man in yang overdrive all the time who feels the need to submit and be tied up.

I think you see what I am getting at without taking the examples to further extremes 🙂 There are healthy ways to seek balance and unhealthy ways.   Perhaps marijuana is effective in the short term for balancing.  But is using marijuana to balance your energies good for you?  Firstly, the marijuana used these days is super high potency and should be considered a drug in line with any pharmaceutical.   Secondly, if you are in yang mode all the time and need to balance yourself, there are other ways to do it.  You just need to first become aware of your need for balance and then you need to be your own healer as is your birthright and seek out yin activity or foods.

There is qigong, tai chi, certain forms of yoga, deep breaths, certain forms of meditation, long relaxing baths, prayer, walks in nature, hugs and intimacy, staring into your loved ones eyes, and the list could go on and on.  See a Traditional Chinese Medicine Doctor for help with this.

The “mind expanding” drug ethos of the 60’s, which I am afraid this is a child of, has not lead to one iota of increased mental or emotional expansion, in fact it has been mostly the opposite.  As far as the use of marijuana by traditional cultures as a justification, just know that there has been a total disregard for the sacred, entheogenic aspects of these drugs along with the well defined spiritual path that characterized its use, in favor of new and stronger strains of drugs used for escape, balancing, or something to deaden the brutalities of life.  Shamans look at this type of use as frightening, dangerous, and disrespectful.

As a doctor who sees my path of healing work as teaching people to become their own authorities, through confronting all 4 pillars of healing, marijuana as it is used by Americans today, is often a self-deluding stumbling block on the path to healing and self awareness.   You have all the power of balancing inside of you, you don’t need external substances, you need more awareness of your situation, courage to look at things as they are, and the wish to become whole.

Before you go, leave your thoughts below . . .

Meghan E. Martz, Elisa M. Trucco, Lora M. Cope, Jillian E. Hardee, Jennifer M. Jester, Robert A. Zucker, Mary M. Heitzeg. Association of Marijuana Use With Blunted Nucleus Accumbens Response to Reward Anticipation. JAMA Psychiatry, 2016
Francesca M. Filbey, Joseph Dunlop, Ariel Ketcherside, Jessica Baine, Tyler Rhinehardt, Brittany Kuhn, Sam DeWitt, Talha Alvi. fMRI study of neural sensitization to hedonic stimuli in long-term, daily cannabis users. Human Brain Mapping, 2016


  • Reply November 4, 2016

    Waqar Shah

    Excellent article! Agreed wholeheartedly with most of it. Marijuana as a pharmaceutical has great potential. It is a drug abused for its side effects. As far as detrimental effects of use versus benefit, I respectfully disagree with your view. Used appropriately as an adult it’s an easy little yin boost this MD would recommend. Of course other yin positive activities should be considered as well.

    • Reply November 4, 2016

      Dr. Carp

      Thank you for your comment! There is interesting information coming out on the endocannaboid system and how it is distributed in many places in the body outside of the brain that no doubt will yield interesting medical applications as it is further delineated. But for its use as a balancing agent – we can agree to disagree 🙂 One wonders how often people who use marijuana, just forego altogether any of the other yin activities since they have marijuana available to them. In such a case, one has to weigh the risk of not engaging those healthy activities when clearly they are needed in this case for proper health, especially when it comes to the demands of life in our time.

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