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Marijuana is considered by many to be a benign drug, not deserving of concern or prohibition. Two recent reports are worth knowing about.

In Leipzig, Germany, 29 patients were admitted to the hospital with classic symptoms of lead poisoning. They had abdominal pain, nausea, anemia and fatigue. One patient had hallucinations and peripheral neuropathy. All had high blood levels of lead. The source of lead was initially unknown, but eventually the patients divulged that they regularly smoked marihuana. Samples of marijuana were evaluated and found to be heavily laden with lead crystals. The sellers had laced their product with lead, gray in color and inconspicuous, to increase their profits.

Lead particles, when heated in a joint and smoked, are easily absorbed through the lungs. Lead is highly toxic, causing anemia, abdominal pain, brain damage and neuropathy, and osteoporosis. It can be removed from the body by chelation, often performed in our practice, but the neurologic damage can be permanent.

Illicit drug sellers are frequently unscrupulous, and have been known to adulterate their products with toxic substances, including strychnine and quinine, to potentiate effects while reducing concentrations, and thus increase profits. It does not concern them that these adulterants are dangerous and can produce permanent disability, or death. Let the buyer beware.

Another study reveals that regular use of marijuana increases the risk of developing psychosis. (Lancet, July 28, 2007, pp 319-328) This long-term complication is separate from the transient mental disorder caused by acute intoxication. The risk is higher in persons using marijuana most often, with a doubling in the incidence of psychotic disorder.

Twenty per cent of young people use marijuana at least once a week. Usage has increased especially in young adolescents. Aside from its tendency to lead to other substance abuse, marijuana itself is not benign, and should not be considered safe.

Allan Sosin, MD

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