Pubdate: Wed, 10 Sep 2014
Source: Tampa Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2014 The Tribune Co.
Author: Gregory Gerdeman
Page: 12A


In his excellent story "Teens at center of pot debate" (Metro, Sept.
7), Jerome Stockfisch inadvertently misquoted me as critiquing a study
by Dr. Michael Smith of Northwestern University. That study, published
in the journal Schizophrenia Bulletin last year, found that compared
to a non-cannabis using control group, young subjects who had used pot
very heavily as teenagers (in fact, diagnosed with a cannabis use
disorder) appeared to have structural changes in certain regions of
their brains. They also had difficulty with a test of short-term
working memory.

I take no exception to this interesting study. If very heavy, daily
marijuana use was responsible for the abnormal brain changes and
memory impairment observed, it should be taken seriously as a risk for
teenage cannabis abusers. But as the authors recognize, this causality
remains uncertain. It is entirely possible that the neuro-anatomical
variations were preexisting, and merely predict a population of
teenagers who for some reason are more vulnerable to develop an
excessive pot habit. Still, it's useful information. However, members
of the same research team (but not including the quoted Dr. Smith)
also published a paper in April in The Journal of Neuroscience, which
claims to reveal brain abnormalities in young adult users who are
otherwise quite functional. The story was covered widely by the media
as revealing a lurking threat of "recreational" cannabis use. I am one
of many scientists who have criticized the work as seriously flawed
and gratuitously hyped.

When talking with Stockfisch for his story, it was this study that I
judged as "very poorly done," not the earlier work he reports on. It
was an honest miscommunication.

Regarding Amendment 2 in Florida, it really doesn't matter. This vote
is not about full legalization.

I have the privilege to serve on a nonpartisan group called Florida
for Care, working to craft a comprehensive proposal for regulating
medical marijuana under Amendment 2. The group is composed of an
impressive set of Floridians, including business leaders, legal
experts, law enforcement, physicians and patient advocates. It is a
serious group with a wealth of perspectives, and I am proud to be part
of it.

Heavy marijuana use does carry risks for young people, but overdue
medicalization is not part of that problem. If Amendment 2 passes,
medical cannabis will be grown and distributed under carefully
controlled conA-ditions, with a patient registry similar to what shut
down the painkiller pill mills. There is no reason to think that our
experience will be different from other medical marijuana states,
where the data are clear: Illicit youth use has not increased as a
result of legalizing patient access.

Gregory Gerdman, Ph.D., Eckerd College
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