Sunday, July 21, 2013

Cannabis Use in Adolescents and Young Adults

With Washington State running full steam ahead to implement the voter-approved initiative legalizing small amounts of marijuana, there are plenty of those advocating the positive uses of cannabis (the Latin name for marijuana.)  Washington State has had legalized medical marijuana for a number of years, and it does help in specific situations and conditions.  But with the potential for so many to start using it now, it is probably a good idea to learn what you can about the dark side of cannabis on your health.

The most significant negative impacts of cannabis use affect adolescents and young adults.  Under the recently passed law in Washington adolescents are not permitted to legally use marijuana.  However, a sizable percentage of middle school and high school youth already have access to illegal sources of weed in Washington, so I would not anticipate having more of it available through legal channels will reduce the number of users.  In addition to the fairly commonly known impact of marijuana use leading to harder drugs, there are three other disturbing impacts on youth and young adults reported from important studies on cannabis use.  These are: 1) a permanently reduced IQ in youth who use chronically through their teen years. (See my 6/3/13 blog) 2) Increased incidence of cannabis-induced psychosis.  3) An increase in cases of psychosis - as though cannabis use encourages psychosis.

Cannabis-induced psychosis is characterized by problems with motivation, hearing voices, a distorted sense of reality, hallucinations, and difficulty thinking rationally.  While many users of cannabis might say, "Well duh," these are symptoms much more significant and often require hospitalization when they last longer periods of time than just for the duration of a typical high.  In addition to these mental issues directly linked with cannabis use, other psychoses like Bi-polar disorder and Schizophrenia appear at much high rates in cannabis users aged 14-24 than in non-users.  Research has not determined the causation association here, so I can not go so far as to say cannabis directly causes these problems, or that it simply unmasks what is already there.  It could most accurately be said that using marijuana when you are between 14-24 years old is like playing Russian Roulette with your mental health.  Is it worth the risk?  There is also a strong association with the potency or frequency of cannabis use.  High potency or very frequent use increases the chances that a problem with psychosis will occur.

I am not opposed to recreational use of marijuana presuming it's used in a safe way much the same way as  alcohol.  However, if the use becomes a daily or frequent crutch to escape life issues and stress, or to maintain a peer group then some caution is prudent and a consultation with a health care professional advisable.

NatureWords for Your Health

(1) University of York. "Reclassification of cannabis linked to cannabis psychosis." ScienceDaily, 18 Jul. 2013. Web. 21 Jul. 2013.

(2) BMJ-British Medical Journal. "Cannabis use precedes the onset of psychotic symptoms in young people, study finds." ScienceDaily, 3 Mar. 2011. Web. 21 Jul. 2013

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Avoiding Diabetes

There is good news on the natural health - diabetes front.  Rather than news of new drugs, stem cells, and compatible pig-to-human pancreatic transplants (no joke) we have a super simple and natural approach to prevent diabetes.  That approach is to LOSE WEIGHT.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medical School discovered that people who were pre-diabetic and lost 10% of their body weight in the first 6 months of their diagnosis had an 85% reduction in their pre-diabetes worsening into diabetes.(1)

So if this is your health problem, you are probably saying, "GREAT, like I don't already diet out the kazoo."  Losing weight is no small challenge.  In the study there were three components to the weight loss program: diet, exercise, and support.  I have come to the opinion that all three are necessary.

There are 50 if not 100 or more different diets out there -- all of them claiming to be your answer to weight loss.  In 20 years of naturopathic practice what I can recommend in a nutshell about diet is: find the one that works and stick to it.  Every person has a unique set of hormonal, genetic, physical, emotional, and lifestyle factors that contribute to your body's response to food.  All of these factors provide an extremely individualized circumstance for you.  This means that a different diet will work for every person, you only have to find it.  While I might be able to steer you in the general direction if I met with you, trial and error will work too.  

Exercise is simpler than you think.  Don't let the memory of that drill sergeant PE teacher in high school barking out the orders for your calisthenics send you running for the couch with your favorite comfort food.  In this study participants did only 150 minutes of exercise per WEEK.  150 minutes over 7 days is only 21 minutes a day.  You simply need to walk for 20 minutes.  Many of us can just park a couple blocks from work and walk where we need to and get in at least half of this time.  My experience is that once you lure yourself into just doing a few minutes, you decide since you're going already to just do the rest.

I don't pretend to know why this works, but this piece is the one most people don't incorporate.  Weight Watchers has always held this component in high regard.  In the study, people were required to meet with a health coach one-on-one for 3 months and then be in a support group for the second 3 months. I don't know what support does, except that it adds an extra measure of accountability for staying on-track. 

So if your doctor has told you that your fasting glucose levels are running a little high, tackle your weight problems again and redouble your efforts.  It will beat getting pig pancreas cells transplanted, losing your toes and feet, or injecting insulin multiple times a day to treat diabetes.

(1) Johns Hopkins Medicine. "People with pre-diabetes who drop substantial weight may ward off type 2 diabetes." ScienceDaily, 16 Jul. 2013. Web. 17 Jul. 2013.