Cannabis is still somewhat of a mystery to doctors and scientists.  Dr. Laura Borgelt explained the potential risks and benefits of medical uses of the drug....

Our speaker on June 16  was Dr. Laura Borgelt, Associate Dean of Administration and Operations at the University of Colorado, Skaggs School of Pharmacy, and Professor in the Departments of Clinical Pharmacy and Family Medicine at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. She spoke to the BRC about some of the effects of marijuana on people - is it medication or recreation?

Dr. Borgelt showed us that it is probably both. Dr. Borgelt, a pharmacist, a doctor and a devout swimmer, has focused on women’s health issues for most of her professional career. Eight years ago, someone asked her if it was ok, or not ok for a woman to smoke marijuana when breast feeding her infant, Dr. Borgelt is a strong believer in evidence based medical recommendations, so she looked at the research and ended up giving a talk about cannabis (marijuana), pregnancy and breast feeding. She began studying cannabis use in earnest and from that point, she became a go-to expert on cannabis. Dr. Borgelt was clear, that although she's studied cannabis use, and humans have been using cannabis in one form or another for five thousand years, it is currently an illegal drug in the United States at the federal level. So anything she says about it's use is no recommended. Dr. Borgelt knows people will use it however and wants to make sure that people who do, use it in an informed and educated way.

Dr. Borgelt explained that medical use of cannabis is different than recreational use. If someone is in pain, or has an impairment or is dying, they may want to use cannabis to alleviate or lessen a symptom. That person, the patient, should know there is a risk vs benefit analysis for using cannabis. If a person is using cannabis for recreational purposes, Dr. Borgelt believes it is only a risk/ risk scenario. Impairment is generally a bad outcome for a patient seeking cannabis for some type of medical reason. Impairment is the reason someone uses cannabis for recreation.

Regarding that initial question about breast feeding and use of cannabis, Dr. Borgelt explained that cannabis (which includes THC, (tetrahydrocannabinol) the chemical compound in cannabis responsible for the “high” people may experience) can pass through breast milk to the infant. Cannabis is also a type of drug that finds its way to fat deposits in the body. A mother's breast milk has a lot of fat, and babies have lots of fat - so cannabis transported to a baby through breast milk can stay in the baby's body for a long time. Cannabis also has the potential of disrupting the formation of synapses in the infant’s developing brain as well as disrupting systems like dopamine receptor formation. Dr. Borgelt, said that cannabis may or may not affect the development of an infant’s brain but it certainly has the potential to do long term damage the child’s brain so she does not recommend using it when breastfeeding.

She says that it is very important for doctors and pharmacists to talk to patients about the patient’s cannabis use. Dr. Borgelt has also done studies on medical cannabis use; for example cannabis as a treatment for chronic migraine headaches. Her initial study indicated that cannabis may help patients with the pain of chronic migraines. She was clear that cannabis has both benefits and risks associated with its use.

Cannabis is still somewhat of a mystery to doctors and scientists. It is an extremely complex plant with lots of different chemical compounds- we don't know how they all interact with each other or how it all interacts with the human body. Dr. Borgelt stressed that there are very real risks when using cannabis; we don't know all the drug interactions it may have, it is often inconsistent- some has higher CBD and THC, there's no way to know, the people who dispense it are not doctors or pharmacists generally- they may not know all the facts. With more and more states legalizing the use of cannabis for both recreation and medical use, it is important to learn how and why it affects the human body.