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High Point psychiatrist talks pros, cons of marijuana use

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HIGH POINT, N.C. -- A lot of Baby Boomer parents have had a hard time having that, “Don’t smoke pot,” talk with their kids, because of their own marijuana use when they were younger.

Andy Farah isn’t buying it.

“You've got to answer with, ‘It's not the same drug,’” says Farah, who is a psychiatrist at High Point Regional Health System. “In the 1970s and into the 1980s, the cannabis plant had 3% THC and it had 1% cannabidiol. So, people say that, 'Pot is medicinal,' sure, cannabidiol - that 1% that used to be in it - it blocked dopamine receptors and it actually had an antipsychotic effect. So you very rarely, in the '70s and '80s, saw people who got psychotic or paranoid, due to their use but it could happen. But the plant, itself, had a built-in antipsychotic.”

Much of the marijuana sold, today, has bred the anti-psychotic chemical out of the plants.

But Abner Brown still sees great benefit from it, particularly for people addicted to opioids.

“For some, it could replace them completely, others it could reduce their dependence on them - their dosage could be cut down, a whole lot,” says Brown. He says that not only as the executive director of NC NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) but also from his own experience.

“When I was 17, I ended up with an opiate addiction,” he says. “And I used cannabis to help myself get off of it and it did an amazing job.”

Brown has been clean ever since.

He sees the complaints against marijuana to be similar to the ones made against alcohol, in the time of its prohibition.

“I think it should be approached the way you do anything else that could have a detrimental effect,” says Brown. “You don't go full bore, when you go into something. You start in small doses and find what works best for you. And unfortunately, in this state, it's hard to find what works best for you because it's all black market. It’s like with drinking, you don't go in and consume a whole fifth and then blame the alcohol for having a bad problem – no, that might be user error.”

Dr. Farah points out that cannabis can be particularly dangerous for young people, whose brains aren’t fully formed.

“You take 15% of the population that has a genetic risk that if they expose cannabis to it, it will change how they metabolize dopamine. If you have too much dopamine in your brain, now you're paranoid and you're hallucinating,” he says, noting that he has had to admit a few high school or college age kids to his clinic at the hospital, each month or so, recently.

“So, when kids tell me, ‘It's safe and I like it, it makes me feel good,’” he notes, I say, ‘Look, you like going to the movies, right? You go to the movies, every day. If I told you there are 100 seats in that theater and 15 of them have a grenade under them, are you going to that movie every day or 2 or 3 times a day?’ They'd say, ‘Well, I wouldn't do that.’ I say, ‘That's what you're doing with pot, that's what you're doing with cannabis. It's Russian Roulette with your brain.’”