Dr. Christopher Prince has seen a lot in his 33 years as a licensed medical practitioner in Michigan. But one thing he has never seen is a marijuana overdose.
“In 33 years of practice, I’ve never seen anyone come in with a pure problem from a marijuana overdose,” he said. “I’ve worked in the ER enough, I’ve seen [more] people who need liver transplants from Tylenol overdose.”
Prince, of Stevensville, used to work as an emergency room doctor at Lakeland in St. Joseph, and he currently has a practice in Sister Lakes and is a traveling emergency doctor for rural communities in the western U.S. He said that, despite public opinion, many over-the-counter medications are far more dangerous as pain killers than medical marijuana.
“The lethal doses of marijuana are so astronomically high that a human couldn’t consume that much in a single sitting,” he said. “Tylenol and aspirin, in my opinion, are two of the most lethal painkillers out there, because you can self-medicate, and there’s no prescription required. They work well, but you start dealing with the abuse potential.”
Moreover, Prince said that physicians are at least partly culpable for what he sees as misconceptions about medical marijuana and the opioid abuse epidemic crippling the nation.
“We as physicians have found that people that are getting addicted [to painkillers] have been [doing so] because of our own treatment plans,” he said. “It isn’t because we [as physicians] don’t know what we’re doing, it’s because of how we’ve been pushed to treat pain. When you start comparing [current pain treatment] to marijuana, a lot of these other things are far more addictive.”
How it works
Once ingested, cannabis is broken down and results in the release of cannabinoids into the body, according to Prince.
The human body has an endocannabinoid system, which helps regulated memory functions, appetite, energy balance and metabolism, stress responses, immune functions, female reproduction, the autonomic nervous system, analgesia, thermoregulation and sleep.
Prince explained that the endocannabinoid system comes with two types of receptors: Cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB-1) and cannabinoid receptor type 2 (CB-2).
“CB-1 [receptors are] primarily in the brain, and CB-2 [receptors are] in lymphatic tissue,” he said. “The active cannabinoids will fit in those receptors and do various things.”