On August 11th, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced its decision to keep marijuana classified as a Schedule I drug. The federal government has historically referred to this category as the “most dangerous” group of substances, including drugs like heroin and bath salts.
As a resident physician specializing in mental health, I can’t make much sense of this.
Every day, I talk to patients about substance abuse. Whether evaluating patients in clinic, in the emergency department or on inpatient units, my colleagues and I screen patients for substance use. It’s a vital component of any clinical interview, particularly in mental health care, and helps us understand patients’ habits and their risks for medical complications.
During my medical training, I’ve learned which substances to worry about and which ones matter less.
Alcohol is usually the first substance I ask about. Many people have seen drinking go wrong, be it a friend making a bad decision or a family member struggling with alcoholism. But clinicians see the worst of this on the front lines.
Intoxicated patients stream into emergency departments after crashing their cars, inhaling their own vomit or falling into a coma. According to the National Institutes of Health, alcohol-related conditions contributed to more than 1.2 million emergency department visits in 2010. The Centers for Disease Control reports excess alcohol consumption causes roughly 88,000 deaths in the United States each year.