Thursday, November 13, 2014
Doctor's Perspective
More studies needed on the effects of marijuana

By Dr. Anthony Policastro
Advances in medicine allow us to learn more details about medical issues. We have known for many years that using marijuana affects motivation and short term memory. We did not know how that happened or if it was temporary. We also did not know how long the effects lasted. With the current push for legalizing marijuana, it is important to try and find that out. Earlier this year researchers from Boston published an article in the Journal of Neuroscience. These researchers conducted brain MRI scans on a group of individuals. Most were college students in the Boston area. They broke them into four groups. One group did not use marijuana at all. One group was classified as light users (once a week or less). Another group was classified as moderate users (four to seven days per week). One group consisted of daily users. The studies showed that the MRI scans had two areas that were different in smokers compared to non-smokers. One area controls motivation. The other area is involved in memory. The unexpected finding was that the changes affected all the smokers. It did not matter if they were light or daily smokers. The changes still existed. We have long known that frequent use of marijuana causes amotivational syndrome which results in an unwillingness to do very much that is productive. This study supports the fact that there are actual brain changes to go along with that. A related issue has to do with the actual concentration of tetrahydrocannibol (THC) - the active ingredient. The amount of active ingredient used to be pretty low. In 1995 it was only about 3.75% of the total used. Over the years, more concentrated blends have been grown. Most strains now contain about 13% THC. One firm in Colorado is advertising "Green Crack" with a concentration of 21%. With the stronger concentrations come other dangers. ER visits for marijuana reactions doubled from 2004 to 2011 when there were 129,000 such visits. A June article in the New England Journal of medicine found that high dose marijuana was associated with higher risk of paranoia and psychosis. Another effect of the higher dose marijuana is addiction. The rate of addiction is higher in younger users standing at one out of six users. It is only one out of 11 for adult users. At this point the studies are still early. The Boston study was very small. The results will need to be confirmed by additional studies. The question becomes how many states will legalize marijuana use before we confirm how significant the effects are on the human brain?

Nanticoke welcomes coordinator For patients with serious illnesses and their families, finding the support services they need and coordinating with a team of doctors, nurses, case managers and specialists can be overwhelming. That's why Nanticoke now has a palliative care coordinator available to help. Patients referred to a palliative care program can include those with cancer, cardiac disease like congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney failure, ALS and many other illnesses. Palliative care coordination can also help patients undergoing life prolonging treatments. The palliative care coordinator is a resource that can help patients with relief from symptoms like pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, stress and depression. The palliative care team can help patients and families with complex decisions about care and treatment. For more information about Nanticoke's program, call Kathy James, NP and palliative care coordinator at 629-6611, ext. 3115.

'Alzheimer's 101' discussion There are some 26,000 Delawareans with Alzheimer's disease or a related disorder, and the number is growing exponentially in Sussex County as the population swells, particularly among those 65 and older. So, it stands to reason, the chances of knowing someone with Alzheimer's or someone caring for someone with Alzheimer's is greater if you live in Sussex County. Come learn about the disease at the next Sussex County Advisory Committee on Aging & Adults with Physical Disabilities meeting, on Monday, Nov. 17, at Millville United Methodist Church, 36405 Clubhouse Road, Millville. Jamie Magee, Sussex County program coordinator with the Alzheimer's Association, will present "Alzheimer's 101." The meeting begins at 10 a.m. For more information, visit

New radiation awareness website Delawareans can learn about health care procedures that use radiation through a website launched by the Division of Public Health (DPH) and the Delaware Authority on Radiation Protection (DARP). The website, based at Delaware State University, also provides resources for teachers and students on the principles of radiation and radiation protection. The site is available at "The webpage provides a guide to user-friendly information for patients and parents to learn more about many medical procedures involving radiation, as well as robust learning resources for science teachers and students," said Dr. Frances Esposito, DARP chairman, and chief of radiology at Beebe Healthcare.

Sleep apnea support group Nanticoke Memorial Hospital in Seaford will host the AWAKE - Alert, Well, and Keeping Energetic, sleep apnea support group, from 2:30 to 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 19, in the ground floor nurse's conference room. AWAKE is a free support group for people with sleep problems including sleep apnea, insomnia, excessive daytime sleepiness, restless legs and narcolepsy. The support group also focuses on the impact medications may be having on your sleep. Family and friends are welcome to attend. There is no meeting in December. For more information about the group, call the Sleep Disorders Center at 629-6611, ext. 3815.

Hospice to hold grief workshop Delaware Hospice's Family Support Center will present a workshop entitled, "Coping with the Holidays," with Dr. Judy Pierson, clinical psychologist, from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Nov. 22, at the Delaware Hospice Center, 100 Patriots Way, Milford. When you've lost someone close to you, the holidays can bring both good and bad memories of previous years to the surface. In this engaging presentation, Dr. Judy offers useful advice and suggestions to help you and your family cope with your loss during and after the holidays. There is no fee for this community outreach program, however, space is limited, so reservations are kindly requested. To reserve your place, contact Michelle August at 302-478-5707, ext. 1103, or 800-838-9800, or email

Stroke Support Group Nanticoke Memorial Hospital's next Stroke Support Group meeting is Tuesday, Nov. 18 at 1:30 p.m. at the Seaford Library. The group is designed for individuals who have survived a stroke and their families and caregivers. The two-hour meetings consist of guest speakers and breakaway sessions, in which caregivers and stroke survivors will meet in two groups to discuss concerns, provide support and allow for networking. Refreshments will be provided. Pre-registration is not required for this free support group. For more information, contact Nanticoke Memorial Hospital at 629-6611, ext. 8626.

Grief and the holidays "Grief and Coping with the Holidays," will be presented by Delaware Hospice's Midge DiNatale, GC-C, bereavement counselor, on Wednesday, Nov. 26 from noon to 12:45 p.m. at the Ocean View CHEER Center. Participants will learn strategies to help cope with the universal challenges presented by the holiday season. There is no fee for this presentation. For questions, contact Yolanda Gallego at or 302-539-2671.

Stroke and osteoporosis screenings Residents living in and around Laurel may be screened to reduce their risk of having a stroke or bone fracture. Laurel American Legion Post 19 will host Life Line Screening on Tuesday, Nov. 25, at 12168 Laurel Rd., Laurel. This event is sponsored by Bayhealth Medical Center. Screenings identify potential cardiovascular conditions such as blocked arteries and irregular heart rhythm, abdominal aortic aneurysms and hardening of the arteries in the legs, which is a strong predictor of heart disease. A bone density screening to assess osteoporosis risk is also offered and is appropriate for both men and women. Packages start at $149. All five screenings take 60 to 90 minutes to complete. For more information regarding the screenings or to schedule an appointment, call 1-877-237-1287 or visit Pre-registration is required.