Munchies to memory: Kilmer weeds out the problem

Dr. Jason Kilmer, Assistant Health and Wellness Director for Alcohol & Other Drug Education at the University of Washington, delivered two talks on Monday regarding the effects of marijuana and marijuana legalization, respectively. He entertained a packed and attentive JRC audience with a blend of anecdotes, intriguing facts and cutting ­edge research on the issues developing around marijuana and marijuana legalization in his home state and what those issues mean for the future of the drug throughout the U.S.

Kilmer’s first speech, an open workshop titled “From the ‘Munchies to Memory Problems: What the Science Says About Marijuana,” related the overlooked effects of marijuana by the general public, which are only now being brought to light.

“In many ways, we’ve learned more about marijuana in the past five years as in the previous 50,” Kilmer said.

Kilmer highlighted the three factors behind new marijuana research: MRI imaging, a shift away from “reefer madness”—the tendency of scientists to make bold conclusions about marijuana beyond the extent of the data—and the ability to do research with people rather than rats. The third factor was crucial in researching the parameters of legalizing marijuana, particularly in regards to DUI laws and

warning labels.

“Before, they’d give marijuana to a rat and then they’d see if they go to Taco Bell later on,” Kilmer joked.

Punctuated with bouts of humor, Kilmer’s speech was nonetheless very methodical and eye-­opening. Colorful infographics explained the effect of marijuana on memory, dopamine receptors and sleep, which countered common misperceptions that marijuana has no after-effects.

Kilmer spoke in depth regarding marijuana’s impact on concentration and attention in the hippocampal region of the brain, explaining that marijuana is not only psychologically addictive, it is also physically addictive. For example, Kilmer explained that when frequent marijuana users say they don’t focus as well if they skip a day of smoking, they are experiencing symptoms of withdrawal.

In his second lecture, “Research Questions in Changing Legal Climate: Assessing the Impact of Marijuana Legalization,” Kilmer explained his involvement in the creation and shaping of marijuana policy in his home state, which is currently at the forefront of developing laws and policies in the face of legalized marijuana. Kilmer focuses primarily on DUI laws and health advisories based on recent studies, which are expected to have drastic impacts on the future of legalization.

Kilmer explained that Washington state law defines impairment in ways that do not adequately account for the potency of the marijuana, pre-existing conditions or the size of the person. He drew attention to the fact that new scientific findings are complicating marijuana policy and rendering it more complex.

Kilmer noted other disturbing findings, such as the correlation between marijuana usage and loss of IQ points, how usage of marijuana as a sleep aid results in deep sleep at the expense of a “pot hangover” with similar symptoms as an alcohol hangover the next day and the importance of clarifying the effects of using antagonistic drugs (such as alcohol and cocaine) that can often lead to fatalities.

Explaining his cautionary stance on rushing into marijuana legalization without fully understanding its consequences, Kilmer lamented, “legislation has gotten ahead of science.”