Marijuana has been one of the most hotly debated topics among drug users and those who choose not to use drugs for years.
Recently, several states have approved marijuana as a legally prescribed medication. While this has given those individuals who use marijuana outside the legal parameters the increased belief that this drug is “good for you,” the fact remains that marijuana abuse and addiction is still a rampant problem in the United States.
There are many drugs that, when used properly, can have significant benefits. Valium, hydrocodone and Xanax, among others, are prescribed to treat both psychological and physical conditions regularly; however, they are also some of the most abused drugs on the market today. Marijuana is different from these drugs because there is no consensus that marijuana has any legitimate medical use.
There have been studies conducted that indicate some benefit from some of the properties of marijuana for the treatment of some conditions, including nausea as a result of chemotherapy, ocular pressure, increasing appetite and pain relief; however, simply using marijuana in its current form is not recommended by a vast majority of care providers due to the health risks and risk of addiction.
What Is Addiction?
Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Addiction has symptoms, like any other disease. The primary symptom of drug addiction is the continued use of a drug despite harmful consequences to family, social obligations, work and school. Long-term use of marijuana is addicting.
According to national figures, of the approximate seven million individuals with addictions to various drugs or alcohol, 4.5 million also abused marijuana or used it regularly.
In addition to the continued used of any substance despite harmful effects, there are other symptoms that can indicate an addiction to marijuana. For instance, a person may show a lack of interest in any activity other than smoking marijuana, or only be concerned with obtaining or smoking it. Someone who is addicted to marijuana may constantly crave it when they are not high.
Marijuana Affects the Way the Brain Thinks
The main psychoactive component in marijuana is the chemical THC or tetrahydrocannabinol. This is only one of more than 400 compounds found in marijuana, and the main one responsible for the euphoric effects of the drug. THC attaches itself to cannabinoid receptors in the brain. The highest density of the receptors is in the parts of the brain that control pleasure, pain, memory, concentration, appetite, and sensory and time perception.
When an individual is under the influence of the THC found in marijuana, they literally are not thinking correctly. One recent study conducted a test wherein an individual was provided with hands-on instructions for a simple driving course. After completing the course sober, the individual used marijuana. Ten minutes after being shown the very simple driving course, the intoxicated volunteer could no longer find the beginning of the course.
Other effects of marijuana use and abuse include:
- Slowed reaction time
- Impaired motor skills
- Lack of informed decision-making ability
- Euphoria, leading to altered judgment
- Significantly increased heart rate (to a point that could cause a heart attack)
Permanent Brain Damage
The risk of prolonged or permanent brain damage is increased significantly when the individual using the drug is in his or her teens. The adolescent brain is still developing and the use of marijuana can stunt its development, preventing the individual from reaching their full potential.
Another risk factor of note is the effect of marijuana use by or around pregnant women. Perinatal and prenatal exposure to the compounds found in marijuana has been shown to dramatically affect a growing child’s brain development concerning mood, reward and cognitive function (ability to learn).
Brain damage and decreased brain function are not the only negative effects of long-term marijuana abuse. The effects on the body can be severe, as well.
Because marijuana is primarily smoked, the most significant damage is to the lungs. The chemical composition of marijuana is complex and not fully understood; however, the damage to the lungs can include lung cancer, emphysema, chronic cough, pneumonia and bronchitis. In addition to damaging the lungs, the inhaled smoke can cause mouth or throat cancer.
In many cases, an individual may use marijuana to self-medicate for conditions that may, or may not, have been properly diagnosed. When this happens, the individual places himself at risk for the long-term negative effects of marijuana to treat a condition that could be otherwise managed through medical channels. For instance, treating anxiety or aggression with marijuana rather than bona-fide therapeutic techniques can increase the anxiety and aggression issues when the drug is not available. The process is counterproductive, at best.
When an individual’s body and mind has become addicted to any substance, including marijuana, there is a period of time after the introduction of the substance has ceased during which the mind and body will rebel. This is known as “withdrawal.” Withdrawal symptoms vary by the type of substance used, and the length of time a recovering addict will be subjected to the ill effects will vary depending upon the frequency of use and severity of addiction.
The symptoms of withdrawal for marijuana are more psychological and emotional than physical, unlike many other drugs. For instance, the recovering addict may experience:
- Mood swings
- Decreased appetite
- Inability to sleep
Completing the detox phase of recovery in a medical setting can help an addict withstand the temptation to use “one more time,” thus forcing the process to begin all over again. A trained staff in a professional detox facility can help the addict by keeping them distracted, helping them through their anxiety, and even prescribing medications to alleviate some of the more persistent symptoms.
Once the detox phase has been completed, the recovering addict will enter a treatment program. This program can be completed on an inpatient or outpatient basis, depending upon the needs of the individual and their family or job requirements.
After the treatment plan has been completed, the recovering addict will need to commit to a change in lifestyle and choices, including friends and associates. The support phase of recovery should include daily meetings such as Narcotics Anonymous or similar groups to bolster the recovering addict’s ability to fight lingering cravings or simply falling into old routines.
It is possible to recover from marijuana addiction and learn better, healthier ways to enjoy one’s future.