Many people believe marijuana is merely a benign recreational drug, but misuse of marijuana can have devastating consequences on individuals and families.
While marijuana is increasingly legal for both medical and recreational purposes in a number of states, it is still classified by the federal government as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I drugs, including heroin, morphine, peyote and LSD, have a high abuse potential, according to the federal drug policy enacted in 1970.
According to the National Institute of Health, about nine percent of marijuana users become dependent on the drug. “The number increases to about one in six among those who start using it at a young age, and to 25 to 50 percent among daily users,” according to NIH statistics. Marijuana can be psychologically addictive, and it can lead those who use it to experience changes in motivation, cognition, memory, and emotion. Use of marijuana at in adolescence has been related to a drop in IQ. Marijuana use can also trigger the onset of serious mental health conditions.
What Is Marijuana and Who’s Using It?
Marijuana is a dried mix of flowers, stems, leaves and seeds derived from the cannabis sativa plant, which has active ingredient is tetrahydrocannibinol – or THC. The substance, similar in consistency to tobacco, is usually smoked in a pipe, a water pipe or rolled like a cigarette. Marijuana can also be added to food and drinks.
Smoking marijuana releases THC into the bloodstream, which carries it to the brain and the body’s other organs. In the brain’s cannabinoid receptors, THC ignites reactions that lead to the feelings of euphoria and other sensations that typically last for several hours.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse cites marijuana as the most commonly used illegal drug in the United States. While marijuana use is growing in numbers among adults, adolescent use of marijuana has actually declined.
Short-Term Effects of Marijuana
Marijuana brings a variety of physical and psychological effects. Some effects are felt immediately whereas others only become evident after continued, long-term use.
The short-term physical effects of marijuana use include:
- Changes in heart rate
- Changes in blood pressure
- Bloodshot eyes
- Dry throat and mouth
- Appetite changes
- Slowed reaction time
- Decrease in coordination
- Muscle relaxation
The short-term psychoactive effects of using marijuana are:
- Lowered inhibitions
- Inaccurate sense of time
- Disjointed thinking patterns
- Inability to retain short-term memories
- Impaired problem-solving skills
Long-Term Effects of Marijuana
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), men who use marijuana may be more likely to develop testicular cancer. The study found that male marijuana users were up to 70 percent more likely to get the cancer than those who did not smoke the drug.
Long-term marijuana use can experience lung issues, similar to those experienced by cigarette smokers. This is due to the carcinogens found in marijuana smoke. Since marijuana changes the user’s heart rate, long-term users may be a higher risk for heart attack as well.
Much has been said about marijuana’s role as a “gateway drug.” Research conducted by the University of Maryland’s Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR) found that marijuana users are more likely to try other forms of illicit drugs later in life. Regular marijuana use has also been linked to memory problems, a lack of motivation, and depression.
Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana
Whereas most people are aware of the dangers of drinking and driving, many are under the misconception that driving under the influence of marijuana is “safer” or not as bad as driving drunk. In fact, marijuana significantly impairs one’s ability to drive, putting the driver and others on the road at an increased risk of accident, injuries and even death. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data from arrests and fatalities suggest that second to alcohol, marijuana is the most commonly discovered impairing substance used by drivers.
Repeated tests illustrate that marijuana seriously weakens one’s driving ability. In fact, the NHTSA found that marijuana use results in:
- Impaired ability to effectively direct the car
- Longer reaction times, which can lead to accidents
- Poor time and distance estimation
- Diminished motor skills
The risks of driving under the influence of marijuana are multiplied when the driver has also consumed alcohol. In fact, the NHTSA warns that mixing alcohol and marijuana could increase the effects of either substance, thereby increasing the likelihood of potentially tragic accidents.
Is Marijuana Addictive?
In short, yes, it can be. Chronic use can interfere with family, work, school and other daily activities. Marijuana increases dopamine in the brain, which is responsible for the euphoric feeling users get when they use the drug. This euphoria might lead to urges to use marijuana repeatedly, which could then lead to a dependence on it.
Users who try to quit often have withdrawal symptoms that include touchiness, anger, anxiety, cravings for the drug, weight loss and insomnia. According to the NIH, the withdrawal symptoms begin about one day after the last use, reach their worst point at two to three days after use, and decline after a couple of weeks.
Relapse is very common during this period of withdrawal as users try to relieve the symptoms by returning to marijuana. If an addict enters an inpatient treatment program where there is no access to marijuana, they are more likely to make it through this crucial part of the recovery process.
According to the American Psychology Association, people who meet three or more of the following characteristics can be classified as addicted to marijuana:
- An increased tolerance of the drug, meaning it takes a greater amount for the desired effect than it did earlier
- Withdrawal symptoms after stopping marijuana use
- Using more marijuana than originally planned
- An inability to stop using marijuana despite a desire to do so
- Using marijuana, recovering from it, and trying to get money to buy it take up a great deal of time
- Marijuana has caused job loss or poor job performance
- Marijuana has led to a loss or decline in recreational and social activities
- Continued use of marijuana despite negative effects and impact
Rehabilitation and Recovery from Marijuana
According to the NIH, heavy marijuana users report that the drug has seriously affected various aspects of their lives, such as their familial relationships, career progress, and overall health. Other studies have linked marijuana use in workers to absences, accidents, job turnover and poor work performance.
While inpatient treatment offers addicted individuals the most comprehensive treatment option, people in recovery have also found success with outpatient programs. In outpatient treatment, addicted individuals attend treatment sessions during the day but return to their own home at night. This works particularly well for those with familial or work responsibilities that can’t be put on hold while they are in treatment.
After an addiction treatment program is complete, it’s recommended that patients continue their recovery process through aftercare programs. Some patients may choose to live in a sober living home, where they can gain support from other recovering addicts while holding down a job and other responsibilities. Twelve-step groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous and Marijuana Anonymous, can provide a solid support network for recovering addicts, and meetings are available all over the US.
There is also a wide range of alternative therapies for marijuana cessation, including hypnosis, acupuncture, massage therapy, and organic nutrition. The most successful treatments treat the whole patient as addiction is a mind-body phenomenon.
As with any addiction, recovery is a lifelong process. People who have become psychologically addicted to marijuana may fight urges to use the drug for the rest of their lives.
It’s important to take measures to prevent the possibility of relapse, such as:
- Clearly tell friends, family members and associates that you have made the decision to quit using marijuana. Ask that they support you in this decision.
- Throw out all your marijuana paraphernalia, such as pipes, bongs, rolling papers or lighters. You will be less likely to use marijuana again if you don’t have the materials handy.
- Explore new healthy hobbies, such as jogging, cycling or yoga. Regular participation in healthy activities may reduce your desire to use marijuana.
- Attend 12-step meetings or other support groups. This will establish a network of support for you. You can then turn to these people when you feel the desire to relapse.
If you or someone you love is addicted to marijuana, effective addiction treatment can be the start to a lifetime of sobriety. Here at The Canyon, we offer addiction treatment programs that include detox, individual and group counseling, life skills training and aftercare services to ensure that our patients have the support necessary to begin healthy, addiction-free lives.