Marijuana refers to the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds from the hemp plant Cannabis sativa, which contains the psychoactive (mind-altering) chemical delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) as well as other related compounds. This plant material can also be concentrated into a resin called hashish or a sticky black liquid called hash oil. Marijuana is the most common illicit drug used in the United States and many parts of the globe. After a period of decline in the last decade, there is an upward trend in the number of users from 2007 onwards and has a direct correlation with the legal statuses in certain parts of the world. Learn about marijuana addiction to better cope with its symptoms and treatment processes.
There are many ways in which users consume marijuana and the most common is hand-rolled cigarettes (joints) or in pipes or water pipes (bongs). Another method of smoking is by using blunts; cigars that have been emptied of tobacco and refilled with a mixture of marijuana and tobacco. Marijuana smoke has a pungent and distinctive, usually sweet-and-sour, odour. Other methods of consumption could also include its inclusion in food and beverages like tea. THC’s chemical structure is similar to the brain chemical anandamide which allows the drug to be recognised by the body.
When marijuana is smoked, THC rapidly passes from the lungs into the bloodstream, which carries the chemical to the brain and other organs throughout the body. It is absorbed more slowly when ingested in food or drink. THC acts on specific nerve ends in the brains called the cannabinoid receptors which are usually activated by similar chemicals like anandamide, and are part of a neural communication network called the endocannabinoid system. This system plays an important role in normal brain development and function.
The highest density of cannabinoid receptors is found in parts of the brain that influence pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, sensory and time perception, and coordinated movement. Marijuana over-activates the endocannabinoid system, causing the “high” and other related effects which include altered perceptions and mood, impaired coordination, difficulty with thinking and problem solving, and disrupted learning and memory.
Marijuana also affects brain development, and when used heavily by young people, it can have effects on thinking and memory retention that may last a long time, or even be permanent. A recent study of marijuana users who began using in adolescence revealed substantially reduced connectivity among brain areas responsible for learning and memory. Another large long-term study in New Zealand showed that people who began smoking marijuana heavily in their teens lost an average of 8 points in IQ between age 13 and age 38. Importantly, the lost cognitive abilities were not fully restored in those who quit smoking marijuana as adults. Those who started smoking marijuana in adulthood did not show significant IQ declines.
Marijuana use may have a wide range of effects, particularly on cardiopulmonary and mental health. It’s smoke is an irritant to the lungs, and frequent marijuana smokers can have many of the same respiratory problems experienced by tobacco smokers, such as daily cough and phlegm production, more frequent acute chest illness, and a heightened risk of lung infections. One study found that people who smoke marijuana frequently (non tobacco users) have more health problems and miss more days of work than those who don’t smoke marijuana, mainly because of respiratory illnesses.
Marijuana also raises heart rate by 20-100 percent shortly after smoking, which can last up to 3 hours. In one study, it was estimated that marijuana users have a 4.8-fold increase in the risk of heart attack in the first hour after smoking the drug. This risk may be greater in older individuals or in those with cardiac vulnerabilities.
A number of studies have linked chronic marijuana use and mental illness. High doses of marijuana can produce a temporary psychotic reaction (involving hallucinations and paranoia) in some users, and using marijuana can worsen the course of illness with schizophrenic patients. A series of large studies following users across time also showed a link between marijuana use and later development of psychosis. This relationship was influenced by genetic variables as well volume of drugs, potency and age of first use.
There is a wide range of ongoing researches and many studies have shown between marijuana use and depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts among adolescents, and personality disturbances. The most common denominator displays users with lack of motivation to engage in typically rewarding activities. In addition to that, marijuana use during pregnancy is associated with increased risk of neurobehavioral problems in babies which include problems with attention, memory, and problem-solving during development stages and later years. Usage of marijuana typically impairs judgment and motor coordination, risking those handling heavy machinery or motor-vehicles as well.
Many have called for the legalisation of marijuana to treat conditions including pain and nausea caused by HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other conditions, but clinical evidence has not shown that the therapeutic benefits of the marijuana plant outweigh its health risks. To be considered a legitimate medicine by the FDA, a substance must have well-defined and measurable ingredients that are consistent from one unit (such as a pill or injection) to the next. The marijuana plant contains hundreds of chemical compounds that may have different effects and may vary from plant to plant, making it immeasurable from a medical standpoint. The act of ingesting the drugs by smoking is another factor of health concerns.
However, THC-based drugs to treat pain and nausea are already FDA approved and prescribed, and scientists continue to investigate the medicinal properties of other chemicals found in the cannabis plant—such as cannabidiol. This non-psychoactive cannabinoid compound is being studied for its effects at treating pain, pediatric epilepsy, and other disorders. Consumption of these prescriptions are closely monitored to ensure efficient benefits to patients. Whilst so, the misuse and misappropriation of unregulated Marijuana is rampant and causing addictions and various other complications.
Contrary to common belief, marijuana is addictive and estimates from research suggest that about 9 percent of users become addicted. This number increases among those who start young (to about 17 percent) and among people who use marijuana daily (to 25-50 percent).
Long-term marijuana users trying to quit report withdrawal symptoms including irritability, sleeplessness, decreased appetite, anxiety, and drug craving. Behavioral interventions, including cognitive-behavioral therapy and motivational incentives (i.e., providing vouchers for goods or services to patients who remain abstinent) have proven to be effective in treating marijuana addiction. Although no medications are currently available, there are some developments in finding medications to ease withdrawal, block the intoxicating effects of marijuana, and prevent relapse.