Abuse of any controlled substance can lead to addiction, health problems, and many other personal issues. This includes even those drugs that are considered less serious than others, like marijuana. Although the repercussions of using this drug are not as severe as with other substances, marijuana abuse can be a real problem. If you know someone who uses, learn the facts about this drug and be prepared to step in and help when needed.
What is Marijuana?
Marijuana is a drug that comes from the cannabis plant, which is indigenous to Asia. The cannabis plant has many uses. The fibers of the plant are used to make a variety of products including fabrics and paper. In this capacity, the material from the plant is called hemp. The seeds can be eaten and are very nutritious. They contain essential fatty acids, protein, and vitamins and minerals. They can also be made into a milk substitute.
A mix of the leaves, seeds, stems, and flowers from the cannabis plant, once dried, can be smoked as a recreational drug. The dried material goes by cannabis, marijuana, weed, dope, herb, pot, reefer, Mary Jane, and many, many other names. Resins and oils collected from the cannabis plant make up another recreational drug called hashish or hash for short. It is stronger and more potent than marijuana.
The substances in marijuana that give the user a high are called cannabinoids. These are a group of chemical compounds that produce psychoactive symptoms. The major compound of the over 400 present in the cannabis plant is called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC for short. THC and other cannabinoids stay in the body for a long period of time after use because they accumulate in cell membranes. THC acts on receptors in the brain and in the peripheral nervous system and alters the user’s mood and thinking. Users describe feeling relaxed, introspective, philosophical, and hungry. In some cases, the user may feel paranoid and anxious. The effects of marijuana usage typically wear off after a few hours.
Who Uses Marijuana?
Cannabis is used by a wide variety of people throughout the world and is one of the most common and popular of all recreational drugs. It falls behind caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco only in terms of worldwide substance usage. Over 100 million Americans have tried marijuana and approximately 25 million have used it in the last year. That makes marijuana the most used illegal substance in the U.S. Some people who smoke marijuana are able to do so only occasionally without developing an addiction or without using more dangerous substances, while others become addicted or use it in conjunction with narcotics.
Is Marijuana Addictive?
The potential for dependence and the possibility of marijuana being a gateway to stronger drugs has long been under debate. Addiction is unlikely to develop in those who use marijuana only occasionally. However, those who use it frequently are at risk of developing dependence. Approximately nine percent of users become addicted. The risk of addiction rises with the frequency of use and is more likely in those who start smoking at a young age. Long term users experience withdrawal symptoms including sleeplessness, loss of appetite, irritability, craving, and anxiety.
What are the Consequences of Marijuana Use?
While addiction rates remain low, using marijuana can lead to the abuse of more dangerous drugs. If you know someone who smokes occasionally, watch out for signs that they have started trying new drugs. Although addiction is not a big risk with marijuana, there are some health problems that it can cause.
Immediate effects on the body and the brain include:
• Increased blood pressure
• Increased breathing
• A rapid heart beat
• Dry mouth
• Red and irritated eyes
• Slower reaction times
• An increased appetite
• Random thoughts
• Short-term memory loss
• A distorted sense of time
• Depression and anxiety
Smoking marijuana regularly also carries some long-term health consequences. Serious users are at a greater risk for having a heart attack within an hour of smoking marijuana. The risk is especially high for anyone with preexisting heart problems and in older people. Marijuana smoke contains many carcinogens, even more than tobacco smoke. Studies as to the connection between smoking marijuana and developing lung cancer are so far inconclusive, though. Users are at risk for many of the same respiratory conditions as cigarette smokers: coughing, acute chest
When to Seek Help
If you know someone who is using marijuana and it seems to be adversely affecting their health and their life, intervention may be necessary. Too often, people fail to take marijuana abuse seriously. As with any drug, a user can become addicted and lose interest in work, friends, family, and personal hygiene and care. If you notice any signs of addiction, even small ones, in your loved one, it’s time to step in.