It’s Just Marijuana: What’s The Big Deal?
Marijuana is one of the most talked about plants in the world and discussions are rife with mixed messages and mythologies about its effects on the human beings who use it. Mixed messages are the results of decades of arguably biased research done on marijuana funded by different organizational stakeholders in the legalization debate. When considering your use or that of a loved one, you must look beyond the media discussion and make informed decisions about the effects of marijuana and how it impacts our health, cognitive function, behavior and addiction potential.
Does Marijuana impact the brain?
The size and shape of two brain regions involved in emotion and motivation differ in young adults who smoke marijuana at least once a week. Findings suggest that recreational marijuana use may lead to previously unidentified brain changes, and highlight the importance of research aimed at understanding the long-term effects of low to moderate marijuana use on the brain. (Society for Neuroscience, April 15, 2014). Marijuana can lead to cognitive problems and impact interpersonal communication, academic scores, absenteeism and lead to an inability to manage emotions. Compromised values are often associated with use and can be seen in theft from family members and friends, loss of motivation and emotional stagnation or increases in anger, anxiety and frustration.
Can Marijuana affect our health in the short and long term?
If a user of marijuana is smoking marijuana multiple times per week, the respiratory system is damaged by the residue or tar in marijuana. This will reduce the effectiveness of tracheal and bronchial cilia hindering the ability to fight infections, such as the common cold. This can escalate long term, contributing to the likelihood of bronchitis, emphysema and cancer. In addition to adverse affect on the developing brain, marijuana also has an effect on the entire central nervous, as well as digestive, reproductive and respiratory systems. This will vary depending on the amount and length of time used. Marijuana is a chemically complex plant composed of 483 distinct chemicals. We currently have no way of predicting the rate and progression of these types of health problems resulting from human and marijuana based biochemical interactions.
Is Marijuana medicine?
According the Uniform Substance Control Act, Marijuana is not a medicine. Because of this law research regarding its potential as a medication is not permitted in the US. However, many nations have done clinical trials on marijuana for a variety of ailments with mixed results. Credible research in England, Netherlands, etc. shows that use of marijuana has therapeutic effects for some but not all people and none recommends smoking or vaporizing because of the risks of lung damage. Marijuana is more accurately described as a food additive similar to vitamins and food supplements that have varying degrees of therapeutic value for the people who use them. It seems important to note here that just because a drug is prescribed does not mean addiction will be avoided. Addiction to prescribed narcotics is a leading cause for patients entering treatment. Understanding physiological addiction and the impact drugs have on individuals, prescribed or not, is imperative.
Is Marijuana addictive?
For many years it was believed that marijuana dependency was psychological not physiological. Science has concluded physical addiction can and does occur. In The Pathophysiology of Addiction by George Koob, Denise Kandel, and Nora Volkow (2008), the base rate of cannabis dependence was estimated to be 10.3% for male users and 8.7% for female users. Their data came from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Like many other substances that alters brain functioning temporarily, marijuana can cause withdrawal, a physiological response to the cessation of use. Insomnia, irritability and mood swings are major symptoms of withdrawal. During the formative years of the brain, use can escalate rapidly. Adolescents and young adults often progress to multiple times per week and sadly are allowed to remain in denial until serious damage has occurred.