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Marijuana is the most widely used drug in the US. And while it is not nearly as dangerous or life-threatening as cocaine or heroin, addiction to it can develop and cause adverse effects to the body and brain.
Easily accessible and legal in the majority of U.S. states, marijuana use is especially widespread among young adults aged 18 to 25, with a reported 11 million using it in 2015. Even though it’s widely used, accepted and non-threatening, users need to be aware that addictions can develop.
What is Marijuana?
Marijuana comes from the dried cannabis sativa or cannabis indica plant and can include leaves, flowers, stems or seeds. The plan contains THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), a mind-altering chemical, and other chemicals that offer a range of stimulating effects.
The cannabis plant is a leafy green bush, with five or seven leaves coming to a point. The plant flourishes in warm, humid climates, which also produces the highest THC levels in the plant.
Most of the marijuana available in the U.S. is grown locally, but imports from Mexico, Canada, Colombia, and Jamaica are also commonly found in the US. These imports typically can be found as bricks, but individual amounts of product on the street would come in dime or nickel bags.
Since the product comes in dried leaves and other elements from the cannabis plant, it can be a range of colors from green to brown and looks something similar to moss. Oil can be extracted from the plant and looks similar to other kinds of oil. This extract can be added to foods, wax, and lotion.
The most common way marijuana is consumed is by rolling the dried leaves into cigarettes (joints) or cigars (blunts) and smoked. Smoking or ingesting edibles of marijuana releases a chemical called tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, giving a relaxing, euphoric high that can affect the user’s senses, memory, motor skills, and perception of time.
It’s important to note that marijuana can have an adverse effect on attention span, motivation, memory, learning, and depression that can persist after the drug’s immediate effects wear off. It’s especially true among younger users.
It’s particularly dangerous when marijuana is combined with other drugs or medication to increase the effects. Common cannabis combinations include opiates, insulin, or anticoagulants.
Brief History of Marijuana
Marijuana, or what is commonly referred to as pot or cannabis, has a long-established history dating back to ancient times. Cultivation of cannabis can be traced back to ancient China and Egypt more than 7,000 years ago.
Ancient uses for cannabis were similar to those of today, in fabric, rope or other textiles and to alleviate pain and inflammation from various diseases.
Cannabis cultivation in the American colonies was fairly common. In fact, Virginia, Massachusetts, and Connecticut colonies require farmers to grow it. As a fast-growing cash crop with multiple uses, it was used as hemp rope and fabrics in trade.
It was sometime in the 1900s when racial and political factors led marijuana to be criminalized in the U.S., but by the 1960s and 70s, marijuana saw a surge in popularity and acceptance in the U.S.
As of the November 2018 election season, there are 10 states plus the District of Columbia where it’s legal to buy recreational marijuana and 33 where it has been passed for medical use.
What are Street names for Marijuana?
The most common among marijuana’s nicknames would be weed, pot, and dabs. Other street names for marijuana include:
- Mary Jane
- Hash oil
Why is Marijuana Addictive?
While marijuana research is still being developed, a recent study shows that about 9 percent of people who abuse marijuana will eventually develop an addiction in time. The likelihood of developing that addiction increases significantly if the user starts during adolescence period.
When the user smokes cannabis, the chemical delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, takes a short trip from the lungs up to the brain via the bloodstream. It takes about 30 mins to an hour to reach the peak high, though the high is achieved faster when the marijuana is ingested.
Once the chemicals from marijuana enter the brain, they interact with cannabinoid receptors, causing impaired movement and reaction time, mood changes, memory, and an altered perception of time and sight.
Similar to many other drugs, tolerance can build when smoking or ingesting marijuana over time, where the user will need more of the drug to achieve the same high. When use is prolonged and amounts continually increased, tolerance can then lead to dependence and addiction.
The brain adapts to the new chemical levels in the brain and the body starts to crave it and feel they need it to survive. When a user ceases to smoke or ingest the drug, the body can go through withdrawals.
Symptoms of marijuana withdrawal include:
- Diminished appetite
- Mood changes
- Sleep difficulties
- Loss of focus
- Sweating, including cold sweats
- Increased feelings of depression
How Does Marijuana Influence the Brain?
Marijuana has two different effects on the brain: long-term and short-term. It has a primary active chemical called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which passes rapidly through the lungs, bloodstream, and up to the brain whenever someone smokes it.
THC reacts on particular areas in the brain called cannabinoid receptors to create a series of cellular reactions that yield the so-called ‘high’ that marijuana users seek. In case you don’t know, some areas in the brain are abundant with cannabinoid receptors while others only have few or none at all.
The richest cannabinoid receptors can be found in the areas of the brain that influence concentration, coordinated movement, pleasure, thoughts, memory, time perception, and sensory.
When someone smokes marijuana, THC passes quickly from the lungs into the bloodstream. The blood then transports this chemical to the brain and other body organs. The body slowly absorbs THC when the person drinks or eats it. In such case, the user feels the high from smoking marijuana after 30 minutes or longer.
Further, this chemical reacts with particular brain cell receptors that normally react to natural chemicals similar to THC. These chemicals have important roles in the function and development of the brain. Marijuana overly activates the areas of the brain with the highest density of these receptors which eventually leads to feeling high. Other short-term effects may also include the following:
- Psychosis ( due to high dosage intake)
- Delusions ( due to high dosage intake)
- Hallucinations ( due to high dosage intake)
- Altered senses
- Impaired memory
- Extreme mood swings
- Altered sense of time
- Incapacitated body movement
- Difficulty with problem-solving and thinking
The dangerous side-effects of addiction to marijuana can actually affect the development of the brain.
When a person starts using marijuana, especially during the adolescent stage, it may impair thinking, learning, and memory functions. It also affects the brain’s process of building connections between the parts that are necessary for these functions to materialize. As of writing, researchers are still digging further studies to find out the maximum duration of marijuana’s effect and whether these changes are permanent.
For instance, a study conducted at Duke University shows that people who have ongoing marijuana use disorder and those who started smoking marijuana heavily in their teenage years lost an average of 8 IQ points between 13 and 38 years old. The extricated mental abilities did not fully return by the time they quit smoking marijuana. On the other hand, those who started smoking marijuana in their adulthood did not show a significant decline in IQ average.
What are the Factors that Determine the Effects and Potency of Marijuana?
Marijuana is packed with cannabinoids, a group of more than 60 psychoactive chemicals. But, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the most abundant.
The quantity of THC that a person ingests when using marijuana regulates the potency of the ‘high’ effect as well as the intensity of different strains of marijuana. All of these results have something to do with the level of THC that marijuana contains, whose average may start from 3% up to 20%. The commercial varieties of hemp and those that are used to create rope and textiles have little to no THC at all. These varieties also don’t produce a significant ‘high effect.’
The most commonly used and smoked variety of marijuana is the dried one. But, it can also be eaten when infused to some foods. A variety of THC-rich marijuana extracts are also becoming popular nowadays. It includes a brittle, hard preparation called shatter and hash oil. These extracts are dangerous as users can quickly ingest large amounts of THC which may lead to overdose and detrimental health effects.
The exact effects of marijuana depend on the following factors:
- The amount of marijuana consumed
- The potency of marijuana
- How marijuana is ingested
Smoking marijuana creates intoxication within minutes only, and its adverse effects are fairly predictable while eating marijuana-infused food causes slow THC absorption. Its intoxication usually manifests for about 30 minutes up to 2 hours after ingestion. Its effects are also hard to predict and recognize.
What are the Adverse Effects of Addiction to Marijuana?
Addiction to marijuana can result in issues and problems related to learning, social behavior, mood, and memory. It can also affect family relationships, work, school, and other activities.
According to research, the adverse impacts of addiction to marijuana to memory and learning last for days or even weeks after its effects wear off. As a consequence, the user who smokes marijuana on a daily basis will experience a reduced intellectual capacity and may not be able to fully function on fields that require cognitive skills.
Abusing marijuana for a long time may also lead to addiction. The person who gets addicted to marijuana will show signs of uncontrollable use and craving for the drug undeterred by the dangerous effects it brings to social functions related to family, work, school, and recreational activities.
Furthermore, when a seasoned marijuana smoker tries to quit using the substance, he/she is likely to struggle with many unpleasant symptoms, making it difficult to quit once and for all. Ironically, the eagerness to stop these withdrawal symptoms is what drives many users to get back into marijuana.
The following are the common withdrawal symptoms;
- drug craving
- decreased appetite, which can trigger disordered eating
Marijuana is usually smoked as a cigarette, referred to as a joint, or in a pipe. It is also smoked in blunts, which are cigars that have been emptied of tobacco and refilled with marijuana.
Since the blunt retains the tobacco leaf used to wrap the cigar, this mode of delivery combines marijuana’s active ingredients with nicotine from the tobacco. Cancer of the lungs is also linked to marijuana use because unfiltered marijuana smoke has more carcinogens than cigarettes.
Marijuana Addiction Symptoms
In the U.S., many teenagers, young and old adults, even some senior citizens like to experiment with illegal drugs. In marijuana’s case, occasional use of it might not lead to abuse. However, using it on a regular basis is discouraged due to its addiction potential and its association with illicit activities like being arrested for criminal activities and drugged driving.
In the untimely stage of using marijuana, neither the loved ones or the drug user will acknowledge that there’s a developing issue or problem. In most cases, users will deny their dependence or addiction to the substance. But such denial can’t be covered up as signs of physical dependence and addiction will show up to the person who’s addicted to marijuana.
Addiction to marijuana also induces behavioral and physical changes. These alterations have the following symptoms:
- inaccurate perceptions
- poor coordination
- difficulty in thinking and problem solving
- ongoing problems with learning and memory
Besides the behavioral changes, physical signs of abusing marijuana will also manifest right after use. These changes include;
- eating more than usual or increased appetite
- feeling nauseated or dizziness
- bloodshot or inflamed eyes
- laughing for no reason
The physical indications of using marijuana aren’t sufficient enough to conclude that addiction or physical dependence has developed. Also, the withdrawal for marijuana is often mild compared to other drugs.
What are the Withdrawal Symptoms of Marijuana?
The phase for marijuana addiction withdrawal is not easy as it has different effects on different users. Long-term or heavy users who quit usually experience heavier side effects compared to those who didn’t use it for long periods of time or as heavily.
Decreased appetite, flu-like symptoms, chills, and excessive sweating are common marijuana withdrawal symptoms. Sadly, there are no significant treatments to relieve such symptoms. On a positive note, there’s a high likelihood for specific treatments to be developed in the future.
There’s even a study that researches and suggests the use of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) as a possible counter-medication to alleviate the withdrawal symptoms to help a person taper or wean off marijuana. Apart from this study, individuals who attempt to quit marijuana may also take advantage of the supportive interventions provided by a professional treatment and detox program.
Through such a program, members of medical staff and the individual can monitor the withdrawal symptoms. It will also help the person feel more at ease while going through the withdrawal process. The acknowledgment of marijuana withdrawal as a mental health condition is fairly new.
If the person had smoked marijuana regularly for several months before deciding to quit, he/she would exhibit at least three of the following symptoms;
- bad dreams
- weight loss
- decreased appetite
- discomforts due to a headache, stomach pain, chills, shakiness, or sweating.
There are also additional symptoms to look for, although they are not listed in the official criteria of withdrawal syndromes for marijuana. The following symptoms are:
- difficulty in concentrating
- Rebound periods of hypersomnia after insomnia and increased appetite after the loss of appetite.
The symptoms given must not be associated with any other illness and must be serious enough to create notable effects on bodily and mental function.
What are the Treatments for Marijuana Withdrawal?
The symptoms for withdrawal of marijuana use usually starts within one to three days after quitting and may last for about a week or two. Also, sleep disturbances may manifest and lasts for a month or so.
That said, the most efficient treatment for marijuana withdrawal requires different and combined strategies.
- Medication. There are medications like antidepressants that can be prescribed to treat serious mental health problems caused by withdrawals. However, there are no recent FDA-approved medications for marijuana withdrawal treatment. On a good note, several medications for sleep disturbances have been studied deeper to treat insomnia due to marijuana withdrawal.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy. This approach heavily studies the relationship between behaviors, feelings, and thoughts and how all of them connects to marijuana abuse. The therapist trains self-talk strategies and positive coping skills to the person who undergoes the therapy.
- Motivational enhancement therapy. This type of therapy is projected to patients with low motivations to stop using marijuana. It lessens the uncertainties related to recovery and ingrains confidence to the person to quit using marijuana and make positive changes.
- Psychotherapy. It’s another efficient way of treating withdrawals. Different kinds of psychotherapy have been proven effective in treating marijuana addiction.
- Social support. It’s the most readily available approach to help a person overcome the difficult withdrawal stages. Foster a conducive environment that encourages abstinence. It’s important to build a strong support system who can influence the person with a positive outlook in life and remind him/her of how far he/she have come.
- Contingency management. It uses provisions and rewards system to motivate and teach the person to stop using marijuana. This type of therapy focuses on frequent monitoring the progress or failure of the person and its possible reinforcement or supplementary programs if the target results are achieved or not.
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Who are Prone to Marijuana Addiction?
Marijuana use is not going to be eradicated. A study even concludes that almost 7,000 people in the U.S. use marijuana everyday. The statistic reaches its high-flying status especially now that using marijuana has been legalized in most states.
Another study also showed that marijuana use among senior citizens is growing. With all these alarming data, the question now is how does the misuse of this drug develop and who gets addicted to marijuana?
Genes. According to Dr. Alex Stalcup, medical director of New Leaf Treatment Center in California, genes play a significant role in developing an addiction. Several studies also support this theory. While family ties are powerful predictors of addiction, they can also help some people avoid or overcome addiction.
According to Carl Hart, PhD, author of “High Price,” and an associate professor of psychology at Columbia University in New York, the criteria for addiction is connected with people who try to modify their behavior. Addiction has something to do with responsibility skills. He further stated that when you look at people with addiction issues and to people who have families and jobs, all of them have responsibilities.
Both groups had social networks and plugged into their societies. The addiction rates within these groups are lesser compared to those people who aren’t plugged with families, social networks, and jobs. Further, non-addicts also have broader options than those with addiction issues.
Those people with few or limited choices in life due to social, emotional, and even financial restraints may find drugs like marijuana as an attractive outlet to vent out their emotions and thoughts and are more prone to addiction.
Mental Illness. It’s another factor with a significant role in addiction risk. It has both environmental and genetic causes.
Dr. Stalcup stated that mental health is a big risk factor for addiction. For mentally ill people, drugs may work well at first. For anxious people, it goes away with a couple of hits like magic. However, the tolerance also develops. As such, they don’t only need to smoke more to relieve the anxiety, but the undisclosed anxiety comes back even worse whenever they try to stop. It becomes a biological trap. The drug works efficiently at first, it stops working, it turns on you, and the problem is still there.
He also added that around 50% or 60% of people who are addicted to marijuana have an underlying mental illness. The majority of these people have anxiety, depression, schizophrenia or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In marijuana’s case, it may offer a gamut of benefits to the user. It helps soothes anxiety and prevent the loss of pleasure in depression. For users who suffer from PTSD and experiences nightmares, marijuana impairs the process responsible for regulating dreams in the brain.
Marijuana Abuse Statistics
Reports from the most recent Monitoring the Future survey suggests that marijuana uses among middle and high school students have dropped over past years, following several years of increase. In 2017, only 5.9 percent of 12th graders are using cannabis on a daily basis.
Despite this trend, in 2016 it was reported that 4 million people, aged 12 and beyond, had a marijuana use disorder. The common problem is that the number of youth who believe regular marijuana use is risky is decreasing.
One alarming trend is that in California and Colorado, two states that have led the change of legalizing recreational use of marijuana, there has actually been a rise in marijuana-related ER visits in 2018. Proving the need to use responsibly.
Marijuana Abuse Treatment
Like all addiction, detox and therapy are the cornerstones of treatment for marijuana addiction. The goal for the staff at the Southern California Addiction Center is to provide patients with the tools to avoid triggers and cope with the stresses of life without turning to marijuana, so they can live drug-free, even when put in tempting situations.
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