In 1992, Bill Clinton made a splash during his presidential campaign when he admitted he tried marijuana during his time as a student. He attempted to soften the blow, according to news reports, by stating that he did not inhale the drug into his lungs, and he didn’t like using it.
In 2006, Barack Obama revealed during his presidential campaign that he had also tried marijuana when he was a young man, but the said he did inhale. In fact, according to news reports, he boasted, “When I was a kid, I inhaled… That was the point.”
Put these two stories side by side and it seems to imply that American’s views on marijuana experimentation have softened. Prior to the 1990s, an admission of pleasurable or frequent marijuana use would have excluded someone from public office. After the year 2000, use is seen as a sort of forgivable rite of passage.
This theme has been echoed in the popular culture as well. Teens, in particular, seem to believe that marijuana is safe, and experimentation is considered something all should do. According to the National Institute on Drug Use (NIDA), annual marijuana use rates among teens had been steadily declining since the mid-1990s, but rates have been climbing once again after 2008. This trend is also appearing in the adult population. In 2008, 75.6 percent of illicit drug users reported using marijuana within the past 30 days, and more than half stated that marijuana was the only drug they used during that time.
While some people may be able to use marijuana without becoming addicted to the substance, other people face a high risk of addiction. This addiction could have serious consequences on the long- and short-term physical and mental health of the user.
Buying and Using Marijuana
Marijuana is a plant, and it’s often sold in one of the following four forms:
Stems, leaves and flowers. Producers will harvest the plant and allow the organic materials to dry. Then, producers chop this plant material into fine pieces and sell this by the ounce.
Hash. This form also contains marijuana leaves, but it also contains a significant amount of resin and it can feel sticky or firm.
Cannabis oil. Producers extract the resin from the marijuana plant with a solvent, and sell this sticky, pungent oil as a final product.
Hemp. This form of marijuana has very little drug-related use. The strong fibers are often turned into paper, rope and fabrics.
Users often take marijuana in through their lungs. Some users smoke marijuana in pipes, cigarettes or cigars while others place marijuana in a water pipe, commonly known as a bong, and inhale the vapors. Some users bake marijuana into foods like cookies or brownies.
While hemp is legal in the United States, most other forms of marijuana are not.
Some states, such as California and Oregon, allow people with serious medical conditions to use marijuana to ease their symptoms. People without prescriptions, however, are not allowed to possess the drug and those who do have prescriptions must remain under the close supervision of their doctors.
Medical marijuana dispensaries often state the active drug content in the products they sell, but users who buy drugs from street dealers rarely know the strength of the drug that they are buying. According to an article published by Health Canada, marijuana strength can vary from one to 20 percent, depending on how the drug is grown and processed. Cannabis oil can even have a 70-percent potency, according to Health Canada.
Marijuana and the Brain
When marijuana enters the bloodstream, the active component of the drug (THC) is picked up by receptors dotted throughout the body. A large number of these receptors are located in the brain.
THC can impact these parts of the brain:
Hypothalamus, which controls appetite and sexual behavior
Basal ganglia, which produce motor control and help a person plan and make decisions
Amydgala, which produces feelings of anxiety and fear
Hippocampus, which plays a key role in memory and retention of information
Neocortex, which is responsible for combining disparate sensory information
Some of these parts of the brain are stimulated, allowing the user to experience an increased appetite and feel a heightened sense of smell and taste. Other parts of the brain are suppressed, which might make the user feel confused or spaced out. Some people who use marijuana feel different sensations each time they use the drug, depending on their own expectations and past experiences with the drug. Other people always feel a sensation of pleasure and relaxation when using the drug. THC tends to stimulate the production of dopamine in most users, allowing them to feel powerful, happy, silly and euphoric. This feeling often draws addicts back to repeated drug use.
After smoking marijuana, the user might feel effects right away and those effects might last for one to three hours.
After eating marijuana, the user might need an hour to feel effects, but the symptoms can last for up to four hours. People who use marijuana frequently may find that they need to take higher and higher doses of the drug in order to feel the same effects. The body becomes accustomed to the presence of THC, and small amounts simply don’t cause the same feelings of euphoria.
Along with a feeling of pleasure, however, marijuana can cause some significant brain-related side effects. In fact, marijuana use has been linked with mental illnesses. A study published in BMJ found that one-tenth of marijuana users studied developed schizophrenia by the end of the study. The younger the people were when they began using the drug, the more likely they were to develop this mental illness.
Some researchers have also suggested that regular marijuana use can cause amotivational syndrome, or a profound sense of apathy and a lack of interest in doing anything requiring work. Researchers now believe, according to an article published by the University of Washington, that amotivational syndrome does not truly exist as a true mental illness. Instead, people who use marijuana may experience these symptoms due to the basic nature of their drug use. As their addiction deepens, they become less likely to do anything that is not related to addiction. This could reasonably be said about anyone who is addicted to anything.
An obsession with a substance is the hallmark of all addictions, not just marijuana addiction.
Marijuana can, however, cause problems with thinking and retaining information. A study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that heavy users of marijuana scored significantly lower on tests of memory, compared to people who rarely used marijuana. Thankfully, however, those deficits seemed to dissipate when the users removed marijuana from their systems. In other words, the short-term effects were major, but the long-term effects were not. This makes the case for rehabilitation all the more strong.
Marijuana Addiction Intervention
Since the effects of marijuana tend to dissipate over time, and many users report only a transient feeling of unpleasantness during withdrawal from the drug, some people speculate that marijuana is not truly addictive. People who live with marijuana addicts know, however, that the addiction is real.
People addicted to marijuana will do almost anything to get the drug, and they will put aside their friendships, their schoolwork, their jobs and their family members in order to engage in the addiction. People with marijuana addiction may:
Find it hard to get through the day without marijuana
Smoke marijuana in order to avoid dealing with stress, sadness or unpleasantness
Steal or borrow large amounts of money in order to buy drugs
Feel anxious when they’re running out of marijuana
Choose friends based on their marijuana use
These behaviors can cause serious disruptions in the life of the addict. He or she may be unable to keep a job, and family relations may become incredibly strained as the addict begins to focus on the addiction to the exclusion of all else.
This is not the sort of life anyone would choose for someone they love. But, family members may feel unable to help when they see someone struggling with an addiction, or they may be embarrassed to bring up something so sensitive to someone who might seem private. It’s important to remember, however, that someone in the throes of an addiction often needs help from outsiders in order to heal. Addiction causes changes in the way the brain works and the way the person thinks and feels. It can be difficult to work through these problems and decide to make needed changes.
An intervention is often the first step of recovery. Here, the family meets with the addict in private and they describe the addiction in clear terms. The addict learns how his or her behavior is impacting the family, and the addict may also hear how the family plans to react if the addiction doesn’t stop. At the end of the intervention, the addict is asked to enter a treatment program. Often, addicts agree to do so.
Don’t let a marijuana addiction continue unabated. If someone you love is dealing with this addiction, contact an interventionist and learn how to take part in a life-saving intervention.