Marijuana has already been legalized for recreational use in a couple of states while 21 states have laws which allow its use for medical purposes. How can marijuana be bad? Before answering this question, a little introduction is in order. Marijuana comes from Cannabis sativa or hemp. The active component of marijuana is the chemical delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol which is commonly called THC and other related compounds. The dried leaves, flowers, stems and seeds have mind-altering properties.
Marijuana is typically smoked in joints which refer to cigarettes that are hand-rolled or in bongs which refer to pipes or water pipes. Some also smoke using blunts which are actually cigars that have their tobacco content removed and then filled again with marijuana and tobacco mixture. It can also be mixed together with food or brewed with tea.
The THC in marijuana goes straight from the lungs to the bloodstream when it is taken. From there the chemical is brought to the brain and other organs. Smoking results to faster absorption of the drug than when it is eaten or drank. THC acts on the brain’s cannabinoid receptors which play a vital role in the normal development and function of the brain since it is part of the endocannabinoid system. Most of the cannabinoid receptors are found in the brain’s pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, sensory and time perception and coordinated movement areas.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) revealed that marijuana works by over-exciting the endocannabinoid system. As a result, users experience the “high” which includes altered perceptions and mood, problem solving and thinking difficulties, impaired coordination and learning and memory disruptions.
Marijuana users who first started using the substance when they were adolescents experience lessened connectivity in the areas of the brain that have to do with learning and memory. Based on a long-term study in New Zealand, it was seen that people who started smoking marijuana when they were teenagers lost around eight IQ points from 13 to 38 years old. What makes the study significant is that these cognitive abilities that were lost because of marijuana use were not anymore fully regained when they quit smoking as adults. However, when users began to smoke marijuana as adults, they did not exhibit substantial declines in IQ.
In addition to its psychological effects, marijuana smoke also irritates the lungs and leads to respiratory problems. Like tobacco smokers, they also experience cough and phlegm production on a daily basis, have acute chest illnesses and suffer from an increased risk of lung infections. The NIDA cited a study which found that those who are pure marijuana smokers (e.g. don’t smoke tobacco) experience more health issues and are frequently absent from work primarily because of respiratory problems.
Aside from respiratory and cardiac issues—marijuana users are close to five times more likely to have a heart attack in the first hour of smoking the substance—many studies have shown that mental illness and chronic use of marijuana are inextricably linked. In high doses, marijuana can cause hallucinations and paranoia and is also a contributing factor of developing psychosis in later life, especially among those who start abusing the drug when they were young. There are also studies which suggest that using marijuana may lead to depression, personality disturbances, anxiety and suicidal thoughts among teenagers although these associations still need to be researched more thoroughly.
It’s a bad idea to drink and smoke marijuana because the drug has an effect on the driver’s judgment and motor coordination. In fact, it doubles the driver’s risk of being involved in a car crash based on various studies. The result is even deadlier when combined with alcohol.
Women who use marijuana while they are pregnant put their unborn child at risk for neurobehavioral problems. THC and other compounds in marijuana sort of copy the natural endocannabinoid chemicals in the body so using it while infanticipating may change her baby’s fragile endocannabinoid system. When the child grows, he may have difficulties with his attention span, memory and problem solving.
Marijuana is addictive and those who have been trying to get off the drug experience withdrawal symptoms like sleeplessness, irritability, anxiety, decreased appetite and cravings. This also explains why it’s very difficult for them to quit for the long-term. That being said, there have been proven treatment approaches that help marijuana users who are serious about removing the drug from their life. These include cognitive-behavioral therapy and providing motivational incentives for those who abstain from using the drug.