Marijuana, or cannabis, is widely regarded as a harmless, or to some people even beneficial, drug. It appears under many names; in its original dried plant form, it is generally referred to as weed or green, in processed form as hash. An online search will yield hundreds of pages dedicated to promoting the ‘positive’ effects of cannabis, and there is little doubt that, used carefully, it can be of benefit to sufferers of disorders such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, but many users are unaware of the darker effects of the drug. Many people know marijuana as a ‘gateway drug’, as users of this drug often encounter other, more dangerous drugs, through their association with dealers. But the substance itself can be addictive, and many users will be dependent on the drug and even develop a marijuana addiction while still believing that they are in control.
The Psychological Effects
The main active component in marijuana (although there a complex mix of chemicals present that contribute to its effects) is a chemical called THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). THC acts on receptors found in the brain and cells present in the immune system, the action on receptors in the brain is responsible for the psychological effects experienced.
When smoked, the effects of marijuana are felt within a few minutes. Users experience a feeling of euphoria and relaxation; at higher doses, the effects can include hallucinations and loss of muscle control while some users may experience feelings of detachment from themselves or reality. Side-effects of the drug include hunger, reddened eyes and a loss of short-term memory.
These effects may appear innocuous, but many studies have linked the long-term use of marijuana with permanent psychological effects. The permanent effects are most likely to be found in those who begin using marijuana regularly as teenagers when the brain is still developing new connections and processing pathways.
One of the dangers of regular marijuana use is the huge variation in strength between different types of the drug and within the same type. Wild cannabis plants do not have particularly high levels of the active compounds, but over years of use, plants have been manipulated to produce increasingly more potent forms, one of the strongest types being the varieties known as skunk. These have unusually high levels of THC, and consequently a much greater risk of causing permanent mental damage. The high potency of skunk frequently leads to psychotic episodes, even on first use, and the risk of this is much greater for users who have a family history of mental disorders such as anxiety.
The Permanent Damage
Marijuana use, particularly of the highly potent skunk, has been linked to the onset of several mental health problems, and these disorders are four to seven times more likely to be seen in those who start using the drug before the age of eighteen.
Problems that have been linked to marijuana use include permanent short-term memory loss, depression and anxiety, and, particularly in teenagers who use heavily, schizophrenia. Those who may already be experiencing mental health problems often resort to drug use as a form of escape, but the use of marijuana under these circumstances can make their symptoms much worse, creating a vicious cycle of marijuana use and mental health breakdown. For expectant mothers, use of marijuana during pregnancy can result in a greater risk of their baby suffering from development disorders related to the effects of marijuana on brain development.
Despite popular opinion, marijuana is, in fact, an addictive drug. Regular users experience physical withdrawal symptoms including loss of appetite, restlessness, difficulty sleeping, physical discomfort, mood swings and irritability. These effects can last for several weeks, as the active component THC remains in the body for some time even after drug use has stopped.
Difficulty Overcoming Addiction
If you are struggling to overcome addiction to marijuana, or you suspect a family member may have a marijuana addiction, here at Addiction Helper we can provide you with advice and support to overcome these issues. We can help you find treatment through a wide range of options, and we have a wealth of experience in helping individuals cope and deal with addiction. If you would like any further information or even just someone to talk to, please call us today. We are here to help.