Cannabis (Marijuana) Abuse
Weed. Pot. Grass. Mary Jane. Ganja. Marijuana- the most commonly used illegal drug in the United States- has many names, but the effects of both the drug itself and the abuse of it remain the same. Rumors about marijuana vary; everyone has heard the warning tales of marijuana as a ‘gateway drug’ or that possessing marijuana will lead to a life in prison. In 2012, however, marijuana was legalized for recreational use in Colorado and Washington. This began a trend which has spread, changing the perception of marijuana from a rigidly illegal drug into a legal recreational substance akin to alcohol.
Does this mean that marijuana no longer holds repercussions for those who use it? If you reside in a state where the drug’s usage has been legalized, you will not be penalized for possessing a legal amount. You can use it privately without fear of being arrested. The parallel to alcohol or cigarettes, another legal substance, is more prominent than it was when marijuana was illegal. Now the detrimental effects marijuana can have on an individual’s life have to do with becoming addicted to it and abusing it.
Effects of Marijuana Usage
The Cannabis sativa plant is dried and a combination of the shredded leaves, seeds, flowers and stems are used in the consumption of marijuana. It can either be smoked or orally consumed. The active chemical in marijuana is tetrahydrocannibinoid, which can affect the body’s endocannabinoid system. It is THC that is responsible for the feelings of euphoria, the disorientation, memory distortion, increased appetite and other reported effects of marijuana usage. For short-term usage, these effects wear off within an hour or two. The chemicals themselves linger in the body for up to 10 days, depending on the strength of the marijuana consumed.
Does marijuana usage have long-term, permanent physical effects? Studies have noted increased respiratory illnesses, suppression of the immune system, difficulties with cognitive functioning and long-term memory and even abnormalities in the physical brain structure. Just as long-term alcohol abuse can cause a person to suffer from illnesses such as cirrhosis and gout, so can marijuana abuse echo cigarette smoking in damage to a person’s lungs. Chronic respiratory infections and damage to lung and throat tissues are just as common with long-term marijuana abuse.
The Effects of Addiction
Addiction is defined as the ‘strong and harmful need to regularly have/do something.’ Key in this definition is the specific word ‘harmful,’ as that is precisely what takes consumption of a substance such as marijuana from recreation to addiction. The nature of addiction is based in the way our brain functions; dopamine is the chemical our brain releases as a ‘reward’ for doing something which is necessary to our survival. It is also released when a person uses a substance, such as marijuana. This rush of positive sensation is part of addiction; we do something, it feels good and so we continue to do it.
Addiction begins when our bodies become used to a substance and the brain produces less dopamine. This leads the person to seek out more and more of the substance and to consume it in greater amounts. Under this system of addiction, the brain becomes restructured so that attaining the substance, such as marijuana, becomes the highest priority. This is the stage where individuals begin ignoring responsibilities in favor of getting marijuana. When people talk about being willing to do anything to get their next hit, they’ve reached a point of addiction that has restructured their brain’s functioning. They’re not speaking in metaphor; their brains have prioritized marijuana to the point that they will literally go to illogical lengths to obtain their next ‘hit.’
Breaking the Cycle
Identifying addiction is a difficult step for the person who is suffering from it, but breaking free of the addiction and ceasing marijuana abuse is the next necessary step. Marijuana itself has been shown to be less addictive than many other substances, such as cigarettes or alcohol. The greatest struggle is breaking the mental addiction, overcoming and reorganizing the brain’s learned prioritizing behavior. One of the most widely recognized ways of ending addiction is to ‘go into rehab’ or, in specific terms, check into an inpatient treatment center for care and assistance.
The benefits of an inpatient treatment center are numerous. The inpatient center itself removes the person from any and all sources of marijuana that they previously had access to. With physical addiction, the withdrawal symptoms often cause people to immediately seek out the substance they are addicted to. An inpatient facility can treat the withdrawal symptoms while giving the person no access to what it is they are being treated for. There are counselors available around the clock at inpatient centers who can guide a person through the steps of identifying and breaking their addiction. An inpatient center provides an opportunity for a person to ‘retrain’ themselves to find fulfillment in life without resorting to marijuana usage.