As the most widely used illicit substance in the world, marijuana (also called cannabis) is now consumed by at least 2.9% of the global population. Within the US, about 12.5% of those aged from 15 to 64 use the drug as of 2010, although this number has been decreasing in the past few years. Even so, the number of users is still high and, without intervention, there is a chance that marijuana can then lead to addition if taken on a regular basis. About 9% of people who take cannabis at least once will become addicted to the drug later on in life. This figure rises to 16% of users who start in their teenage years and 25% of those who take it on a daily basis. Of those who are addicted, about 100,000 people seek treatment for cannabis abuse each year within the USA. This is less than 1% of the total population, which means that there are many more users out there whose symptoms will go untreated. This is why it is important for friends and family to work together if they know someone who abuses marijuana in order to return them back to a normal life.
The primary psychoactive chemical found in marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, which is more commonly known as THC. It is this chemical which causes most of the symptoms of feeling high when taking cannabis. The other substance which is important to how marijuana works is cannabidiol (CBD) which is thought to either balance out the psychoactive effects of THC or to regulate the body’s metabolism of the chemical.
After taking cannabis, THC and CBD will latch on to specific cell membrane receptors within that individual’s body. Most of these are found primarily within the brain, where the majority of the drug’s psychological effects are triggered. Called CB1 receptors, they are mostly found in the frontal lobes of the brain which controls functions such as short-term memory, learning and planning. There are also secondary receptors, called CB2 receptors, found in the cells of the immune system, meaning that marijuana also has a variety of effects on the body’s immune response.
After taking cannabis, an individual will develop a range of psychoactive and somatic effects. Typical symptoms of being high are as follows:
* Feelings of euphoria or well-being
* An altered state of perception
* Relaxation and a reduction in stress levels
* Improved sense of humor
* Greater introspection and self-awareness
* Heightened senses
* Increased libido
There are a few negative psychoactive symptoms that are commonly experienced, namely anxiety, paranoia and panic attacks. About 25% of recreational users experience panic attacks after taking marijuana, which can result in episodes in which they grow increasingly worried about themselves or become suspicious of other people.
Taking cannabis also results in several short-term physical effects, including increased heart rate, dry mouth, reddening of the eyes, muscle relaxation and a sensation of having hot or cold hands or feet. Users also experience a severe reduction in motor activity within the brain as areas required for these functions are shut down as a result of the THC.
The long-term effects of cannabis use have been studied in depth, although there is much that needs to be looked into further. What is known now is that marijuana certainly can result in physical, chemical and mental changes within a person if taken for a lengthy period of time. The following symptoms have been suggested as results of long-term heavy cannabis abuse:
* Lower testosterone levels and decreased sperm production in men
* Disruption of ovulation in women
* Impaired fetal growth in pregnant women
* Anxiety, psychosis and depression
* Respiratory problems (excessive coughing and sputum)
* Memory loss and decreased learning capabilities
The causality of symptoms such as anxiety and psychosis with marijuana use has come into question over the recent years. A large proportion of doctors agree that these mental disorders result in the use of cannabis, rather than the other way around. This is because the patient typically self medicates in order to feel normal. It is the disorder which leads to the drug abuse and not the drugs resulting in the disorder. In this case, it is important to provide the user with an alternative to marijuana so that they can then live a normal life without being dependant on the drug.
Evidence has also been shown that any dependency on marijuana is psychological rather than physical. This means that it is the individual’s mental state that drives them to want to use rather than any chemical reaction that occurs within that person’s body. This does not make it any less serious, however, as even psychological dependency can still have negative effects on both the life of the user and the lives of those around them.
The first step in helping someone with cannabis dependency is to look out for any telltale signs that they are using. If you spot a friend or family member exhibiting any of the symptoms listed in the above section, you would be best advised to talk to them about their habits. Taking them to a drug and alcohol rehab center is highly recommended as they have the facilities and the staff to guide patients along the path to break free from addiction.
A recovering cannabis user may experience withdrawal signs during the treatment process. This is normal though and symptoms such as anger, irritability, headaches and changes in appetite may result from the body trying to return to its previous state. There are a few methods of attempting to reduce these effects in a healthy, proactive manner:
* Taking daily walks with friends and/or family members
* Avoiding contact with marijuana users
* Keeping a journal and logging daily progress
* Listening to music or watching movies
Of course, having loved ones and friends around will also provide significant benefits. Having constant support will then help to pull a recovering marijuana user through the difficult times and give them the strength that they need to return to a normal functioning life. In general, the recovery process can take around 45 days, although this depends on how much a user smokes to begin with.