Marijuana is a drug that can have deleterious effects on the ability of the brain to function the way it should. Some of its effects are short-term, while others are long-term. Short-term effects on the addicted brain usually include a relaxed, dreamy state in which time seems to move by more slowly for the user, who also seems to be more aware of his or her senses, but can also involve feelings of panic and dread. It really depends on how much THC — the main psychoactive component of marijuana — is in the sample that you use. Your reactions may also be affected by your personality and expectations and the setting in which you use it.
Orientation, coordination and the ability to make safe decisions are all adversely affected by the use of marijuana, which means that driving under the influence of the drug is extremely dangerous and prohibited in all fifty states. Long-term psychological effects on the addicted brain may include loss of interest in school, work and social activities.
There is, as of the present, no medical evidence that marijuana is addictive in the sense that you experience withdrawal symptoms when denied the drug. However, it can often become a gateway drug, meaning that using it may lead you to turn to other, truly addictive drugs such as cocaine or heroin. Some users do develop tolerance and withdrawal symptoms, particularly if they are heavy users.
The active component of marijuana is THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), whose analgesic effects make the drug useful for treating pain. The first entrance of a drug into the system overrides the normal neurological processes in the brain, which may protect itself by resisting the effects it produces so that they will not be as great the next time the person takes it. That is why it takes progressively larger and larger doses of the drug to produce the same psychological effects over time. Users may also find themselves “graduating” to the use of dabs (propane-extracted concentrates) or high-dosage edible forms.
Many of the changes that result from heavy use of marijuana are pharmacokinetic — that is, the body absorbs, metabolizes and distributes the drug in new ways to accommodate the large amounts that it is being given. Others are pharmacodynamic, affecting the interactions between the substance and target cells. Both mean that the user has to take marijuana in larger doses in order to achieve the same effects. In addition, the system will adjust the ways in which it processes and eliminates the drug so that it does so more efficiently. Adolescents are at a particularly high risk for marijuana addiction.
Treating the addicted brain
As of now, no pharmaceutical means of treating marijuana dependence has been approved by medical authorities in the United States. Therefore, the most promising methods for the addictive brain are psychotherapeutic, aimed at getting the user to admit that he or she has a problem and figuring out what he must do to get beyond it.