Marijuana: Is It safe? Is It Addictive?

Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug in the world and often the first illegal drug people use and often leads to harder drugs in the future. For example, the risk of a person using cocaine increases by 104 percent if he or she has smoked marijuana at least one time in his or her life. Although some states have legalized the drug it is still important to note that using marijuana often leads to more dangerous drug use, which is why it’s often referred to as a “gateway drug.”

Marijuana is the dried flowers, leaves and seeds of the hemp plant. Hashish or “hash”  is made from the resins of the hemp plant and is on average six times stronger than marijuana. Cannabis is used to describe any form of the drug from the hemp plant. The chemical in the plant is called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the amount can vary substantially and has increased by 300 percent since the 1960s. THC can stay in the body for weeks or longer. No matter what the drug is called it is considered a hallucinogen. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration says more than 360,000 people admitted to treatment for addiction with marijuana being the primary drug they were abusing in 2010. Another 21% that were admitted said that it was their second or third most problematic drug. Marijuana is often mixed with other drugs with the most common ones being: alcohol, opiates, meth, and cocaine.

Despite its legalization one thing is certain, marijuana causes a dangerous impaired condition and is addictive. When marijuana is smoked the users will generally feel the effects within 30 minutes and the high can last for a few hours depending on how much THC there is. Users will also use a resin-like variant concentrated from the plant the produces a more intense high. These are called “dabs” and they can be in liquid, wax, or hard texture. They are typically vaporized and inhaled. “Dabs” are also referred to as wax, budder, and shatter. The higher THC content contributes to the increased intoxication related problems and the higher dependence rates.

If women use marijuana during their pregnancy they are more likely to give birth prematurely with birth defects, an increased risk for leukemia, mental abnormalities, and lessened concentration and initiative. Even though their is no risk of overdosing with marijuana, it still holds the second highest rate of emergency room visits caused by illicit substance abuse, with cocaine being first. According to the Drug Awareness Warning Network (DAWN) in 2013 there were 455,668 emergency room visits due to marijuana. Doctors have discovered chronic marijuana users may experience “cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome,” making them violently ill, uncontrollable vomiting and agonizing stomach pain that does not respond to treatment. In 2012,  Australian scientists took brain scans of 59 long-term marijuana users and compared them to people who had never done the drug. They discovered that marijuana users had similar changes in their brains to that of schizophrenics.

Marijuana is in fact addictive. Especially today, marijuana is twice as strong (more THC) than 20 years ago. Just because the withdrawal symptoms are not as severe as other drugs such as alcohol or heroin, recovered addicts will tell you that there is a withdrawal process and having the support and medical help is one of  the best ways to gaining control of your life again. The majority of the withdrawal symptoms from marijuana are psychological. Depending on how much the addict used, how often, how long, and how they used it will also determine how severe the symptoms will be. When a marijuana addict stops there are obvious physical withdrawal symptoms. They are not as severe as other drugs but can still cause discomfort to the patient and make them want to use the drug again. With the increasing legalization of marijuana, many people feel as though it is safe to use this drug. The important thing to remember is that although it may be legal in some states, so is alcohol and prescription drugs, which many people grow dependent on and need help recovering control of their life. Marijuana affects the dopamine levels in the brain and reprograms their brain so that they need the drug to feel “normal.” While the withdrawal symptoms from marijuana may not be as severe as that from alcohol or heroin they are still there and with the ever increasing potency of THC they become more apparent. Withdrawal symptoms also depend on how avid a user they were.