For years we have heard people argue about whether marijuana is as bad as or worse than alcohol. It is easy for users to build a case that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol. Marijuana users are much less likely to have trafﬁc fatalities, die of liver disease, or commit violent crimes while under the inﬂuence. But these arguments do not begin to prove that marijuana is harmless. It is something like trying to argue that the drug dealer on the street is harmless compared with the leader of a major drug cartel.
Marijuana comes from the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa, which has provided an important ﬁber, an edible seed, an oil, and a medicine since prehistoric times. The active ingredient, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), comes from a sticky resin concentrated in the ﬂowering tops of the plant, especially the female plant. This resin is collected and pressed into lumps or cakes called hashish. A solvent can be used to extract the resin into a concentrated, thick oil known as hash oil.
Users can smoke or eat any of these forms of marijuana. First-time users often experience mild effects. Usually the pulse rate increases, the mouth dries out, and the whites of the eyes become reddened. Though not as powerful as other hallucinogens, marijuana produces a characteristic distortion of space and time, and everything seems funny. Appetite increases, causing the “munchies.” As tolerance develops, these effects often give way to a relaxed sensation and a long-term habit.
Marijuana is fat soluble, so about half the THC ingested builds up in the fatty tissues of the body. About half the stored THC is released each week, causing long-lasting effects. Its actual action is not well understood, although there is some release of dopamine (DA), possibly accounting for some thought distortion. There is usually impairment of short-term memory.
Chronic use also depresses the body’s immune system, making it more dangerous for’AIDS patients and causing some doctors to question its use to calm the nausea of chemotherapy in cancer patients. There is still some support for its use to suppress muscle spasms with multiple sclerosis and to relieve the symptoms of glaucoma.
More Potent, More Money
Marijuana typically contains about 8 to 14 percent THC today, compared with 1 to 4 percent in the 1960s, when most of the marijuana studies were done. It has also increased in price, leading to the observation that marijuana has switched places with cocaine, which was the drug of the rich but is getting cheaper.
Many states and countries have decriminalized, approved it for medical use, or even recreational use. It is still a moodifier, and so a special problem for addicts. Even if you do not consider yourself a drug addict, cannibis use will degrade your judgment, making it more likely that you will begin the process of relapse.
Probably the most dangerous thing about marijuana is the perception that it is harmless. There are people who believe it is less harmful than tobacco. Again, the comparison is with an extremely destructive drug, and produces some disturbing results for the millions of daily pot smokers. Smoking marijuana may cause bronchitis, emphysema, and lung cancer. A few joints a day may subject the user to the lung damage usually associated with smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. Lung problems can develop in a year or so of heavy use.
Pregnant and nursing mothers who smoke pot put their children at risk, because THC will accumulate in the baby also. The effects are similar to the information in the module Fetal alcohol syndrome.
Finally, marijuana addiction is a drug addiction with all the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual consequences of other addictions. There is tolerance and withdrawal, and an easy route to other addictive substances and behaviors. For self-help information, contact Narcotics Anonymous. There are also several small organizations, mostly in California or New York, with the names Marijuana Anonymous, Marijuana Addicts Anonymous, or Marijuana Smokers Anonymous. See the module Other support groups for information on how to network with smaller support groups.
Updated 12 Sep 2015
Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson
is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.