Understanding Marijuana Abuse

Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal substance in the United States–by a wide margin. Nearly half the population (approximately 44%) have admitted to trying “weed” at least once, and one in ten people  report using it regularly. Marijuana may not have the same addiction potential as heroin or cocaine, but studies indicate that the drug can inflict long-term physical damage. A growing number of people in America are in favor of its widespread legalization, many of who do not understand the drug’s full dangers.

If you need more information about the health consequences of marijuana abuse, or have any questions, please reach out to us today.

Marijuana: An Overview

Marijuana is made up of the dry, shredded leaves, stems, seeds, and flowers of the Cannabis Sativa plant–more commonly referred to as the hemp plant. It can be used in several ways–users can mix it with tobacco and roll it into a cigarette-like joint, smoke it in small handheld pipes, inhale it through water pipes called bongs, or consume it in baked goods.

Like other drugs, marijuana acts on the brain’s reward system and causes the user to feel relaxed and euphoric (though sometimes it can trigger feelings of anxiety and fear). The main active chemical that is responsible for the drug’s physical and psychological effects is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Compared to other psychoactive drugs, THC works very rapidly, as the chemical reaches the brain just seconds after it is inhaled. Eating marijuana produces the same effects, though smoking releases significantly more THC into the bloodstream.

As marijuana continues to be legalized across the United States for medicinal and recreational purposes, more are starting to perceive it as a harmless drug. While it doesn’t have the same dependence liability of other illicit drugs, long-term marijuana use can lead to addiction. This is especially true for younger users; people who start smoking weed in their teens face a much greater risk of becoming addicted. In fact, marijuana abuse accounts for an estimated 15% of people entering rehabilitation programs–more than half of those users are under the age of 19.

Consequences of Marijuana Abuse

People who abuse marijuana risk both short- and long-term consequences. While under the influence, users experience impaired memory, judgment, and attention, and an increased heart rate, the combination of which can result in psychotic episodes. In one tragic case, a Wyoming student panicked after eating a THC-infused cookie, and subsequently fell to his death from the fourth floor of his hotel room. Fortunately, these cases are relatively uncommon, but it’s crucial for users to understand that the drug poses serious risks.

The dangers don’t end once the drug wears off; marijuana carries long-term risks. Long-term marijuana abuse interferes with sleep, memory, and learning skills, and increases the risk of a chronic cough, bronchitis, schizophrenia, anxiety, and depression. Some research indicates a link between marijuana abuse and psychosis. Even in mild cases, marijuana use can significantly affect an individual’s’ motivation and impair their work, school, and social life.

Marijuana Abuse Treatment

Most of the adults who seek treatment for marijuana abuse have used the drug regularly for years and find it difficult to quit. People with marijuana use disorders, especially young adults, often also suffer from other mental health issues. Research suggests that treating the psychological disorder with medications and behavioral therapies can also help reduce marijuana abuse, particularly among heavy users and those with more severe mental disorders. Co-occurring treatment can be instrumental in getting a handle on both the drug use and the mental health disorder, helping people move forward with increased purpose and hope.

If you or a loved one is struggling with marijuana abuse, give us a call with any questions, or to find out how you can get started on the path to a brighter tomorrow.