One of the most commonly used drugs causing a great deal of debate in the U.S. today is marijuana. Medicinal marijuana is currently legal in 23 states, and four states have legalized it for recreational use; however, it is still considered an illicit drug by the federal government. The rise in availability and demand has caused a rise in the potency of marijuana as well – the competition to create a plant with the “best high,” as well as better growing technology has resulted in a drug that is up to 67 percent more potent than it was just 20 years ago. Researchers also believe that marijuana is a “gateway” drug, meaning that if people use marijuana, they are more likely to try other drugs. It seems that though everyone has an opinion, not everyone knows the facts.
Marijuana: THC vs. CBD
Marijuana is made from the dried leaves and flowers of the cannabis (or hemp) plant. It can be ingested in numerous ways, including smoking or by consuming it in “edibles” – food that contains marijuana. It can also be broken down into a more concentrated oil or solid form (shatter).
If you are using marijuana for recreational purposes, the high you experience is due to the chemical tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) found in the resin from the buds and leaves of the plant. THC mimics chemicals naturally made by the body, called cannabinoids. Cannabinoid receptors are found mostly in the sections of the brain that govern memory, motor skills, thinking and pleasure. When THC attaches to the receptors, those abilities are affected.
Marijuana used for medicinal purposes acts in a completely different way. Cannabidiol (CBD) is another chemical found in marijuana that attaches to certain cannabinoid receptors – the ones that help with balancing your body’s energy. It also binds to other receptors that govern pain management, anxiety and sleep. CBD does all of this without the psychoactive effects of THC, and in fact, the CBD found in recreational marijuana can help balance and reduce the feelings of being high.
People enjoy the high from marijuana because the THC stimulates your brain cells to release dopamine, making you feel relaxed and blissful. However, it also interferes with the processes of the hippocampus, which is the part of your brain that is responsible for constructing new memories. The effects of marijuana can kick in anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes after you’ve consumed it, and last up to 2 hours. Depending on the potency of the marijuana and your body’s natural reaction to it, as well as how long and how often you use it, it can cause adverse effects, including hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, anxiety and increased heart rate.
Marijuana Dependency and Addiction
Because of the increasing use of marijuana for medical purposes, as well as the legalization and prevalence in our society, it is estimated that nearly 23 million people per month consume marijuana in some form or another. In fact, the National Institutes of Health has found that almost 50 percent of all high school seniors have used marijuana at least once, with almost 6 percent admitting to daily use. While marijuana has typically been thought of as non-addictive, researchers are finding that that is a myth.
“Marijuana use disorder” is the term used to describe behaviors of dependence, but that have not yet become an addiction. Dependence develops as your brain adapts to the amount of drug you are using, and reduces production of its natural chemicals. This causes you to need increasingly higher amounts of the drug to achieve the same high you’re used to experiencing. People with marijuana use disorders typically feel withdrawal symptoms if they try to quit or cut down – sleep issues, irritability, decreased appetite, physical discomfort – and these can last up to two weeks.
Disorder turns into addiction once the person taking the drug is compelled to use it, despite the negative effects on their life. Like any other drug, excessive marijuana abuse can cause the person to eventually stop caring about the problems their addiction is causing, and to simply focus on staying high.
Are you or a loved one experiencing any of the following effects of marijuana addiction?
- Decline in mental and/or physical health
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies
- Problems with relationships
- Increasing absences from work or school
- Changes in behavior and friends
If you’ve noticed any of those issues in yourself or a loved one, Sound Recovery Solutions is here to help. We proudly offer partial hospitalization treatment, intensive outpatient treatment, outpatient treatment and alumni services. We welcome both men and women experiencing all varieties of addictions and chemical dependencies in addition to secondary co-occurring mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression and trauma.