Marijuana

Marijuana Abuse: Facts, Statistics, and Treatment

There’s a lot of ambivalence surrounding the use of marijuana. On one hand, it has been found to provide benefits for individuals with certain medical conditions. But on the other hand, it’s also been tagged a ‘gateway drug’, which asserts that once a person starts using marijuana, they become more likely to explore other, illicit, hard drugs.

Although the likelihood that a person might abuse and become addicted to marijuana are slim, there are cases when dependence might form. And just like any other drug problem, marijuana dependence requires treatment and rehabilitation in order to free the individual from the need to use the drug.

The History of Marijuana

Marijuana has its roots in ancient Chinese civilization where it was cultivated for its medicinal benefits as early as 500 BC. It was soon traded into Africa, Europe, and the Americas where it would be used as a raw material for making products like rope, paper, fabric, and sails. Back then, its seeds found purpose as food.

In the 1500s, Spaniards brought cannabis to the New World and at the same time, African slaves from Brazil brought their own cannabis plants to America where they were allowed to grow their crops to smoke. During these times, the THC content in the cannabis plant was far too low to produce the psychoactive effects its known for today.

However, that changed when Mexicans brought their own version of the Cannabis plant across the border as they fled their country during the revolution. This introduced a new, more potent variety of cannabis which was soon incorporated into a variety of tonics and patent medicines.

But with the turn of the 20th century, legislators soon took notice of all the various drugs on the market. Banning illicit substances one by one, marijuana was soon prohibited in 1938. However, that didn’t stop the widespread use of the substance from taking flight.

All throughout the 50s, marijuana became the culture for the beatnik scene. Later on, in the 60s and 70s, the substance was the signature of college students and young adults who identified as ‘hippies’, and signified their rebellion against authority figures. It was also during the 70s that marijuana was identified as a Schedule I drug, which meant it had a high potential for abuse and no approved medical use.

After all that the substance has been through, legality today changes between states. While some jurisdictions have legalized both medical and recreational marijuana use, others have yet to take their grip off of the prohibition of the psychoactive drug.

Fast Facts: Marijuana Abuse in Numbers

  • 183 million people worldwide use marijuana
  • Marijuana is the most used psychotropic drug in the US
  • 8 million young adults used marijuana in the past year
  • 4% of 12th graders claim to vape marijuana’s main compound on a daily basis
  • Marijuana was involved in 242,000 emergency room visits in 2005
  • 40% of males arrested for crimes test positive for marijuana at the time of the arrest
  • Of the adults who started using marijuana before the age of 15, 62% went on to use cocaine, 9% went on to use heroin, and 54% went on to use mind-altering prescription drugs for non-medical reasons
  • Marijuana is the second most common substance found in blood of drivers involved in fatal car crashes and vehicular accidents

What Happens When You Use Marijuana?

The cannabis plant – where marijuana comes from – contains over 200 different cannabinoids. These chemical compounds give the plant its distinct effects, and of the various cannabinoids in its chemistry, tetrahydrocannabinol or THC produces the psychoactive effects associated with marijuana.

When inhaled as smoke, marijuana’s effects manifest almost instantly. But when taken orally, marijuana can 30 minutes to an hour before any of its effects start to show. These short term changes may vary significantly from person to person, but some of the more common effects include:

  • Laughter
  • Increased appetite
  • Altered perception of time
  • Heightened sensory perception
  • Loss of inhibitions
  • Deficits in through processes
  • Drowsiness or sleepiness
  • Dizziness
  • Euphoria
  • Anxiety and fear
  • Distrust
  • Hallucinations and delusions
  • Paranoia

Smoking marijuana will manifest effects for around 1 to 3 hours after use, while consuming it may produce a much longer lasting high. Once the effects start to wane however, marijuana can remain in your system for weeks or more, depending on how much you took.

Although the short term effects of marijuana tend to vary from person to person, the euphoric feeling and the heightened sense of well-being may be reason enough for most of those who try the substance to repeat its use. And while it is possible for most people to stop using marijuana without any trouble, there are others who develop a dependence.

This happens when an individual takes too much marijuana too often. The body becomes accustomed to the constant presence of the substance, which is why a person might not feel ‘normal’ without marijuana. When this happens, withdrawal symptoms may occur, making the individual feel sick, unwell, and unable to perform typical duties and responsibilities.

Some of marijuana’s long term effects may include:

  • Lack of motivation
  • Weight gain
  • Nervousness
  • Paranoid behavior
  • Troubled relationships
  • Intimate partner violence
  • Financial turmoil
  • Increased tendency to commit crimes
  • Increased risk of exploring other narcotics
  • Difficulty finding and keeping jobs
  • Impaired thinking and learning ability
  • Decline in IQ

A marijuana dependence will push a person to keep using the drug in order to avoid the symptoms of withdrawal. But with the use of the substance comes the whirlwind of effects that it has on personality, mood, cognition, and motor skills. So as a person becomes more and more dependent on the drug, the less capable they become of functioning at home, work, and within the society.

This makes it difficult for an individual with a marijuana dependence to keep a job, which may trickle into the financial aspect of his or her life. And it goes without saying that the altered personality and cognition may also impact the way they interact with others around them. Unable to properly relate with people within their social circle, it’s highly likely for a marijuana abuser to experience relationship stress.

With impaired cognitive functioning, decision making skills, and thinking skills, individuals with a marijuana dependence are also more likely to commit crimes. Stealing becomes a viable solution to resolve financial problems, and provides a means in order to secure the next dosage. Vehicular accidents and domestic violence are also highly common among marijuana abusers.

How Does Marijuana Affect the Brain?

The chemical structure of THC closely resembles that of anandamide, a neurotransmitter in the brain that plays a role in pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, coordination, sensory perception, and motor functioning. But because THC’s structure is highly similar to that of anandamide, it’s possible for the compound to bind to receptors that interact with the neurotransmitter.

Unfortunately, they’re not exactly the same which means that THC won’t be able to fulfill the functions of anandamide accurately. The result is that it messes with the various aspects of thinking and motor functioning that anandamide is involved with, thus producing the effects of the marijuana drug.

Moreover, marijuana is also known to interact with various parts of the brain. Affecting the hippocampus, orbitofrontal cortex, cerebellum, and basal ganglia, the drug can also produce effects that interfere with the formulation of new memories, impair thinking, slow down reflexes, and alter a person’s sense of balance.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that marijuana directly interacts with the reward system of the brain. By encouraging a more active dopamine release, the drug makes its user feel pleasant, euphoric, happy, and elated. Over time and with frequent use, this higher than normal dopamine concentration becomes the body’s new normal. So, anything less may feel unpleasant, which explains withdrawal symptoms.

Treating Marijuana Use Disorder

While marijuana use disorder manifests itself in similar ways to other substance use disorders, its long-term effects on its user are usually far less severe and therefore easier to deal with. On the other hand, however, those who seek treatment for marijuana use disorder often use other narcotics, which complicates the treatment process.

The most effective treatment options for marijuana use disorder include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – This therapy aims to help patients identify and correct behaviors that lead to the use of drugs. The objective is to improve self-control and address the variety of underlying problems and issues that might make a person turn to drugs as a solution.
  • Contingency ManagementPatients are rewarded points based on their achievements and milestones during treatment. Every time they’re able to achieve a positive outcome throughout therapy, they’re rewarded points or tokens that they can accumulate and use to ‘purchase’ a reward. For instance, a hundred points might let you redeem free movie tickets, while two hundred gives you a yearlong gym membership.
  • Motivational Enhancement Therapy – This intervention is particularly important in order to make all other therapies effective. By helping a patient find internal motivation, this strategy makes them want to stick to the process and stay off of drugs even after the treatment is complete.

Marijuana Use Disorder Relapse

The relapse rates for marijuana use disorder can be pretty low compared to other hard drugs, as long as the substance isn’t used alongside other narcotics. When experienced on its own, marijuana use disorder is one of the most treatable substance dependences currently documented. But that doesn’t mean that relapse isn’t possible.

Most often, the reasons for relapse involve a dissatisfaction with the patient’s quality of life which is why therapists aim to help individuals improve family relationships, secure a job, and adapt a variety of other techniques and strategies to combat negative feelings and experiences.

Marijuana Use Disorder is Treatable

Much like any other dependence, marijuana can be overcome. With proper, timely treatment, holistic therapies, and a willingness to live drug-free, most patients can overcome their dependence. As one of the most treatable substance use disorders presently known, marijuana use disorder’s impact on the body and brain are also easier to reverse than those of other illicit drugs and commonly abused prescription medications.

Contact Us for a Free and Confidential Assessment

    First Name

    Last Name

    (###)

    ###

    ####