Marijuana is an illegal drug in the United States with a high potential for abuse. It impairs and may distort sensory perception and induces a feeling of well-being and relaxation. Some users report a heightened state when using marijuana but this is a false perception and marijuana can affect the sense and reflexes similar to alcohol. Marijuana also significantly impairs cognitive functions despite users believing that they are thinking more ‘clearly’.
Marijuana addiction is very much a possibility, producing cravings similar to other drugs. There is much debate as to whether marijuana addiction is physical or psychological. Long term marijuana users who quit the drug do experience withdrawal symptoms during the detox periods. Others crave for the effects of marijuana without showing any withdrawal symptoms.
A marijuana user will go out of their way to obtain the drug and may allow their drug usage to affect their work, academic, family and social life. This ultimately shows the behavior of an addict. Marijuana abuse (frequent or excessive use of marijuana) may result in tolerance, where larger amounts or more frequent administration is needed to produce the same effects. This may lead to experimentation with other narcotic drugs in order to achieve a similar state of euphoria.
How does Marijuana Act on the Body?
Marijuana smoke is inhaled deeply into the lungs, from where it quickly absorbs into the bloodstream and is carried to the brain and other organs where it gets absorbed by the fatty tissues.
On reaching the brain, THC acts on specific receptors called cannabinoid receptors, which are seen to be abundantly present in those regions of the brain which control pleasure, memory, concentration, coordinated movement, and sensory perception. The effects of marijuana smoking can start within a few minutes and may reach a maximum effect within 15 to 30 minutes.
Marijuana use and abuse can produce various effects on different organs.
Effect on the Brain
- Impaired attention and coordination.
- Altered space and time perception.
- Impaired memory and concentration.
- Abnormal sensory perceptions – this may be the undesirable effects of marijuana.
- Psychological and psychiatric problems may occur or get accentuated on long-term use.
- Anxiety, depression and panic attacks may occur with marijuana abuse.
- Hallucinations and paranoia are common, as well as personality disturbances with high doses of marijuana.
- There is also an increased risk of developing schizophrenia.
- Learning ability is reduced, leading to a drop in performance level in school.
Effect on Other Organs
- THC, the active ingredient within marijuana, increases the blood pressure and heart rate and reduces the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood, which may contribute to increased risk of heart attacks.
- It has been suggested that smoking marijuana increases the risk of suffering from lung cancer and cancers of other organs but further research is required.
- A regular smoker of marijuana is more likely to suffer from respiratory diseases such as COPD, asthma, emphysema and bronchitis.
- A chronic cough may develop from long term use of marijuana.
- Marijuana abuse may result in delayed onset of puberty in boys and a reduction in sperm count.
- Women may suffer from irregular periods and infertility.
- Use during pregnancy has been linked to low birth weight in babies who may later show developmental problems.
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