Marijuana

The cannabis plant is native to central Asia, and its fiber has been used to make fabric and ropes in China and Japan even during the Neolithic period.
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Other names: Cannabis, dagga, dope, ganja, grass, hash, hashish, hemp, herb, pot, reefer, weed

While the term marijuana is often used interchangeably with any of the members of the genus Cannabis, in many instances, it specifically refers to the drug preparation derived from the cannabis plant. Humans have used marijuana for various purposes for thousands of years, and as such, it is known by many names in different languages.

Experts believe that marijuana use, in and by itself, is unlikely to lead to fatal overdose. Still, subjecting oneself to marijuana’s psychological and psychoactive effects comes with risks such as impairing the user’s judgement and increasing their likelihood to partake in dangerous behaviors, as well as long- and short-term adverse effects. At the same time, many institutions consider marijuana a gateway drug that will make its users more likely to try other, more dangerous substances. This theory is one of the primary reasons behind the prohibition of marijuana use in the United States.

There’s been a significant push to acknowledge the medicinal properties of the cannabis plant in recent years, and this has led to a noticeable shift in the public’s attitude towards marijuana use. Many researchers are currently looking into the beneficial properties of marijuana, and many states have decriminalized the medical or recreational use of the drug. Regardless, using marijuana still puts one at risk of developing cannabis use disorder, a condition that can lead to significant impairment and negatively impact the different facets of a person’s life.

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If your community is heavily affected by cannabis use disorder, it’s a good idea to know as much as you can about the condition in order to recognize it properly and to help your affected loved one find the resources they need to regain control over their life. Let’s take a closer look at the history of marijuana, how it’s used and its effects on the body, the signs of marijuana use disorder, and how to find help in treating this condition.

A Brief History of Marijuana

It’s not known exactly when people started using marijuana for its psychoactive and psychological effects, but there’s evidence that point that as early as 3500 BC, people were burning marijuana as part of their ceremonies. The ritualistic use of marijuana spread across different people groups over time. By 1000 BC, the plant had been incorporated into various Indian dishes and beverages for its therapeutic effects. The first evidence of smoking marijuana, which is now one of the most popular ways of consuming the drug, was found in 2,500-year-old tombs in central China.

Marijuana was introduced to the West in the mid-1800s by physicians who found the plant during their travels, and the drug was also mentioned in several literary works of the period. At this point, officials had noted the drug’s effects on regular users, and many countries had started criminalizing the cultivation, sale, and use of marijuana outside of medical and scientific research and industrial purposes, such as the manufacture of rope and fabrics. In the US, the passing of the Marihuana Tax Act in 1937 prohibited the growing of cannabis and hemp.

In the last 10 years, many national and local governments have taken steps to ease the restrictions surrounding the use of cannabis, though laws vary greatly  depending on one’s location. Many institutions have also started to treat excessive cannabis use as a health issue more than an indicator of criminal behavior. Within the same time period, the number of marijuana users has increased by an estimated 130 percent. As of 2019, it is estimated that more than 200 million people use marijuana regularly, making the substance the most popular recreational drug in the world. Additionally, the legalization of marijuana has also paved the way for the founding of robust cannabis-based industries in more permitting locations.

How is Marijuana Used?

In movies and in real life, smoking is the most popular way of consuming cannabis, but marijuana comes in different forms and can be used in a variety of ways. Parts of the plant, mainly the flowers, can be dried and rolled up into cigarettes (joint), cigars (blunt), or mixed with tobacco (spliff). Cannabis can also be added to food or mixed with creams in its raw or oil forms. These are the most common ways of consuming marijuana:

Inhalation

Smoking or heating marijuana and inhaling the resulting vapor is the fastest way of feeling the substance’s effects. When the drug is inhaled, the cannabinoids enter the body through the lungs, passing directly into the bloodstream. This allows the substance to take effect within minutes.

Sublingual

If consumed in the form of dissolvable strips, mouth sprays, or lozenges, cannabis can be introduced into the body through the large number of blood vessels under the tongue.

Oral

Marijuana in the form of edibles, oils, and tinctures can be ingested orally. The cannabinoids undergo a chemical change during the digestion process, and this results in a stronger and longer-lasting effect that can take place within 30 minutes to an hour.

Topical

Oils, lotions, and salves are mixed with marijuana and applied directly to the skin. The skin absorbs a small amount of cannabinoids, the effects of which can be felt in a few minutes and linger for a few hours.

The way cannabis is consumed, among other factors, contributes to how it affects the user and the amount of time it takes for the substance’s effects to start and taper off.

How Does Marijuana Work in the Human Body?

Plants that belong to the genus Cannabis produce cannabinoids, a group of compounds that produces different mental and physical effects when consumed. Two cannabinoids are of particular interest to researchers: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the main psychoactive component of cannabis, and the way cannabis consumption affects one’s concentration, movement, and perception of time is attributed to this compound. CBD, on the other hand, does not have intoxicating effects and is being investigated for its medical applications.

The human body naturally produces endocannabinoids, which serve as retrograde neurotransmitters and are detected by the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Researchers are still looking into the functions of the ECS, but it is believed to play a role in important biological and cognitive functions such as fertility, pregnancy, pain reception, mood, metabolism, and memory, among others. The cannabinoids that are naturally found in the human body and the cannabinoids that are found in plants share similarities. As such, when a person consumes marijuana, the plant cannabinoids that are introduced into their body bind to the cannabinoid receptors in the ECS, thus affecting one’s perception and bodily functions.

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What Are the Immediate and Long-Term Effects of Marijuana Abuse?

The immediate effects of marijuana use vary from one person to another. There are many factors that come into play when determining the effects of using the drug, such as the person’s genetics and the composition of the drug, to name a few. However, once the cannabinoids are introduced to the body, the person is likely to experience increased dopamine release, increased appetite, and slowed reaction time. Using marijuana may also heighten or lessen one’s anxiety and depression levels, and it can impair one’s memory and judgement. If smoked, marijuana can lead to a burning sensation in the mouth and throat, lung irritation, and accelerated heartbeat.

How marijuana is consumed can also increase one’s risk for a number of illnesses. Just like smoking tobacco, smoking marijuana frequently can be harmful to one’s health, as it can irritate the lungs and introduce toxins and irritants into the body. Smoking also injures cells in the lungs that form mucus and deal with dust and germs, increasing the person’s risk for respiratory infections.

Frequent, prolonged, and heavy use of marijuana can have lasting negative mental and physical effects. This activity can exacerbate schizophrenia among individuals who have the condition, for example. In particular, experts discourage adolescents from using marijuana, as the substance can negatively affect brain development. The use of cannabis during adolescence is associated with higher risks of abusing the drug, psychiatric issues such as anxiety and depression, and memory, cognitive, and concentration problems. Using marijuana while pregnant can also lead to lower birth weight.

By itself, marijuana use has not been recorded to cause fatal reactions. However, many accidents, injuries, and deaths have been tied to excessive and inappropriate use of marijuana. In Washington, for example, the rate in the rise of fatal crashes that involve positive THC tests has doubled after marijuana was legalized in the state. The use of marijuana to the point where a person is putting themselves in danger is one of the 11 hallmarks of substance use disorder—in this case, marijuana use disorder.

Signs of Marijuana Use Disorder

How can you tell if a person who is using marijuana or other derivatives of the drug has marijuana use disorder? Here are 11 signs to look for based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5):

  • When a person consumes increasing amounts of cannabis or uses the substance for longer than needed.
  • When a person is unable to stop using the substance despite expressing their wish to get clean.
  • When a person devotes a lot of time, effort, and resources to obtain and use the substance.
  • When a person develops a strong desire or craving to use cannabis.
  • When using cannabis makes it difficult for a person to fulfill their personal and professional responsibilities.
  • When the continued use of the substance causes issues in a person’s relationships.
  • When a person puts using cannabis over activities that are important to them.
  • When continued use of the substance puts a person in danger.
  • When using cannabis exacerbates physical or psychological problems that a person might have.
  • When a person develops tolerance for marijuana or requires higher doses to achieve the same effect.
  • When a person experiences withdrawal symptoms after stopping the use of marijuana.

If you or a loved one has these symptoms, then it’s time to find help in treating the condition. The good news is that there are plenty of facilities and professionals that specialize in substance use disorder in the United States. It’s also quite easy to find resources that will connect patients and their families to a suitable treatment facility in their locality.

Rehab and Treatment for Marijuana Use Disorder

Finding a rehabilitation center that offers treatment for cannabis use disorder is a solid step in helping the patient regain control over their life. An appropriate treatment facility will help the patient develop accountability, access professional guidance, go through withdrawal in a safer and more comfortable manner, and find an environment that offers enough space and time to treat or manage the condition.

There are different ways to treat cannabis use disorder, and a rehabilitation center may offer the patient standard or personalized programs that are more suited to their particular needs and conditions. Most of the time, though, a treatment program begins with a detoxification process that will allow the patient to purge all traces of cannabis in their system. During this period, the patient may experience cannabis withdrawal symptoms. These include increased anxiety, irritability, depression, sleep disturbance, decreased appetite, and gastrointestinal issues.

While there are no approved medications for the treatment of cannabis use disorder, behavioral treatment offers promising results to those who have this condition. The patient may need to undergo cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to enhance their self-control and identify and correct behaviors that contribute to their condition. They might also undergo contingency management training, wherein they learn to associate their target behavior with positive rewards, or motivational enhancement therapy, where they undergo systematic intervention to inspire personal change. In some cases, a combination of these programs might be implemented. At the same time, the patient can also undergo individual and group therapies and counseling sessions where they can address the issues that contributed to or were brought about by the addiction.

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Get the Help You Need

While cannabis may hold promising medicinal benefits, it’s still possible to develop an unhealthy relationship with the drug. If you or a loved one is suffering from the effects of cannabis use disorder, don’t hesitate to find the care you need to treat this condition. Take a look at Better Addiction Care’s updated network of local drug rehabilitation centers and find medical treatment facilities and peer-to-peer support for marijuana use disorder. Take the first step in your treatment journey with assistance from Better Addiction Care.

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