Marijuana is one of the most controversial drugs used in society today. This drug is actually a flowering plant whose scientific name is Cannabis Sativa. It is highly fibrous and has long been used for a wide variety of commercial hemp products. However, it is most widely used in the United States as a recreational drug. Part of the controversy is based on whether the drug is addictive or not. There are also disagreements as to whether it offers any medical benefits for chronic pain sufferers. Being the most widely used recreational drug today, it’s certain no one will be winning any trophies for being the best at smoking pot.
Marijuana contains the psychoactive chemical known as tetrahydrocannabinol, which is usually abbreviated as THC. Refined extracts and oils are sometimes used to produce substances with higher concentrations of THC than marijuana, such as hashish. This drug also goes under a seemingly endless variety of street names, the most common being “pot” and “weed.” However, because the purpose of pot nicknames is to be able to discuss the drug without outsiders knowing what is being talked about, pot nicknames are constantly changing and often regional in nature.
The means by which marijuana is most commonly used for recreational purposes is by smoking it, either rolled into a cigarette or in some sort of pipe. It can also be eaten, but the nature of the high is different when ingested. Many smokers dislike it in edible form because it is harder to control the dose. It terms of effects, this drug is considered a euphoric with mild psychedelic properties. First time users may feel little or no high from the drug, but with experience may feel light headed, somewhat giddy and consider themselves better able to focus intensely on sensations like music, sexuality and beautiful settings. Mild hallucinations are possible at high doses.
Marijuana has a long history of use in American society, dating back to the American Indians who used it as part of the mixture of tobaccos they smoked in their famous “peace-pipes.” The American Founding Fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew commercial hemp on their plantations, and their journals reveal that they were aware of its recreational properties, although neither was a regular user. This drug was also used as an ingredient in many medicinal products throughout the 1800′s and early 1900′s that were commonly available in pharmacies.
The single most important factor having an impact on the use of weed in modern times was making the drug illegal nationwide in the 1920′s. Critics claim that the prohibition was accompanied by a scare campaign that greatly exaggerated its negative effects. Despite its illegality, the drug continued to be popular among certain subcultures, particularly among minorities, musicians and other artistic and bohemian types. In the 1950′s the so-called “Beat” writers wrote about it in positive terms, but the real explosion in use occurred in the 1960′s, when it became closely identified with the hippie counterculture. Pot continued to rise in popularity throughout the 1970′s, spreading beyond the hippie subculture into more mainstream society, until peaking in the early 1980′s at levels that have remained pretty constant to this day.
This drug is the most widely used recreational drug in the United States, with an estimated 42 percent of Americans having tried it at least once. It remains popular with all the subcultures it has traditionally been, with more recently emerging subcultures like the “rave” dance scene and so-called “hipsters” also having generally positive attitudes towards pot. Because of its widespread use despite being illegal, it is a major cause of legal problems with over 800,000 people arrested for marijuana related offenses each year. Those arrests comprise 44% of all drug arrests in the United States. In recent years, Mary Jane has been promoted by some as a medicine, with adherents claiming that marijuana can be used for the treatment of such illnesses as cancer, glaucoma and anxiety. However, the final verdict on so-called “medical marijuana” will require more research. The acceptance for purely recreational use has risen in recent years. In 2012, the states of Washington and Colorado voted to totally legalize marijuana use for adults, and other states are expected to follow.
A common criticism of pot is that it can lead to the use of other, stronger and more dangerous drugs. While there is little evidence that the drug itself is responsible for any cravings for other drugs, acquiring the drug does force a person to interact with a criminal underworld where those other drugs are available. It has also been noted that many hardcore drug addicts report that marijuana was the first illegal drug they ever used.
Marijuana is not addictive in the sense of heroin or tobacco, drugs for which the body develops a degree of dependence such that it can not function normally without it. However, up to ten percent of those who use it regularly will develop symptoms consistent with the criteria for clinical dependence. In these cases, the user develops a psychological need for marijuana that causes them anxiety and depression if they can’t get it. Federal crime statistics show that referral to treatment facilities for marijuana use rose by ten percent between 1992 to 2006. The increasing availability and acceptance of the drug by society suggests that as more and more people start using it, the number of problem marijuana users will continue to increase.
While there is little evidence that this drug causes symptoms of mental illness in normal people, for those already suffering from psychological problems, marijuana may increase the symptoms. The most common symptoms are paranoia, anxiety, panic attacks and depression. There is general agreement that those suffering from psychiatric problems should not use it.
While it is often suggested that the negative health effects of marijuana are not as severe as with alcohol or tobacco, that does not mean marijuana is harmless. Breathing smoke and then holding it in your lungs will never be considered healthy for your cardiovascular system, and marijuana smoke contains some of the same dangerous substances as tobacco smoke. However, unlike tobacco, a direct medical link between marijuana smoke and lung cancer has not been clinically established.
Getting high on marijuana causes changes in the way a person processes information or perceives reality, and can alter the nature and subject of one’s thoughts. Most of these changes are temporary, and some users find these changes pleasurable. However, the most common complaint of cognitive impairment caused by marijuana use is memory loss. Heavy users may also complain that they lose their motivation and become sleepy or lethargic. The most serious problems may involve tasks such as driving a car, where one’s reflexes, psycho-motor performance and level of attention to the road may be diminished. There is general agreement that those who have smoked marijuana should not drive.
As noted earlier, about ten percent of all marijuana users will develop an unhealthy relationship with the drug. They may become unmotivated, depressed, unable to interact socially with others and can have unpredictable mood swings between acute anxiety and general listlessness. Marijuana dependent persons sometimes have trouble convincing others that they have a problem, being told that “it’s only pot.” However, for those who become marijuana dependent, their mental and physical health issues are just as serious as for any other forms of drug dependency.
The good news about the negative effects of marijuana dependency is that the negative symptoms associated with it almost always disappear over time provided use of the drug is discontinued. However, discontinuing marijuana can be difficult for a number of reasons. Marijuana, more than most drugs, has a widespread cultural and social element to it that makes it hard to break out of. When one’s friends and associates all use marijuana, it is difficult to get away from being exposed to it while trying to quit.
Therefore, relieving the symptoms of marijuana dependency almost always requires in-patient treatment. This is necessary to make sure the person dependent upon marijuana is cut off from contact with other people and situations that will serve to trigger a return to their marijuana use. The benefits of inpatient treatment also include opportunities for trained professionals to help the user to acquire the coping skills and a new support systems that will help make a return to marijuana use less likely.
For better or worse, marijuana is likely to become more prominent in our society in the coming years, as more and more states reduce or eliminate penalties and restrictions on marijuana sale and use. With this trend, there is bound to also be an increase in those who require treatment for issues arising from marijuana dependence. The only difference may be that the issues surrounding marijuana will change from primarily legal ones to medical ones.
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