Those living in B.C and, in particular, Vancouver are well aware of the debate regarding the legalization of marijuana. The province recently approved the opening of Medical Marijuana Dispensaries which have very quickly grown in number to rival that of Starbucks. The following facts are worth considering as the debate continues to simmer:
Marijuana is the most widely used illicit psychoactive drug in the world. The two most widely used marijuana species are Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica. Due to sophisticated growing methods, today’s marijuana is up to 5 to 15 times stronger than the marijuana of the 60s and 70s. It is usually classified as a hallucinogenic drug and has some properties in common with narcotics, stimulants, and depressants.
When smoked or eaten, marijuana alters perception and causes excitement, mild euphoria, altered perception, and changes in mood. Negative effects include a decrease in the ability to do complicated tasks, a disruption in short-term memory, impairment in eye-hand coordination, a reduction in motivation, fatigue, and a distorted sense of time; all making users more likely to exaggerate their mood and react to the surroundings. Can you imagine a vehicle being driven by a driver in that condition or a student attempting to focus on their studies?
Chronic use can cause severe anxiety, paranoia, and illusions plus the possibility of triggering chronic bronchitis, emphysema, pneumonia, and lung cancer. Regular users display impaired neural connectivity affecting executive functions like memory, learning, and impulse control. Research indicates that marijuana has its strongest long-term impact on young users whose brains are still busy building new connections and maturing in other ways. Most physical damage occurs in the lungs of those who smoke both cigarettes and marijuana, which appears to be the majority of users. In fact, one marijuana joint contains 4-5 times the tar and 2-3 times the carbon monoxide of one tobacco cigarette.
In my practice I have seen a good number of individuals, both young and old, who believe that marijuana is non-addictive. They are wrong. Tolerance develops rapidly with chronic marijuana use meaning that the quantity and/or frequency of marijuana use will likely continue to increase. Compulsive use is indicative of dependence and is similar to cigarette use in this regard. Withdrawal symptoms include headaches, anxiety, depression, irritability, aggressiveness, restlessness, tremors, sleep disturbances, decreased appetite, and continued craving.
The medicinal use of marijuana remains controversial with proponents extolling its virtues and opponents suggesting that there are better medicines that are more reliable and that don’t contain all the possible chemicals and carcinogens. Regardless, marijuana and related extracts have been used for centuries to treat insomnia and control headaches, asthma, pain, arthritis, anxiety, nausea, glaucoma, loss of appetite and numerous other conditions.
Some time ago a young man, Travis (not his real name), in his late teens booked an appointment with me at the insistence of his parents who were concerned about his use of marijuana. On the telephone his mother explained that at home Travis was generally irritable, aggressive, withdrawn, and losing weight. In addition he had been fired from his last job for arriving late too often and he is not actively searching for another job.
On arrival Travis explained that he could see no problem with the amount of marijuana he was smoking and that all his friends smoked about the same amount of “weed. When questioned about his marijuana usage Travis appeared to minimize the amount he was using and besides, he said “It’s not addictive”. He also noted that he had recently been stopped by the police and was given a 24-hour suspension. The police indicated he had been driving too slowly and they suspected he was on some sort of drug. He denied everything and suggested that the police tend to look for any excuse to hassle young people.
As the session wound down it was obvious that Travis had no interest in discussing his drug use or even his future plans for that matter. When asked if he would be willing to attend another session he indicated that “I’ll talk to my mom about it and give you a call”. I’m quite certain I’ll never see or hear from him again.
Mainly parents are faced with similar issues with their children and I have seen numerous young people like Travis. In these situations I generally suggest that the parents come in for one or more appointments to learn more about marijuana and how to best deal with their young person at home. Parents are on the front lines of these conflicts and learning the tools to deal with the situation can often be productive for both the parents and their child.