By Doug Brush, CACII
Director of MARR’s Men’s Recovery Center
With a growing number of states moving to legalize recreational marijuana, there is an ongoing debate on whether or not it is actually harmful. It is crucial to realize that legal doesn’t mean harmless. Let me say that again: legal does not mean harmless. Here’s the truth: scientific research tells us that marijuana has adverse effects on brain development, mental health, and overall well-being.
Let me be clear in saying that we are not talking about prescribed medical marijuana. There is good research that demonstrates how marijuana can be used to successfully treat some serious health conditions. Here, we are talking about individuals who use marijuana recreationally to escape from reality.
Sometimes needing to “relax” after a long day really means being emotionally removed and losing sight of one’s priorities. That is a pattern in addiction across the board, and it is no wonder that people return to the drug over and over again, unable to stop using. This cycle of escapism often leaves users disconnected from their loved ones, their emotions, and themselves.
If you find yourself getting angry about what we are saying, let me propose that we have “touched a nerve” and that your relationship with marijuana may be such that you feel you have to defend it. There is a massive misunderstanding about the difference between those who are addicted and those who are not. Someone is not an addict because they consider a drug a problem, they are an addict because they see it as an answer. Article: Why Won’t They Stop?
At MARR Addiction Treatment Center, we have seen an alarming increase of clients with marijuana as their primary addictive agent of choice.
So, how do we know that marijuana is harmful?
In an article titled “The Adverse Health Effects of Marijuana,” the writers present scientific data on just how addictive and damaging marijuana use can be. It is an addictive drug, in fact, 9 percent of those who even experiment with marijuana will become addicted. That jumps to 25 to 50 percent among individuals who smoke daily. There is also scientific evidence of a physical withdrawal from cannabis, which comes in the form of irritability, difficulty sleeping, dysphoria, craving, and anxiety, all of which can obviously contribute to continual relapse.
Early Onset Use
There are an increasing number of adolescents using marijuana, and within two years, they are approximately 2 to 4 times more likely to have symptoms of cannabis dependence than those who begin using during adulthood. This is because weed disrupts normal brain development. Our brains are in constant active development up until age 21, and THC (the primary active ingredient in marijuana) prevents the brain from establishing vital connections between neurons. As people start using earlier and more regularly, they not only have an increased risk of marijuana addiction, but also an increased risk of the use of other illicit drugs.
There is also data that suggests the weed may function as a gateway drug, especially in adolescents. It’s effects prime the brain to influence addictive behaviors in adulthood. This is something that we have seen in clients here at MARR. Experimenting with marijuana, even if that is not the primary addiction, leads people to progress to other substances and eventually suffer from addiction to alcohol or other drugs.
The potency of marijuana is also on the rise. In confiscated samples, THC content has increased from about 3% in the 1980s to a whopping 12% in 2012. This means that the previously known effects of long-term use may be even more detrimental.
Right now, marijuana is the most commonly used ‘illicit’ drug in the United States. So we have more people using, they are using at a younger age, and the potency of the drug itself is higher. Modern culture and the media have a lot to say about weed, but we must be honest and straightforward about the facts. Marijuana is not a harmless pleasure, it is an addictive drug that is proven to damage brain development, and addiction is an isolating disease that can affect every area of a person’s life and relationships.
No one gets to choose whether or not they become addicted after they start using, and that’s why understanding the potential consequences of marijuana use is important. Despite the harsh reality of this drug, we always extend the hope of recovery. Addiction is a disease, but with the right tools and a supportive community, there is an opportunity for a life of freedom and wholeness on the other side.
Volkow, N. D., M.D., Baler, R. D., Ph.D., Compton, W. M., M.D., & Weiss, S. R., Ph.D. (2014). Adverse Health Effects of Marijuana Use. New England Journal of Medicine,371(9), 878-879. doi:10.1056/nejmc1407928 http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMra1402309