When it comes to the long list of highly addictive drugs available both legally and illegally in our country today, most individuals would likely not consider cannabis—called marijuana, pot, weed, dope, reefer as well as dozens of other names—as one of great concern or a major problem in modern society. But in fact, cannabis abuse is a very real epidemic that has the potential to cause a host of problems in the addict and certainly negatively impact lives.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that approximately nine percent of people who use marijuana will become abusers, and upwards of 20 percent of users—some 4.5 million people—will develop some level of dependence on the drug. Currently, cannabis is considered the most widely used illicit drug in the United States, with 7.3 percent of Americans 12 years of age or older using the drug in the past month. And the average age of first use for many individuals in less than 18 years old.
When compared to the number of people who develop an addiction to alcohol—about seven percent—the scope of problem becomes much clearer. But despite these statistics, only some 350,000 people annually are admitted to substance abuse centers for the treatment of marijuana addiction, a number considered by many healthcare professionals to be a small fraction of the number of people dependent on the drug.
Cannabis, a plant that grows wild in nearly every climate on the planet and, in recent decades, has been cultivated indoors on a large scale, contains the active ingredient delta-9 tetrahydro-cannabinol, more commonly known as THC. The drug works by rapidly entering the brain, attaching to cannabinoid receptors and preventing the chemicals naturally occurring there from regulating how cells send, receive and process information. Essentially, brain activity is slowed down considerably, resulting in a temporary dimming of mental awareness.
Typically, the drug comes in three main forms: marijuana, made from the dried flowers and leaves of the cannabis plant; hashish, made from the resin (or secreted gum) of the cannabis plant; and hash oil, a thick substance derived from hashish. Each form of cannabis has different levels of potency, and lately more and more of the drug is being made into substances that allow it to be eaten—pot cookies, brownies, and even candies, for instance—rather than taken in the traditional manner which is smoked in cigarette form (as a “joint”) or in an apparatus such as a waterpipe (“bong”) or other wooden, plastic or metal pipe.
Most people who use cannabis either occasionally or on a regular basis do so to experience a sense of mild to moderate euphoria and relaxation, the characteristic “high” that affects mood, thinking and perception. The most common effects of cannabis use include a feeling of wellbeing; talkativeness; drowsiness; a loss of inhibitions; increased appetite; and a loss of coordination.
However, with serious and prolonged use a condition known as cannabis psychosis can occur, and the effects of the psychosis can be severe and mentally damaging. Such symptoms of this condition include delusions, hallucinations, intense feelings of paranoia and disorganized thinking. Additionally, difficulties in expressing emotions, concentrating for even short periods of time and a serious loss of motivation can occur with cannabis psychosis, symptoms that can become lasting and permanent even if use of the drug is ceased.