There are many myths about cannabis - or marijuana - use and dependence. In this lesson, we'll look at the medicinal benefits of cannabis, as well as the dangers of cannabis use.
For decades, a debate has raged as to whether marijuana, or cannabis, should be legal. As of 2013, 20 states and the District of Columbia have legalized pot for medicinal purposes. In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize it for recreational purposes.
Cannabis is an herb that produces a relaxed state of well-being in many people. It goes by many different names - pot, weed and dope among them - and is used for both medicinal and recreational uses. Though it is gaining popularity as a medicine, there are still risks to using it. There are many misconceptions about marijuana use. Let's look at facts about the benefits and side effects of marijuana use and examine the dangers of addiction.
Cannabis use is anytime anyone uses marijuana, while cannabis dependence is when someone becomes addicted to marijuana. Cannabis dependence can cause serious problems for people, but first let's look at the benefits of cannabis use. That is, let's examine the reasons why someone might use marijuana.
Marijuana has been shown to be very effective in fighting nausea. As a result, it is often prescribed as a drug for cancer and AIDS patients, as well as others who have problems with vomiting and trouble with too much weight loss. Cannabis can also help mitigate pain. This is another advantage for cancer and AIDS patients, who are often in a lot of pain. However, in general, it's not often prescribed just for pain because it has side effects, like drowsiness, that are not as marked in prescription painkillers.
Because of its relaxing properties, cannabis is occasionally used for anxiety disorders and insomnia. It can cause a deep sense of relaxation and induce sleep, which makes it popular for people who feel nervous and are unable to sleep. However, most people who use it to treat anxiety do so as part of self-medicating, or taking drugs or alcohol to deal with problems. In other words, it is not often prescribed for anxiety disorders.
Despite all of the benefits of cannabis use, there are drawbacks. For example, marijuana can cause short-term memory loss and cognitive difficulties. That is, people who smoke pot aren't thinking straight. They often come across as dumb because the marijuana is keeping them from being able to process and retrieve information.
In addition, there is a link between certain mental illnesses and cannabis use. Remember how we said that people who suffer from anxiety disorders often self-medicate with marijuana? The reason that it is not often prescribed for anxiety conditions is that long-term use might actually cause anxiety disorders. In some studies, smoking a lot of pot as a teenager was linked with higher anxiety in the late 20s.
Other mental illnesses, like depression and schizophrenia, are also linked with pot smoking. But there's no way to know whether or not the marijuana is causing the mental illnesses or if people who have psychological problems are just more likely to turn to cannabis. Other side effects of marijuana use include respiratory problems, dry mouth, red and itchy eyes and blood pressure issues.
Physical vs. Psychological Addiction
By far, though, the biggest danger with cannabis use is that a person will become addicted, or dependent, upon the drug. Contrary to popular belief, cannabis is an addictive substance and about 10% of users develop a dependence on it. But people still believe that you can't get addicted to pot. Why?
Part of that myth comes from a truth: marijuana is less physically addictive than many other drugs, including the legal drugs alcohol and tobacco. If an addict stops drinking alcohol, they will experience many symptoms of withdrawal, including tremors, nausea, headaches and other physical symptoms.
Compare that to an addict who stops smoking pot - very few marijuana addicts go through the same physical symptoms of withdrawal. However, that doesn't mean that pot isn't addictive; it's just addictive in a different way.
There are two types of addiction. Physical addiction results in physical withdrawal symptoms, like those we listed above for alcohol withdrawal. Drugs, like alcohol, nicotine, cocaine and even caffeine, all come with a high level of physical addiction. Some people will experience a physical addiction to cannabis, but most people will not.
However, the second type of addiction, psychological addiction, is very prominent in cannabis dependence and is no less painful. Psychological addiction results in emotional and mental withdrawal symptoms when you stop using. These can include cravings for the drug, depression, anxiety and moodiness.
So, even though pot is less physically addictive than your morning cup of coffee, it is psychologically addictive, and the consequences of cannabis dependence are much more serious than those of being addicted to caffeine. Unlike with coffee, being addicted to pot can lead to a loss of social standing, financial issues and even arrest and prosecution in states where it is illegal.
Someone with cannabis dependence experiences at least three of the following in a one-year period:
- Tolerance of the drug where more pot is needed to get the same effect.
- Withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit.
- Using more marijuana or using it for longer than the person meant to use.
- Inability to cut back or quit.
- Time and money are spent trying to get pot, which leads to a reduction in one's social life or ability to do one's job.
- Not caring about the consequences of using.
Cannabis, or marijuana, is a drug that causes a sensation of relaxation and well-being. There are benefits to marijuana use, including reducing nausea, managing pain and lessening insomnia and anxiety. However, there are many side effects, including memory loss, cognitive issues and a higher risk for mental illness. Despite popular belief, cannabis is addictive. Though it is less physically addictive than other drugs, it is psychologically addictive.
Once you have watched this lesson, you should be ready to:
- Summarize the benefits and side effects of cannabis
- Differentiate between cannabis use and cannabis dependence
- Understand the side effects of cannabis use
- Compare and contrast physical addiction and psychological addiction