In recent years the perception of the effects of marijuana both positive and negative have been increasingly discussed in the public arena. Many people contest that there are no negative consequences of marijuana use. The fact of the matter is that in order to consider something as having negative consequences, it does not need to directly cause death from an overdose. There are many other avenues, some more direct than others that a drug can cause negative consequences to the user directly in addition to collaterally in the case of family, friends and others in society. It has been proven over the years that there are tangible negative consequences to the use of Marijuana. Many of these are social but there are also neurological effects, both long and short term that can be observed and measured in users of this drug.
The drug Marijuana is used because of its psychoactive effects. In order for these effects to be realized there has to be some kind of mind altering effect created by the drug.("The Science of Marijuana: How THC Affects the Brain”) This is fairly self evident when put into this context but scientists have discovered the system in the body that is directly impacted by delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. The system impacted is called the endocannabinoid system and derives its name from the marijuana plant. The active chemical in marijuana was discovered in the 1960’s but it wasn’t until the 1980’s that scientists discovered what impact this chemical had.
What they discovered was that there are receptors in the endocannabinoid system, called cannabinoid, or CB, receptors. Additionally it was discovered that the body produces chemicals, anandamide and 2-AG (2-arachidonoyl glycerol) that also activate these receptors. These chemicals are able to regulate the communication of different nerve cells. THC like that from marijuana has the effect of slowing down these inter-cell communications. THC does not just activate these receptors but it completely overwhelms the system. What occurs after this is a fundamental change in how the brain reacts to natural stimuli. With up and down regulation the neurons no longer react to normal levels of stimuli. From the use of this drug there are many effects that can be discerned from its impact on various parts of the brain.
The different structures of the brain that influence the immediate effects of the drug stretch throughout the brain. The Amygdala is the portion of the brain that when impaired causes the stereotypical fear and paranoia response and the basal ganglia allows for slower reaction time. Some other areas of concern are the Cerebellum, Hippocampus, Hypothalamus, and neocortex allowing for impaired coordination, poor memory and impaired judgement. A significant piece of information about this effect is that it is short term and describes the intoxicated state rather than any long term impact the drug has on the user.
The article “Acute Effects of Marijuana Smoking on Negative and Positive Affect” discusses a study in which the acute effects of marijuana smoking were studied in comparison to smoking a placebo. (Metrik et. al. 31-46) In the study, the participants were either smoking an active drug with 2.8% THC content or a placebo with 0% and were then tested to find what effects if any could be associated with THC use. According to the results, the use of THC increases the senses of arousal, confusion and bewilderment.
An interesting and potentially confounding finding was that the actual impact of THC on the participants depended largely on the preconceived notions about how marijuana should affect the body. It was found that out of those who believed that the marijuana would have a greater impact, a higher level of anxiety was reported. Additionally, taking THC then being told it was a placebo also increased the level of anxiety experienced. This increase was significantly higher than participants who received THC when they believed they would receive the placebo. The difference was that when they knew they were receiving THC and that was accurate, anxiety levels reduced somewhat, whereas when they were unaware they would receive THC the anxiety level increased slightly with use. Those who received no THC reported anxiety levels reducing to near zero after use of their placebo.
This study has some limitations. It only addresses the effects of one chemical found in marijuana which is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol but it does not address the impact of Cannabidiol(CBD). This compound is not known for producing any mind altering effects. The administration of the drug was standardized in that participants were instructed to smoke one entire cigarette. This negates smoking habits and self determination of dosing which can have a large impact on the short and long term impact of the drugs. Further studies in this area could pose problems with ethical standards.
Most of the aforementioned impacts of this drug on the short-term health of a user. These acute effects tend not to pose long term problems for the user. This leaves open the question of whether or not the drug itself should be legalized. In an attempt to determine some of the long term effects of marijuana use, Evins, Green, Kane, and Murray studied the connection between the use of marijuana and the onset of schizophrenia.(2012) The study showed a correlation between marijuana use and the onset of schizophrenia later in life. This correlation was especially strong among individuals who used marijuana in their teenage years. The typical onset of schizophrenia is between the ages of 18 and 25.
A causal relationship between marijuana use and schizophrenia is not established by this study but the implication that using marijuana increasing the risk of this disorder is alarming enough considering the lack of any cure. Most of the other effects of marijuana use are reversible whereas this one isn’t. The real world implication of these findings is that even though there is a very small increase in the risk of developing schizophrenia associated with the use of marijuana, there is a minority of the population who should be informed of this risk. Medical professionals should also be aware so they can watch out for the signs of potential problems in young patients so that problems can be caught early enough to rectify them.
The use of marijuana has become a source of much controversy, which is not likely to change. A great deal of the impact felt by the user is the social aspects of it. They tend to seek out friends and activities that promote use. This can even be to the point of excluding anything from like that is a distraction from use. After a certain level of use it may deter from healthy coping skills because it replaces all of them with one simple activity.
Without definitive proof of long-term negative medical consequences and a lack of life threatening complications many people will continue to assume that the substance is safe. People will likely cling to the fact that most, if not all, of the negative health consequences are temporary and reversible in nature. The link with other mental disorders and other long-term effects may change popular perceptions in the future but the fact of the matter is that the scientific understanding as well as the public perception of the drug are both changing and evolving but the impact on the lives of some is unquestionable.
Evins, A, Alan Green, John Kane, and Robin Murray. "The Effect of Marijuana Use on the Risk for Schizophrenia." Recovery on Purpose. N.p., 1 Nov. 2012. Web. 19 May 2014. <http://www.recoveryonpurpose.com/upload/Effects%20of%20Marijuana%20Use%20on%20the%20Risk%20for%20Schizophrenia.pdf>.
Metrik, Jane, Christopher W. Kahler, John E. Mcgeary, Peter M. Monti, and Damaris J. Rohsenow. "Acute Effects of Marijuana Smoking on Negative and Positive Affect." Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy 25.1 (2011): 31-46. Print.
"The Science of Marijuana: How THC Affects the Brain." Heads Up for Students. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 May 2014. <http://headsup.scholastic.com/articles/the-science-of-marijuana>.