Current Research on Marijuana
There is a lot of controversy on marijuana. On one hand, it is a widely used drug that reportedly has medical benefits for some individuals. On the other hand, research shows negative effects that arise from the use of this drug. The controversy concerning this drug is remarkable, as some defend it to the end and others attack it with the same passion. What most people do not realize is that the extremes on both sides have both fact and fiction in their banter. This muddies the Internet with little more than agenda-driven “facts” making it hard for most of us to make a clear and educated choice on where we stand on the matter. Let’s take a look at some facts about marijuana and see what research has to say about it.
Marijuana is made from dried leaves, flowers, stems and seeds of a plant known as Cannabis sativa that has a mind-altering substance known as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). In the U.S., this is the most commonly used drug, despite its previous status as an illicit drug. Marijuana is consumed by smoking it, eating it, creating vapor and through other means.
Marijuana has an effect on both the brain and the body. When it’s consumed, it creates a higher than usual activity in certain areas of the brain that have receptors to chemicals similar to THC. When it’s consumed the effects are an alteration of the senses and of the perception of time, changes in the mood and movement, impaired thinking, movements, judgment and memory.
The most research-confirmed long-term effects of marijuana have a lot to do with the age at which the person started using the drug. If a teenager uses marijuana, it’s very likely that their brain development will be affected. This results in reductions in thinking, memory and learning. The effect might be permanent and studies show that it can result in a permanent loss of as many as 8 I.Q. points. The short-term use of marijuana might cause hallucinations, paranoia and severely worsen the symptoms of a person with schizophrenia. Some authors have suggested a link between marijuana use and the onset of psychotic symptoms. Marijuana use has also been linked by some studies to anxiety, depresion and suicidal ideas, especially among teenagers.
There is also the possibility for developing cannabis psychosis, which affects men four times more than it affects women. Cannabis has been shown to increase the risk for the development of a psychosis, especially in men, although the exact link that exists between the two factors is still unclear.
Marijuana can result in breathing problems similar to those that occur from smoking tobacco, such as coughing and a higher risk of lung infections. There is not a direct and clear link between marijuana and lung cancer although research is underway in this area and initial research suggests we will find a strong correlation. Marijuana also has an effect on the heart, as the heart rate raises significantly from smoking or consuming, increasing the risk of a heart attack, especially in older adults and those with cardiac and other health problems.
An important argument in favor of marijuana is that it is not addictive. However, research suggests that 1 in 11 marijuana users actually do become addicted to it. So what we once thought we knew, is no longer true concerning THC and addiction. This number increases significantly if the person begins using it as a teenager and if the person uses the substance daily. So while marijuana does not have the addiction rates of other drugs, it can still be addictive.
An important consideration in relation to marijuana is whether or not it can be used for medicinal purposes. The answer to that question would seem to be yes, however, there is still a lot to study about the potential side effects and the risks and benefits of medical marijuana use.
Marijuana itself and marijuana-based drugs are being used in different countries for specific problems. Some studies have reported marijuana to have positive effects on chronic pain, irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, epilepsy and a few others. Marijuana could be used to reduce the symptoms, reduce discomfort, inflammation and pain. However, there are still very few substantiated studies that have been focused specifically on people, have observed the long-term effects and have found the risk-benefit associations related to marijuana use. Even so – there is enough evidence to suggest that marijuana and marijuana-based treatments could be used for medical purposes and not just for recreational use.
A recent study has shown that marijuana might be the recreational drug with the least risk attached, being even safer than the more widely accepted and used alcohol and tobacco in relation to possible overdoses and amount used in general.
In general, even the latest research may still not enough for many to take a single side in the pro or con marijuana debate. On one hand, there is evidence of negative effects on physical and mental health. There is evidence that marijuana is addictive for many individuals who use it, especially if they use it daily or start using it young. In terms of addiction and the brain, marijuana triggers the reward pathway like many other a usable substances which poses significant risk to those with a greater familial/genetic risk for addictions. There is also evidence that it can affect brain development of teenaged users or negatively affect the development of a child if the mother uses marijuana while being pregnant or breastfeeging. And there is also evidence that marijuana might be linked to psychosis, heart disease and lung infections.
On the other side, there is some evidence suggesting medical benefits of marijuana – although there’s still a great deal of information lacking. Marijuana has had reported positive effects on different diseases, so the medical use of this drug might be supported. It also shows that marijuana might be safer to use than alcohol and tobacco, two widely accepted drugs. There is also evidence that marijuana does not seem to have significant effects on the cognitive abilities of users who started out as adults. In general, still more evidence is needed to achieve a more comprehensive understanding on the pros and cons of marijuana use.
One thing is certain, regardless of where you stand in the controversy; marijuana, like alcohol, has a significant impact on health, education, development, commerce, traffic safety, politics and much much more. It’s not an easy dilemma and like all choices in life, for good or for bad, there are always consequences.
http://www.webmd.com/news/breaking-news/marijuana-on-main-street/medical-marijuana-research-web?page=4 (cites several research articles on marijuana)