People ask a lot of questions about marijuana. But they may not be asking all of the right questions. Those that aren’t questioning the use of marijuana might not want to ask the tough questions because they don’t want to hear the answers. And some may not even realize that there are some very important answers that need to be heard because they have been lulled into thinking that marijuana is just a benign herb that causes no harm. Nothing can be further than the truth. Here are the answers to some of the not-so-frequently asked question.
Does marijuana use lead to dependency and/or addiction? Absolutely; the use of marijuana has been clearly documented to change the brain, particularly the reward system in the brain.1 These changes in the brain are very similar to what is found in those with opioid chemical dependency/addiction and alcoholism. The statistics show that 9% of those who initially start using marijuana will develop a dependency and that teenagers are twice as likely to develop a marijuana use disorder.2
What are the symptoms of marijuana withdrawal? As seen with all substances that cause dependency, a marijuana dependent individual will experience withdrawal symptoms when he/she stops using marijuana. The symptoms of marijuana withdrawal include irritability, anger, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, decreased appetite or weight loss, restlessness, depressed mood, shakiness, stomach cramps, headaches, chills and sweating.3 The problem with this list of withdrawal symptoms is that people seek prescriptions for marijuana to treat these withdrawal symptoms as if these problems were disease entities and not caused by withdrawal. That is like giving an alcoholic more alcohol to treat the alcohol withdrawal syndrome or like giving a smoker permission to keep smoking in order to prevent withdrawals. With better recognition of marijuana withdrawal syndrome, professionals are hoping that more people will seek treatment for marijuana dependency and addiction.
What is the long-term impact of marijuana use? Unlike oregano and basil (real herbs which have no significant impact on the brain), marijuana leaves a huge footprint on the brain. Using the latest imaging technology called functional MRI brain scanning, researchers have documented the blunted emotional responses in marijuana users.4 Those who live with a user don’t need an MRI to tell them what they already know. Spouses and friends recognize that the user’s personality is different or that he/she “is not there anymore.” School officials don’t need an MRI to see the increased drop-out rate, lower GPA scores and failure to achieve degrees in those who use marijuana. Marijuana’s impact in the schools is due to marijuana’s impact on the brain’s ability to remember and learn.5 These cognitive skills can come back after the user quits using marijuana. However, the recovery time is much slower in children because marijuana damages the developing brain of a child.6 Unfortunately, the footprint left by marijuana on a child’s brain looks more like a gigantic boot print.