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Marijuana (Cannabis) Abuse and Addiction

Marijuana, also known as cannabis, is a psychoactive product of the plant Cannabis sativa. The herbal structure of the drug consists of dehydrated mature inflorescences and subtending leaves of pistillate plants. The major active chemical compound in marijuana is tetrahydrocannabinol, also referred to as THC. Cannabis is the most commonly abused illegal drug in the United States. Estimations show that marijuana is now regularly used by 4% of the world's adult population.

Marijuana has been consumed since prehistory. However, in the 20th century there was an increase in its use for medicinal, religious or spiritual, and recreational purposes. During that same period of time the use, possession, or sale of marijuana became illegal in most parts of the world.

Some of the more common street names for marijuana are blunt, pot, chronic, cheeba, grass, reefer, ganja, joint, weed, mary jane, herb, buddha, skunk, sinsemilla, roach, thai sticks, smoke, hash, widow, and dope.

Methods of Using Marijuana

There are numerous methods and paraphernalia for smoking cannabis. It can either be smoked through a bong or rolled up with rolling paper or with the skin of a cigar. Cannabis can be vaporized, which turns the active ingredients into gas without burning the plant material. The toxic chemicals are freed at smaller amounts than by smoking. Cannabis can also be consumed orally, as an alternative to smoking. It can be eaten raw or integrated with water, THC and other cannabinoids are more effectively absorbed into the bloodstream when dissolved in alcohol. When cannabis is ingested this way it will take longer to begin, but the effects last longer. Some people have unpleasant experiences after consuming cannabis, because they have a more intense experience than they are comfortable with.

The length of time required for the onset of marijuana's effects is normally about one hour and may continue for a long length of time, whereas the effects of smoking marijuana are virtually immediate. Cannabis may also be leached in high proof alcohol to create what is called green dragon. It can also be made into a tea and consumed that way.

Physical Effects of Marijuana Use

Through research, a great deal has been discovered about how THC acts in the brain to produce its many effects. When THC enters the brain, it causes the user to have a euphoric, or high, feeling by affecting the brain's reward system. It activates the reward system the same way that almost all recreational drugs do, by forcing the brain cells to release dopamine. Dopamine neurons are used in the regulation of motivation and reward, and are either indirectly or directly affected by all drugs that are abused.

Users of marijuana can experience pleasant feelings, vision and hearing may seem more intense, and time will appear to pass very slowly. Occasionally, marijuana use produces anxiety, fear, distrust, or panic. Marijuana's effects begin almost immediately after THC enters the brain and usually last from one to three hours. If marijuana is consumed, the effects take much longer to begin, usually in 30 minutes to an hour, and can last for as long as four hours. When smoked, marijuana deposits a much greater amount of THC into the blood than when it is ingested. After just a few minutes after inhaling marijuana smoke, the user's heart will begin to beat more rapidly, the bronchial passages will relax and enlargen, and blood vessels in the eyes start to expand, which causes the eyes to appear red. When the euphoria passes the user may feel sleepy or depressed.

Respiratory Complications of Smoking Marijuana

An individual who smokes marijuana on a regular basis can have many of the same respiratory issues as cigarette smokers. The smoke from marijuana contains a lot of the same carcinogenic compounds as tobacco, sometimes in much greater amounts. Marijuana smoke can actually contain 50% to 70% more cancer causing chemicals than tobacco smoke does. There are over 400 chemicals that have been discovered in marijuana smoke, including banzyprene, a known human carcinogen. Smoke from marijuana greatly increases the risk of developing cancer in the head or neck. Marijuana use also has the potential to cause cancer of the lungs and other parts of the respiratory system because of the irritants and carcinogens it contains.

Marijuana smokers normally inhale more deeply and keep the smoke in their lungs longer than tobacco smokers do, which increases the lungs' exposure to carcinogenic smoke. Frequent users can suffer from persistent coughing, symptoms of bronchitis and more frequent chest colds. Even infrequent use can cause burning and stinging of the mouth and throat, in conjunction with a heavy cough.

Marijuana's Effects on the Brain

Scientific research involving the use of marijuana and mental illness has also brought many significant results. Marijuana abuse is normally greater among those who suffer from schizophrenia, but the causality between them has not been established. Frequent early adolescent marijuana use among genetically predisposed people has been associated with numerous mental illness outcomes, ranging from clinical schizophrenia to psychotic episodes. Short term mental effects of marijuana include issues with memory and learning, distorted perception, trouble with thinking and problem solving, and loss of motor coordination. When other drugs are mixed with marijuana, these effects can be even greater.

It has been found that the frequent use of marijuana can compromise the ability to learn and remember information by impairing the ability to focus, sustain, and shift attention. It has also been noticed that chronic use reduces the user's ability to organize and integrate complex information. Marijuana also impairs the users short term memory and decreases their motivation to complete tasks, even when the high has gone. It has also been discovered that the adverse impacts marijuana has on memory and learning functions can last for days or weeks after the effects wear off.

Addiction to Marijuana

Chronic marijuana use may lead to addiction for a select number of individuals. They will compulsively abuse the drug even though it interferes with family, school, work, or other activities. Addiction to marijuana brings the same characteristics as any other drug addiction. Users also build up a tolerance to marijuana quite rapidly. The craving and withdrawal symptoms it has can make it hard for chronic marijuana smokers to stop using the drug. People who try to quit often become irritable, sleepy, restless, nauseated, and have increased aggression. These symptoms will normally peak approximately one week after the last use of the drug.

The belief that marijuana is not addictive makes it less likely for individuals to get support for quitting. Although, more than 120,000 people in the US seek treatment for marijuana addiction every year. An estimation shows that 10 to 14 percent of marijuana users will become heavily dependent on the drug. Marijuana addiction is a disease that affects millions of people across the globe each year.
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