According to the ONDCP Marijuana Fact Sheet (2006), an estimated 34 percent of people in the United States over the age of 12 have used Marijuana (Cannabis) in their lifetime. The fact sheet also confirms that Marijuana contains 400 different toxins, as well as the active psychoactive ingredient of TCH. The increase of the use of the substance has been reported by recent studies, and according to Steinherz and Vissing (1997) it “is the most widely used illicit drug that teens use”. This brings up the question; does the addiction stick with people for life, and what are the chances of becoming a life-long substance abuser because of starting with Marijuana at an early age? The authors of the current study are looking to answer the above question reviewing the literature and related research.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse has examined the effects of Marijuana on the brain. They found that the artificial simulation of the brain by THC causes addiction and withdrawal symptoms. This indicates that Marijuana, just like nicotine and alcohol is highly addictive. Immediate physical effects and psychological effects can vary, but the most common ones, according to most researchers are craving, aggression, withdrawal and delinquent behavior, which can lead to anti-social behavior, long term addiction and social problems. Therefore, in order to fully understand the problems the use of Marijuana causes for addicts, the authors would like to examine the research data, the findings of the studies and proposed solutions. While authorities, policymakers an NGO-s have been trying to deal with the problem for decades, the use of the drug is still on the rise.
Hall and Solowij (1998) conclude that the patterns of cannabis use do not indicate that a long term addiction develops. They state that when young people start using the drug this is only for a limited time, and only about ten percent of them become daily users. (p. 1611) However, the study also confirms that long term use leads to severe health problems, and some really acute effects. Anxiety, panic attacks, cognitive function impairment and increased heart rate are among the symptoms appearing after the use of Marijuana. The report also states that the effects on one’s driving ability and judgment, behavior and cognitive, psychomotor effects can also be severe. (p. 1612) Interestingly, the authors also report that the impact of the drug use can range individually on the scale between stimulation and causing depression or hallucination. While there are no straightforward answers to the question provided by Hall and Solowij (1998) to the question whether the drug is physically addictive, the Narconon report (2006) states that the psychological and social dependance is certainly present.
Hall and Solowij (1998) also confirm that chronic use of cannabis can have long term health effects. These include the damage of the immune system, chronic bronchitis, negative impact of reproductive functions and psychological problems.
When examining the behavioral effects of Cannabis use during adolescence, the authors also find a lot of evidence regarding social impacts. Leaving education early, lack of family formation, low performance at school and mental health issues, unhealthy socialization are among the effects of Marijuana use.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (2012) states that the use of the drug among high school children is on the rise since 2007. Their study focuses mainly on the effects of the drug on the brain. According to their publication, Marijuana affects the information processing function of the hippocampus, and this affects learning and memory. (p. 4.) They confirm the findings of the Narconon report (2006) and Hall and Solowij (1998), concerning the long term and short term effects of Marijuana abuse. They also state that amotivational syndrome, schizophrenia and other psychological illnesses are also among the long term consequences of the use, alongside with addiction. The paper states that there is indeed a link between school performance, socialization and work, as well as psychological illnesses.
All the above examined papers have concluded that long term use of Marijuana can lead to addiction. The confirmed psychological and physical effects have been noted in the above section. However, it seems like all the publications are treating Marijuana use as a generation syndrome, not like a real problem of the society. While some authors have found that there is a ling between school performance, life outcomes and addiction, none of the papers have found real solutions to the problem. This is not surprising if we look at the debate that has been going on for decades about legalizing the drug and the several contradicting publications, claiming that there are indeed no adverse effects of the drug’s use on the short term. Still, if we treat the problem as a trend of the “High School Culture”, it is evident that 8-12 graders do not have the adequate knowledge and information to make an informed decision about their future health.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that today there are no medications used by health professionals to treat the abuse, however, there are some solutions approved in the United Kingdom. The report, however, does not talk about the prevention, only the treatment. As addiction is the result of trying the drug, it can be prevented (possibly at a lower cost than treatment) by developing programs to educate children about the health, mental and social effects of using Marijuana.
Steinherz and Vissing (1997) call for stronger legislation in the 1990-s, stating that those who “grew up on Marijuana” in the 60-s America, calling for the legalization of the drug need to review the scientific evidence confirming the negative effects of the drug on cognitive and mental functions. The authors state that “No matter how one looks at the function of memory, it is obvious that man needs his hippocampus. Children and young adults, in particular, depend on their short-term memory, since they are learning and receiving new input constantly.“ (p. 63.)
The above review of related publications has revealed the neurological, mental and physical symptoms caused by occasional and long-term Marijuana use. All the authors agreed that brain function, memory and physical well-being are affected by the drug’s TCH agent. While the research did not cover the additional 400 toxins of the substance, it is evident that in order to eliminate the risks of mental illnesses, social exclusion, learning difficulties and deviant behavior among young people, there is a need to educate them about the risks. While smoking Cannabis might be extremely appealing for young adults and high school children in the United States, and – as some authors confirm – it is a trend in schools. The growing use of the drug, confirmed by National Institute on Drug Abuse (2012) among 8th, 10th and 12th Graders should warn policymakers to put preventive measures in place. After all, prevention seems to be the only option, as there is no drug developed to treat addiction. Additionally, the cost of treating health problems caused by drug abuse would be considerably higher than putting preventive policies in place.
ONDCP Marijuana Fact Sheet. Web. Retrieved Date (fixed), from http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/drugfact/marijuana/index.html
Narconon. Marijuana Information. Retrieved Date (fixed), from http://www.marijuanaaddiction.info/marijuana-information.htm
Steinherz, K., Vissing, T. (1997) The medical effects of marijuana on the brain. 21st Century 1997-1998
Hall, W., Solowij, N. (1998) Adverse effects of cannabis. Lancet 1998; 352: 1611–16
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012) Research Report Series. Marijuana Abuse. Web. Retrieved Date (fixed), from www.drugabuse.gov/sites/default/files/rrmarijuana.pdf