What You May Not Have Known About Marijuana (And Need to Know)

Weed. Pot. Mary Jane. Hemp. Herb. Reefer. Dope.

Most have heard each of these references to marijuana, particularly in pop culture and especially in rap music.  By now, as a college student, you have had to make a decision about whether to smoke it, and even if you have chosen not to do so, almost all of us know someone who smokes marijuana regularly. Yet, as much as it used, many people – even regular smokers - are not particularly well-educated about the facts of marijuana.

Voters in Washington, D.C. have voted towards the legalization of marijuana for recreational use, as of last week. 

Here are things you may have not known about marijuana (and need to know):    

1)    Yes, marijuana is “natural” – that does not mean that its use is “healthy.”

Marijuana contains THC, a complicated chemical with significantly varied psychoactive effects upon humans.  Put simply, there is no “one-size-fits-all” response to THC.  For some people, there is no question that its use can reduce pain and enhance relaxation.  For some people, this effect is very beneficial; however, for others, THC can cause anxiety, adversely alter the functioning of all of the senses and motor skills, and/or spawn paranoia, psychosis and other neurological ailments.  Studies on mice showed that many mice quickly developed a tolerance for THC’s benefits but not its side-effects.  Almost all experts agree that the most noticeable impact that THC has upon the brain is the part that controls motivation and personal drive.  The scariest part about THC is that it can activate latent neurological illnesses; therefore, if you have any history of mental illness in your family, your risks reacting negatively to THC are much higher.

 2)    Yes, you can get addicted to weed.

The fact that most people do not get addicted to weed does not mean the reaction is impossible. In fact, addiction is on the rise. According to Professor Wayne Hall, Director of the Centre for Youth and Substance Abuse at the University of Queensland, 1 in 6 teenagers who smoke marijuana will become addicted to it, suffering disrupted and damaged development to their brains and doubling their risk of developing psychotic disorders.  Why some people are vulnerable to addiction and others are not is extremely complicated and remains under study, there is no question that “addiction” is very real and very, very serious.  It involves a persistent involuntary craving that has a physiological origin.  Some scientists say that once an addiction to marijuana develops for some people, the addiction is no more voluntary than the seizures experienced by an epileptic.  While this viewpoint is not shared by all within the scientific and medical community, it is sobering nonetheless. 

3)    While you cannot die from an “overdose” on marijuana, you are subject to many adverse health effects if you smoke it over a long-term.

In Professor Hall's study, he wrote that there is a strange argument about the use of marijuana – that because you cannot overdose from it somehow makes it okay to use.  This is generally incorrect, but again, any honest discussion about marijuana has its riddles, mysteries, and enigmas.  Many people use it and do not become addicted.  These people generally prefer to use it over alcohol as their recreational intoxicant of choice and may not suffer any disease or adverse health consequences from its occasional use.  This fact separates use of marijuana from the use of other drugs like cocaine and heroin, but, again, the fact that use of marijuana may not be deadly does not mean that its use is healthy.  The weight of the science on the use of marijuana is in favor of the argument that marijuana use over the long-term is damaging to one’s health.

In conclusion, we live in an age where more and more people think the use of marijuana should be legalized.  There are pros and cons to this position from a public policy viewpoint.  After all, our nation experimented with laws establishing prohibitions on the sale of alcohol and quickly gave up on that experiment; so, I understand the movement towards legalization of marijuana.  It is certainly true that no one can claim that the current set of laws against the sale and use of marijuana have been effective.  Marijuana use is rampant, particularly in the college culture.  So, its recent legalization may be a more realistic policy that winds up freeing more resources for education and treatment. 

But let us also acknowledge the truth.  All recreational intoxicants can become dangerous when consumed too frequently or too extensively.  In addition, for some people, marijuana can be addictive and create huge problems for the addicted individual, as well as his or her family and loved ones. 

In my own case, I’ve decided to pass on marijuana.  I’m interested in my health, my education and career, and I don’t want to take on unnecessary risks.  For those of you who smoke, I sincerely don’t judge you.  I understand that pot and alcohol have a lot of similarities, and yet one is legal and the other is (mostly) not.  I just hope that all of you who do smoke, do your own homework.