Is Marijuana Addictive and Should it be Fully Legalized in the US?
Nine percent of Americans who have used marijuana end up developing marijuana dependence. This figure is much higher at 33 to 50 percent among those who consume it daily. Almost 4 million Americans are near daily, if not daily, users of marijuana.
Is Marijuana Addictive?
One of the compounds in weed is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). In fact, it has its own classification: Cannabis. This is because its effect on the brain and body can’t be identified as a stimulant or a depressant. THC acts as both.
It is harvested from the buds of the cannabis plant. Its effect can be enhanced depending on its extraction and processing. Like heroin and cocaine, it is a schedule I substance. It is understood to disrupt chemical neurotransmitters, leading to short-term memory impairment, decreased concentration, mood, and perception.
Most experts agree that THC is addictive and with consistent use, it’s easier to become dependent on the drug. A study from Emory University found that after legalizing marijuana, the overall use jumped, and it was accompanied by a simultaneous increase in binge drinking.
This is particularly worrying because binge drinking has many associated social and public issues like car accidents, liver damage, violent behavior and increased crime.
Understanding Dependence Vs. Addiction
Dependence is different from addiction. Dependence on marijuana manifests as withdrawal when you suddenly quit weed. Withdrawal symptoms occur because your body has become accustomed to functioning with the “high” of THC. This can present itself as depression and anxiety.
Addiction is characterized by cravings and compulsive habits. Addicted users feel the absolute need to self-medicate to deal with every problem of life. They also find it difficult to make it through the day without the drug. Then they need it more frequently to achieve that high, and it turns into a vicious circle, as the more often you use, the harder it is to stop.
Data on marijuana addicts shows they tend to use it habitually, to self-medicate, use it like alcohol for recreation and use it to ameliorate any withdrawal symptoms.
The American Medical Association agreed with the research and passed a resolution in 2013, declaring marijuana as dangerous and a threat to public health. The resolution urged leniency to users, favoring rehabilitation instead of incarceration. So should it be legalized in the US? We look at the pros and cons of legalization.
Taxing the drug has been the target of many state and local governments. The Colorado Department of Revenue estimate between 247 million in tax revenue in 2017. That’s a very significant boost to the state coffers which could fund many projects including mental health programs and opioid programs. In Massachusetts tax revenue is estimated to be about 60 million.
Law Enforcement and Decriminalization
Many law enforcement agencies have advocated decriminalizing instead of legalizing marijuana. There is merit to this idea. By decriminalizing the drug, the police can devote time and resources to actual crime and violence. Prosecutors and judges also will focus on the real criminal issues and prisons won’t be so crowded because of lesser criminal penalties.
Portugal has set a fine example in this regard. A report from Cato Institute in 2009 revealed that because of the nationwide law decriminalizing marijuana, more people sought treatment for drug abuse since they didn’t fear being arrested.
Eliminating the Black Market
The end goal is to shut down black market trade completely. Advocates claim that by legalizing marijuana the illegal drug trade will stop just as it did for bootleggers of alcohol. They also believe that with the drug becoming less profitable, the violence associated with it will end.
But law enforcement agents are not sure. They believe it only provides cover to illegal traders. Colorado prosecutors busted a 74-person operation which produced 100 pounds of marijuana every month — enough to generate $200,000 per month, tax-free, for over four years. It’s hard to supervise who’s growing the drug within the regulated limit and who’s not.
Safety and Health
Marijuana-like other drugs are undergoing a synthetic phase, where drugs are being combined to potentiate its effects. Often these drugs are laced with untested, poisonous chemicals that are harmful. If legalized, advocates say that marijuana will be safer.
There is no central framework or governing body which controls or assess the purity of marijuana. So how this will work remains to be seen. Besides, illegal drug traders who are looking to create synthetic cocktails will continue doing so. Legalizing the drug won’t sway them.
Marijuana is being considered as a better alternative than opioids in the treatment of epilepsy, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), premenstrual syndrome, multiple sclerosis, and pain relief. Medical marijuana is already legal within guidelines in twelve states including California, Massachusetts, and New Jersey.
As spoken about in this article, it could be thought that Marijuana is addictive. Addiction specialists have confirmed as much. There are many addiction support services such as howtostopsmokingpot.org that can help with this.
THC acts like a psychedelic drug. Users perceive the world differently when under the influence often referred to as being “stoned.” Low or even moderate doses have been shown to trigger car accidents. Marijuana drivers demonstrate increased lane weaving, poor reaction time, and altered attention/concentration to the road.
Addiction specialists are concerned about marijuana because they believe it is a gateway drug, that it opens the door to more serious substances. Users are likely to experiment with new drugs and combinations to chase a better of faster “high.” These drugs could be heroin, cocaine and even prescription drugs. A study by Yale revealed that marijuana use alone was associated with higher prescription abuse in teenage girls enrolled in the study.
Effect on the Brain
Studies have shown that THC does affect the neurotransmitters in the brain. People who use the drug tends to react slowly and have constricted blood vessels which remain that way even after a month of abstinence.
Effect on Respiration
Marijuana is estimated to have 50-70% higher levels of carcinogens than tobacco smoke. The effect of these carcinogens is amplified as pot smokers tend to inhale more deeply compared to cigarette smokers, increasing the exposure of the lungs to these carcinogens.
Effect on the Heart
Marijuana is documented to increase the heart rate for up to 3 hours after use. It can precipitate palpitations, heart attacks, and arrhythmias. It’s a high-risk activity for certain adults with predisposing cardiac and vascular conditions.
Effect on Mental Health
There have been reports of marijuana use and depression and schizophrenia. Although how it happens is still being studied, it is clear that there is some effect of marijuana on mood and psychosis. Whether marijuana triggers this behavior or whether it’s the self-medication that facilitates this remains to be seen. Many addiction specialists agree that it shouldn’t be legalized until its effects are fully understood.
The legalization of marijuana has already happened in many states. It’s still a hotly debated matter in many others. Advocates say regulating it would reduce its use and make it safer. Critics say that it will lead to widespread use because of its accessibility.
Either way, it will require doctors, police, prosecutors, governments, and judges to agree on what needs to be done. The research has shown that the states where legalization of marijuana has been implemented have only led to an increase in its use.