Marijuana: A legal poison

The myths and facts of the drug’s harmful effects

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Because marijuana is deceptively marketed as a “medicine,” perception of the drug has changed.

■ Muriel Dufresne / Contributed

There is an ever‑growing gap between the latest science and the myths surrounding marijuana. Some think that since it is legal, or “natural,” it must be safe. But behind the smoke screen, statistics and research show otherwise. Marijuana is one of the most abused drugs in America. Surveys estimate that 20 million people admit to past-month use and at least 4.2 million meet the criteria for addiction. As well, another survey recorded that in 2012 there were 305,560 treatment admissions for marijuana or hashish and the Drug Abuse Warning Network records 120,584 emergency room mentions involving marijuana.

What is marijuana?
Marijuana (also known as weed, pot and dagga) is an addictive drug that comes from the Indian hemp plant known as cannabis. When sold, it is a mixture of dried out leaves, stems, flowers and seeds of the plant. It’s usually green, brown or gray in color. Hashish (an extract of the plant) is a tan, brown or black resin that is dried and pressed into bars, sticks or balls.
Marijuana can be inhaled by smoking or vaporization. It can also be mixed with food and eaten or brewed as tea, called “edibles.”
There are over 400 chemicals in marijuana and hashish. The chemical that causes intoxication or the “high” is called THC (short for tetrahydrocannabinol).
Some plants have traits that protect them in the wild, such as poisons or toxins that, when eaten, make animals sick or alter their mental capacity. THC is this natural protective mechanism of the marijuana plant that creates mind-altering effects.
The amount of THC determines the drug’s strength and THC in marijuana has increased steadily over the years as hemp growers develop techniques to produce much higher levels of it. For comparison, marijuana smoked from 1969 to the late 1970s contained roughly one percent THC. In 2008, the average content was 10.2 percent.

The harmful effects of marijuana use
Because marijuana is deceptively marketed as a “medicine,” perception of the drug has changed. But marijuana is not recognized or approved by the FDA as a medicine for any illness. It is a drug, like alcohol, cocaine, or ecstasy. And, legal or not, the damage it can do is unquestionable.

Short-term damage
The immediate effects of marijuana include rapid heart beat, disorientation, lack of physical coordination, often followed by depression or sleepiness. Some users suffer panic attacks or anxiety.
Marijuana smoke also contains 50 to 70 percent more cancer-causing substances than tobacco smoke—a single cannabis joint could cause as much damage to the lungs as up to five regular cigarettes smoked in succession. Marijuana can lead to severe hereditary defects. Use during pregnancy can result in a premature, undersized and underweight baby or one with birth defects, mental abnormalities and increased risk of leukemia (cancer of the bone marrow).
Driving under the influence of marijuana is also associated with a 92 percent increased risk of accidents and fatalities. Other side effects of use include poor memory and mental aptitude, significant impairment of judgment, coordination and reaction time, paranoia, hallucinations and psychosis.
Another danger of marijuana is the “edible.” When a person consumes marijuana in food or drinks, it may take 30 to 45 minutes to digest. Therefore, the user doesn’t feel the effects immediately and often overdoes it. When the drug finally hits, one can become extremely intoxicated and even psychotic.
In one notable case, a reporter for The New York Times ate a marijuana-infused candy bar and spent eight hours curled up in a “hallucinatory state.” In another instance, a Colorado teen ate one marijuana-infused cookie. After the drug kicked in, he jumped off a fourth floor balcony and died from the fall.

Long-term damage
Heavy use of marijuana can deteriorate your physical health and lead to brain abnormalities. THC disrupts nerve cells in the brain, affecting memory. Usage can also result in: Bronchitis, an inflammation of the respiratory tract, decline of IQ and impaired thinking, antisocial behavior including violence, stealing money or lying, financial difficulties, increased welfare dependence and greater chances of being unemployed or not getting good jobs.

The dark road of marijuana use
People take drugs to get rid of unwanted situations or feelings. Marijuana only masks the problem while the user is high. When the drug “high” fades, the unwanted condition or situation returns more intensely than before. The user may then turn to other drugs since marijuana no longer “works.” As a result, marijuana use can lead to other addictions.
The vast majority of cocaine users (90 percent) began by first using drugs such as marijuana or alcohol. One study found that young adults (12 to 17 years old) who use marijuana are 85 times more likely to use cocaine, and that 60 percent of those who use marijuana before the age of 15 move onto harder drugs like cocaine.

The solution
The real answer is to get the facts and safeguard yourself, and your future, by not taking drugs in the first place.

Drugs tear families and lives apart. Help us educate others and end their destructive grip on our society.
For help or more information, visit us today at drugfreeworld.org or contact us at e-mail: info@drugfreeworld.org • phone: 1‑888 NOTODRUGS (1‑888‑668-6378).

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