Marijuana is commonly believed to be one of the least addictive drugs available, especially to advocates for legalizing the plant for general use. Advocates for marijuana legalization cite statistics that the drug does not kill anyone and that it is proven to be non-addictive. As the debate over legalization boils over on the heated political oven, scientists are scrambling to produce evidence of the actual addictive properties of this drug. Questions being studied are general, but important: Is the drug addictive at all? What parts of the brain are affected by this drug use? What are the withdrawal symptoms? These questions must be researched and answered effectively if the argument over legalization is to be settled intelligently and correctly.
Is The Drug Addictive?
Marijuana affects the brain by triggering the pleasure centers in the cannabinoid receptors. These receptors are usually triggered naturally by endocannabinoids, such as the chemical anandamide. THC, the main ingredient in marijuana, acts as an endocannabinoid and replaces the natural chemicals. When the drug is ingested, it moves through the blood stream to affect the endocannabinoid system, and the person feels a sense of euphoria. Excessive use of the drug causes illusions and a lost sense of self. As with all other substances introduced to the body, if it is introduced often enough, the THC will eventually take over in the body and the brain will no longer make the chemicals necessary for the proper functioning of the endocannabinoid system.
However, this system will still work for occasional drug users. Unlike other drugs, such as cocaine or heroin, the body can regulate itself after the drug has been removed. This means that marijuana is addictive, but only through patterns of long term use. The brain will require a long time to adjust and stop using the endocannabinoid system properly, which means that the occasional marijuana user will not become addicted.
The long term, consistent user is more likely to become an addict. The answer is, yes, marijuana is addictive, but it is less so than cocaine, heroin or even nicotine. Addicts need to use the drug for a long period of time before the brain depends on the use. Luckily, the drug is not as dangerous as injected drugs such as heroin; an occasional user will not become addicted to the drug. As stdpanels.com points out, “the use of needles…is overlooked” as one of the fastest way to become addicted to a drug, and since marijuana is rarely injected, it is not as addictive as other drugs. It still, however, has the potential to become an addictive drug.
What Parts of the Brain Are Affected?
As stated above, the endocannabinoid system is directly affected by this drug. This system is found throughout the body, including the brain, organs, and immune system. The hippocampus is also directly affected, as this is the area of the brain which stores function and memory. Aging naturally reduces the number of neurons in the hippocampus; THC speeds this process. Marijuana causes the neurons to slow down. Those who ingest the drug, even on occasion, will experience memory loss, loss of time and place, and loss of some function while the marijuana affects the hippocampus. Studies are beginning to reveal that long term use may affect memory and retention later in life – those who use the drug in their younger years may have problems with the neurons in the hippocampus as they age. As marijuana remains a street drug, it is often mixed with fillers which could be anything – users don’t always know if what they are getting is pure.
Other parts of the brain are affected by this mixing process, which leads to a large unknown area of damage to the brain and other body systems.
What are the Withdrawal Symptoms?
Occasional users of the drug will state that there are no withdrawal symptoms due to the way the brain regulates itself when the drug is removed from the system. Scientists and long term users, however, are finding that there are specific withdrawal symptoms associated with marijuana. The withdrawal symptoms have been associated with those of tobacco, including irritability and an inability to sleep. While there is very little chance of shared diseases, such as those obtained by sharing needles, the personal effects still exist. Withdrawal symptoms include cravings, anxiety, sleeplessness, irritability and aggression. Studies prove that these withdrawal symptoms only come from those who have used the drug over the long term, but they still exist.
It seems that marijuana is addictive, but only in large doses. Nicotine can be addictive after the first few cigarettes. This drug is more in line with alcohol, which does not need to be addictive if the user does not abuse the drug. Lawmakers and drug addiction treatment centers could be facing the same situations as they do with alcohol if marijuana is legalized. It has been argued to be perfect for medical use, but should it be legalized for the general public? That is a question which obviously requires much more research and debate.
By: Eve Pearce