With the rise of recreational medicine in recent times, previously banned substances such as opoids and marijuana have become more and more popular.
A month hardly goes by without reports of a new country or state legalizing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. New perspectives and insight about recreational drugs keep on emerging and hitting the media. Recently, reports surfaced on the internet about a Canadian university that now offers an undergraduate course in growing marijuana.
According to statistics, as at 2015, marijuana was the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States.
It then becomes important to understand the facts, myths, realities and trends around recreational drugs such as marijuana and the implications they might have on health if we (or someone we know) use them.
What Exactly is Medical Marijuana
Marijuana (also known as cannabis) is the term used to describe the fresh or dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds from the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plant. The plant contains a number of substances which can be both beneficial as well as harmful. Two of these substances, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the main cannabinoids that occur naturally in the Cannabis sativa plant.
Both THC and CBD interact with the cannabinoid receptors found in the human body and brain with strikingly different effects.
Cannabidiol (CBD) vs Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in Cannabis
THC: While CBD is non-psychoactive which means that it will not get the user high, THC on the other hand is very psychoactive and can cause very dramatic effects in a user. This is the major reason why CBD is used more often as an add-on in dietary and natural supplements unlike THC.
THC works, in part, by mimicking the effects of anandamide and 2-AG. These neurotransmitters are produced naturally by the human body and help to modulate sleeping and eating habits, the perception of pain, and countless other bodily functions.
THC has some known effects on the body including: relaxation, altering the sense of sight, smell, and hearing, fatigue, inducing hunger, and reducing aggression.
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CBD: On the other hand, CBD can be found both in agricultural hemp, as well as medical marijuana. While cannabinoids are present within several plants in nature, the only plant known to contain CBD is cannabis.
CBD has the same chemical formula as THC, with a slight variation in the arrangement of the atoms, which enables THC elicit its psychoactive effect.
Facts About Marijuana
A number of facts about medical marijuana have been proven by scientists and researchers to be wholesome and beneficial to humans as well as experimental animals.
Here are some of the instances where Medical Marijuana may be prescribed by physicians:
- To help ameliorate the side effects of chemotherapy
- As an analgesic and pain reliever in managing some pain disorders
- To help relieve muscle spasms (especially in athletes and sports persons) from multiple sclerosis.
- To manage seizures (as seen in epilepsy) in some patients
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Researchers have found that cannabis can help with the following conditions:
- Sleep problems in people with fibromyalgia, MS, long-term pain, and sleep apnea
- Ongoing pain (this is the most common use for medical marijuana)
- Nausea or vomiting as a side effect from chemotherapy
- Stiff muscles or muscle spasms from multiple sclerosis.
- Loss of appetite and weight loss in people with AIDS.
- May hep with relieving pain in Arthritis.
- Reduces tremor and pain in patients with Parkingson’s disease
- May help with Aclcohol and Opoid Addiction (according to the research published in journal Clinical Psychology Review)
Myths About Marijuana
Despite there being quite a lot of scientific evidences backing up the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes, there also exists a number of myths associated with the substance.
Here are a few of the myths which have no scientific basis or insufficient evidence to support the claims:
- May help with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in Some Patients
- May help with Obesity and sugar retention in Diabetics
- May help patients with inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
- May enhance creativity
Side Effects of Marijuana
Considering the fact that cannabis does contain a number of pharmacologically active ingredients with known side effects, it is viewed as a drug in most quarters.
Some of the ways marijuana affects the human mind and body have yet to be fully understood by scientists, making it especially important for users to follow prescribed rules and guidelines if they must use the drug.
The group most susceptible to the harmful effects of marijuana use are children and young adults as it may have drastic, untoward effects on their brains.
Let’s look at some of the known side effects of marijuana
Effects on the Mind:
There exists some evidence which suggests that marijuana may impair learning, memory, and attention for up to 24 hours after use. There is, however, limited evidence to say whether or not ones mental or cognitive skills at school or at work diminish with the long-term marijuana use.
When taken in high doses, marijuana overactivates parts of the brain that contain the highest number of neurotransmitter receptors giving rise to the “high” that users experience.
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Other effects on the brain include:
- altered senses (for example, seeing brighter colors)
- altered sense of time
- hallucinations (when taken in high doses)
- changes in mood
- difficulty with thinking and problem-solving
- impaired memory
- delusions (when taken in high doses)
- impaired body movement
- psychosis (when taken in high doses)
Mental health Effects:
People suffering from schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders may be more likely to heavily use marijuana to ameliorate their condition. Scientists have also found close connections between marijuana use and conditions like bipolar disorder, major depression, and childhood anxiety.
Other effects that cannabis may have on one’s mental health state include: temporary hallucinations,
temporary paranoia, worsening symptoms in patients with schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts among teens.
As of today, there is no scientific evidence to connect marijuana smoking with cancers in the lung, head, or the neck. However, limited evidence suggests that heavy marijuana use may lead to one type of testicular cancer.
So far, not enough information has been gathered by scientists to prove whether or not cannabis affects other cancers, including prostate, cervical, and bladder cancers and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Effects on Babies and children:
Smoking cannabis when pregnant can have some unpleasant effects in infants and neonates such as pre-term birth, underweight baby, increased risk of both brain and behavioral problems in babies, and in need of intensive neonatal care.
However, there is insufficient data from research to ascertain the impact it has on the later life of the infant.
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Effect on the Lungs:
Smoking weed regularly can lead to a user experiencing frequent coughs and catarrh. These symptoms may dissipate when the user stops smoking pot.
Insufficient evidence exists linking marijuana to asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder. In fact, marijuana does help clear the airways at first. However, research has shown that marijuana use can affect the normal functioning of the lungs, with users having similar breathing problems as those who smoke tobacco.
These problems include daily cough and phlegm, more frequent lung illness, and a higher risk of lung infections. Researchers so far haven’t found a higher risk for lung cancer in people who smoke marijuana.
Effect on the Heart:
Marijuana significantly increases the heart rate for up to 3 hours after smoking. This side effect may increase the risk of a heart attack in susceptible patients.
Elderly persons and those with heart problems are the most at risk.
Other Side Effects:
Other known side effects caused by frequent, long-term use of marijuana include regular cycles of severe nausea, vomiting, and dehydration which in some cases might require emergency medical attention
This can lead to some persons developing a condition known as Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome.
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