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Marijuana, Just Harmless Fun?

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

There is a prevailing attitude among many users of marijuana that it just harmless fun. I know from direct experience in my practice that many of these individuals smoke this drug at home, with their husband or wife and with the presence of children in the house. In many cases these users report that they wait until their children are in bed and asleep. There are those who smoke at home in the morning before they go to work. The reason given by many of these individuals is that it "takes the edge off" or reduces anxiety and stress. They are not occasional smokers but admit that they use marijuana every day. For some those who work at home or are housewives and who do not leave the house for employment, smoking often occurs with great frequency each day. They all insist that marijuana is just a harmless substance and is doing them no harm.

Summary of Research and Medical Reports:

Marijuana contains THC which is a psychoactive substance and is the reason why those who smoke large quantities of marijuana can experience hallucinations. For the same reason, those who suffer from schizophrenia experience and exacerbation of their symptoms, especially hallucinations and delusional thinking. In other words, it reverses the effects of the anti psychotic medications taken by these patients. However, even occasional users report that they experience panic and paranoid symptoms and, in fact, this discourages some of those individuals from continuing to experiment with this drug.

The parts of the brain affected by cannabis are those that control thinking, coordination, pleasure, attention and memory. While under the influence of cannabis all of these are affected. What that means is that activities such as studying, driving, school test performance, work performance and other activities are impaired while under the influence. Something called "state dependent memory" refers to the fact that anything studied while under the influence will be somewhat easier to recall if a test is taken while under the influence. In other words, one needs to be in the same state while test taking as when smoking. Of course, even in the same state, memory and test performance will be impaired.

Although marijuana smokers deny the ill effects of pot smoking on health, the facts are that frequent pot smoking leads to chronic bronchitis and can establish the conditions that lead to cancer.

Finally, it has been reported in a number of studies that while marijuana may not cause depression in those who do not suffer from that condition, it does increase symptoms of depression in those who already have a vulnerability to affective disorders. Therefore, cannabis use complicates depression in those already depressed and can lead to an out break of depressive symptoms in people with that vulnerability.

My Clinical Observations:

During my twenty to thirty years of working with psychotherapy patients many of whom smoked marijuana I have come to see how this substance affected them.

1. For those who say that even constant use of marijuana is not addictive, it is my experience that these chronic users cannot stop using without experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Among these symptoms are increased anxiety and agitation, depression and craving for another smoke. Most if not all of them returned to cannabis use a few days or week after ceasing.

2. Repeatedly, I have observed that chronic use of this substance seems to rob people of their motivation and ambition. It has seemed to me as though the more a person smokes the more they talk about things they plan to do but never get around to doing:

<p>One individual constantly talked about their education and career plans but never fulfilled any of them, so far as I know (this was many years ago) because he would not even reduce his cannabis consumption nor go into any type of drug rehab program.</p> <p>Another young man (also many years ago) spent hours listening to the Grateful Dead while smoking cannabis, lost in what he considered to be the magical and brilliant sounds of Jerry Garcia. He ended up in a psychiatric hospital because he started to hallucinate and to experience suicidal depression. He never returned to treatment but I have always wondered what became of him, hoping that he was able to overcome his addiction.</p> <p>A young woman I treated for depression was at her wits end because her boy friend and the person she hoped to marry stayed at home all day smoking pot, refusing to go out or do anything. He had his own room in the home of his parents. While he managed to go to work each day he was able to do little else after work and on weekends. Ultimately, she was forced to break up with him but was heart broken. She knew him from High School days before his drug abuse became chronic. When she tried to get him to stop smoking he became angry. </p><strong> </strong><p><strong>Additional Thoughts and Observations:</strong></p> <p><strong>1. </strong>I believe we would all agree that anyone who drinks all day has a drinking problem and is probably alcoholic. In the same way, how can it be all right to smoke marijuana all day? This drug puts the user into an altered state of consciousness that, if he smoke all day long helps him be in that altered state all day long. How can this person work and function in an altered state of consciousness?</p><strong> </strong><p><strong>2. </strong>We know that driving is impaired while under the influence of alcohol. We also know that marijuana affects attention and motor coordination. Is really safe for someone under the influence of marijuana to be driving. Even if the effects of marijuana are not as severe for the driver as are the effects of alcohol doesn't impairment still bring the risk of danger? Yet, people not only drive under the influence of cannabis but even smoke while driving.</p><strong> </strong><p><strong>3. </strong>It has been pointed out that marijuana is a &quot;gateway drug&quot; for teenagers who begin to experiment with alcohol and other drugs. All the findings are that those adolescents who are chronic users of cannabis go on to other and more dangerous drugs and, ultimately, drop out of school. This should give those people who are parents and who smoke weed at home pauses to think about the effects of their activities on their children. I have asked some of these people if they worry about how their use will affect their children. Most of them provide some vague answer that demonstrates more denial than anything else about their activity and its affects on the family.</p><strong> </strong><p><strong>4. </strong>Incredibly and, to me, unbelievably, there have been those people who reported to me that, when they were growing up their parents invited them to smoke weed with them. We know that activities such as cigarette smoking, drinking alcohol, parental violence against one another and against the children are all remembered and imitated by these children when they become teenagers and adults. In other words, drug abuse at home will result in drug abuse by the children when they are older. </p><strong> </strong><p><strong>5. </strong>Some people argue that it is no different for those who drink alcohol. Somehow, they seem to think that alcohol consumption should automatically make cannabis consumption an acceptable activity. Yet, most health and mental health officials would agree that alcohol abuse is a serious and dangerous problem resulting in extremely high health and financial costs each year. It is not simply that marijuana abuse is a serious problem but that all substance abuse is insidious and dangerous.</p><strong> </strong><p><strong>6. </strong>Would you want to be treated by a Doctor or Nurse who is under the influence of marijuana. Do you want truck drivers, bus drivers and other public servants to perform their tasks under the influence? Is it really safe to smoke cannabis and then go to work. Is it really safe to smoke marijuana at work?</p> <p>We have a serious drug and alcohol problem in our country. This problem has worsened over the years and has reached into ever younger age groups so that even school children have been found to be using drugs. Drugs use is not benign, whether it is alcohol, marijuana or any number of the other substances available to young and old alike.</p> <p> What is your opinion?</p>
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