As research continues into the effects of short-term and long-term use of marijuana, it becomes clearer everyday that the risks are many and, in some cases, severe. The results of a recent study were published in the journal Psychological Medicine and found that smoking highly potent marijuana may cause nerve fiber damage and disrupt the communication between the two hemispheres of the brain.
By examining the MRI scans of 99 participants, including the scans of some who had been diagnosed with psychosis, researchers identified an association between regular and chronic use of marijuana with high levels of TLC with damage to a part of the brain called the corpus callosum, an area that is responsible for communication between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, according to HealthDay. They believe this phenomenon is due to the fact that the corpus callosum has a number of cannabinoid receptors; thus, the THC in high-potency marijuana binds to these receptors and alters its function.
The Increasing Potency of Marijuana
Other studies have connected the use of high-potency marijuana with an increased risk of psychosis, and now this study points to brain damage caused by use of the drug – yet many who grow marijuana work hard at creating new strains of marijuana that are more potent than the last. In fact, the potency of marijuana has increased significantly over the past few decades so that today’s product is completely different from the marijuana smoked during the 1960s and 1970s in the United States.
The White House notes that the increase in marijuana potency has paralleled the increase in admissions into treatment centers for marijuana abuse and addiction. The more potent the marijuana used, the more likely it is that users will experience psychosis. Whether or not they experience psychosis, their risk for damage to the nerves between the left and right hemispheres of the brain increases as well.
This was the first study to investigate how the THC levels of marijuana impacted the brain structure specifically, says a King’s College London news release.
Dr. Paola Dazzan is a senior researcher and on staff at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London. He says: “There is an urgent need to educate health professionals, the public, and policymakers about the risks involved with cannabis use. As we have suggested previously, when assessing cannabis use it is extremely important to gather information on how often and what type of cannabis is being used. These details can help quantify the risk of mental health problems and increase awareness on the type of damage these substances can do to the brain.”
Risks of Marijuana Addiction
Many brush off the findings of studies such as these that identify marijuana as a substance of abuse that can cause addiction, mental health problems, social and relationship issues, and in some cases, contribute to early death. But the fact is that marijuana is addictive and an estimated 9 percent of users develop an addiction to the drug, a percentage that increases significantly if the onset of use is during the teen years and if the person uses the drug daily. Marijuana addiction can cause all the problems associated with addiction to any drug of abuse, including:
• Physical illness: Depending upon the method of ingestion, the physical health effects of marijuana will differ for the chronic user. Smokers may struggle with respiratory problems, including chronic cough, asthma, and other issues. Those who eat the edible version of the drug may struggle with gastrointestinal issues. Additionally, accidents and medical emergency caused by marijuana use have caused a significant increase in emergency room admissions.
• Mental health problems: In addition to the risk of psychosis noted above and the studies that suggest that there is a link between early and frequent marijuana use and later development of schizophrenia, many in recovery say they struggled with depression and insomnia when they were without marijuana, and that even when they were using the drug, they felt unmotivated to accomplish anything and distant emotionally. For some, these feelings fade with the effects of the drug, but for others, they become issues that must be addressed during treatment.
• Difficulty maintaining employment: Under the influence of marijuana, it’s difficult to focus, to get places on time, to think clearly, and to manage big picture tasks as well as the little details. In short, those who smoke marijuana frequently, even if they don’t smoke it while on the job, may be less motivated employees and thus may have a difficult time getting or keeping jobs.
• Financial hardship: As a result of the employment issues, financial difficulties are often a problem as well. Legal or not, marijuana is not inexpensive and costs add up. Additionally, when marijuana use is the priority, managing a budget is more difficult.
• Relationship difficulties: Perhaps the most painful impact of marijuana use and abuse is the rift it causes in important relationships. It’s difficult for someone who uses marijuana heavily to have a functional and healthy relationship with anyone, much less someone who does not use drugs or alcohol in the same way. It’s not uncommon for people who struggle with marijuana addiction to go through divorce or other major breakup and/or have a difficult time making positive and healthy connections with others.
What Do You Think?
Is marijuana use worth the risks involved? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.