Cannabis: Weeding-Out the Facts

I walked into the E.R. and kept hearing a strange laugh every couple of minutes. I assumed it was the patient I was to assess, so I peered into his room. There he sat, staring into nowhere. He was only 17.

The young man was a high school senior who was smoking cannabis at a party. The psychotic symptoms began in short order.

I hospitalized him psychiatrically, and several days later I bumped into his attending psychiatrist. In spite of the administration of antipsychotics, he really hadn’t improved.

Approximately 5% of the world’s adult population uses cannabis, almost 1% on a daily basis. Opinions regarding the rights and wrongs of its use are all over the board – largely based in philosophical agendas.

Is using cannabis a harmful practice? Is it a definite no-no for someone enduring a mood and/or anxiety disorder? Let’s see if we can weed-out the facts.

What do you say? We’ll get started today and wrap it up tomorrow.

The Science of Cannabis

Cannabis, aka marijuana/marihuana, is made from the dried flowers, leaves, and stems of the female cannabis sativa plant. As a resin, it’s known as hashish (hash).

The primary psychoactive component of cannabis is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). There are more than 400 chemical compounds at work in cannabis. Sixty-six of them are other cannabinoids that can induce a variety of effects. One receiving a lot of attention lately is cannabidiol (CBD).

How It Works

The curious thing about cannabis is it can work as a depressant, stimulant, and hallucinogen. If forced to choose just one to establish a category, most experts would lean toward hallucinogen.

“But how can cannabis be a stimulant and a depressant?”

THC works by putting the brakes on the neurotransmitters gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA) and glutamate. Go figure, GABA is our most prevalent inhibitory (slowing things down) neurotransmitter, and glutamate our most excitatory (ramping things up).

The end-effect varies per user, but here are some generalities…

  • Change in perception
  • Mood alteration
  • Increased heart-rate
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Impairment of short-term and working memory (used to perform complex tasks – learning, reasoning, comprehension, etc.)
  • Impairment of physical coordination
  • Diminished concentration

Long-term impact? School’s still out.

One other tidbit. The University of Mississippi’s Potency Monitoring Project reveals that average cannabis THC levels increased from 4% in 1983 to almost 10% in 2007.

A Gateway Drug?

Okay, everyone knows it – if you use cannabis, one day you’ll be shooting heroin. Right? Well, that’s a distinct possibility; however, is cannabis, in and of itself, the real reason?

Warning! You really have to be careful when considering research supporting or refuting cannabis being a gateway drug. Based upon all sorts of agendas, the validity and overall quality of most studies are questionable.

From what I’ve read, there are no respected studies that prove a cause/effect relationship between cannabis use and later use of drugs such as heroin or cocaine.

As a matter of fact, research supports the notion that smoking cigarettes is a better predictor of moving-on to hard drugs than using cannabis.

Instead of cannabis itself, it seems the real gateway issues are…

  1. Predisposition for addictive thought and behavior
  2. Drug sub-cultures
  3. Age
  4. Wealth
  5. Unemployment status
  6. Stress

Fact – cannabis users are, indeed, more likely to use other drugs. But what’s the true culprit? That’s right, one’s life circumstances.

For the record, a 13-year-old boy smoking marijuana on a regular basis is very likely a clear-cut case of teenage drug abuse, and needs to be given the help he needs.

Come Back Tomorrow

Off to a great start, don’t you think? But there’s much more. Come on back tomorrow and read about the medicinal use of cannabis, as well as the pros and cons of cannabis use for the mood and anxiety disorders.

I’ll even toss in my “Yes” or “No” opinion on cannabis use.

Don’t miss it!

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