Drug abuse and addiction / Category / Emile Du Toit / May 5th 2014
Cannabis addiction is an illness concerning the inability to stop using cannabis despite the damages it is causing.
Cannabis (marijuana) is a green or grey mixture of dried, shredded flowers and leaves of the hemp plant Cannabis sativa. There are over 200 slang terms for marijuana, including ‘dagga’, ‘pot’, ‘herb’, ‘weed’, ‘boom’, ‘Mary Jane’, ‘gangster’ and ‘chronic’. It is usually smoked as a cigarette called a joint or in a pipe or bong. More recently it has been used in blunts, which are cigars that have been emptied of tobacco and re-filled with marijuana, often in combination with another drug like crack. Some users also mix marijuana into foods or use it to brew tea.
The main active chemical in marijuana is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). It was discovered that the membranes of certain nerve cells contain protein receptors that bind THC. Once securely in place, THC kicks off a series of cellular reactions that ultimately lead to the high that users experience when they smoke marijuana. The short-term effects of marijuana use include problems with memory and learning; distorted perception; difficulty in thinking and problem solving; loss of coordination; and increased heart rate, anxiety, and panic attacks.
Scientists have found that whether an individual has positive or negative sensations after smoking marijuana can be influenced by heredity!
Identical twins share all of their genes, and fraternal twins share about half. A recent study demonstrated that identical male twins were more likely than non-identical male twins to report similar responses to marijuana use, indicating a genetic basis for their sensations.
Environmental factors such as the availability of marijuana, expectations about how the drug would affect them, the influence of friends and social contacts, and other factors that would be different even for identical twins, also were found to have an important effect. However, it also was discovered that the twins’ shared or family environment before age 18 had no detectable influence on their response to marijuana.
‘Burnout’ is a term first used by marijuana smokers themselves to describe the effect of prolonged use. Young people who smoke marijuana heavily over long periods of time can become dull, slow moving and inattentive. These ‘burned-out’ users are sometimes so unaware of their surroundings that they do not respond when friends speak to them, and they do not realise they have a problem.
Studies of marijuana’s mental effects show that the drug can impair or reduce short-term memory and alter one’s sense of time. It reduces the user’s ability to do things which require concentration, swift reactions and coordination such as driving a car or operating machinery.
A common bad reaction to marijuana is the ‘acute panic anxiety reaction’. People describe this reaction as an extreme fear of ‘losing control’, which causes panic. The symptoms usually disappear in a few hours.
Laboratory studies have shown that animals exhibit symptoms of drug withdrawal after stopping prolonged marijuana administration. Some human studies have also demonstrated withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, stomach pain, aggression and anxiety after cessation of oral administration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), marijuana’s principal psychoactive component.
Scientists have found that one in four people carry genes that increase vulnerability to psychotic illnesses if he or she smokes cannabis as a teenager. A common genetic profile has been identified that makes cannabis five times more likely to trigger schizophrenia and similar psychotic disorders.
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