Truths & Lies About Marijuana

Marijuana is not a newly-arrived substance, however its rapid growth and its trivialization among youth have brought this issue at the heart of the debates on whether or not modifying the laws that regulate marijuana use, transportation and cultivation – with poor effectiveness. In this context, it seems we should all be able to count on a clear understanding of this substance and its related effects. In this regard, conflicting messages seem however to be the rule rather than the exception.

You just need to Google marijuana to realize that in this area you can read anything and everything. Depending on the website you read, you can be told that marijuana is a recreational drug, safer than alcohol or tobacco, or that it is a health and social scourge downright – a real gateway to hard drugs… In fact, even though the debate on marijuana stirs partisan passions way too often, the vast majority of scientists seem to have reached a consensus, while admitting being far from having, on this drug, the same amount of knowledge than on alcohol or other illicit drugs.

So this article aims to do a little cleaning in the vast attic of our knowledge, while providing answers to some questions we all ask.

Is Marijuana addictive ?

People who use marijuana generally do not progress to using on a daily basis, or for long periods of time. Most people will experiment every now and then with pot during adolescence and early adulthood to stop using once they reach their mid-to-late 20s. Other people however will use marijuana for longer and much more often, and become addicted to the drug – they will need to use marijuana just to feel ‘normal’. Marijuana addiction, or dependence, is now well established by the scientific community.

Has Marijuana Become Stronger ?

The marijuana used today is much stronger than it used to be during the 1970s, but not as strong as has been written in some media reports (claiming it is 30 times stronger). Depending on how analysis has been conducted, marijuana strength has increased by 2 to 7 times since the 1970s – measured by THC levels, THC being the main ingredient in marijuana, responsible for mood altering effects.

Another important difference between now and then is that cannabis users in the 1970s were most likely to smoke the leaves and start use in their 20s. Marijuana users today usually smoke the flowering heads of the plan, with more THC concentration.

Does Smoking Marijuana Cause Mental Illnesses ?

There have been a number of reports of people experiencing psychotic symptoms after smoking pot or more pot than they are used to. This is rare however and the symptoms typically go away if use of marijuana is stopped. On the other hand, marijuana has been shown to worsen psychotic symptoms in those who already have a psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia.

Multiple studies have shown that using marijuana during adolescence increases the likelihood of experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia in adulthood. Evidence suggests that cannabis may somehow trigger schizophrenia in those already at risk of developing the disorder, although this connection is not conclusive. For this reason, those who are at risk of developing schizophrenia, such as having a family history of the illness, should be strongly advised against using cannabis. 

In summary – There is a possibility of risk to mental health, but more research is needed to clarify this issue.

Can Marijuana Cause Anxiety or Depression?

Some studies suggest that those using marijuana are diagnosed with depression more often than are nonsmokers – particularly regular or heavy marijuana users and those using both marijuana and alcohol.  

In addition, other results suggest that marijuana use in teenagers (frequent or heavy use in particular) is associated with the development of anxiety disorders in young adulthood – although results are mixed. Studies have also found that marijuana use in adolescence has been correlated with the development of suicidal ideation (imagining suicide as a solution to one’s problems), certain personality disorders, and interpersonal violence – younger age of initiation increasing these risks.

However it doesn’t appear that marijuana directly causes depression. It is likely that the genetic, environmental and other factors that trigger depression also lead to using cannabis. For example, many people may use marijuana as a way to cope with, or alleviate, depression symptoms. 

In summary – strong associations have been found between marijuana use and depression or anxiety symptoms, but no causal link has been yet found by researchers.

To be continued.