Marijuana – It’s Not Your Mother’s MaryJane

This November, Californians vote on legalizing marijuana. 

Marijuana today is three times stronger than it was 30 years ago, on average. 

Some varieties are ten times stronger.

The increased potency is from selective breeding and new cultivation techniques (1).

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Younger smokers tend to inhale more deeply than older users. This is associated with increased dependency.

Younger smokers  score highest for psychological dependency on marijuana (2).

Last month about 6% of Americans age 12 and older used marijuana (4).

Last month about 21% of High School seniors smoked grass.

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Most weed smokers do  not develop dependence or a pattern of abusive use. The majority of  adult Americans have enjoyed smoking grass at one time or another, and it is clear that the majority of Americans have are not addicted to grass.

Still, some experts assert that as many as 10% of regular casual users go on to develop dependence or abusive patterns of use (3).

About 4.2 million people are dependent on or abuse marijuana. This is a fraction of those who use it, but three times the number of cocaine abusers, and twice the number of prescription drug abusers (4).

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An intensive study was done of 108 heavy users. The study compared heavy users with casual tokers (8). 

Heavy users have:

  • lower income
  • lower education
  • lower quality of life
  • poor diet
  • lower life-satisfaction, self-satisfaction  and happiness

A  finding that comes up again and again in research, is that marijuana users experience greatly reduced motivation about life.  They feel less anxious, in good part, because they lose the motivation to do so much.

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Withdrawal often involves increased irritability, anger, sleep difficulties, strange dreams, restlessness, increased anxiety, and decreased appetite.

Researchers are exploring the use of gabapentin to reduce craving, to help people through withdrawal, but this is still in the research stage (6) .

Users who try to quit marijuana  go back to using at about  the same rate as persons fighting to get off cocaine, heroin or alcohol. 

Even when the three best psychotherapies are  combined to help people quit, the abstinence rate after 14 months is only 27%.  The three therapies found most effective are cognitive behavioral therapy, contingency management, and motivational enhancement (7).

For those dependent on marijuana, quiting the drug often involves many slips and repeated attempts before getting clean.  

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Marijuana is particularly effective in treating neuropathic pain, which effects 5% to 10% of Americans. Neuropathic pain  is difficult-to-treat chronic “nerve” pain that can result from injuries, side effects of anti-HIV drugs, and diabetes. Several studies have found smoked marijuana reduces neuropathic  pain by more than 30%, resulting in significant improvement in quality of life. It has also been found to reduce spasticity and pain in people with multiple sclerosis, beyond the relief of conventional medication 5).

Marijuana is helpful for treating some of the complications of  cancer chemotherapy, anti- HIV drugs, and  advanced AIDS conditions…  complications such as nausea,  stomach upset,  anxiety, anorexia. poor appetite, and severe weight loss (5).

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References

(1) Science Policy Branch for the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

(2) International Journal of Drug Policy (Vol. 18, No 3.).

(3) Dr Barbara Mason, cited in APA Monitor on Psychology (June, 2010, Vol 41. No. 6). She is co-director of the Pearson Center for Alcoholism and Addiction Research, at Scripps Institute in San Diego, and was the principal investigator for a National Institute on Drug Abuse-funded study of the neurobiological effects of marijuana use.

(4) Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2009.

(5) University of California, Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research. Also, Journal of Pain (April 2008, Vol. 9, No 6.). Also, Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (Vol. 45, No. 5, 2007).

(6) APA Monitor on Psychology (June, 2010, Vol 41. No. 6).

(7)  (Addictive Behaviors, 2007, Vol. 32, No. 6).

(8) Journal of Psychological Medicine (2003) (Vol. 33. No. 8).