Marijuana Usage

The use of various substances to modify mood or behavior has 
generally been regarded as acceptable in our society despite wide 
cultural differences. Many people drink coffee or tea for stimulant 
effects or engage in social drinking of alcohol. In addition, society 
condones the use of certain drugs to use medically to relieve tension 
or pain or even to suppress the appetite. When symptoms and 
behavioral changes associated with the regular use of these substances 
becomes maladaptive, however, substance use becomes substance abuse. 
Common substance abuse is the misuse of alcohol and cigarettes which 
are both legal. However, illegal drugs have also become a wide 
spread problem. Alcohol and drug abuse combined affect approximately 
twenty five million Americans. Very often a distinction is made 
between substance abuse and substance dependence. Substance abuse 
involves the inability to control the use of alcohol or other 
drugs. The individual becomes intoxicated on a regular basis. 
Usually daily, however, weekend or binge use is also common. Often, 
the drug is often needed for normal functioning. In addition there 
may be repeated attempts to stop using the drug, which fail. Even 
though the individual knows that the use of the drug interferes with 
family life, social relationships, etc. he or she is unable to stop. 
Substance dependence victims on the other hand suffer all of the 
symptoms of abuse plus an increasing tolerance for the drug. As a 
result, increased amounts are necessary for the desired effect. 
Alcohol, opiates, such as morphine, etc. lead to physical dependence 
as well and the individual will develop withdrawal symptoms when 
attempting to stop use of the drug. 

MARIJUANA ABUSE 

Marijuana is perhaps the most common illicit drug in use in the 
United States. It is estimated that at least sixty two million 
Americans have at least tried marijuana once in their lives. 
Marijuana is typically used in combination with other substances, 
particularly alcohol. One out of four young adults who admit to 
marijuana use indicate that they had drank alcohol at the same time. 
Cigarette smoking by teenagers is another pattern strongly related to 
marijuana smoking. Young adolescents aged fifteen to seventeen who 
are cigarette smokers are five times more likely to use marijuana. 
The most common problems with marijuana use is a tendency to graduate 
to stronger drugs. Marijuana seems to have the effect of inducing 
the individual to want a stronger, more potent "high". This is why 
many individuals may use marijuana and alcohol in combination and why 
heavy marijuana users very often go on to stronger drugs. In one 
study 71% of individuals who used marijuana 100 or more times have 
tried cocaine. 

EFFECTS

In commonly used dosage marijuana impairs short term memory, 
concentration, judgement, and information processing skills. If 
marijuana use is discontinued memory loss can continue for three to 
six months. Immediately after smoking marijuana the heart beat 
accelerates, causing a threat to those with abnormal cardiovascular 
conditions. Long term consequence of long term marijuana use, 
especially by children and adolescents, is sometimes termed the 
"Amotivational Syndrome" and included apathy, loss of ambition and 
effectiveness, diminished ability to carry out long term plans, 
difficulty in concentrating, and a marked decline in school or work 
performance. In animals marijuana has also been shown to interfere 
with the body's immune response to certain infections and diseases, 
however, significance with human beings is still under investigation. 
Marijuana does have some serious reproductive effects, however. In 
studies on women who use marijuana during pregnancy there is a very 
definite threat to newborn babies in terms of birth defects. 
While it has long been held that marijuana does not cause physical 
addiction in the same since as Opiates, or Cocaine, it can cause very 
severe physical, and psychological dependence which can have 
disastrous effects. Marijuana use, in addition to showing a tendency 
toward increased use of more potent drugs, can impair judgement, and 
lead to other risky behaviors. Sexual risks for example could lead to 
exposure to AIDS for example. In addition, driving is also impaired by 
marijuana intoxication. In addition, in individuals who do not 
progress to stronger drugs, there is an increased tendency to use 
marijuana in combination with alcohol which can lead to alcoholism. 

TREATMENT

Marijuana does not seem to produce the physical withdrawal 
symptoms that are present with other drugs. It can cause very strong 
psychological dependence, however, and recovery can be difficult, 
especially for daily users. Usually, there is some discomfort 
experienced by the chronic user which leads to irritability, and a very 
strong need to continue using the drug. Usually, this craving for the 
drug will diminish about one week after the individual ceases it's 
use; although, traces of marijuana can remain in the blood for up to 
30 days after cessation. In addition, those with a daily pattern of 
use may also feel somewhat groggy, and spacy for sometime after 
discontinuing the drug. Daily users often begin to become more aware 
of the effects of the drug when they attempt to stop. Memory lapses, 
difficulty concentrating, etc., may not be more pronounced but will 
become more noticeable after cessation. Residential treatment, while 
not always necessary, may be needed in severe cases, and especially if 
marijuana is being used with alcohol or other more addictive drugs. 
The first step in treatment is admission by the abuser that he or she 
has a problem. This is often the biggest obstacle to treatment. 
Denial is a very powerful force with drug abusers. If denial 
persists, it may be necessary for the family to take serious steps to 
force a loved one into treatment. Many professional therapists 
recommend a method called a family action intervention. After 
several meetings with an experienced drug counselor, psychologist or, 
social worker, the family confronts the user. Each member openly 
communicates how the users behavior has effected him or her 
personally. This at times can become very emotional, and the user is 
forced to confront the effects of his or her substance abuse. While 
family members are normally present, other participants in the 
intervention can include: friends, and co-workers. During the actual 
confrontation, the user made to choose between them, and their 
continued use of the drug. The intervention is intended to catch the 
addict of guard, and to over come the denial. A crucial part of the 
program is presenting treatment alternatives that can be started 
immediately after the intervention meeting. 
If residential treatment is necessary the standard stay is 28 
days. Initially the individual goes through detoxification, which is 
the process of ridding the body of the drug. This can take several 
days. Very often antidepressant drugs are needed to relieve the 
depression and associated cravings, which accompany the withdrawal. 
The goal of the treatment is to improve the user's self-image, and to 
promote healthful, drug free living. Continued strength and support 
by family members is also crucial to a recovering individual. It is 
also important for the addict to continue outpatient treatment, and to 
become involved with a self help group on a regular basis, such as 
Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or Cocaine Anonymous. 
Professional support from these organizations is also available to 
family members, who very often themselves need therapy to help deal 
with the consequences of the addict's behavior. For more information, 
the National Institute on Drug Abuse can be contacted at 1-800-662-
HELP.