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medical pot

Extent of Marijuana Use

Marijuana is reported as the most widely used illicit drug in the US, according to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. In the past survey year (2016), 37.6 million people, or 13.9% of US adults reported using marijuana. In the same survey, past year marijuana use among adolescents aged 12 to 16 years dropped from 12.9% to 11.7% in males, but remained steady at 12.3% females. Overall, marijuana use was highest amongst the age group 18 to 25 years of age at 33%.

Marijuana Side Effects

Side effects of marijuana use will be variable from person to person, depending upon strength and amount of marijuana used and if the user is occasionally or chronically exposed to THC. Side effects can be magnified in older people.

The short-term effects of marijuana or cannabinoid use include:

  • increased heart rate
  • low blood pressure, orthostatic hypotension
  • muscle relaxation
  • slowed digestion
  • dizziness
  • distorted perception (sights, sounds, time, touch)
  • difficulty in thinking, memory, and problem solving
  • loss of coordination and motor skills
  • agitation, anxiety, confusion, panic, paranoia
  • increased appetite
  • dry mouth, dry eyes

Reaction time may be impaired while driving. NIDA research shows that drivers have slower reaction times, impaired judgment, and problems responding to signals and sounds if driving while under the influence of THC.

Panic attacks, paranoia and psychosis may occur acutely and be more common in psychiatric patients, a reported by Heller. For chronic users, the impact on memory and learning can last for days or weeks after its acute effects wear off, as noted by the NIDA. Marijuana, if purchased on the street, may be cut (or substituted) with substances that can lead to unknown, dangerous side effects.

THC in marijuana is strongly absorbed by fatty tissues in various organs. Generally, traces of THC can be detected by standard urine testing methods several days or more after a smoking session. In heavy chronic users, traces can sometimes be detected for weeks after they have stopped using marijuana.

Long-term abuse of marijuana may lead to dependence in some people. McKenna, et al have reported on the addicting potential of marijuana, noting that “it is an erroneous belief widely held by the general public, and among many physicians, that marijuana is not addicting.” However, not all people will become addicted to marijuana and the effects can be psychological in some patients. Withdrawal symptoms can occur upon abrupt cessation of the drug, including:

  • anxiety
  • agitation
  • tremulousness
  • elevation of vital signs
  • insomnia
  • irritability

Marijuana also may affect mental health. Studies show that use may increase the risk of developing psychosis (a severe mental disorder in which there is a loss of contact with reality) including false ideas about what is happening (delusions) and seeing or hearing things that aren’t there (hallucinations), particularly if you carry a genetic vulnerability to the disease. Also, rates of marijuana use are often higher in people with symptoms of depression or anxiety, as reported by the NIDA. There have been no reports of THC overdose leading to death.

medical marijuana

Marijuana promotes relaxation

We found that THC at low doses reduced stress, while higher doses had the opposite effect,” Emma Childs, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago and an author of the study.

People on the low dose reported being more relaxed than those on the placebo, and their stress levels dissipated more quickly after the tasks. But people on the high doses paused more in the job interview and reported the tasks to be stressful, challenging, and threatening.

The Cannabist has calculated the amount of THC people get from an average joint. According to a study cited in their analysis, an average joint weighs about .32 grams. They say that smoking half of that would give users 9 to 11 mg of THC, assuming that about the same amount of THC would just burn off. That’s right in between the “low” and “high” doses used in the study.

The Cannabist’s formula multiples the weight of the joint by the THC potency of marijuana to tell you how much THC you’d ingest. So in a .32 g joint with a 13% potency, you’ve got about 42 mg of THC. The low 7.5 mg dose from the study would therefore be 18% of that joint, and the high 12.5 mg dose would be about 30% of it. (It’s worth noting, however, that exact calculations are hard since some will always burn off. Plus, some joints are a lot bigger, with another commonly cited average being about .75 grams.)

Marijuana

Marijuana relieves pain

Medical marijuana is an increasingly popular alternative to traditional pain-relieving medications, including opioids. Marijuana may ease certain types of chronic pain, including pain resulting from nerve damage and inflammation.

It is, however, important to note that this study had several limitations. It was small in scale, anonymous, and asked people to self-report on their symptoms. Respondents did not use the marijuana in a controlled setting, potentially resulting in differences in drug composition, dosage, and potency.

Another study examined the use of organically grown sativa and indica strains in the treatment of several medical conditions. Just over half of the participants were using marijuana to treat HIV.

The study followed participants for 3 years and asked them about the effects of the drug on their condition during this time. The results indicated that indica strains are more likely to improve energy and appetite, while both sativa and indica strains can alleviate nausea to a similar degree.

Marijuana, or cannabis, contains compounds that may relieve pain, nausea, and other symptoms. The components of marijuana that most studies focus on for pain relief are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

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