Marijuana is the most common preparation of cannabis. It made by drying and shredding the upper leaves, tops, stems, flowers and seeds of the hemp plant. The flowering tops of the hemp plant produce more than 300 natural compounds including at least 61 different cannabinoids. Of these, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), or marijuana, is the most potently psychoactive.

Marijuana is the most common used illicit drug in Australia according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. In Australia, the age group of 30-39 years were found to have the highest likability to use Marijuana on daily basis compared to other age groups.

Marijuana can be smoked either through a pipe or in the form of cigarettes. It can also be mixed with tea or food to be taken orally. The rates of Marijuana use in Australia have increased over the past decade. In 2004, 1 in every 3 Australians has used Marijuana at least once.

How marijuana reacts with your body

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) affects pregnant and breast feeding women as it can readily cross the placenta and, among heavy users, it can also be concentrated in breast milk. THC has a strong affinity for lipids and is stored in fatty tissue throughout the body. Thus, a single dose of THC in humans has a half-life of 7 days, but it may take up to 30 days to be excreted completely. Chronic use leads to THC accumulation in fatty tissue throughout the body.

Marijuana has an indirect effect on foetal oxygenation through the high levels of carbon monoxide found in marijuana smoke, levels higher than in cigarette smoke which, in turn, result in foetal hypoxia. This effect may influence foetal growth, particularly in instances of heavy marijuana use. Behaviourally, children exposed to marijuana prenatally may show increased impulsivity and difficulties with sustained attention.

Women who are marijuana abusers often fail to seek prenatal care and are themselves in sufficiently poor health to compromise the growth and well-being of the foetus. Thus, among pregnant women who are marijuana abusers, associated complications include preterm deliveries and infants who are intrauterine growth retarded or small for gestational age.

Agents such as marijuana tend to depress mood. They usually cause relaxation and euphoria. In some individuals, however, it creates paranoia and panicky states that can lead to violence. Children who use marijuana in adolescence years can been seen as rebellious, unconventional in their thinking, unable to delay gratification, and without ambition during their preschool years. 11% of the Australian population uses Marijuana.

What are the physiological effects of marijuana use?

Acute physiologic effects of Marijuana include increased heart rate, photophobia (Pain in the eye resulting from exposure to bright light), dry mouth, and tremors. Acute psychological effects include euphoria or apathy, sensation of slowed time and intensified perception, and often increased appetite.

For adolescents, the most dangerous effects are in the areas of cognition and psychomotor performance, there is also short-term memory loss in marijuana abusers that persists for 6 weeks after last use of the drug. This loss, combined with decreased attention, may markedly impair the adolescent’s ability to learn and to do schoolwork.

Long-term daily marijuana users often fulfil the criteria for substance dependency disorder which mean they suffer from substance addiction. Abrupt cessation after long-term heavy use has been reported to result in a withdrawal syndrome characterized by insomnia, irritability, restlessness, drug craving, depression, body aches, and general malaise. Marijuana use may precipitate anxiety, panic, and, rarely, psychosis.

Marijuana addiction has been reported to influence immunity, even single dose or acute exposure to these substances is shown to have an impact on immune responses. Moreover, early or in uterus exposure to these substances may impact immunity and even have prolonged effects on the foetus.

How is marijuana addiction treated?

Education and counselling are very important in drug addiction treatment. Teenagers use drugs in direct proportion to availability and perceived safety. Learning about the realistic dangers of marijuana is important. Although adolescents tend to view marijuana as a benign drug, the reality is that marijuana poses a serious threat to brain functioning, and can lead to substance addiction. Counselling is also needed for adjustment issues, and parents may need help in learning how to set appropriate limits with rewards and consequences for teenagers addicted to marijuana.

In addition to education and counselling, individual and group therapies, family therapy, and an abstinence contract may be needed. At the addiction stage, family therapy such as strategic, structural, systemic, and behavioural approaches are important methods of intervention.

Behavioural family therapy involves parent management training as well as contingency contracting. Here, specific clear rules are established between parents and adolescents such that there are negative consequences to any drug use. Positive reinforcement is given for going to school, doing homework, avoidance of drug-using peers, and developing other recreational activities that are incompatible with drug use.

The abstinence or “honest look” contract is often very helpful in drug addiction treatment. In this situation, the teenager addicted to Marijuana expresses a willingness to stop using drugs and alcohol and to stop “druggie” types of behaviour. Specific rewards and punishments related to this goal are established. Unannounced urine drug screens can be included. Specific consequences are dictated if adolescents are unable to abide by this abstinence contract and include attending treatment at a more intense level of care.

Brief interventions using a combination of motivational interviewing and education and coping skills development have been developed as a harm-reduction approach for the prevention and treatment of marijuana abuse at college.

Related articles:

Signs to Tell if it’s Habit or Addiction

How an Active Lifestyle Promotes Good Mental Health

How a Support Group can Help Depression

Are you or someone you know suffering from a drug addiction? Australia Counselling has a range of drug counsellors and drug treatment psychologists who are able to help you. Visit our Addictions -Including Substances page to find a counsellor or psychologist in your local area.

photo credit: sillydog, flickr

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