Medicinal vs Illicit Cannabis
A Jekyll and Hyde drug: learn the differences between the benefits of medicinal cannabis and the harms of using cannabis as a drug of addiction.
Over the past decade there has been a push to decriminalise cannabis across the world, and the in favour of decriminalisation cite that the drug is not as addictive as alcohol or nicotine, that cannabis exerts positive medicinal properties in the treatment of pain and medical conditions such as epilepsy.
In Australia, cannabis has been legalised for medical use under strict prescribing conditions for certain medical conditions and recreational cannabis use is illegal. Does the positive medical benefits for some outshine the potential harms of recreational cannabis use?
Marijuana or cannabis refers to the dried leaves, flowers, stems and seeds from the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plant.
Cannabis acts a depressant drug, which slows down communication between the brain and the body. The active ingredient in cannabis is THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol). It is usually smoked or eaten. THC achieves its mind altering effects by substituting itself for natural brain endocannabinoids, and mimics (and enhances) their effects. It works through the same chemical pathways that we use to modulate thoughts, experiences and emotions. As THC floods the entire brain, rather than acting in a targeted manner like natural endocannabinoids do, cannabis can seem to make the most boring activity take on technicolour meaning.
However, there is a dark side to these effects – excessive use of cannabis shuts down the brain’s intrinsic release of endocannabinoids to compensate for excessive stimulation. The consequences of excessive use impair our ability to attach meaning, value or importance to our experience. Worse still, excessive use in adolescents can render permanent damage. The Washington Post reports that teen cannabis users are 60% less likely to graduate from high school and are at substantially increased risk for heroin and alcohol addiction, not to mention seven times more likely to attempt suicide.
The Washington Post’s Judith Grisel also reports that the best documented medicinal effects of cannabis are achieved without the chemical compound that gets users high.
She states, “the notion that cannabis is not addictive is false as the brain adapts to cannabis use as it does to all abused drugs, and these neural adjustments lead to tolerance, dependence and craving – the hallmarks of addiction”.
The effects of cannabis are felt immediately when smoked, however the potency of a particular batch of cannabis cannot be quantified, which adds to the danger. In large quantities, cannabis use causes blurred vision, clumsiness and paranoid delusions which are amplified if use is long term.
Drug users often combine cannabis with other drugs or alcohol and cannabis is often used when “coming down” from methamphetamines. Using cannabis with other drugs promotes drug dependency across all of the substances used. This is why cannabis is often referred to as a “gateway drug” for escalating dependence on other substances. Cannabis in conjunction with methamphetamines can worsen the paranoid delusion and psychosis that occur with each single substance use. Combined with alcohol or opioids, cannabis use can heighten these substances depressive effects. Concerningly, this combination promotes respiratory depression (excessively slowed breathing), which can increase blood carbon dioxide levels and induce respiratory arrest – the cessation of breathing, which is potentially fatal.
To conclude, it is important to differentiate between the risks of using cannabis recreationally as opposed for controlled medical use. No amount of drug use is safe and if you’d like to know more about cannabis dependence please feel free to call The Hader Clinic Queensland for an obligation free consultation.
- Grisel, J. May 25 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2018/05/25/feature/legalizReferences:ing-marijuana-is-fine-but-dont-ignore-the-science-on-its-dangers/?
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