The Highs and Lows of Marijuana (Part 2)

WeedGuest Writer: Barry Cooper

In his blog post on Tuesday, Eugene discussed the biblical response to the recent legalization of the recreational use of marijuana in Washington and Colorado. In the following paragraphs, I’ll discuss the harmful effects of marijuana on individuals as well as the “gateway” potential that the use of marijuana poses.

Statistics show that marijuana is the most frequently used illicit drug in the U.S. In 2010, there were 17.4 million current (past month) users, about 6.9% of people age 12 or older. Statistics also show that most people try illicit drugs for the first time during their teenage years. In 2010, there were 3 million new users (initiates) of illicit drugs, with 61.8% of them being marijuana users.

What adverse effects does marijuana use have on an individual’s health? Research has estimated that marijuana users have a 4.8 fold increase in the risk of heart attack, possibly due to increased heart rates during use as well as the effects marijuana has on heart rhythms. Habitual use of marijuana can be a major irritant to the lungs, causing daily cough, more frequent acute chest illnesses and an increased risk of lung infections. Research also indicates that THC (marijuana’s active chemical) impairs the body’s immune system from fighting disease, which can lead to a wide array of health problems. Next to alcohol, marijuana is the second most frequently found substance in the bodies of drivers involved in fatal automobile accidents.

Marijuana is often referred to as a “gateway” drug. The same has been said for tobacco and alcohol. But what do we mean when we use the term “gateway”? There are two schools of thought, both valid but often confused. The first is that the use of marijuana can be viewed as a “stepping stone” and that the chemical properties in THC propel the user to eventually seek harder substances. The second is that marijuana use can serve as a gateway into the world of illegal drugs in which youth have greater opportunity and more social pressure to try other illegal substances. Youth often begin experimenting with marijuana because of peer pressure; marijuana is easily obtainable and in recent years has become less vilified by our society. Both can lead down the very dark path to addiction.

While conducting a brief interview on each client that comes into my office before admission into our treatment programs, I’m frequently confronted with two stark realities. One, that often times, those that are substance abusers started by using marijuana and that many of them did so at a very early age. Many have gone on to tell about the numerous problems as a result of this use, including legal issues, incarceration, loss of jobs, family and personal wealth. The good news is that treatment and recovery do work.

Barry Cooper, M.S., CPS II
Executive Director

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