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Marijuana and Substance Abuse Disorder

By the end of last year, marijuana was approved for medical use in 27 states. Out of those 27 states, 11 states approved legal recreational marijuana.

In a 2015 interview with Vice News, former President Obama said that he separated the issue of criminalization of marijuana from encouragement of pot use. He added that decriminalization of marijuana lessened the cost of incarceration, which was behind his reasoning to have the drug become legal.

So it appears that his motives for endorsing the legalization of marijuana was out of concern for criminal justice clients, who happened to be arrested with a few ounces of pot. Obama felt that they should not be thrown into jail, like more hardened criminals.

But marijuana is still a drug, with a plethora of street names including pot, weed, herb, Mary Jane and reefer.

The 1936 film, Reefer Madness, which has become a comedic cult classic among pot advocates, is about marijuana. The movie is ridiculous, but interestingly enough, the film was distributed about five years after Prohibition was repealed. That just goes to show that we do live in a society that is fascinated with drugs and alcohol.

Marijuana is a dried green mixture derived from the leaves and flowers of the Cannabis sativa plant.

Marijuana is usually smoked and/or inhaled.

The psychoactive chemical in marijuana is known as THC, which is inside the plant’s resin. It’s the THC that makes users feel “stoned” or lightheaded and giddy.

According to a CNN video, not all pot makes a user feel stoned. Marijuana with a low percentage of THC in combination with a high percentage of CBD, another chemical found in the Cannabis plant, can work wonders for those struggling with epilepsy.

And marijuana appears to help cancer clients cope with the horrible side effects that result from chemotherapy including nausea and vomiting.

Medical marijuana for cancer is derived from isolated ingredients in the Cannabis plant. Doctors often prescribe pot in pill or gelatin capsule form including Dronabinol and Nabilone.

According to a Newsweek article, a cancer patient who had been prescribed about a dozen medications to minimize the debilitating side effects of chemo claimed that the traditional pills made him feel much worse.  So the patient asked his doctor to prescribe him medical marijuana. The doctor gave him coffee beans infused with 5 milligrams of cannabis, that he swallowed when necessary. His marijuana use not only relaxed him, and controlled his nausea but also helped him with the depression he had, as a result of being diagnosed with cancer. Today he is cancer-free at the age of 71.

Years ago, I had a dear friend who had been diagnosed with stage four prostrate cancer.  He was prescribed opiates, and shortly developed a tolerance. Like the cancer patient featured in the Newsweek article, he also claimed that the pills made him worse, not better. Instead of taking more pills, he felt relaxed by taking medical marijuana. The giddiness he experienced helped him get his mind off his pain.

Also, marijuana improves appetite in many HIV clients, who have lost weight and who need to improve their food intake.

However, there needs to be a distinction drawn between medical marijuana, which is prescribed and monitored by a physician, and recreational marijuana. This distinction must correspond with the difference between prescribed painkillers, which are not abused, and illegally obtained narcotics.

It’s a touchy subject, honestly, but the truth is that while pot might have therapeutic elements, marijuana abuse is a substance use disorder.

Many pro-marijuana advocates love saying that pot is less dangerous than alcohol, and that it is safer to drive a car under the influence of pot. That is a false, misleading statement.

And I can vouch for that.

Years ago, while I was in the throes of my alcoholism, I drove at night, somewhere in Venice at 3 am. I was stoned and intoxicated. I perceived that the traffic lights appeared further away than they really were, and at some point, the green light turned into red and the red light seemed to bop up and down, like an apple being dunked in a vat full of caramel. As I drove towards the traffic lights, the red light appeared to be moving away from my car. I felt like I was going to lose my mind but thank God, I braked! I was so caught up in watching the red light “dance” that my cognitive reasoning, and reaction time had gone out the window. I had also forgotten that RED means stop. To me, the red light had turned into a dancing fruit!

To this day, I have no idea how I made it home without injuring others or myself.  Needless to say, my irresponsibility could have cost me my life, and the lives of other innocent people. That was a terrifying experience.

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, when driving, marijuana impairs judgment, reaction time and motor coordination. But studies say that it’s almost difficult to pinpoint marijuana as the cause of driving accidents, because users also mix it with alcohol (which is what I did).

This makes marijuana a gateway drug. What that means is that users will often proceed onto other drugs, or smoke a joint while getting drunk.

Another scary thing about pot is intensity. Many times, users who get their pot from a dubious source might end up with a mixture that includes hashish, which is a powerful form of pot. Hashish is produced solely from trichomes, the potent resin of the marijuana plant.

Smoking hashish can cause psychosis, rapid heartbeat, lack of coordination, paranoia, disorientation and other side effects.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, pot addicts undergo withdrawals when they are not smoking a joint on a regular basis. This includes cravings, decreased appetite, irritability, and volatile mood swings.  Marijuana smoking causes respiratory illnesses including pneumonia, chronic bronchitis, and lung hyperinflation. Additionally, there is increasing proof indicating that a person’s chance of having a heart attack during the first hour of smoking pot is “nearly five times his or her usual risk.”

And, a recent report on CNN suggests that pot can weaken heart muscles, especially in young men.

The bottom line is that like it or not AND legal or not, marijuana is a drug. And like other drugs and alcohol, pot abuse is a substance use disorder.

And that makes it potentially dangerous.

Las Vegas Marijuana and Substance Abuse Disorder


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