The use of cannabis, for either medicinal or recreational purposes, can have damaging effects on a person’s health and well-being. Myths about marijuana and its use abound; fortunately, research into the drug and its long term effects have progressed hugely over the last 20 years, effectively debunking many of these, including that it is safe or natural.
Cannabis is the most widely used illicit drug in Australia. In 2007, one in three 33.5%, about 5.8 million) of Australians aged 14 years or older had used marijuana/cannabis at sometime in their lives. Of the same Australians, almost one in 10 (9.1%, 1.6 million) had used the drug in the previous 12 months. (AIHW, 2007 National Drug Strategy Household Survey: first results)
A high proportion of young people have used cannabis at least once, with most people aged in their mid-to-late teens when they first start using.
MYTH #1: Cannabis is harmless because it’s natural
The most common myth surrounding the use of cannabis is that the drug is less harmful than tobacco or other illicit drugs because it is ‘natural’ or ‘safe’. This is untrue and research supports this. A huge number of the chemicals present in tobacco are also present in cannabis – it has been found to cause cancer and increase many other health and lifestyle risks, both short and long term. See below.
Cannabis use has been strongly linked with mental health conditions such as schizophrenia. It is an illegal drug and although users are not likely to die from its use, other risks exist such as mental health difficulties learning disorders and respiratory diseases can seriously damage health.
MYTH #2 : Cannabis is not addictive
Cannabis is as addictive as any other drug – psychologically perhaps more than physically. If you become dependent you may have difficulty controlling your use, spending more time involved with cannabis and less on other more important things in your life. Research shows that the younger a user is when they start, the more damage it does to the mind and the body and the higher the risk of psychosis. Being dependent on cannabis increases your exposure to its negative physical and psychological side effects. Regular users may experience withdrawal symptoms, reeling restless and anxious, or losing appetite when they stop, as their body has become used to the drug. The more frequently you use cannabis and rely on it in your life, the greater chance you will become dependent. If you feel you may have a problem, speak to your local general practitioner.
MYTH #3: I can drive after using cannabis
Combining cannabis with the use of alcohol increases the risk of having an accident even further. Most jusisdictions in Australia have introduced drug-driving legislation and penalties for drug driving are significant. Random road-side testing occurs in most states and there is no proven way of covering up use. Cannabis is also detectable in the blood stream for long periods of time and accumulates if use becomes more frequent. If you have smoked or ingested cannabis or consumed alcohol, then do not drive.
MYTH #4: Cannabis is legal (this changed to fit Oregon)
WHAT CANNABIS IS:
Cannabis is a mind and mood-altering drug, depressing or slowing down the central nervous system, which also has some hallucingenic effects. It is made from the Cannabis Sativa or hemp plant and is used in three forms: plant material; hashish (concentrated from form made by compressing resins into small blocks, or hashish oil (concentrated liquid extract from the plant). The plant contains many chemicals, but the principal and most active ingredient in cannabis is the chemical Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol – known as THC.
LONG TERM EFFECTS:
If cannabis is used regularly, for long periods of time, there can be serious effects, including higher risk of lung cancer, bronchitis and other respiratory diseases; decrease in motivation, lower concentration, memory and learning abilities, reduced sex drive; regular menstral cycle; lowered sperm count and risk of psychotic behaviors. There are also a range of social effects that include breakdown of relationships, losing your job, dropping out of school and falling out with families.
The most common reaction to dannabis is to feel ‘stoned’, ‘happy’, ‘bent’, ‘relaxed’, or ‘high’. Other effects vary as cannabis affects people in different ways but may include increased appetite, paranoia, vomiting, hallucinations, confusion, reddened eyes, loss of inhibitions, anxiety, panic, loss of coordination and loss of concetration.
(This article was derived from Australian Medical Association’s magazine: “All About You“.