Conflicting studies and the need for more research
Cannabis has been used for 4000 years for medical and religious purposes but its recreational use peaked in the USA in the late 70´s tailed off till the 90´s and is now beginning to soar with the legalization in many States.
10% of triers become daily users and on average 25% become weekly users. Its effects, possibly adverse or beneficial depend on the way it is taken, the dosage, previous experience as well as the user´s expectations, mood and social situation. It is used for the euphoria it brings, the intensification of feelings , both mental and physical, the distortion of time and change of mood.
Its primary psychoactive ingredient is THC – tetrahydracannabinol. This works on cannabinoid receptors in the brain widely found in the cognitive areas, memory and motor functions and in the perceptors of pain and reward.
Marijuana is made from the dried flowering tips of the female plant, cannabis sativa, and weighs in with THCcontent of 0,5 – 5%. Hashish or dried and pressed cannabis resin can reach up to 20% THC concentration and THC oil up to 50%. In the USA and Holland THC concentration has risen steadily from 2% in the 80´s to over 8% in the 2000´s. Knowing what you are getting considerably lessens the dangers of adverse effects which is where legal dispensaries in Colorado play an important role. More efficient breeding and growing techniques provide the user with greater choice and control over the specific high.
Typically it is the adverse and negative effects that hit the limelight first. So what are the adverse effects of taking weed or hash?
A fatal dose for humans is between 15-70 grams which is way above what a heavy user would ingest by smoking. Panic attacks and anxiety are typical adverse reactions which can lead to psychotic episodes. Because attention and perception along with motor functions and spatial awareness are affected, there is an increased risk of accident if used when driving. However, in France between 2001-2003 2.5% of fatal accidents could be attributed to cannabis use compared to 29% to the use of alcohol.
As in most studies there are mixed results and opinions. When it comes to assessing whether cannabis has an effect on human reproduction and possible birth defects, it is difficult to isolate as the pregnant mother might also use tobacco and alcohol. No IQ differences were found in a group of 12 year-olds whose mothers were using cannabis during pregnancy compared to the same age group who were not exposed. In many cases of delinquency in juveniles born to cannabis users it is the social framework rather than the drug to blame. Enduring dependence is estimated at 9% for cannabis, 32% for nicotine, 23% for cocaine and 15% for alcohol. But again, poor family relationships and social background are inextricably involved giving rise to any number of possible statistical interpretations.
Psychological dependence on cannabis is frequently reported with conflicting opinions. Likewise in the case of respiratory complaints. A study in New Zealand of 100 people up to age 20 suggested respiratory problems but a follow-up study in the US was unable to support the findings.
Although cannabis and tobacco contain several identical carcinogens case studies in lung cancer are consistently confounded by the mixing of the two substances. In the area of heart disease, young adults are able to develop a tolerance to the heart rate fluctuations caused by cannabis which, however, could negatively impact on people with existing heart conditions. Whereas cognitive functions are affected and changes in brain function can be detected by EEG and PET scans, there are insufficient studies to prove the possible adversity of these changes.
It is typically presumed that the consumption of cannabis contributes to poor educational results and poor school performance. It may be relevant in early school leavers but negative peer pressure and a desire to achieve early adulthood should also be taken into consideration. Early school leavers who use cannabis generally depend more on social welfare than their counterparts and report less satisfaction with life when in their 20´s.
Does cannabis lead to harder drugs? It is thought that the earlier cannabis is used the more likely it is to lead on to the taking of harder drugs. Its physical and mental effects might lead to further experimentation, but the likelihood is that, until recently, cannabis has only been obtainable through the same black market that supplies heroin and cocaine. This mere exposure increases the risk of their consumption. Retail dispensaries in Colorado are reducing this causal factor and, as we will see later, promoting a more responsible and safer use of the drug.
Psychosis and schizophrenia have been associated with habitual cannabis consumption. But, in international studies, the evidence that the increase in these conditions are related to the parallel increase in consumption of cannabis are again conflicting. The same is true in cases of depression, self harm and suicide. The psychological effects commented on in this article are found in naïve and often careless users. It is obvious that driving under the influence of alcohol is worse than under the influence of cannabis which is worse than driving stone cold sober. However, this final statistic shows true perspective: in Australia, one of the world´s largest cannabis consumers, it is estimated that the burden caused by cannabis use to public health services is a mere 0.2% of the total disease burden.