Chris, an outstanding student in high school, valedictorian, president of student council, a winner of multiple academic awards and a fearless and an active outdoorsman—until he began to smoke marijuana with friends. He began to experience panic attacks which were the leading edge of a decline into schizophrenia. Within two years, he was hospitalized and medicated, due to the severity of his mental health condition, which did not help. Once thoughtful and intelligent, he became more paranoid and incoherent.
Chris’ story is not unique. Marijuana is the most commonly used federally illegal drug in the United States; 35.4% of young adults in 2021 aged 18 to 25, reported using marijuana in the past year, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. A survey from Monitoring the Future reported that 30.7% of 12th graders in 2022 have used marijuana in the past year and 6.3% report using it daily. Marijuana use directly affects the brain, specifically the parts of the brain responsible for memory, learning, attention, decision-making, coordination, emotion, and reaction time. Infants, children, and teens (who still have developing brains) are especially susceptible to the adverse effects of marijuana.
Marijuana use comes with hidden dangers that impact various aspects of health. Smoking marijuana can irritate the lungs, resulting in daily cough, phlegm, and an increased risk of lung infections, similar to tobacco smokers. A study by the All of Us Research Program, a National Institutes of Health-sponsored program, also found that daily cannabis users were 34% more likely to be diagnosed with coronary artery disease than those who had never used it. While researchers haven't linked it to lung cancer, the drug raises heart rate for up to three hours after smoking, potentially heightening the risk of a heart attack, particularly for older individuals or those with heart issues. Pregnant women using marijuana face concerning risks, as it's linked to lower birth weight and increased chances of brain and behavioral problems in babies. Moreover, long-term use may lead to Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome, causing severe nausea, vomiting, and dehydration, requiring emergency medical attention. It's crucial to be aware of these hidden dangers for a well-informed perspective on marijuana use.
Long-term marijuana use is associated with mental health issues, including temporary hallucinations, paranoia, and exacerbation of symptoms in individuals with schizophrenia. The drug has also been linked to depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts in teens. Passive exposure to secondhand smoke is unlikely to induce a high in nonsmokers, except under extreme conditions. However, research on the health risks of secondhand marijuana smoke has found some evidence suggesting potential damage to the heart and blood vessels. While more research is needed, we do know that the toxins in marijuana smoke could pose risks, especially to vulnerable individuals like children or those with asthma. Understanding these aspects is crucial for a comprehensive view of the effects of marijuana use on mental and physical health.
New studies explore how marijuana affects relationships, pointing to key factors like creating distance between people, lowering energy, and causing paranoia. This disconnect makes talking with partners harder and might lead to actions that seem helpful but actually harm relationships. Surprisingly, heavy use can decrease trust and understanding, contrary to the belief that it boosts empathy. Recognizing these effects helps us grasp how marijuana shapes relationships in complex and unhealthy ways.
Those who are daily users and/or dependent upon marijuana find it tough to understand how serious it is. The first important step to break free from the cycle of dependence is to fully understand that there is a problem. Despite the difficulties, there's hope. Every day is a chance to begin again, to choose a better path towards a more positive and fulfilling life.
There are resources and organizations committed to aiding individuals in overcoming substance use. If you're dealing with substance use issues, seeking assistance from support groups, counseling, or reaching out to the Alcohol and Drug Awareness Council (ADAC) is a crucial move toward a healthier life. It's never too late to change your course and move away from the risks of substance use. For details on starting the journey to recovery, you can contact ADAC at 936-634-5753 or visit www.adacdet.org.
Authored by Steven Daugherty
Public Relations Coordinator, Alcohol and Drug Awareness Council