Drugs Marijuana in Depth the Neuroscience of Research Paper

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Marijuana in Depth


Cannabis sativa (marijuana) is a plant that contains a chemical compound called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol is called THC for short. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (2010), smoking marijuana (which is the most common form of intake) causes the chemical THC to "rapidly pass from the lungs into the bloodstream, which carries the chemical to the brain and other organs throughout the body." The smoking process therefore delivers THC quickly to the brain, where it is "received" by cannabinoid receptors.

Cannabinoid receptors are physical sites in the brain. They are located throughout the brain, but mainly "in parts of the brain that influence pleasure, memory, thinking, concentrating, sensory and time perception, and coordinated movement," (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2010). When the THC is received by the cannabinoid receptors in these parts of the brain, it results in a "series of cellular reactions that ultimately lead to the 'high' that users experience when they smoke marijuana," (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2010).

Although the high feels momentarily pleasurable, evidence shows that marijuana "is harmful to the brain," ("Marijuana's Lasting Effects on the Brain," 2012). One longitudinal study shows that people who smoked marijuana regularly from age 13 to age 38 had an average drop in IQ score of 8 points. A control group in the same study did not smoke marijuana and had no drop in IQ score between the ages of 13 and 38 ("Marijuana's Lasting Effects on the Brain," 2012). There is also evidence that smoking marijuana can cause neural impairment ("Marijuana's Lasting Effects on the Brain," 2012). Stopping the use of the drug might not reverse the neural impairment, which can be permanent. However, stopping the use of the drug does lead to improvements in cognitive and neural functioning.

Unfortunately, many people become psychologically addicted to the substance and continue to smoke marijuana to experience the high. When a person stops using it, the brain reacts with negative symptoms. "Long-term marijuana abusers trying to quit report withdrawal symptoms including: irritability, sleeplessness, decreased appetite, anxiety, and drug craving, all of which can make it difficult to remain abstinent," (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2010).


When THC reaches the brain, it does more than create a euphoric high. Each person reacts differently. Some people might feel emotionally calm and stable, while others feel anxious and distracted. The drug can also "cause distorted perceptions, impaired coordination, difficulty with thinking and problem solving, and problems with learning and memory," (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2010). Regular or heavy pot smokers " show deficits in memory, concentration, and overall brainpower in relation to their peers, and the effects are greater the earlier a person starts smoking marijuana on a regular basis (Gardner, 2012).

The "high" lasts a relatively short while, but the negative effects of marijuana smoking last a lot longer. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, "marijuana's adverse impact on learning and memory can last for days or weeks after the acute effects of the drug wear off. As a result, someone who smokes marijuana every day may be functioning at a suboptimal intellectual level all of the time."

Some users of marijuana experience serious psychological illnesses. Research reveals "an association between chronic marijuana use and increased rates of anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia," (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2010). High doses of marijuana can be especially detrimental for people who are already genetically prone to mental illness (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2010). Marijuana contains many other chemicals other than THC. One of those chemicals is cannabidiol (CBD), which mitigates some of the ill side effects of THC consumption. One research study shows that "the men who had taken THC had more psychotic symptoms like altered thinking (paranoid and delusional thoughts) than men who'd taken either CBD or placebo," (Walton, 2012). In terms of the physiological effects of marijuana, increased heart rate and red eyes are the primary physical symptoms (Taylor, 1996). According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (2010), "marijuana increases heart rate by 20-100% shortly after smoking; this effect can last up to 3 hours."


There is no one type of person that uses marijuana because it is a commonly used substance. In fact, "marijuana is the most commonly abused illicit drug in the United States," (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2010). Therefore, a large number of persons are affected by the use of marijuana. According to SAMHDA (2012), a government agency that maintains statistics on drug use patterns, there are an equal proportion of whites and blacks that have used marijuana, and a roughly equal proportion of males and females. The main differences are between non-white females, who tend to use marijuana less than non-white males (SAMHDA, 2012). Moreover, white males are more likely to be in treatment facilities for marijuana use. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (2010), "marijuana admissions were primarily male (74%), white (49%), and young (30% were in the 12-17 age range)." The age groups most likely to use marijuana are between 18 and 59 years old, when about half of all people have used marijuana at least once. The more education a person has, the more likely the person is to have tried marijuana (SAMDHA, 2012).


Using marijuana can impact a person's motivation. Unemployed people are slightly more likely to have used marijuana than employed people (SAMDHA). According to MedLinePlus (2012). "Abusing marijuana can result in problems with memory, learning and social behavior. It can interfere with family, school, work and other activities." Research has already proven that marijuana does cause a person to lose points on an IQ test, which means marijuana can make people stupider. Similarly, the short-term memory loss caused by marijuana can lead to problems at school or work. Marijuana use can make a person withdrawn socially, although some people find that it helps them in social situations. Using marijuana can cause a variety of problems in daily life, affecting relationships as well as career status. The type of problems it causes depends on the individual and their tendencies. "Several studies associate workers' marijuana smoking with increased absences, tardiness, accidents, workers' compensation claims, and job turnover," (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2010). Other people might have more harmful psychological effects such as depression.


The person in treatment is an unemployed, 24-year-old female who lives with her mother and younger brother. She has been smoking marijuana regularly since she was 16 years old. Her friend provides her with marijuana if she cannot afford it, but the girl has also started selling it to fund her habit. She buys one ounce, and keeps a little for herself while she sells the rest. The young woman has given up on finding a job because she says "there is nothing out there, I tried already."

The goal of treatment is to help the young woman to find different methods of finding employment, which will help motivate her to stop smoking pot and enjoying a healthier lifestyle. One treatment goal will be to help the girl discover her talents and develop her hobbies. Another treatment goal is to help the girl discover how good she can feel if she stops smoking pot so often. The reason for this is that she will only want to stop smoking if she can see that pot is making her feel bad and is shutting down her ability to reach her highest potential.


In the case of marijuana, it is not necessary to administer another drug to wean the person off the substance. This might be true for hard drugs like heroin. With marijuana, the best approach is a cognitive-behavioral one. The National Institute for…

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