Many people think of marijuana use as non-addictive and inconsequential, but new research proves otherwise. We explore the prevalence of weed addiction in Australia and what it could mean for your health.
Casual attitudes toward marijuana abound. It is the most commonly used illicit drug in Australia and most people, especially youth, do not believe it is significantly harmful. However, while experts have yet to make any cohesive, definitive statements about the effects of cannabis use, a growing body of research seems to be proving this assessment wrong. Regular and long-term pot use can affect your mood, motivation, risk for developing addictions to other substances – even your DNA.
But the lax mentality surrounding marijuana means many regular pot smokers do not believe they have a problem, acting as a barrier to treatment for marijuana addiction. Says National Cannabis Prevention Information Centre director Professor Jan Copeland, “Heavy cannabis use and addiction are very real issues in Australia, and they currently don’t get the recognition they deserve in the community… the misconception that cannabis is a harmless, non-addictive drug means many people who need help are not getting it.”
Australia’s Hidden Addiction
So just how many Australians are bud smokers? A national 2010 survey found that 750,000 Aussies smoke every week, and roughly two-thirds of 20- to 29-year-olds have tried it at least once. More than half of those who smoke regularly say they have difficulty controlling how often they use cannabis – an indicator of addiction. 200,000 Australians are believed to suffer from marijuana addiction.
Former cannabis addict Jason Hameister said he first started smoking weed to deal with his anxiety without having to deal with it head-on. “For a long time I thought ‘tough men don’t talk about their emotions, I should be a tough, masculine bloke who doesn’t cry or feel those emotions’,” he recalls. “But you need to speak about it and let it out,” he said.
What he initially thought was a harmless pastime soon turned into 50 cones a day, a habit that cost him around $600 monthly. Not to mention that his whole life came to revolve around the drug. “I’d become dependent on it and it quickly became overused to a point where I would manipulate my day so I could smoke as much as I could,” he said. Hameister has since quit smoking weed and is now training for the New York City Marathon. He credits his decision with changing his life.
Marijuana Brain Drain
One of the most prominent side-effects of marijuana is the effects of long-term use on the brain. With the increasing potency of pot come increased risks for brain damage from marijuana use. In 2014, Harvard University found that those who smoked marijuana recreationally had notable brain abnormalities compared to those who did not smoke pot. This was especially true for users smoking high-potency strains, which often have up to 15 times the THC levels of ‘normal’ mid-grade weed.
Long-term cannabis users show loss of their brain’s grey matter, the area responsible for decision making and emotional processing. Initially, regular pot smokers also exhibit increased connectivity in the white matter between their frontal lobes as the brain tries to compensate for gray matter loss, but this compensation drops off over time.
What do these brain changes mean for people experiencing them? Says Krista Lisdahl, director of the imaging and neuropsychology lab at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, effects include an increased tendency “to be driven by immediate rewards and not looking for more long-term gratification,” as well as for anxiety and mood disorders.
Lisdahl even advises that marijuana sold in dispensaries should come with a label that reads,
“High-THC marijuana can cause subtle cognitive defects, brain structure abnormalities, mood and sleep problems. Daily use is not recommended.”
Marijuana has even been linked to mental illness. According to the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Several studies have linked marijuana use to increased risk for psychiatric disorders, including psychosis (schizophrenia), depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders.”
Smoking Pot Affects Your (Future) Children
New research by The University of Western Australia also shows that cannabis use has been linked to gene mutation. Says Associate Professor Stuart Reece of UWA’s School of Psychiatry and Clinical Sciences, “Through our research we found that cancers and illnesses were likely caused by cell mutations resulting from cannabis properties having a chemical interaction with a person’s DNA.” This means that, even if you do not display significant changes within your lifetime, altered genes that increase exposure to serious illnesses can be passed on to your children and future generations.
Is Weed Really a Gateway Drug?
While it may seem a bit overblown to state that marijuana is a gateway drug, research has shown that pot use is in fact likely to precede the use of other substances. For example, according to the NIDA, “A study from the National Epidemiological Study of Alcohol Use and Related Disorders found that adults who reported marijuana use during the first wave of the survey were more likely than non-users to develop an alcohol use disorder within three years.” Poly drug use involving pot (using it along with other substances) also produces an effect called cross-sensitisation, which heightens the user’s response to other drugs.
What all of this points to is a significant, and largely underestimated, risk for marijuana addiction. With legalization of marijuana throughout communities around the globe, and increased access to recreational weed, this issue is more pertinent than ever.
Treatment for Marijuana Addiction
Pot smoking may seem like a casual affair, but what starts as occasional use can quickly escalate to regular, heavy use and addiction – a habit that has a serious impact on your mental and physical health.
The Cabin Sydney offers effective cannabis addiction treatment in a convenient outpatient setting. Sessions can be booked around work and social obligations, so as not to disrupt clients’ everyday life. We also understand that drug addiction treatment is of a personal nature, and all of our programmes are extremely discreet. Contact us today for more information.