If you are concerned that a loved one might be using marijuana, you are not alone, as it is the most widely abused illicit drug in the United States, so many other family members and friends find themselves in the same position. Indeed, the 2013 update of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that almost 20 million people had abused cannabis in the past month, equivalent to 7.5% of the population. Use among teens is highest though, with the annual Monitoring the Future survey showing that close to a quarter of high school seniors had smoked pot in the previous month and 3.5% of 10th graders were using the drug daily. This is worrying news if you are a parent, but there are signs that you can look out for that your teen might be abusing marijuana.
Like other drugs, some of the signs of cannabis abuse relate to changes in physical and mental health, and changes in behavior. However, you should also be aware of some of the marijuana drug paraphernalia that you may find, as this is a very obvious sign of drug use in the absence of other symptoms.
Symptoms of Marijuana Abuse
According to the University of Maryland, the route by which you take marijuana influences when its effects appear and how long these last. It is possible to smoke cannabis as a joint or with the aid of a pipe, water pipe or vaporizer, with the effects of smoking marijuana appearing within a matter of minutes and peaking within half an hour, though they will usually wear off completely after two or three hours. Alternatively, instead of smoking cannabis, it is possible to ingest the drug, either on its own, cooked in food (such as the notorious hash brownies) or made into a potent tea. However, marijuana takes longer to take effect when eaten or consumed as a drink, acting within an hour, though its influence can last as long as six hours when ingested. As a result of this, if your child or partner takes hash when out with friends, the effects may well have worn off by the time they come home.
Cannabis exerts its effects, as when smoked or ingested, chemicals such as THC enter the bloodstream and travel to the brain, where they attach to the cannabinoid receptors there. These receptors are concentrated within areas of the brain linked to short-term memory, reasoning, co-ordination and involuntary muscle movements, which helps to explain some of the marijuana symptoms users experience, with memory problems and difficulties with co-ordination particularly an issue with heavy use of cannabis. Besides problems with movement, some of the other physical signs of marijuana abuse include:
- A rapid pulse (increasing by as much as 50 beats per minute), which may also be irregular
- A dry mouth (known as cotton mouth)
- Bloodshot eyes due to the expansion of the blood vessels
- Increased appetite (often called the munchies)
However, the reason that most people take cannabis is to achieve a high. Initially this consists of feeling giddy and euphoric, which is followed by feelings of peacefulness and relaxation. Marijuana can also change perceptions, so your vision and hearing may become more sensitive, while distance and time may become harder to judge. Everyone responds to weed differently though, as while some people become drowsy and content, others develop anxiety and paranoia after a high. The effects of cannabis intoxication are also influenced by the setting in which you take it, so on one occasion it may act as a stimulant, another as a depressant and on a third occasion as a hallucinogen.
Long-term Effects of Cannabis
Besides the short-term effects of marijuana, it can also adversely affect physical and mental health in the longer term, leading to a range of other symptoms. Just as the immediate effects of cannabis can vary from one person to another, this is the same with the impact it can have on future health. One factor that can in part affect this is whether or not you smoke pot. While it is believed by many marijuana users that it is a safer option to smoke weed than tobacco, North Dakota State University dispels this myth. In fact, smoking just a single joint has the same impact on the lungs as 16 regular cigarettes and research shows that there are typically at least 50% more carcinogenic chemicals in marijuana smoke. It is therefore no wonder that abuse of marijuana is linked to respiratory problems, so this may be one of the long-term weed symptoms.
Another physical health problem linked to chronic marijuana use is reduced fertility for both men and women. As the Nebraska Department for Health and Human Services explains, cannabis acts on an area of the brain responsible for controlling sex hormones. In men this can reduce testosterone production and lead to lower sperm count, as well as those which have abnormalities or are too immature to fertilize an egg. Meanwhile, women who abuse cannabis are more likely to have irregular menstrual cycles, which affects the release of an egg that is essential for fertilization to take place. However, women who become pregnant and continue their habit risk damage to their baby’s nervous system, which can affect their reactions, learning and concentration. Quitting marijuana use before trying to conceive is therefore vital.
Ongoing use of weed can also take its toll on your mental function and well-being. Brown University discusses that when cannabis is used in the long-term it interferes with your ability to learn by affecting your focus and memory. Chronic marijuana users are also more likely to have poor motivation, which can have a significant impact on performance at school and college, as well as in the workplace. When it comes to mental illness, you are at greater risk of clinical depression, psychosis and schizophrenia from heavy use, though this may be more likely among people who already have risk factors for these mental health problems.
Signs of Marijuana Abuse
Sometimes there may not be any clues from someone’s physical appearance or behavior that they are abusing cannabis, but you may find evidence of the drug itself or the equipment associated with its use. Marijuana comes in various forms, so you should familiarize yourself with the different ways it may appear:
- Marijuana most frequently comes as dried green to brown leaves, which are sometimes whole or cut into pieces, and may have crystals on their surface
- Hashish, is a concentrated cannabis resin, which is typically a block ranging from brown to black in color. To the touch it may be dry or oily depending on its production method.
- Hash oil is highly concentrated and usually comes in tiny glass vials
Some of the cannabis paraphernalia you may find includes:
- Rolling papers
- Empty cigars, which are then filled with marijuana to form a blunt for smoking
- Hash pipe
- A water pipe (also called a bong), which feeds the hot smoke through water to cool and hydrate it, allowing deeper inhalation as it is less irritating
Marijuana Addiction Symptoms
Even though many users dispute that cannabis is addictive and initially use it because it seems like a safer option, there is evidence of marijuana addiction and a growing number of people are now seeking rehab for weed. The journal Addiction Practice and Clinical Science reports that just over 4% of Americans are dependent on cannabis and while marijuana dependency develops more slowly than for drugs like crack and heroin, more people are affected nationwide owing to the high prevalence of pot use. So what are the marijuana addiction signs? As the University of Washington highlights, signs that someone has developed a compulsive drug habit include:
- Taking ever increasing amounts of cannabis to achieve a high, as over time tolerance to its effects develops
- Using more marijuana than they would like to, but feeling that they cannot help themselves
- Wanting to quit or cut back on use of weed or hash, but struggling to do so
- Developing withdrawal symptoms, which not only develop during a marijuana detox, but simply going longer than usual without a fix
- Spending more and more time in pursuit of pot, using it and recovering from its use
- Favoring cannabis use over other activities and commitments
- Continuing its use even though they know the habit is destructive and they are feeling its negative impact
Marijuana Addiction Treatment
Discussing your concerns with someone close to you is essential if you are worried they have developed a dependency on marijuana. The first step on the road to recovery is for them to admit that they have a drug problem. As with any other addictive substance, this is not easy for them, but with your support they can access treatment for cannabis addiction.
Withdrawal symptoms are a common problem when marijuana users try to quit their habit, with irritability, anxiety, insomnia, poor appetite and cravings for cannabis among the most common feelings to experience. A treatment program for weed abuse can provide help to manage these unpleasant symptoms during a detox, but specialist support is also important to access psychological interventions proven to help users get clean and stay abstinent. The National Institute on Drug Abuse advises that both CBT and motivational incentives are two forms of therapy effective for treating an addiction to marijuana. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help cannabis addicts to address their habit by changing the way they think and behave, while motivational incentives promotes abstinence by rewarding users in recovery who can resist the lure of weed with vouchers or services in line with a healthy lifestyle. While marijuana treatment requires commitment on their part, the sooner they can enroll in an addiction program the better, as this enhances their chances of a full recovery.
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