BY ELENA VALDEZ
“It’s just weed.”
Whether it’s hitting a dab pen in the school bathroom or rolling joints on the weekend, pot is commonly viewed as a less-than-minor offense. However common smoking weed may be, it still bears consequences and can easily turn into an addiction. The ease of access and increasing legalization of the plant have aided in rising substance abuse levels.
Addiction is classified as the compulsive engagement of rewarding stimuli. Marijuana contains THC, tetrahydrocannabinol, which attaches to receptors in the brain that release significant levels of dopamine. This release of dopamine creates the “high,” or feelings of intense pleasure and relaxation.
Due to the fact that the cannabinoids do not create an influx of dopamine in the body’s reward system, it produces a very mild high. One is still able to function and contribute to society in certain regards while under the influence of pot. It is not as severe as a high as other drugs provide, which is why its use is more tolerated and therefore, not viewed as addictive.
Just because one smokes at parties, it does not make them an addict. Much like alcohol, weed is easily accessible and can be found during times of celebration. Once getting high becomes a necessity for one to get through the day, it is classified as an addiction. Although marijuana may be less dangerous than alcohol, it is still a substance that has the potential to be abused.
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), nearly 30 percent of marijuana users exhibit the symptoms of marijuana use disorder. Marijuana use disorder occurs when the user begins to experience symptoms of withdrawal and cannot stop using, even when it may be affecting other important aspects of their lives. Dependency occurs when the higher levels of dopamine are normalized and expected by the body; this adaptation that occurs in the brain leads users back to the hash pipe again.
Daily usage necessary for one to function is classified as a problem use, meaning one is using the substance to cope rather than to have fun. Cannabis contains a plethora of medical benefits and provides a natural alternative to the synthetic substances created in labs to cure diseases. People are drawn to the plant because of its healing properties and calming nature, as it has been proven to lessen the frequency of seizures, lower anxiety levels and soothe chronic pain amongst many other things.
These benefits should not be taken for granted, but they must be taken in moderation. Strictly recreational use of the drug can easily turn into a dependency on the drug.
Frequent and dedicated marijuana users commonly experience a decreased sense of motivation, impaired memory and decrease in motor responses amongst other things. The prolonged negative effects of smoking cannabis can trap the user into an addictive cycle.
Teen addiction is rising as marijuana has become less taboo and more accessible. Nearly 21 percent of teens report having smoked in the past 30 days. One in six of these teens will continue using the drug into adulthood and display symptoms of dependency. As late adolescence is vital to the future of the individual, it is important to take this time seriously and not fall under the influence of a substance, even if it is something as normalized as pot.
“Normal” does not equate to being okay. Pot can play a part in having a good time but it comes with an unforeseen, dangerous side. Although marijuana is not as severe as other drugs like meth, heroin or cocaine, it is a drug nonetheless and should be treated as one.
Illustration by Colin Camblin