Such loss of coordination can be caused by smoking marijuana. And that’s just one of its many negative effects. Marijuana affects memory, judgment, and perception. Under the influence of marijuana, you could fail to remember things you just learned, watch your grade point average drop, or crash a car.
Also, since marijuana can affect judgment and decision making, using it can cause you to do things you might not do when you are thinking straight—such as engaging in risky sexual behavior, which can result in exposure to sexually transmitted diseases, like HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, or getting in a car with someone who’s been drinking or is high on marijuana. It’s also difficult to know how marijuana will affect a specific person at any given time, because its effects vary based on individual factors: a person’s genetics, whether they’ve used marijuana or any other drugs before, and how much marijuana is taken.
Effects can also be unpredictable when marijuana is used in combination with other drugs. THC is up to no good in the brain. THC finds brain cells, or neurons, with specific kinds of receptors called cannabinoid receptors and binds to them. Certain parts of the brain have high concentrations of cannabinoid receptors. These areas are the hippocampus, the cerebellum, the basal ganglia, and the cerebral cortex. The functions that these brain areas control are the ones most affected by marijuana.
For example, THC interferes with learning and memory—that is because the hippocampus—a part of the brain with a funny name and a big job—plays a critical role in certain types of learning. Disrupting its normal functioning can lead to problems studying, learning new things, and recalling recent events. The difficulty can be a lot more serious than forgetting if you took out the trash this morning, which happens to everyone once in a while. A recent study followed people from age 13 to 38 and found that those who used marijuana a lot in their teens and continued into adulthood had a significant drop in IQ, even if they quit.
The Brain When people smoke marijuana for years, they can suffer some pretty negative consequences. For example, because marijuana affects brain function, your ability to do complex tasks could be compromised, as well as your pursuit of academic, athletic, or other life goals that require you to be 100-percent focused and alert. In fact, people who use marijuana over the long term report less life satisfaction, poorer education, and job achievement, and more interpersonal problems compared to people who do not use marijuana. Marijuana also may affect your mental health.
Studies show that early marijuana use may increase your risk of developing psychosis if you have a genetic vulnerability to the disease. Psychosis is a severe mental disorder in which there is a loss of contact with reality, including false ideas about what is happening (delusions) and seeing or hearing things that aren’t there (hallucinations). Marijuana also has been associated with depression and anxiety, but more research is necessary to confirm and better understand that relationship. Addiction Many people don’t think of marijuana as addictive—they are wrong.
About 9 percent of people who use marijuana become dependent on it. The number increases to about one in six among those who start using it at a young age, and to 25 to 50 percent among daily users. Marijuana increases dopamine, which creates the good feelings or “high” associated with its use. A user may feel the urge to smoke marijuana again, and again, and again to re-create that experience. Repeated use could lead to addiction—a disease where people continue to do something, even when they are aware of the severe negative consequences at the personal, social, academic, and professional levels.
People who use marijuana may also experience a withdrawal syndrome when they stop using the drug. It is similar to what happens to tobacco smokers when they quit—people report being irritable, having sleep problems, and weight loss—effects which can last for several days to a few weeks after drug use is stopped. Relapse is common during this period, as users also crave the drug to relieve these symptoms. Lungs and Airways People who abuse marijuana are at risk of injuring their lungs through exposure to respiratory irritants found in marijuana smoke.
The smoke from marijuana contains some of the same chemicals found in tobacco smoke; plus, marijuana users tend to inhale more deeply and hold their breath longer, so more smoke enters the lungs. Not surprisingly, people who smoke marijuana have some of the same breathing problems as those who smoke tobacco—they are more susceptible to chest colds, coughs, and bronchitis than people who do not smoke. New research shows that, when making a decision, teens think about both the risks and rewards of their actions and behaviors—but, unlike adults, teens are more likely to ignore the risk in favor of the reward.
So, be aware: The desire to impress your friends may override your fear of taking risks. This could also apply to deciding whether to try drugs or alcohol—your decision might be influenced by who is around and if you think they’d be impressed. The yellow light is a good comparison because some people do actually “fall for it” and choose to take the drugs rather than stopping at a red light and saying no. During NIDA’s Drug Facts Chat Day 2010, young people asked a lot of great questions. One really basic question came from a student in Pennsylvania: Why do people take drugs?
While the specific answer may differ from person to person, some common reasons are that people think they will feel good, forget their problems, perform better, or fit in. Drugs may have these effects at first, but they do not last, at least not like the long-term negative consequences can. Here are some “reality checks” on common reasons people have for doing drugs: “Drugs help me feel good. ” Most abused drugs produce intense feelings of pleasure. This initial sensation of euphoria is followed by other effects, which differ with the type of drug used.
For example, with stimulants such as cocaine, the “high” is followed by feelings of power, self-confidence, and increased energy. In contrast, the euphoria caused by opiates such as heroin is followed by feelings of relaxation and satisfaction. Reality check: While a drug-induced high may temporarily boost your mood, the effect doesn’t last long. Before you know it, the same old worries return, and, in fact, the after-effects of the drug may leave you with additional physical or emotional symptoms. Headaches, nausea, and feeling “down” are common side effects for many people.
Withdrawal can be quite painful—physically and mentally. “Drugs help me feel better. ” Some people who suffer from social anxiety, stress-related disorders, and depression start abusing drugs in an attempt to lessen feelings of distress. Stress can play a major role in beginning drug use, continuing drug abuse, or in relapsing to drug use for people recovering from addiction. Reality check: Some prescription medications can help lessen anxiety- or stress-related problems for a person suffering from a mental health problem that has been diagnosed by a doctor.
These medications should only be taken as prescribed by a doctor and used under a doctor’s care. The “high” caused by illicit drugs like marijuana or cocaine may be just a temporary mask over your problems and will not make you feel better in the long run. In fact, illicit drugs may cause you even more stress, anxiety, and problems. “Drugs help me perform better. ” The increasing pressure that some people feel to chemically enhance or improve their athleticabilities or performance in school can prompt them to start or continue drug abuse.
Reality check: So-called “performance enhancing” drugs, like steroids, actually have serious side effects. Men may develop breasts, and women may acquire some male characteristics like a deeper voice and increased body hair. Some people may abusestimulants to increase their alertness, but dangerous side effects like irregular heartbeat, high body temperatures, and the potential for heart failure or seizures make this a bad bargain. “Everyone’s doing it. Teens are particularly vulnerable to trying drugs because of the strong influence of peer pressure; they are more likely, for example, to take part in risky behaviors because they assume that their peers are also doing it. Reality check: The annual Monitoring the Future survey, which measures drug abuse by 8th, 10th, and 12th graders and their attitudes towards drugs, show that nowhere close to a majority of teens are abusing drugs (PDF, 317 KB). The bottom line? — knowing more about the specific negative effects of drugs on your brain and body can help you think twice before you act.
Can drugs affect the way you socialize? It’s true that some drugs and alcohol can affect your social skills—in some not-so-positive or safe ways. Some people think that using drugs or alcohol is a good way to relax and be more comfortable in social situations, like at a party. But sometimes after taking drugs or drinking alcohol, people may do or say things they normally wouldn’t. And they regret it later. Drugs can change the way the brain works, disrupting the parts of the brain that allow people use to weigh risks and benefits when making decisions.
Impaired decision-making can lead anyone down a dangerous path. The inability to make smart decisions because of drugs or alcohol could also put you at risk of riding with someone who is drunk or high and shouldn’t be behind the wheel. There could be many reasons why teens who smoke think they’re cool—maybe their friends smoke, maybe their parents told them not to smoke, maybe they think it gives them an edgy look, or a temporary high. But the truth is, as far as your health goes—smoking is so not cool.
The thing is, marijuana is more than just a mix of dried leaves from the cannabis sativa plant. It actually contains a chemical called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, along with about 400 other chemicals. Although many of these can affect your health, THC is the main psychoactive (i. e. , mind altering) ingredient. (In fact, marijuana’s strength or potency is related to the amount of THC it contains, which is something people who use marijuarijuana is a mixture of the dried and shredded leaves, stems, seeds, and flowers of the cannabis sativa plant.