As the second most commonly used substance (after alcohol) in the United States, rates of marijuana abuse run high among young and old alike. Couple these trends with marijuana’s changing legal status, and it becomes all the more important to understand just how this drug affects the mind and body.
Marijuana produces hallucinogenic, stimulant and depressant effects, with THC being its active ingredient. While many may deny marijuana carries a risk for addiction, the THC hallucinogen in marijuana interacts with the brain in much the same way as other addictive substances, such as stimulants and opiates.
Understanding how marijuana’s THC hallucinogen compound works can help shed some light on the actual addiction potential this drug carries.
THC Effects in the Brain
As the active ingredient in marijuana, THC accounts for the “high” effects that users anticipate and experience when using this drug. Marijuana is unique in that it produces depressant, stimulant and hallucinogenic effects through its interactions with the brain’s endocannabinoid system. In effect, marijuana stimulates central nervous system functions while slowing or blocking incoming sensory information from reaching the brain.
According to Cambridge Health Alliance, the endocannabinoid system regulates a range of brain and body functions, many of which affect a person’s emotions, perceptions and thinking. This system also produces THC, so the brain can easily mistake marijuana’s THC hallucinogen component as its own. These conditions account for marijuana’s addictive potential.
THC Hallucinogen Effects
Tolerance & Dependence Potential
Much like stimulant and opiate-type drugs, ongoing marijuana abuse breeds rising brain tolerance levels, which naturally create conditions for dependence to take root. Unlike stimulants and opiates, an increasing tolerance and dependence on marijuana doesn’t develop on a physical level, but on a psychological level, according to Oregon State University.
In effect, the areas of the brain most impacted by THC hallucinogen effects adapt to the drug’s effects over time. This means a person will gradually develop a psychological “need” for marijuana to feel normal and be able to cope with the demands of everyday life. These types of changes in brain functioning lie at the heart of addiction.
Any drug capable of producing psychoactive effects can alter the brain’s chemical balance over time in fundamental ways. According to Princeton University Health Services, long-term or heavy marijuana use has lasting effects on the areas of the brain responsible for thinking, emotions and sensory perceptions and ultimately impairs a person’s psychological makeup over time.
As a result, long-time THC hallucinogen use creates conditions where mental disorders can develop and persist over time. Mental disorders commonly associated with heavy drug use include:
- Anxiety disorders
- Depression disorders
- Delusional thinking
- Panic attacks
Not surprisingly, the presence of one or more of the above conditions only makes a person that much more susceptible to marijuana’s addictive potential.
Signs of Addiction
Signs of THC hallucinogen addiction tend to show up within a person’s daily behaviors. Signs to watch for include:
- Bouts of irritability
- Bouts of depression
- Problems sleeping
- Inability to reduce drug intake or stopping using the drug
- Compulsive drug-seeking and drug-using behaviors
- Continuing to use when drug use brings on negative consequences, such as job loss or relationship problems
As with any other form of drug abuse, a marijuana addiction will only become more severe when left to its own devices.
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