Now that it’s legal in many places, marijuana may seem like a harmless substance. However, its use can still be dangerous, particularly since much of the marijuana sold today is more potent than what has been available in the past.
The following article summarizes a webinar given in August 2021 by Brandi Bradbury, former Director of Client Services at Hired Power, and Dr. David Barron, Clinical Psychiatrist and Medical Director at Yellowbrick, discussing the dangers inherent in marijuana use.
Industry leaders since 2002, addiction and recovery service Hired Power in Huntington Beach, California, offers family-centered, customized plans and expert guidance to help clients navigate the often overwhelming treatment and recovery process from marijuana abuse.
Does Legal Mean Safe?
According to Dr. Barron, the brains of people in their mid-to-late teens and late 20s to early 30s are still growing and rewiring rapidly. The neuroplastic change, the brain’s ability to rewire itself, is greater during these stages than any other time in life other than birth to age three.
Marijuana use may interfere with brain development during essential stages of frontal lobe growth. The potential negative consequences of marijuana are magnified if use starts in early adolescence.
Cost Difference – Higher Cost Means More Drug in the Mix
In the 1970s, cannabis sold for about $20 an ounce. In 2021, the average price for an ounce is in the mid $200s. This isn’t only because of inflation; the difference in price is because of increased potency in the plant now versus then.
Cannabis contains many different chemicals. Two of them are THC, tetrahydrocannabinol, and CBD, cannabidiol. THC is an intoxicant; producing the psychoactive effects associated with marijuana. An important takeaway from this webinar is that different doses cause different effects.
THC and CBD
Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the most prevalent chemical compounds in the cannabis plant. CBD does not produce the same effects as THC. To be clear, CBD is not psychoactive like THC; instead, it is calming and anti-inflammatory. People use it to relieve pain, reduce nausea and vomiting, as a sleep aid, or for asthma attacks.
THC and CBD are both found in the resin produced by marijuana plants. These two compounds have similar molecular structures, which is why they bind to the same receptors in the body.
The dose-response curve is a functional relationship between the dose of the substance and the response measured. The dose-response curve is a fundamental concept in pharmacology and toxicology.
The effect of a drug is the function of two things: how much of it you take and how often you take it. The dose-response curve describes the relationship between these two factors. It plots the effects that a given amount of substance has on the body at each frequency. The shape of this curve is different for every substance since it depends on how the drug interacts with the body.
Cannabis has multiple dose-response curves.
The dose-response curve explains how the amount of cannabinoids administered can affect your experience. When first using cannabis products, you might feel a slight buzz from only a small amount.
However, as you increase the amount of cannabis you use, you’ll need to consume higher quantities to achieve the same effect. This is similar to how alcohol affects people—small amounts induce relaxation while larger amounts produce sedation and intoxication.
List of Cannabinoids
The cannabis plant contains over 100 known cannabinoids, including THC and CBD. This number is likely to increase as research continues to expand rapidly. While some are found in high concentrations, others are found in trace amounts, making it extremely difficult to study their potential effects. Additionally, not all cannabinoids are present simultaneously.
The top six cannabinoids include:
1) THC (Delta-9-THC) is the compound that produces feelings of elation and relaxation in many users. It’s also the most capable of causing damage and has been linked to increases in certain mental illnesses.
2) CBD (cannabidiol) does not cause any psychotropic effects, although some users report feeling more mentally and physically relaxed after ingesting it.
3) THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin) is a cannabinoid gaining popularity. Much like THC, it causes a psychotropic effect.
4) CBDV (cannabidivarin) is a compound similar to CBD, but it affects the body in different ways and may influence pain perception.
5) CBG (cannabigerol) appears early in a cannabis plant’s life. It’s thought that CBG may have some effect on pain or pain sensitivity.
6) CBN (cannabinol) is a cannabinoid that may influence appetite.
Why Worry about Cannabis?
Traditional marijuana, high-potency cannabis, and synthetic cannabinoids—increasing risk for psychosis:
Epidemiological evidence indicates that cannabis use is associated with an increased risk of psychotic outcomes and confirms a dose-response relationship between cannabis use and the risk of developing psychosis later in life. The most significant risk is associated with high-potency cannabis and synthetic cannabinoids.
Cannabis is associated with a higher risk of self-harm, death, and accidents among younger users. Currently, there’s no convincing evidence that cannabis use increases the risk of other psychiatric disorders, but there are no doubts concerning its detrimental effect on cognitive function.
All of the adverse effects are magnified if use starts in early adolescence.
The effects of cannabis effects on driving, according to a 2018 UK study:
Regular users had an increased rate of motor vehicle accidents. The rate was highest in those who had recently used cannabis (within 12-24 hours of the accident). The rate of accidents was also increased between uses when compared to non-users—days or even weeks after last use.
Predictors of Addiction
Strongest predictors of addiction:
- Genetics/family history
- Non-substance related psychiatric diagnosis
- Upbringing/parenting (the “nurture” in the nature vs. nurture question)
The more you use, the more likely you are to become addicted. Period.
The Reward System
The body’s reward system utilizes dopamine as the primary chemical messenger in the brain. This system has been present in animals for millions of years.
- Signaling: How can an organism “know” what’s in its best interest?
- Remembering: How can it remember to replicate this?
- Suppression of threat suppression: How does an organism distinguish a threat from what’s good for it in an inherently threatening environment?
- Later in the evolutionary process: How will I problem-solve finding this “fitness-enhancing” experience in the future?
There are genetic variants of the dopamine 2 receptor called DRD 2. If you have a particular variant of it, it’s more difficult for dopamine to latch onto this receptor, making it harder for you to feel the reward. This means whatever the reward may be—for instance, the effects you feel from a particular substance—you’ll need more of it to feel rewarded. If you need more of the substance to feel the reward, you’re more likely to get addicted, setting up an addiction cycle.
Kenneth Bloom is a medical doctor who has researched this receptor for decades. He coined the phrase “reward deficiency syndrome” to replace the term “addiction.” The American Society for Addiction Medicine has adopted it as its official language, and it’s beginning to change in the literature.
Get Help for Marijuana Abuse Today
At Hired Power in Huntington Beach, California, we understand that recovery from addiction and mental health disorders requires ongoing structure and support. We’re here for you and your loved ones every step of the way.
Call (800) 910-9299 or contact us to schedule an appointment with our intervention and addiction specialists. Professional assistance is available anytime, every day.