By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
Over 17 million Americans per month use marijuana—three million use it daily. It’s the most popular illegal drug in the world, though it’s becoming legalized on a state-by-state basis for medical and even recreational use. Its uses are varied, as are its effects.
New York has reached a statewide deal to make recreational marijuana use legal in designated areas. Nightclub-like spots, delivery, and ownership of up to six marijuana plants will be legalized, as will consumption of marijuana for adults ages 21 and over. Aside from no longer being at risk for incarceration for low-level crime drug arrests, New Yorkers will also enjoy the benefits of the estimated $4.2 billion in tax revenue the industry will create.
The uses and effects of marijuana are more complicated than typical public perception. In his video series The Addictive Brain, Dr. Thad Polk, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Michigan, explained both.
Results May Vary
Marijuana use affects the brain’s cannabinoid receptors.
“Cannabinoid receptors have been found all over the brain,” Dr. Polk said. “They’re found in areas involved in motor control and in areas that process fear and anxiety. They’re also found in the midbrain dopamine system and the reward circuit.”
According to Dr. Polk, this fact lends evidence to the varying effects marijuana use has from person to person. Some marijuana users find themselves laughing at things they wouldn’t ordinarily find funny and they often struggle to stop laughing. Many users also feel relaxed and calm, while others report more pleasurable sensory input—music sounds better, food tastes better, and so on.
“At higher doses, marijuana can produce less pleasant symptoms, such as disorganized thoughts and feelings of paranoia and anxiety,” he said. “Higher doses are also associated with impaired judgment and agitation. However, there are no reported cases of death as a result of marijuana overdose, so in that sense the margin of safety for marijuana seems to be much larger than the margin of safety for other drugs of abuse like heroin or cocaine.”
The Upside of Marijuana Use
Medicinally, marijuana has many benefits for suffering patients. Dr. Polk pointed out that it generally reduces nausea and vomiting and increases appetite. Because of this, cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy could have those side effects alleviated, since chemo often leaves patients nauseated and vomiting and struggling to eat and keep food down.
“Likewise, AIDS patients frequently suffer from a severe lack of appetite and they may lose dangerous amounts of weight as a result,” Dr. Polk said. “These patients also eat more and keep more weight on when taking cannabinoids than when they’re not.”
Marijuana can also relieve pain, especially when painkillers fail, and animal studies show that cannabinoids may help prevent the formation of some kinds of tumors. There are even cannabinoid-based pills that have been approved for use in treating side effects of chemotherapy and symptoms of AIDS.
“On the other hand, there are often alternative drugs that can treat the same symptoms without the psychoactive effects of cannabinoids,” Dr. Polk said. “For example, synthetic derivatives of the hormone progesterone also increase appetite, and some studies suggest that they actually do so more effectively than cannabinoids.
“In short, the debate over medical marijuana isn’t over yet.”