Experts Debate the Behavioral Effects of Marijuana

The debate about marijuana has gone from one extreme to another in the last several decades. Is it addictive, or not?  Does it have medical benefits, or not?  Does it, or does it not, lead to using stronger drugs? Despite years of research and tests, this debate still has experts on both sides of the spectrum unable to give definitive answers.  Many people no longer view marijuana as an evil, mind-destroying poison.  Nonetheless, we also must consider that it is not as benign as most “stoners” proclaim.  Evidence suggests that marijuana can be addictive in some cases.  As with any drug, prolonged, heavy use can lead to dependency.  But, most people experience few ill effects from occasional use. Everyone should learn the behavioral effects of marijuana and the warning signs of addiction before using the drug regularly.

What the Experts Say About the Behavioral Effects of Marijuana

Research from the Yale University of Medicine and Pennsylvania State University shows a short-term link between hostile or impulsive behavior after marijuana use. Participants in the study were more aggressive on the days they used marijuana than on the days when they didn’t get high.  The researchers had this to say about the results:

Marijuana use is associated with changes in impulse control and hostility in daily life. This may be one route by which deleterious effects of marijuana are observed for mental health and psychosocial functioning. Given the increasing prevalence of recreational marijuana use and the potential legalization in some states, further research on the potential consequences of marijuana use in young adults’ day-to-day life is warranted.”

Other studies also indicate a correlation between chronic marijuana abuse and the possibility of developing psychotic behaviors.  The researchers point out that it’s difficult to determine whether the mental health problems led to the marijuana use or vice versa.  Some of the behavioral changes are attributed to the person’s need for the drug.  When withdrawal symptoms begin, the individual becomes focused on getting more of the drug in an attempt to feel “normal” again.  In the interim, they become irritable, moody, distracted, and anxious which is contrary to their usual behavior.

Behaviors That Indicate Marijuana Dependence

A diagnosis of problematic cannabis use is complicated.  At least three of the following symptoms should occur within a 12-month period. The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) lists these behaviors:

  1. More significant amounts of cannabis are taken than intended.
  2. Inability to control cannabis use.
  3. Spends a great deal of time obtaining cannabis, using it, and recovering from the effects.
  4. A desire or strong craving for cannabis.
  5. Failure to perform duties at work, home, or school.
  6. Continued use of cannabis despite the consequences.
  7. Avoiding social, recreational, or occupational activities because of cannabis use.
  8. Recurrent cannabis use in hazardous situations.
  9. Continued use despite knowledge of recurrent physical or psychological problems not caused by cannabis.
  10. Withdrawal symptoms or the need to take another substance to feel better.
  11. Signs of tolerance such as:
  • A marked need for increased amount of cannabis.
  • Diminished effects using the same amounts of marijuana.

Most of the above are symptoms of addiction to other substances such as opiates, alcohol, heroin, meth, and more.  The NIDA interviewed 8,000 people aged 15 to 64.  The study shows that only nine percent of them fit the criteria for cannabis dependence. In comparison, the result for alcohol was 15%; cocaine 17%; heroin 23%; and nicotine 32%.  About 91% of those surveyed did not get hooked on marijuana.  This study concludes that marijuana is less addictive than many other legal and illegal substances.  Yet, it may be addictive for some people.

How Marijuana Affects Personality and Cognitive Ability

Studies show that behavioral effects of marijuana, such as prolonged or heavy use, have lasting impact on a person’s behavior and learning abilities.  For example:

Some of the behavioral effects of marijuana abuse are as follows:

  • Goes from being outgoing, sociable, and upbeat to withdrawn, quiet, and isolated.
  • Neglects responsibilities and prefers to spend all their time indoors getting high.
  • Decreased ability to focus on tasks and performs tasks with frequent errors and poor quality.
  • More likely to suffer accidents when working with equipment or machinery.
  • Loss of respect or consideration for others, antisocial behavior, and lost friendships.
  • Engages in theft or burglary or other crimes to fund their habit.

Some of the cognitive behavioral effects of marijuana abuse are as follows:

  • Research shows that marijuana’s effects on memory, learning, and attention can last for days or weeks after the initial effects of the drug wear off.
  • Someone who smokes marijuana daily is possibly functioning at reduced intellectual levels most of the time.
  • Students who use marijuana regularly have lowered educational outcomes compared to students who don’t use.
  • Students who smoke marijuana regularly are less likely to graduate.
  • Heavy marijuana use is linked to an increased possibility of becoming welfare dependent, unemployed, and involved in criminal behavior.

Some of these effects on brain functioning recover with abstinence.  But, research shows that problems persist in some areas of functioning.  For instance, lasting effects on decision-making, planning, and concept/idea formation are affected.  These behavioral effects of marijuana are most often seen in individuals who engaged in heavy, prolonged use.

In the debate about marijuana being a “gateway” drug, many experts are still on the fence.  No doubt, many people who use other illicit drugs used marijuana first.  But, this is not concrete proof of the theory.  It is possible there is a predisposition to drug use.  Would we call cigarettes or alcohol “gateway” drugs because a marijuana user also uses those substances? This debate is one that may never be resolved.

Will Legalization Cause More Marijuana Abuse?

According to federal scientists, the results for alcohol and tobacco are higher because these substances are legally available.  They assert that if marijuana were legally available, the number of addictions would increase.  Conversely, the World Health Organization concludes that increased use of marijuana would not likely produce the level of adverse effects produced by alcohol or tobacco.

So, the debate continues on the behavioral effects of marijuana.  Advocates on both sides have studies to support their position on the matter.  Each person should learn about the dangers of legal or illegal addictive substances. Ignoring the warnings can make a life or death difference.  It doesn’t matter which expert you choose to believe. The fact remains that marijuana can have some damaging effects with chronic use.  Become familiar with the signs of an addict and prevent unexpected consequences.

The dangers of a drug don’t disappear with legalization.  Any drug can harm a person’s physical or mental health when abused in significant quantities. Currently, twenty-nine states in the U.S. have legalized marijuana in some form.  Legalized recreational use is in effect in seven states and the District of Columbia.  Some experts expect marijuana abuse to increase as a result of these laws.

What to Do If You are Ready to Give up Marijuana

It’s not easy to walk away from drug abuse.  Cravings are intense and persistent.  Repeated relapses make you think you can’t succeed, ever.  But, at About Addiction, we know you can reach this goal with the right treatment.  Call our toll-free number now.   One of our representatives is available to answer your questions and provide any other assistance.  We can help you find the best facility and program for your needs.

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