Should I Try This Drug?

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

Question: I have been hearing a lot about the benefits of smoking marijuana for medicinal purposes and for just the sheer enjoyment of it. I’ve gotten the impression that it really is a harmless drug and should be legalized. I’ve not yet tried it, but am considering, just to see what it feels like. But first, I thought I would ask to see if there is anything to be concerned about before trying it.

Answer: My gut response it to tell you to just say “no” to the temptation. However, you’ve taken the time to ask, so I will share what I am able to find. Several years ago there was an article in the Monitor on Psychology that addressed some of your questions. The article provided information from a congressional briefing by Nora D. Volkow, MD, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

One third of Americans have tried marijuana. It is the most commonly used illegal drug in the United States. Dr. Volkow reported to congress that about 9% of frequent marijuana users are dependent on the drug. Certain chemicals in the marijuana bind to the cannabinoid receptors in the brain. This triggers the release of dopamine, resulting in the euphoria drug users seek. Long-term use not only results in an increased need for larger doses of the drug, but it also inhibits the brain’s production of natural cannabinoids. This is the reason users become dysphoric when they are unable to access the drug.

Dr. Volkow went on to state, “There’s evidence to suggest using marijuana at an early age can have lifetime consequences. Twin studies show that people exposed to marijuana as young teens are more likely to become dependent on other drugs, such as cocaine and painkillers.”

The marijuana lobby has been very effective in advocating for the legalization of marijuana. Currently, eight states, including Alaska have legalized it for recreational use. As a result, many people have come to believe that it is a relatively “safe” drug. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Ask any treatment provider about the affect of marijuana on heavy users, and you will hear of something referred to as “amotivational syndrome.” It means exactly what it says—heavy users lack motivation to get a job, provide for their families, or even interact socially with others.

The empirical research on this topic is mixed, but nearly every treatment provider I have spoken with mentioned amotivational syndrome as a common feature of potheads. The good news is that normal motivation returns after a period of abstinence from marijuana use. A controlled study using Rhesus monkeys found that normal motivation for a reward returned after approximately 3-1/2 months of abstinence.

For years, marijuana users have reported experiencing psychotic symptoms when using it heavily. The most common feature has been paranoia. Some patients have told me that they quit using for that very reason. Others found they could not quit, even though the paranoia was very uncomfortable.

An article published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2004 found that marijuana-using patients were significantly younger at the onset of psychotic symptoms than were patients who did not use marijuana. On average, male marijuana users were 6.9 years younger at the onset of Schizophrenia than nonusers.

That same year research published in the British Journal of Psychiatry reported that marijuana resulted in a twofold increase in the risk for schizophrenia later in life. The researchers predicted that elimination of marijuana use would reduce the incidence of schizophrenia by approximately 8%. Marijuana use appears to be one of several factors leading to the onset of Schizophrenia. They concluded, “Cases of psychotic disorder could be prevented by discouraging cannabis (marijuana) use among vulnerable youths.”

With the advent of legal recreational marijuana use another syndrome has been recognized—Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome. This condition is characterized by recurrent nausea, vomiting and cramp-like abdominal pain. These symptoms have been found to subside temporarily by taking a hot shower or bath and more fully by stopping the use of marijuana.

It is recommended if these symptoms are present that medical practitioners explore the possibility that the patient is using marijuana. Research conducted at the Mayo Clinic suggested, “Cannabinoid hyperemesis should be considered (as a possible diagnosis) in younger patients with long-term cannabis use and recurrent nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. On the basis of our findings in this large series of patients, we propose major and supportive criteria for the diagnosis of [Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome]”.

So before you believe the marijuana lobby and decide to get stoned, please consider the above findings that are now being published in the professional literature, and are supported by research.

Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected]