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Christina Lasich, M.D.

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May 2, 2013
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Infrequently asked questions about marijuana

People ask a lot of questions about marijuana. But they may not be asking all of the right questions.

Of those who don’t question marijuana use, some might not want to ask the tough questions because they don’t want to hear the answers. Many may not even realize that there are some very important answers that need to be heard because they have been lulled into thinking that marijuana is just a benign herb that causes no harm. Nothing can be further than the truth.

Here are some true answers to questions that are infrequently asked:

Does marijuana use lead to dependency and/or addiction? Absolutely; the use of marijuana has been clearly documented to change the brain, particularly the reward system in the brain. These changes in the brain are very similar to those found with opioid chemical dependency/addiction and alcoholism. The statistics show that 9 percent of those who initially start using marijuana will develop a dependency, and teenagers are twice as likely to develop a marijuana use disorder.

What are the symptoms of marijuana withdrawal? As seen with all substances that cause dependency, a marijuana dependent individual will experience withdrawal when he/she stops using. The symptoms of marijuana withdrawal include irritability, anger, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, decreased appetite or weight loss, restlessness, depressed mood, shakiness, stomach cramps, headaches, chills and sweating. The problem is that people seek prescriptions for marijuana to treat the symptoms as if the symptoms were associated with a disease and not withdrawal. That is like giving an alcoholic more alcohol to treat alcohol withdrawal syndrome or giving a smoker permission to smoke in order to prevent nicotine withdrawal. With better recognition of marijuana withdrawal syndrome, professionals hope more people will seek treatment for marijuana dependency and addiction.

What is the long-term impact of marijuana use? Unlike oregano and basil, which really are harmless herbs that have no significant impact on the brain, marijuana leaves a huge footprint on the brain. Using the latest imaging technology called functional MRI brain scanning, researchers have documented the blunted emotional responses in marijuana users. People that interact with a user don’t need an MRI to tell them what they already know. Spouses and friends recognize that the user’s personality is different or that he/she “is not there anymore.” School officials don’t need an MRI to see the increased drop-out rate, lower GPA scores and failure to achieve degrees in those who use marijuana. The impact of marijuana use in the schools is due to marijuana’s impact on the brain’s ability to remember and learn. These impaired cognitive skills can improve after the user quits using marijuana. However, the recovery time is much slower in children because marijuana damages their developing brains. The footprint left by marijuana on a child’s brain looks more like a gigantic boot print.

Do the potential benefits of marijuana use outweigh the risks? This question is the ultimate question that has to be answered within the context of other real answers. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that there are no risks involved with using marijuana. The risks have been clearly documented over the past 20 years and include the risk of dependency, addiction, brain impairment and even the potential for permanent brain damage. Everyone needs to take marijuana use more seriously because marijuana is not a benign, harmless herb.

Christina Lasich, MD, practices in Grass Valley. See this story online for documented sources.

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6. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2011 Jul;216(1):131-44

The use of marijuana has been clearly documented to change the brain, particularly the reward system in the brain. These changes are very similar to those found with opioid chemical dependency\/addiction and alcoholism.


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The Union Updated May 2, 2013 10:46PM Published May 2, 2013 10:46PM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.