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The dark side of cannabis

Cannabis has been heralded as a miracle cure by several commentators over the past few years, but there seems to be a darker side that hasn’t been reported on by the mainstream media.

Although many scientific studies and use cases confirm that cannabis can be used to treat a variety of diseases and treat inflammation, pain and anxiety to name a few, there are still many risks that come with using the plant.

Recent medical research demonstrates that one in four teens are now using highly potent variations of cannabis that could be potentially harmful for mental health. There is also an increased risk of addiction when exposed to cannabis at a young age.

The study by Arizona State University found that one in four Arizonian teens have used a marijuana concentrate – a highly potent form of marijuana that possesses an extraordinarily high amount of THC. It is often up to four times as strong as high grade cannabis bud.

The mental health risks of consuming cannabis to excess or in extreme high doses is fairly widespread, with reports claiming that it can increase the risk of psychosis, and other underlying mental illnesses.

Another grave risk of consuming cannabis in excess is the damage it does to male sperm cells, with another report revealing it can alter specific gene cells within sperm thus potentially making future children more likely to develop autism.

Gateway drug and addiction

Cannabis sceptics have often stated that it is a gateway drug that will lead to the use of harder drugs such as cocaine and heroin. While there is little scientific research to back this up, it could be said that if a child was to associate with drug dealers and users at a young age it may lead to normalising drug use, therefore paving the way towards becoming a potential gateway.

Addiction, however, is a real possibility associated with habitual use of the plant leading to developing a dependence on the drug.

Cannabis use disorder (CUD), commonly known as cannabis addiction is classified as the continued use of cannabis despite impairment in psychological, physical, or social functioning, with studies showing that around 9 percent of all cannabis users will develop a dependence on the drug.

Prolonged use of cannabis produces pharmacokinetic changes, in how the drug is absorbed, metabolised and excreted, and pharmacodynamic changes, how the drug interacts with cells in the body.

As a result of these changes, the user will have to consume higher amounts of cannabis to achieve the desired ‘high’ effect, thus acquiring a higher tolerance. As with all drugs, when the body develops a tolerance to it and the user discontinues the intake of the drug, the body experiences withdrawal symptoms.

Although compared with common addictive drugs like heroin, the symptoms of cannabis withdrawal are far less severe. However, users will still experience symptoms such as irritability, depression, difficulty concentrating, restlessness and decreased appetite.

To be diagnosed with the disorder, an individual must meet at least two of eleven symptoms where craving, withdrawal symptoms, lack of control and negative effects on personal and professional responsibilities are assessed.

Although hard drugs like heroin and cocaine are far more of a risk, both in addictive factor and the harmful effects of use, cannabis has a substantially higher number of users than both those drugs therefore the number of individuals at risk of addiction inevitably is higher.

So, while cannabis and it’s many compounds have the potential to improve many aspects of physical and mental issues (also not forgetting that it can be enjoyable for most users) understanding and preventing the dark side of consumption is vital for safe usage.

Mental Health

High doses of THC have been linked to a greater risk of psychosis and general cognitive impairment, along with risk of addiction and dependence.

Along with developing mental health problems, individuals already experiencing issues such as depression may be lulled into a false sense of security in using cannabis as a form of escapism as THC gives users a euphoric buzz and a short rush of dopamine.

Using cannabis as a crutch to aid mental health issues in the short term can often feed back into a negative circle of becoming dependant – spurring negative thought patterns and becoming less motivated leading to loss of jobs or hobbies and consequently becoming more depressed.

As most symptoms of cannabis intoxication eventually go away after a few hours of use, some people can experience delusions that continue for a week after use, and in some cases psychotic hallucinations and delusions that don’t go away – ending with a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

According to the UK’s National Health Service, using cannabis just five times as a teen can increase the risk of psychosis, as the brain continues to develop until age 25 and when outside chemicals are introduced, it can negatively impact the mental state of the brain.

Studies have found that the onset of mental health issues and dependence can often stem back through genes where people with low amounts of a particular receptor are more susceptible.

For instance, Simone Banks spent a night with friends when she was 15 smoking weed. However, on one occasion she experienced disassociation and begun panicking and ended up being hospitalised with a shock diagnoses of schizophrenia.

After learning of the existence of a genetic predisposition for schizophrenia in her family, that night was the last time she ever smoked weed and she confessed ‘if I had continued to smoke weed, there is a real likelihood that I would have toppled off the deep end into chronic mental illness’.

CBD as the saviour

Many complaints on the types of cannabis being smoked resulting in addiction, dependence or mental health issues are often from strains with extremely high THC content.

When THC is heightened within a cannabis strain, the CBD naturally occurring in the plant will end up being entirely removed, this is a common issue happening currently, where skunk – a breed of cannabis often produced with a high THC level – is one of the most popular strains of weed being used.

CBD, the compound that doesn’t cause any intoxication and actually has many beneficial elements to it, has been reported to potentially block the many harmful effects of THC.

A recent study demonstrates that CBD could reset the brain and counteract symptoms of psychosis. The brains of the participants who received a dose of CBD experienced fewer symptoms associated with psychosis.

New findings highlight the surprising contradictions of the plant where THC can lead to the onset of psychosis however CBD possesses anti-psychotic benefits and can potentially reverse the damage done by excess THC intake.

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