Literature states that marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug. Its popularity is likely a contributing factor to its reputation as a gateway drug. The gateway label is based on a statistical correlation between the use of harder drugs such as cocaine or heroin, and a prior history of marijuana use. The problem with the gateway theory is that is assumes that correlation equals causation. However, the majority of marijuana users never try harder drugs.

They likely do not use harder substances because Marijuana usually does not create a physical dependence. If withdrawal symptoms are encountered they are generally very mild. The majority of people who smoke marijuana do so only occasionally. Research indicates that only a small minority of Americans (less than 1%) smoke marijuana daily.

While using, marijuana smokers can become irrational and behave erratically. Some users experience feelings of panic, anxiety or paranoia. In large doses, usually when eaten instead of smoked, marijuana can lead to toxic psychosis. The drug causes changes in thoughts and perceptions and problems with short term memory. Most of these symptoms are temporary and only last while intoxication continues.

Certain long term problems can also occur. Repeated use can lead to pre-cancerous changes in lung tissue called metaplasia. Smoking marijuana can increase heart rate by as much as 50%. Long term use can lead to complications especially for those with impaired cardiac function.

Marijuana is second only to alcohol as a drug of choice for self-medicating. The substance is commonly used to alleviate symptoms of depression, anxiety and insomnia. Some individuals who use Marijuana are unaware that they are doing so because their depression has been undiagnosed.  Most individuals merely notice that their depressive symptoms have lessened or their outlook has improved.  However, those using marijuana to treat depression should be careful to guard against negative side effects. Smoking marijuana can lead to apathy, social isolation, and a loss of motivation.

Tips if you think your loved one has a problem with Marijuana

  • Do not judge, but offer support. They may be experiencing depression or mood issues and are not aware they might be self-medicating.
  • Be proactive and seek advice from a trained professional. Most clinics and hospitals have substance abuse experts on staff that likely has resources for family members.
  • Do not enable your family member by giving them money to assist with their possible substance abuse issue, rather tell them where they can get help.