South Africa recently made the monumental decision that the prosecution of marijuana use is now unconstitutional. This has resulted in much hot debate. Marijuana can now be legally used by adults within private dwellings. The finer details of the law are still up for debate and discussion. It remains to be seen who can legally buy marijuana, how much a person can have in their possession and who may legally sell it along with a host of other concerns.
Though marijuana may not cause the same physical dependency as other drugs, it is psychologically addictive. This means that people rely on it for emotional and psychological stability. In an article by the Los Angeles Times it was stated that around 9% of people who use marijuana become addicted to it. Addiction is not a matter of withdrawal driving a person to use. This is obvious, otherwise people would not return to their drug of choice once these symptoms have subsided. People use drugs for a variety of reasons, mainly because they do not know how to cope with their everyday challenges without them. Marijuana is no different to any other drug in this regard. It can, and is, used so that people can separate themselves from their reality.
For an alcoholic, consuming alcohol almost always begins within the context of social events. And at first, an alcoholic may very well seem like a normal drinker. However, the disease of alcoholism is progressive, which means that an alcoholic may go from drinking only at social occasions, to drinking in the week, to drinking while on the job, for example. At the stage of alcohol dependency, the alcoholic will appear to need alcohol in order to function, and that can entail drinking in isolation from others. Drinking then becomes a way to relieve an acute craving rather than something that is done socially.
According to the South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (SACENDU) October 2018 report marijuana is still the most common illicit drug used, especially among youth attending specialist treatment centres. Across sites between 30% (Western Cape) and 55% (Gauteng) of patients attending specialist treatment centres had marijuana as their primary or secondary drug of use. Between 1%, (Mpumalanga and Limpopo) and 24% (Western Cape) of patients had cannabis/mandrax as their primary or secondary drug of use.
It should also be noted that marijuana as we know it today is completely different from what the plant originally was. There are two main ingredients in marijuana THC and CBD. THC is the chemical compound in marijuana that gets you high, CBD acts as a natural anti-psychotic and for a long time the two would balance each other out. Through breeding methods most marijuana has a much higher THC content than it had even a few years ago. This is a result of the demand for stronger and better drugs. It has also been speculated that the increase in THC and subsequent lowering of CBD levels affects the demand for rehabilitation for marijuana use.
Short-term Effects :
The short-term effects of marijuana occur because THC rapidly moves from the lungs into the blood. This chemical acts on cannabinoid receptors, leading to a “high” for users. These receptors are found in the parts of the brain that influence concentration, thinking, sensory and time perception, pleasure, memory and coordination. The effects may include :
- Severe anxiety, including fear that one is being watched or followed (paranoia)
- Short-term memory problems
- Strange behaviour, seeing, hearing or smelling things that aren’t there, not being able to tell imagination from reality (psychosis)
- Loss of a sense of personal identity
- Lowered reaction time
- Increased heart rate (risk of heart attack)
- Increased risk of stroke
- Problems with coordination (impairing safe driving)
Long-Term Effects :
The long-term effects of marijuana can lead to an adverse effect on memory and learning. Those who smoke marijuana consistently when young may experience cognitive impairment as adults even when no longer using the drug. The long-term effects of marijuana can be unpredictable and can also lead to a number of other unwanted effects, such as respiratory issues, difficulties learning and issues with problem-solving. Additionally, marijuana use has been associated with certain mental health issues such as depression and anxiety and may even worsen symptoms in those with schizophrenia. Long terms effects may include :
- Poor school performance
- Impaired thinking and ability to learn and perform complex tasks
- Lower life satisfaction
- Addiction (about 9% of adults and 17% of people who started smoking as teens)
- Relationship problems, intimate partner violence
- Antisocial behaviour
Studies have shown that marijuana withdrawal symptoms can appear less than 1 day after the last use, reaching peak intensity between days 2 and 4, and can generally last for 7 to 10 days. Even after withdrawal symptoms have disappeared, it is important to seek treatment to address the underlying causes of the addiction.
What are synthetic cannabinoids?
A synthetic cannabinoid is a chemical compound that activates the same neuroreceptor in the brain as organic cannabinoids, such as THC that is found in marijuana. They are not the same chemical. They simply have a similar effect on the same part of the brain. The chemical compound is added to plant matter that makes it easy to smoke. Despite some misconceptions these substances contain no actual cannabis. It can also be consumed as a tea or in some cases the drug is produced as a liquid that can be used in vapes or e-cigarettes.
Synthetic cannabinoids were first produced in a lab by chemist John Huffman as part of his research into marijuana. This research was leaked and black-market producers quickly realized that since these substances contained no actual banned chemicals, they could easily be sold and marketed to vulnerable persons as an alternative to illegal drugs such as marijuana and other party drugs.
Synthetic cannabinoids are sold under a range of names, the common ones being: Herbal Blend, Blazing, Puff, Spice, Incense, Fake Weed, K2. It comes in small foil packets and will look like a legitimate mass-produced product. The contents resemble dried marijuana, but also Robertson’s Mixed Herbs. Many manufactures will not put any identifying information on the packaging but it will often come with warnings such as: “Harmful if swallowed”, “May cause respiratory irritation”, or even “Not for human consumption”.
For the moment, all synthetic cannabinoids are not under any type of legal restriction in South Africa. These products can be bought, sold and consumed without any fear of legal repercussions. The drug has however been criminalized in many parts of the world due to its dangerous and addictive nature. In most cases the passing of this drugs classification and the subsequent criminalizing, has been as a response to an epidemic like surge in use. The UK passed their Psychoactive Substances Act in 2016 as a response to the ‘Spice Crisis’. When considering legality, it is always important to remember that just because something is legal does not mean it is safe.
Because of the ever-changing chemical structure of synthetic marijuana, side effects are difficult to pin down. Problems may vary from batch to batch. What we do know for sure is that synthetic cannabinoids are highly addictive, have a high propensity for abuse and do cause withdrawal symptoms after sustained use.
The following is a list of documented side effects:
- High Blood Pressure
- Confusion and Paranoia
- Rapid heart rate
- Heart Attack
- Renal Failure
- Loss of Consciousness
- Bleeding from the eyes, nose and ears
- Psychotic and Violent Behaviour
- Psychosis (lasting anywhere between a few weeks to a few month)
- In extreme cases death
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