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Research Report Series - Marijuana Abuse



How does marijuana use
affect school, work,
and social life?


Students who smoke marijuana get lower grades and are less likely to graduate from high school, compared with their nonsmoking peers.20,45,46,47

Workers who smoke marijuana are more likely than their coworkers to have problems on the job. Several studies have associated workers' marijuana smoking with increased absences, tardiness, accidents, workers' compensation claims, and job turnover. A study among postal workers found that employees who tested positive for marijuana on a pre-employment urine drug test had 55 percent more industrial accidents, 85 percent more injuries, and a 75 percent increase in absenteeism compared with those who tested negative for marijuana use.48

Depression18, anxiety18, and personality disturbances50 are all associated with marijuana use. Research clearly demonstrates that marijuana use has the potential to cause problems in daily life or make a person's existing problems worse. Because marijuana compromises the ability to learn and remember information, the more a person uses marijuana the more he or she is likely to fall behind in accumulating intellectual, job, or social skills. In one study of cognition, adults were matched on the basis of their performance in the 4th grade on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. They were evaluated on a number of cognitive measures including the 12th-grade version of the Iowa Test. Those who were heavy marijuana smokers scored significantly lower on mathematical skills and verbal expression than nonsmokers.9

Moreover, research has shown that marijuana's adverse impact on memory and learning can last for days or weeks after the acute effects of the drug wear off.9,51 For example, a study of 129 college students found that among heavy users of marijuana - those who smoked the drug at least 27 of the preceding 30 days - critical skills related to attention, memory, and learning were significantly impaired, even after they had not used the drug for at least 24 hours.33 The heavy marijuana users in the study had more trouble sustaining and shifting their attention and in registering, organizing, and using information than did the study participants who had used marijuana no more than 3 of the previous 30 days. As a result, someone who smokes marijuana once daily may be functioning at a reduced intellectual level all of the time. More recently, the same researchers showed that a group of long-term heavy marijuana users' ability to recall words from a list was impaired 1 week following cessation of marijuana use, but returned to normal by 4 weeks.51 An implication of this finding is that even after long-term heavy marijuana use, if an individual quits marijuana use, some cognitive abilities may be recovered.

Another study produced additional evidence that marijuana's effects on the brain can cause cumulative deterioration of critical life skills in the long run. Researchers gave students a battery of tests measuring problem-solving and emotional skills in 8th grade and again in 12th grade.52 The results showed that the students who were already drinking alcohol plus smoking marijuana in 8th grade started off slightly behind their peers, but that the distance separating these two groups grew significantly by their senior year in high school. The analysis linked marijuana use, independently of alcohol use, to reduced capacity for self-reinforcement, a group of psychological skills that enable individuals to maintain confidence and persevere in the pursuit of goals.

Marijuana users themselves report poor outcomes on a variety of measures of life satisfaction and achievement. A recent study compared current and former long-term heavy users of marijuana with a control group who reported smoking cannabis at least once in their lives, but not more than 50 times. Despite similar education and incomes in their families of origin, significant differences were found on educational attainment and income between heavy users and the control group: fewer of the cannabis users completed college and more had household incomes of less than $30,000. When asked how marijuana affected their cognitive abilities, career achievements, social lives, and physical and mental health, the overwhelming majority of heavy cannabis users reported the drug's deleterious effect on all of these measures.53

The Body's Natural THC-Like Chemicals

THC owes many of its effects to its similarity to a family of chemicals called the endogenous cannabinoids, which are natural Cannabis-like chemicals. Because a THC molecule is shaped like these endogenous cannabinoids, it interacts with the same receptors on nerve cells, the cannabinoid receptors, that endogenous cannabinoids do, and it influences many of the same processes. Research has shown that the endogenous cannabinoids help control a wide array of mental and physical processes in the brain and throughout the body, including memory and perception, fine motor coordination, pain sensations,70 immunity to disease, and reproduction.71

When someone smokes marijuana, THC overstimulates the cannabinoid receptors, leading to a disruption of the endogenous cannabinoids' normal function. This overstimulation produces the intoxication experienced by marijuana smokers. Over time, it may alter the function of cannabinoid receptors, which, along with other changes in the brain, can lead to withdrawal symptoms and addiction.60,72,73

Can marijuana use
during pregnancy harm the baby?


Research has shown that some babies born to women who used marijuana during their pregnancies display altered responses to visual stimuli, increased tremulousness, and a high-pitched cry, which may indicate problems with neurological development.54, 75 During the preschool years, marijuana-exposed children have been observed to perform tasks involving sustained attention and memory more poorly than nonexposed children do.55,56 In the school years, these children are more likely to exhibit deficits in problem-solving skills, memory, and the ability to remain attentive.55,56

Is marijuana use addictive?


Long-term marijuana use can lead to addiction for some people; that is, they use the drug compulsively even though it often interferes with family, school, work, and recreational activities. According to the 2003 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an estimated 21.6 million Americans aged 12 or older were classified with substance dependence or abuse (9.1 percent of the total population). Of the estimated 6.9 million Americans classified with dependence on or abuse of illicit drugs, 4.2 million were dependent on or abused marijuana.57 In 2002, 15 percent of people entering drug abuse treatment programs reported that marijuana was their primary drug of abuse.58

Along with craving, withdrawal symptoms can make it hard for long-term marijuana smokers to stop using the drug.49 People trying to quit report irritability, difficulty sleeping, and anxiety.59,60 They also display increased aggression on psychological tests, peaking approximately 1 week after they last used the drug.61

In addition to its addictive liability, research indicates that early exposure to marijuana can increase the likelihood of a lifetime of subsequent drug problems. A recent study of over 300 fraternal and identical twin pairs, who differed on whether or not they used marijuana before the age of 17, found that those who had used marijuana early had elevated rates of other drug use and drug problems later on, compared with their twins, who did not use marijuana before age 17. This study re-emphasizes the importance of primary prevention by showing that early drug initiation is associated with increased risk of later drug problems, and it provides more evidence for why preventing marijuana experimentation during adolescence could have an impact on preventing addiction.62


Index

Letter from the Director

What is marijuana?

What is the scope of marijuana use in the United States?

How does marijuana affect the brain?

What are the acute effects of marijuana use?

How does marijuana use affect physical health?

How does marijuana use affect school, work, and social life?

Can marijuana use during pregnancy harm the baby?

Is marijuana use addictive?

What treatments are available for marijuana abusers?

Where can I get further scientific information about marijuana?

Glossary and References

 

Marijuana Abuse Research Report Cover



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