The most commonly abused illicit drug in the United States is marijuana. Statistics from 2007 indicate that 14 million Americans over the age of 12 use marijuana at least once a month. In 2006 marijuana abuse was responsible for 16% of admissions to treatment facilities in the United States.
There is argument that an individual cannot become addicted to marijuana. However continued use of marijuana will lead an individual to meet the criteria set forth in the DSM IV for a definition of “substance dependence.” These indicators include: increased tolerance; compulsive drug seeking and use despite consequences to work, social, occupational and family functioning; and presence of withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms include irritability, sleeplessness, decreased appetite, anxiety and drug craving.
Considered by many to be harmless, marijuana actually has a significant impact on mental health as well as the lungs and heart. Chronic marijuana users experience mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, lack of motivation, suicidal ideation and signs of schizophrenia. The lungs are greatly impacted as marijuana smoke contains 50-70% more carcinogen hydrocarbons than tobacco smoke. This coupled with the fact marijuana smoke is inhaled deeply and held as long as possible greatly increases the lungs exposure to these carcinogens. Lastly, marijuana increases heart rate by 20 to 100% shortly after smoking. It has been estimated that marijuana smokers have a 4.8 fold increase in the risk of heart attack in the first hour after smoking the drug.
Marijuana is far from harmless. It can affect an individual’s mental as well as physical health.