There are many drugs, legal and illegal, that are used on a daily basis all over the world. Currently, drugs remain high on the lists of concerns of Americans and are considered one of the major problems facing our country today. We see stories on the news about people being killed on the street every day over drugs. To many people drugs are only an inner-city problem, but in reality they affect all of us – users and non-users. I believe that the negative affects we associate with drugs would be greatly reduced if the United States adopted a policy towards the total decriminalization of marijuana. The current drug policy of our government is obviously failing. Drug laws have created corruption, violence, increased street crime, and disrespect for the criminal justice system. Current drug legislation has failed to reduce demand. It’s just too hard to monitor illegal substances when a significant portion of the population is committed to using drugs, especially when all of these drugs affect the brain, just in different ways. The most commonly used illegal drug is the drug known as marijuana or cannabis.
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Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main, active ingredient in marijuana, temporarily alters brain functioning that affects sensory perception, reflexes, and coordination. If a drug interferes with its production and causes too much to be produced the result is extremely pleasurable and can lead to severe abuse and addiction. The average marijuana plant contains over 400 chemicals and when the plant is smoked or vaporized the heat produces many more chemicals. However, it is said that marijuana is an illegal drug that has many beneficial uses. The marijuana experience itself does not miraculously cure. Instead, it allows the body a breathing space from the tensions of imbalance, while exposing the mental confusion of the mind. The marijuana experience of balance becomes a learned and, over time, somewhat permanent response as the essential human tendency to homeostasis is reawakened and the natural healing process restored. (The Benefits of Marijuana: Physical, Psychological, & Spiritual: Pg. 49). Marijuana is frequently beneficial to the treatment of AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, and chronic pain. However, researchers have been working to explain how marijuana has harmful affects on the functions of central nervous system and hinders the memory and movement of the user’s brain.
“Marijuana impinges on the central nervous system by attaching to brain’s neurons and interfering with normal communication between the neurons. These nerves respond by altering their initial behavior. For example, if a nerve is suppose to assist one in retrieving short-term memory, cannabinoids receptors make them do the opposite. So if one has to remember what he did five minutes ago, after smoking a high dose of marijuana, he has trouble. ” (Akudo Ejelonu Pg. 27)
The most common affect that marijuana has on the brain is short-term memory loss. Although it is said that marijuana has very many affects such as sleepiness, increased hunger, altered sense of time, reduced ability to perform tasks requiring concentration and coordination, such as driving, or studying for an exam, bloodshot eyes and risk of paranoia, hallucinations, intense anxiety, panic attacks, short-term memory loss is the symptom most commonly associated with the use of marijuana. The question is why? Why does smoking marijuana impair a person’s memory? Many scientists have been searching to find the answer for this question. The active ingredient of marijuana, THC, is known to impair memory and to bind to areas of the brain linked to memory. When the researchers injected rats with THC or a related synthetic drug at Rutgers University, they found that they acted much like an orchestra where the musicians are deafened and perhaps blindfolded.
“They could still play their own pieces, but without any feedback from the other instruments played by other musicians or the conductor, depending on the nature and the length of the music played, it could be just a bit worse or outright disastrous, even though every note has been played. What is missing is the temporal coordination,” Buzsaki explained. This is similar to what the researchers think goes on “in the hippocampal circuits under the influence of marijuana.”
According to research, in one memory test, long-time users of marijuana remembered seven of 15 words, on average. Non-users remembered 12 of 15. On a decision-making test, those who had rarely smoked pot had impaired performance 8 percent of time, while long-term smokers had 70 percent impairment. Although all these things may be true, there is still a possibility that marijuana may be the cure to diseases that affect memory, such Alzheimer’s disease.
Another affect that marijuana has on the brain is concentration. It is said that when a person smokes marijuana they are unable to perform tasks that involve serious concentration such as studying, driving, etc. However, scientist found it strange that most students who smoke weed before a test do better than those who do not. The reason for this is not because marijuana helps concentration, but because marijuana is the type of drug that will calm down students because most students suffer from pre-test anxiety. This is not to say that students should smoke pot before every test or period for that matter. Marijuana decreases attention and concentration. One study showed that young people who reported driving frequently while on marijuana were twice as likely to be involved in accidents. It seems that the marijuana-induced changes in perception and sense of time may be entertaining in the living room but can be deadly on the highway. Marijuana affects all of the skills that are necessary to drive safely. The effects include diminished capacity to accurately judge distances, slower reflexes, and distorted perceptions of how fast you are going.
Many important brain functions which affect human behavior involve the neurotransmitter dopamine. Serious drugs of abuse, such as heroin and cocaine, interfere with the brain’s use of dopamine in manners that can seriously alter an individual’s behavior. A drug’s ability to affect the neural systems related to dopamine production has now become the defining characteristic of drugs with serious abuse potential. According to the congressional Office of Technology Assessment, research over the last 10 years has proved that marijuana has no effect on dopamine-related brain systems. The dominant fear about marijuana in the 20th century has been that its effects were somehow similar to the dangerously addictive effects of opiates such as morphine and heroin. Marijuana also affects receptors in brain areas and structures responsible for sensory perception. Marijuana interferes with the receiving of sensory messages (for example, touch, sight, hearing, taste, and smell) in the cerebral cortex (Gettman 42). Recent research in animals has also suggested that long-term use of marijuana (THC) produces changes in the limbic system that are similar to those that occur after long-term use of other major drugs of abuse such as cocaine, heroin, and alcohol. These changes are most evident during withdrawal from THC. During withdrawal, there are increases in both the levels of a brain chemical involved in stress and certain emotions. These same kinds of changes also occur during withdrawal from other drugs of abuse, suggesting that there may be a common factor in the development of drug dependence. It is obvious that marijuana is an illegal drug that has its affects on the brain. For that reason it is very important that we do not ignore the face that it is being abused and seen a lot more lightly than other drugs that are said to have a more dangerous affect on our minds and bodies. It is clear that throughout research there has been beneficial factors to the use of marijuana for medical purposes but that is not to say that it is okay use to try to “prevent illness” because as good as that may sound it is unrealistic and still illegal. Marijuana is dried leaves and flowers from a cannabis plants that, when taken into the human body allow people to experience a calm called euphoria. But one has to wonder if a few moments of euphoria is worth a lifetime of damage to the brain.