BY SYD SINGER – If you smoke marijuana you are not going to like what I am about to say. That’s because pot smokers are extremely defensive about their drug, with religious like zeal. They believe it is the best thing that ever happened to them, and wish the entire world smoked weed to end wars, disease, and oppression. When they are not stoned they wish they were, and when they are stoned they worry about their supply. And like religious proselytes, they spread the word of weeds magical powers to get more smokers joining the mellow revolution. Now joining in their spread of the holy herb are agribusiness and the government, each wanting a piece of the pot.
I am sorry that those who use this powerful herbal substance will not hear this message, since they are the ones who most need it. Like the zombie-like people in the movie, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, these people have been taken over by a plant, their minds altered so their reality is no longer the same as unstoned peoples’. That’s because the chemicals in marijuana alter the way the brain regulates itself.
Marijuana contains many types of related chemicals called cannabinoids, which is why marijuana is also called cannabis. Our brain also produces these cannabinoids, and they function by inhibiting the secretion of different neurotransmitters, each cannabinoid have different effects on different neurotransmitters. If the neurotransmitter is something that calms your brain, then the cannabinoid inhibition of this will result in increased stimulation and activity of the functions for which that neurotransmitter was responsible. Conversely, if the cannabinoid inhibited neurotransmitter was something that excited your brain, its inhibition would result in calming.
THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is one of the best known cannabinoids in marijuana, responsible for the feeling of being high. It has been synthesized in the lab and sold as a drug under the name of Marinol. It inhibits calming neurotransmitters, which is why one’s mind races with this drug. People interpret this as having new insights and creativity. It results from increased brain activity. But too much THC, and the brain can have so much activity that it has a seizure, which is a known side effect of Marinol. The sativa variety of marijuana is high in THC.
On the other hand, there is cannabidiol, another cannabinoid that does the opposite of THC in that it calms the brain by inhibiting neurotransmitters that excite the brain. This reduces seizure activity, and makes you sleepy, and is higher in indica varieties of pot. It is this cannabinoid that is being promoted more now for medical benefits than for getting high.
Clearly, these herbs are powerful with potent impacts on not only the brain but on the entire body. Heart rate increases as blood pressure drops, and in some people this feeling of rapid heart rate gives the feeling of panic. Paranoia caused by the drug is made worse by a rapid heart rate. For some, the low blood pressure can cause light-headedness and even fainting, since less blood goes to the brain. Overall reduced circulation can cause cold hands and feet. Some people get dry mouth and dry eyes.
Of course, studying the chemicals in raw marijuana does not really give you the actual picture of what people absorb when they smoke or eat the herb. Smoking causes varying degrees of oxidation of hundreds of chemicals in the herb, and some of these oxidized products can be physiologically and psychologically active. In fact, the heavy stoned feeling some people desire is from the burned products of the herb and not from the cannabinoids.
The recent surge in the use of vaporizers is due in part to the desire to avoid smoking and the resulting harm breathing in heated and sooty air causes to the mouth, tongue, throat, voice box, and lungs. Vaporizers heat the herb to a lower temperature than that required for burning the plant material, but high enough to burn the crystals of cannabinoids that make the weed sticky. Since the heat of vaporized air is lower than when smoking a joint, it is easier to take a deep breath and hold it in. Seems like a solution for those who want the effects of the cannabinoids but not the harm of smoking.
Unfortunately, since the vaporizing effect is not as “stoney” as smoking for many people, despite delivering more cannabinoid, many people still smoke a joint in addition to vaporizing. This may lead to overdoses.
Of course, the pro-marijuana interest groups will say you can’t OD on marijuana. They say that this herb is powerful medicine, but unlike other medicine, you can’t kill yourself by consuming too much of it. However, overdosing does not always lead to death. People who are incapacitated by eating too much marijuana brownie know what it feels like to be overdosed on this herb. So do people with panic attacks, or exacerbated psychoses, or seizures, headaches, palpitations, or fainting. Weed people think there is no limit to how much weed you can consume. That’s typical of addicts. They have become accustomed to the drug and tolerate it more than neophytes users.
Clearly, this herb has potential medicinal uses. It needs to be better dose adjusted since the potency of herbs are not reliable. And the variety of herb determines its cannabinoid content, so different varieties have different impacts. Also, the cannabinoids are fat soluble chemicals, which means they are not easily excreted from the body but instead are stored in fat cells and slowly released. It takes months to get these chemicals out of your body, and there may be times when you feel stoned weeks or months after stopping the use of the herb as the chemicals are released, especially when you are fasting and fat cells are mobilized. So this is a drug, like other drugs, that needs to be taken cautiously.
Unfortunately, there is the recreational side of marijuana that is being promoted. Opiods, stimulants, and other drugs are used recreationally, as well, in addition to their medical applications. Such use is harmful to the mind and body, and can cause real problems in one’s relationships, work, and overall life.
At first, marijuana gives a sense of euphoria and well being. But that effect is short lived, and requires more and more herb to achieve that feeling, leading to fatigue and low energy. It can make you feel manic for a while, but you pay for that by feeling depressed later. And it gives you a different sense of the world that is paranoid, distrustful, alienated, and antisocial. It changes your personality and the way you perceive the world and those around you. Sometimes this can be therapeutic, to give you a different perspective of the world. But once you get lost in your stoned state, you lose perspective again and no longer see the real world.
Our culture encourages and profits greatly from selling mind altering drugs. We are born into a world not of our own choosing, with economic and environmental realities we may not like. Drugs are used to offer a temporary escape from reality. But once you are addicted to that drug, you can’t escape the false sense of reality it has created for you.
It’s not just marijuana that serves this function. Nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine are our culture’s most common mind altering drugs. They all have medical uses, and are all used recreationally, as well. All have had histories of government prohibition at one time or another. And like our current cultural flirtation with legalizing recreational marijuana, all these prohibitions have failed.
There is something seductive about these drugs. We can’t change reality as easily as we can change, through our use of them, our sense of reality. But in the long run, this makes us slaves to these drugs and those who produce them, and disempowers us in making the changes to that reality from which we have chosen to instead escape.