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What is Marijuana?
Marijuana is another term for the Cannabis plant and its flowers, which are illegal under federal law. However, many states are ending their marijuana restrictions, some for medical reasons and some for medical or recreational purposes. The cannabis flowers are dried and smoked to release a range of cannabinoids which produce a psychoactive and/or therapeutic effect. THC is the primary cannabinoid that users seek for its psychoactive effects. Since 1996, when California successfully legalized the plant for medical use, marijuana has been increasingly legitimized and legalized nationwide.
Medical marijuana patients use the plant for a wide number of ailments. Cancer and HIV patients use it to alleviate their symptoms. Marijuana can stimulate appetite, is used for pain reduction, eases anxiety, and can facilitate sleep at night, among other uses. While there is some evidence for marijuana's anti-tumor properties, the science is far from complete.
As a recreational drug, some categorize marijuana with the psychedelic drugs. Some users report heightened experiences with food and music, among other activities. Users also find that it can distort one's sense of time passing. On the other hand, it can be used to stimulate creativity.
Marijuana is used by people from all walks of life and is the second most popular psychoactive drug, after alcohol. Given its newfound legal liberation in many states, use is likely to extend to older people in the future, as well as many others who might not have access to or be interested in using the black market stuff.
Common Side Effects of Marijuana
Marijuana's legal status has been growing rapidly in the past few years. While the substance has almost never been the direct, singular cause of death for a user and is largely considered to be a benign substance, particularly when compared with the myriad harms caused by alcohol, marijuana still has side effects that users should be aware of prior to use.
One of the first side effects comes from inhaling the smoke. Heavy users report contracting a wheeze and will often experience coughing fits upon inhaling the smoke. When the psychoactive effects set in, users find that new side effects can emerge.
One of the most negative side effects comes in the form of paranoia. When users smoke or eat too much cannabis they can fall into a powerful, fearful state. Some may fear that they will never become sober again, that they have purchased tainted goods, or that someone is out to get them. Though these effects can be terrifying they are relatively benign, as long as the person can be kept from making any rash decisions while in this state, and usually dissipate after an hour or so.
Interactions of Alcohol and Marijuana
Since alcohol and marijuana are the two most-used psychoactive substances in the nation, if not world, they are bound to cross paths from time to time. Thankfully, mixing the two does not usually cause any life threatening reactions. However, the brew is far from benign and users should be aware of the dangers.
When a drinker introduces cannabis to the mix, the effects of the both substance are enhanced. At low doses, and in safe surroundings, this is often considered enjoyable. However, the enhanced high can result in a disoriented feeling of spinning, nausea, vomiting, and sweats or more intense reactions of panic or extreme paranoia. There is also a real danger that the combined use will trigger a tolerance. When users start seeking more extreme effects, the potential for alcohol poisoning and addiction rise precipitously. Users will likely need to increase their marijuana intake to keep pace with the need for a stronger sensation.
Use also increases when users experience a difficult time in their lives, such as the loss of a loved one, the end of a relationship, or even mental illness. In order to medicate, they use alcohol alongside cannabis, the may become intoxicated to a point where they lose perspective and grossly overindulge. Further, the combination may disorient them to such a point that they lose all good judgment, along with physical dexterity.
Alcohol Poisoning and Marijuana Overdose
When using any psychoactive substance, overdose is always a possible outcome. However, not every overdose is equal. An alcoholic overdose can be fatal or leave lasting damage, while a marijuana overdose might be very unpleasant but has almost never been found to be fatal on its own.
Alcohol overdose is often called alcohol poisoning, but they mean the exact same. When drinkers experience an overdose, they may begin by slurring their words, have memory problems in the form of a blackout, have difficulty walking straight, and can become aggressive. As their drinking progresses, they might experience seizures, lose consciousness, vomit, and even slip into a coma and eventually die when their breathing slows past the point of safety.
Such an alcoholic overdose is often symptomatic of a chronic alcoholic condition, as those with a higher tolerance are more prone to overdose. However, younger and inexperienced drinkers are also known to overdose on alcohol when they fail to understand their own limits or succumb to peer pressure to drink far more than is prudent. This is a particular danger when they are not properly educated regarding the toxic nature of alcohol. Further, when drinking is treated as a deviant, criminal behavior, teenagers may turn to binge drinking as a form of rebellion.
Marijuana, on the other hand, can be over-used and induce an overdose as well. Though the consequences aren't as dire as with alcohol, users can experience paranoia, heart arrhythmia, and even psychotic episodes. Like alcohol, the legal treatment of cannabis can lend the substance an air of deviance and rebellion which may feed over-use.
Cannabis users who don't wish to smoke or otherwise inhale might turn to an edible form for their THC delivery. Edibles pose perhaps the largest overdose threat. This is because the drug takes longer to take effect (prompting users to ingest more), often delivers a more intense effect, and lasts much longer than when an equivalent amount is smoked. In legal markets, users can purchase regulated products that have measured doses. Users who are unsure of dosage should find candies with 5mg of THC or products with a 1:1 THC/CBD ratio. There are also candies with more CBD, which is a cannabinoid that "levels off" the more extreme impact of THC.
Withdrawal after a period of heavy drinking is a risky proposition. Drinkers may first experience depression, anxiety, and deep cravings for drink or even sugar. More advanced, and dangerous, withdrawal symptoms include delusions, shakes, tremor, seizures, and high blood pressure that can lead to heart attack and/or death.
Marijuana also has a set of withdrawal symptoms for heavy users. Within the first 1-3 days, users will begin to experience withdrawal symptoms. The withdrawal process can then last for up to four weeks. Heavy cannabis users may experience difficulty sleeping, irritability, reduced appetite, and headaches. More extreme symptoms can include shakiness, flu-like symptoms, and abdominal pain.
When users experience an overdose of their drug of choice, it's advised that they seek some form of treatment. For an alcoholic overdose, drinkers should be taken to a hospital where they can have their stomach pumped and remain under observation until the drug has processed out of their system. More extreme cases may need to remain under medical care while they undergo a full detoxification process.
If cannabis users overdose, it's important that they realize what is happening to them. If they are paranoid and fearful that they are dying or that aliens laced their stash, knowledge that cannabis often has this effect can be helpful. Some recommend chewing on peppercorns, taking a hot bath with Epsom salts, or sleep.
Some cannabis users may find that their use has gotten out of control. When smoking, eating, or vaporizing cannabis becomes a source of trouble in one's life, it is recommended that they undergo a period of withdrawal. The withdrawal symptoms are not life-threatening, and detoxification can proceed at home. However, it may be useful to seek support from a 12-step community or to find some other source of strength. For instance, some might renew an interest in exercise or a hobby they've been neglecting.
However, if you discover that you have been abusing cannabis and alcohol together, it’s just as important for you as it is for any life-long alcoholic to undergo treatment for overdose or withdrawal under the supervision of a medical professional. Co-occurring use of any two drugs can create unexpected symptoms or intensify those you know are coming. Only medical professionals are prepared to deal with some of the life-threatening symptoms this can create.