Is Weed Blunting Your Brain?

by | Mar 31, 2014 | Health

Think the grass is cleaner? That might be the schizophrenia talking.

Most men, in the right company, will admit to a potted history. Truth is, the odd toke won’t cause long-term problems, but when dagga becomes a habit it affects far more than your takeaways intake. Raging paranoia, higher risk of respiratory and cardiovascular problems plus frazzled brain chemistry make cannabis a gateway drug that will slam the door on your health faster than you can say, “Dude, it’s only a joint.”

THE DIAGNOSIS: This Sh*t Ain’t Cool
First of all, let’s deal with those “soft drug” arguments. Marijuana’s medicinal uses are well documented. Globally, at least 119 million adults are getting high, according to the UN’s World Drug Report. 
At home, it’s illegal (unlike our Dutch forefather’s who don’t face 
the same restrictions), but every so often someone will bring it to court. At the moment there’s an application that’s been lodged by 
a Rastafarian at the Western Cape High Court challenging a bunch 
of legislation that outlaws dagga. But that doesn’t stop South Africans from lighting up – the South African Journal of Psychiatry has reported that cannabis is the most common illicit substance used 
in South Africa.

But before you change religion for a life of weed-wreathed bliss, take note: the majority of research into marijuana’s health effects is a downer. “Even moderate use can have major physical and psychological consequences,” says Dr William Shanahan, medical director at London’s Capio Nightingale Mental Health Hospital. A 2012 study in the journal Cancer was the third to link cannabis with testicular cancer, while Professor Craig Jackson of Birmingham City University says dope smoking causes “a significant drop in your IQ and cognitive abilities”.

One of the most dangerous consequences is the potential damage 
to your mental health. Thanks to hallucinogenic THC, cannabis strains such as “skunk” can make you seven times more likely to develop a psychotic illness, such as schizophrenia. Regular users can also expect “erratic mood swings, anxiety, panic attacks, paranoia and incapacitating depression,” says Shanahan. Time to weed it out.

THE SYMPTOMS: It’s Not Just “Recreational”
• Bad news and bad moods send you running to your bong
• You still own a bong
• Friends think you’re always hungover due to your bloodshot eyes and dry mouth
• You still believe Pineapple Express was comedic perfection
• You spend more than R150 a week on munchies
• You set deadlines for cutting down or quitting, then postpone them as they approach
• You’re often paranoid or excessively anxious
• You cancel appointments, work or sport to spend more time getting high
• You can’t remember what you just read

THE BENEFITS: What You Gain By Quitting
A healthier heart
You have a lower risk of respiratory symptoms and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease once the pot is planted. Source: Canadian Medical Association Journal

Happier cells
Your cells and DNA are safer – marijuana smoke causes significantly damage to them. Upshot: reduced cancer risk. Source: American Chemical Society

Improved sex life
Erections are much easier to achieve without the deadening effect of cannabis on receptors in your penis. Source: Journal of Sexual Medicine

THE PRESCRIPTION: Keep Off the Grass, Man
To paraphrase Snoop, you can drop it like it’s hot. Weed is the least addictive of the most popular drugs, caffeine and alcohol included: 91% of users won’t get hooked.
That said, cold turkey can be tough. “But if you’re experiencing withdrawal symptoms, then you’re probably addicted on some level,” says Dr Rehana Kader, a Cape Town based clinical psychologist who works in addiction, “and the medical way to treat addiction is by detoxfication.”
Cannabis withdrawal lasts up to a week. Lower your caffeine intake to combat sleeplessness during that time and line up a friend you can call if you feel close to relapse. NB not your dealer.
Personal trainer Daniel Kingham, a former heavy user, says: 
“Throw yourself into your training and the habit will have to give,” and ensure you’re hanging out with active friends. The endorphin rush from a game of five-a-side football, say, will clear your pot-fug apathy. Snack on oranges at half time: citrus fruits contain limonin which protects against cancer, while their high vitamin C content bolsters your weed-depleted immune system. Far more nutritious than that fourth bag of cheese and onion chips.

If you’re struggling to quit, clinics can assist. Find a course or therapist at Harmony Group. The grass is greener on the other side.

– Ed Vanstone

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