As Bollywood finds itself in a drug mess, how harmful is marijuana? Let's find out
Bollywood seems to be going to pot. The NCB is seeing smoke wherever they suspect a fire and artists are being interrogated or thrown in jail for marijuana use. Considered a sign of youthful rebellion after being introduced to the world by the hippie generation, it is today the most consumed drug in India and possibly even on earth. Last year, the Great Legalisation Movement India Trust sought judicial intervention to get cannabis removed from the NDPS Act.
The petition claimed this can help create employment, defeat stress, improve concentration and provide sustainable farm incomes. Are they right? Perhaps not, say experts. THC in cannabis is the principal element that impacts the nervous system and causes alterations in perception, mood, consciousness, cognition and behaviour. THC merges quickly with the bloodstream, causing a high in minutes or even seconds, only to come down in about half-an-hour or so, to a total sober up in one-three hours. It stimulates the part of the brain that responds to pleasure like food and sex by unleashing dopamine, which generates euphoria.
The downside? Risky sex, putting the user in danger for related diseases, uncontrolled eating and alcohol use. Like any psychotropic substance, marijuana affects the mind the most. It has been proved to cause acute psychosis, either with ‘passive symptoms’ (being withdrawn and detached) or ‘active’ (elation, delusions, visual hallucinations and even violence.) The psychotic experiences in the form of flashbacks could occur in some a few weeks after the psychosis has subsided. Researchers calculate that a five or more joints a day habit over many years would lead to psychosis.
Cannabis is known to atrophy the brain in some users. MR-PET brain scans of cannabis consumers have shown changes in regions that affect memory and attention. It also causes short-term memory loss. “The drug has gained a bad reputation for jeopardising brain signals and quickly altering (sometimes permanently if things go wrong), perception. It can lead to random neural activity disabling you to make correct decisions,” says Delhi-based addiction recovery specialist Prathima Prasad. Such users could lose the ability to focus and learn new things.
Data in UK showed drivers who have smoked-up cause double the number of car accidents than sober drivers. Though cannabis is used to treat anxiety attacks and epilepsy, it boosts cerebral activity by rushing the blood-flow to the brain. This could increase the diastolic blood-pressure and cause heart-attacks, warns a paper in an open access, peer reviewed journal.
The absence of credible amounts of data makes marijuana use a pesky subject. Its influence on the body is more clinically apparent. THC reduces immunity in most users. Since cannabis is usually inhaled, the lungs get impacted the most, causing chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The smoke will inflame and irritate the lungs and cause breathing problems similar to cigarette smokers. A persistent ongoing cough with coloured mucus is a sign of cannabis misuse, which makes the lungs prone to infections.
Centers for Disease Control data points out those pregnant mothers who smoke marijuana could bear underweight or premature babies. According to limited evidence, heavy marijuana use could cause testicular cancer. Pot is said to diminish chemo-induced nausea, but comprehensible information of dosage, efficacy and side-effects is not available according to the most authoritative report by the US National Academy of Medicine.
Insufficient evidence is the hurdle. This is applicable to the effect of cannabis on diseases from epilepsy to Tourette syndrome to A.L.S to Parkinson’s disease to irritable-bowel syndrome to dementia to glaucoma. The problem is that there is no way to confirm how potent recreational or medical marijuana is. In spite of claims to the contrary, marijuana is addictive. One in six teenage smokers can get hooked on pot. It’s deemed more dangerous for older people—1 in 2 among daily users.
“Regulatory bodies should make stringent rules for controlling the supply of drugs, especially in and around school and college premises. But ultimately it boils down to individual responsibility because if there is demand, there will be supply. Parents too need to curb expectations and stop comparisons between children,” says Shradha Maheshwari, Neurosurgeon, HOD at Cooper Hospital, Mumbai.
Doctor Jacques-Joseph Moreau, a 19th-century French physician, was the first to document the effects of the drug. In Paris, the city of artists, writers, thinker and actors, cannabis was a popular drug used at special smoking sessions at the Club des Haschishins. Moreau noted depersonalisation, hallucinations and confusion as powerful by-products.
He wrote, the mental changes that hashish causes ranges from simple manic elation to insane rage, from the weakest impulse to the most irresistible compulsion, to the wildest delirium...” Though cannabis is cultivated in around 400 of India’s 670 districts, the medicinal benefits of cannabis are yet to be clearly evidenced.
Myth: Because marijuana is a natural plant, it doesn’t cause harm
Reality: Chances of it being fatal upon direct consumption are unlikely but it can cause serious long-term damages and destabilize your mind and motor functioning. It can also make you susceptible to anxiety and depression.
Myth: One can safely drive after the consumption of marijuana.
Reality: Even a mild dose of the drug can cause impairment of the senses altering focus, orientation and reflexes.
Myth: Marijuana isn’t as addictive as it’s made out to be.
Reality: With prolonged use, the drug can be extremely addictive and it’s the main choice of drugs among adolescents