Thoughts on its Use, Abuse, and Legalization
by Paul Schmidt, Ph.D.
I have never really had a position or opinion on marijuana, and in recent weeks I have grown weary of this ignorance. To prepare my thoughts on this subject, I have done three things. First, I have obtained professional training as a certified addictions specialist from the International Institute for Addiction and Trauma Professionals. Secondly I have spent several hours looking through the research on the effects of marijuana use (news flash: it is profoundly inconclusive). Finally, I have discussed the positive and negative effects of marijuana with over 100 people who have used it, and with almost as many of their loved ones who had their own opinions about how pot had affected these people for better or for worse. I have also spoken with other mental health practitioners about what they have read, and what they have observed with the folks they have treated.
Depending on the situation and the person using it, any effect of marijuana may be considered positive or negative, beneficial or harmful. Therefore I will just list the effects without judgment, starting with generally the most widely acknowledged, and proceeding to the less:
- Long period of effectiveness (stays in your blood 20 times longer than alcohol)
- Higher serotonin levels during use, giving a sense of wellbeing
- Habitual users show shrunken brain structure that are responsible for motivation, emotion, and decision-making (the amygdala and the nucleus accumbens)
- Some of its users abuse it episodically (don’t just get high, but wasted, stoned)
- Some of these users abuse it chronically (get addicted, become pot-heads)
- Lowered levels of stress (sometimes it’s a sedative)
- Heightened awareness of physical sensations, especially appetite (sometimes it’s a stimulant)
- Heightened awareness of fantasy and imagination (sometimes it’s an hallucinogen)
- Sometimes people are surprised by its effects (it may relax, stimulate, or inspire/confuse, or some combo effect)
- User’s attention is drawn more inward
- Both short-term and long-term, there is lowered ambition, drive, self-discipline, especially with career and money
- More frequently showing the attitude of “I don’t much care, I don’t give a flip”
The most widely recognized positive uses of marijuana are with medical patients who are fighting chronic, debilitating, perhaps even fatal stress-fed conditions, such as cancer, Parkinsons, PTSD, ADHD, etc. It also benefits neurotic, overly responsible people who need temporary assistance learning to loosen up in a recreational setting. However it has not had good outcomes with people suffering from confusion and inner turmoil, such as schizophrenics and folks with mood disorders, because they become more withdrawn into their troubled selves. Nor would it seem to be good for passive, disengaged individuals who are under-achieving in their financial and career lives, or for married people and parents who aren’t well connected or bonded with their significant others.
Compared to beverage alcohol, booze leads people initially to higher levels of social interaction and other purposeful activities. Pot on the other hand leads its users to become more passive spectators, more likely to withdraw from social activities, at least from those people who don’t use marijuana. In short, alcohol tends to make folks more active and passionate, whereas pot tends to make its users more passive and reflective. Alcohol initially expands the intensity of whatever it is poured out onto, whereas marijuana puts a calming fog down on whatever it finds. Pot therefore has a much better and far less damaging effect than alcohol does on people who are angry, or driving a vehicle.
Legalizing marijuana use is likely to have similar effects on society as legalizing gambling has had. There will be more of it done, and less fear and shame for doing it. It will be more popular with lower classes whose lifestyles evoke higher levels of anger, tension and stress. Therefore it will raise more money for government and big business at the disproportionate expense of the lower and middle classes.
So how can you determine if your use of pot is having a more positive or negative effect on your life, and on those around you? The answer is as simple as it is painful and challenging. List four or five things that you most want to accomplish or experience in life. (If you have trouble doing this, you might be getting TMW, “too much weed.”) Then ask one or two adults who depend on you the most to answer the same question about you (to list four or five things they most want you to accomplish or experience in life). Then exchange copies of your lists so that all of you are looking at the same expanded list of goals. Finally everyone is given list of marijuana’s effects bulletized above, asked to consider its effects on all the various hopes and goals for your life, and to give a number from -5 to +5 on how they believe smoking pot will affect your chances of fulfilling each particular dream. When you get everyone’s papers back, the numbers will pretty much answer your question.
Dr. Paul Schmidt is a psychologist life coach in Kentucky, the younger brother of vacationing columnist Dick Schmidt. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.