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   Debunking the Myth

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Debunking the myth:  ‘It’s not a drug, it’s only pot’
By George Guevara

      Depending on who you talk to, you will get a variety of answers to it importance in our society, but whether you are against marijuana use or think it is an OK thing that you use to relax with, or, if you aren’t really sure the role marijuana plays in our society, I will give you some facts.  Facts, which are indisputable.  Facts, which are undeniable, even by proponents of marijuana. 

     Marijuana contains a little more than 60 compounds called cannabinoids.  The most psychoactive of these compounds is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).  There is a metabolite of one of these compounds.  Hydroxy THC, which causes the user to feel euphoric, also causes impairment but the feeling of euphoria so the user might not be aware he or she is still impaired.  Sophisticated growing techniques cause the potency of the marijuana plant to vary widely.  As a result of selective breeding, much of the marijuana smoked today can contain 10 to 20 times more THC than the pot smoked in the 1960s and ‘70s.

      In addition to the 60-plus compounds, there are more then 400 other chemicals also found in the marijuana plant.  The effects of many are still unknown.  As marijuana is inhaled into the lungs, the THC molecules slip through tissue-paper-thin air sacs into the lungs and the bloodstream.  In just a few minutes, the THC is en route for the brain.  A biological barrier in the brain admits oxygen, hormones, nutrients and sugar it needs to function while blocking out harmful and unnecessary compounds.  This is a self-defense mechanism triggered by the body/brain to protect itself. 

      Certain psychoactive drugs, however, can pierce this protective barrier. 

     The THC and other cannabinoids dissolve in the cellular membranes of the brain.  These membranes are composed of fat molecules.  The THC and other cannabinoids can remain in the body for weeks.  The brain, however, is not the only part of the body affected.  The molecules dissolve in the liver, lungs, ovaries, testicles and kidneys. 

     Unlike alcohol and other water-soluble drugs that are eliminated from the body at a standardized rate, cannabinoids slowly pass as a liquid to carry off the THC soluble compounds from the fat and re-enter the bloodstream before finally being purged via the urine.  Inside the brain, each neuron (nerve cell) generates small electrical signals (or currents).  Biochemicals called neurotransmitters pass between the neurons to shuttle along these signals until all the brain receptors need to process and store an image, message, thought, sound or sensation has been completed.  Certain neurons, especially those that mediate balance, perception of time and distance, sound and color along with glucose craving, having receptors that readily bind with THC.  The THC molecules in turn distort part of the brain’s information processing system, altering perception of time and distance, while altering sound and distorting visual images.  The interaction of THC with brain receptors triggers intracellular signals that produce the high experienced by marijuana users.

     Among chronic users, the continual pounding of the cells by THC may lead to a tolerance for the drug.  When this happens, the marijuana user needs more and more pot to get that same “high” feeling even though the body and mind are impaired.  THC in combination with alcohol has a greater effect than either by itself.  While marijuana distorts information processing, alcohol enhances the effects of a neurotransmitter called GABA (Gamma Amino Butyric Acid), which binds itself to neurons and slows their rate of feeling and producing a sedative effect.  THC also can reduce nausea.  Vomiting is another of the body’s self defense mechanisms of purging poisonous substances.  If the vomit message is suppressed, as it is during marijuana use, high and dangerous amounts of alcohol can remain in the body, and in extreme cases, cause alcohol poisoning, organ damage and even death.  Studies show that inside the brain, THC suppresses the neurons of the hippocampus (where short-term memories are processed and sent to other areas of the brain for storage). 

    As a result, the ability to learn and remember recent events may be hampered.   Smoking marijuana also delivers three times more tar than smoking tobacco.  Its irritating smoke dilates (enlarges) blood vessels.  (It is not the smoke that dilates blood vessels, but the drug itself.  This dilation of the blood vessels also causes the bloodshot eyes.)  It also reddens the eyes and inflames the soft and delicate tissues of the nasal canal.  Regular use can lead to chronic bronchitis.  Based on Studies, it is possible that marijuana may impair the ability of the white cells to fight off infection.  The marijuana also affects the appetite sensors in the brain stem, which causes cravings of sugary food – “munchies.”  Another intrusion to the body is the pituitary gland, which regulates sex hormones.  In women, ovulation may be inhibited.  In men, studies have shown a reduction in sperm production.  Users are also prone to anxiety attacks and are susceptible to possible birth defects, still births and infant death.  Studies show there are stages of development in drug use, though one drug doesn’t inevitably lead to the next stage of abuse.  A marijuana user most likely started with alcohol and cigarettes. 

     Research also shows few people experiment and abuse other illicit drugs without trying marijuana first (thus, the term “gateway drug”).  When a person is injured, endorphins lock on to natural opiate receptors in the brain to temporarily block out pain. Marijuana has analgesic qualities, which provides an additional method for dulling and muting pain.  Pot has another negative quality.  It raises the heart’s oxygen needs while lowering its supply.  A few drags on a marijuana cigarette can over stimulate the heart muscle enough to push the heart rate from a normal (resting) rate of about 70 beats per minute to 100 beats per minute and higher.  This means that the heart requires more oxygen.  Marijuana also elevates carbon monoxide levels in the blood, reducing the oxygen supply to the body.  So, the next time someone tells you “it’s not a drug, it’s only pot,” you’ll know that they are uninformed as to the real dangers of marijuana.

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