Marijuana:  Thoughts on its Use, Abuse, and Legalization

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 cannabis 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.

The main active ingredient in cannabis is THC, which is short for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, found and the leaves and flowers of the marijuana plant.  The concentrated form of this substance is a more addictive drug, hashish.

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:

Physical addiction in the form of dependence does not often occur, but it is always useful to look at 10 signs of any addiction.  Licensed addictionologists such as myself know that research often defines an addiction as the presence of three or more of 10 signs.  The following are ten hallmarks for any addiction:

   ___   impulse control (recurrent failure to resist impulses to use/act out),

   ___   broken plans (frequency/duration of use keeps exceeding what’s planned),

   ___   can’t quit (persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to stop for good),

   ___   time loss (using takes up excessive amounts of time),

   ___   preoccupation (thoughts of using keep intruding),

   ___   irresponsibility (using occurs during times committed to obligations or responsibilities),

   ___   social fallout (recurrent negative consequences of use in work and/or family life),

   ___   social dropout (skipping social, occupational, or recreational activities to use),

   ___   behavioral escalation (it takes more pot or risk to get the same emotional relief), and

   ___   withdrawal symptoms (irritation, tension, or despair when unable to get high).

How would you score yourself or your loved one on these criteria?

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 is useful with patients experiencing chronic pain.  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 has it been good for passive, disengaged individuals who are under-achieving in their financial and career lives, or for disengaged people who aren’t well connected or bonded with their significant others.

For middle school and high school students, a growing subculture has developed that celebrates vaping.  The darker elements of the marijuana industry is producing and distributing misinformation that looks very scientific.  These videos, podcasts, memes, and links give much encouragement to vapers for using.

The same social media are very inviting to social opportunities.  They provide an easy entry and access to young people who lack social skills, or who are going through a hard time and need to socialize with others who feel disconnected.

Emotional pain, like physical pain, has two healthy effects on people: it draws our attention to problems, and motivates us to solve them.  Emotional pain as a very important third purpose, that physical pain does not -- it motivates and actually creates emotional bonds with other people going through similar problems and emotions.  Marijuana numbs both physical and emotional pain, and the sense of urgency or importance about anything that might need to be done to solve a problem.

Therefore, young people who get high together are drained of their awareness of their problems, their motivation to solve them, and their access to other people who are not only facing such problems, but also finding ways to bring good things out of these painful situations.

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 is pot doing you more good or harm?  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 too much THC, or 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.

This article is for readers who have a loved one who refuses to follow doctor’s orders for recovery from a medical problem.  It assumes you have read first the article I wrote for your loved one, “Are You in Defiance of Medical Compliance?”  And like the first piece, if you read the rest of this article and get turned off, I hope you will at least have the courage and wisdom to ask yourself the two questions in the last paragraph.

Anyway, let’s call your loved one “Pat” (short for patient, and for standing pat).  You can initiate solution number one in the first article, by asking Pat to read it, and answer for you the questions it poses.  With or without Pat’s help, you can learn a lot, and find some new peace of mind in both these articles.

If your efforts to help Pat have been going on for years, you are probably doing Pat more harm than good.  If you are starting most of the conversations with Pat about unhealthy behavior, if you seem to be trying harder than Pat to produce healthy behavior in Pat, or if you are showing stronger feelings about Pat's unhealthy behavior then Pat is, these are clear signs that you are actually doing more harm than good. Your efforts to help encourage Pat’s healthy behavior are backfiring, because without your knowing it, Pat is likely to be using them to excuse or even provoke unhealthy behavior.

If your helping behavior is backfiring, and if you are a part of the problem and instead of the solution, the most accurate way to describe your help is to say that it is enabling Pat’s unhealthy habits.  Here are twelve of the most common enabling behaviors to avoid:

Just imagine the time and energy you will be saving by not doing these things anymore!  So what would work to help Pat learn to stop unhealthy behavior and start making healthier choices?

What if Pat doesn’t do anything, or worse still, gets worse?  Remember that like surgery or remodeling, things often have to get worse before they get better.  Give it time.  Tell Pat that by treating Pat as someone who could change, you are showing that you respect and care about Pat more now.  Pat can use this same approach with the unhealthy friends in Pat’s life, by telling them, “I am giving you more of myself, now that I am taking better care of myself and inviting you to do the same.”

No matter what happens between you and Pat, one thing will be the same for both of your experiences.  If you change and make healthier choices, you will find that your social circles shift.  Imagine those who care about you as sitting in circular rows of seats around you, with the rows closest to you giving you the most time, communication and respect.  You will soon notice that people will start standing up and shuffling around to find more comfortable seats.  Some close supporters won’t like your new choices and will take seats further away from you.  But others will move in closer and take those seats, and your circle of closest friends and family will have some new faces before long.  They will help you see very soon that all of your efforts are worthwhile.

Two last questions for you:  if you have trouble making any of these changes, if you are scared to risk rejection by Pat, perhaps you have some unhealthy habits in your own life, and you need to read the first article.  If not, perhaps you have an unhealthy dependency on Pat.  If so, admit to your other family and friends that before creating a better life for Pat, you first need to get one for yourself.


Contact Me
Dr. Paul F. Schmidt