CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Marijuana is a topic of discussion that can cause turmoil amongst people. Some believe it shouldn't be used at all, while others believe it should be legal to use whenever and however they want to.
It's surprisingly hard to find out whether marijuana ultimately helps or hurts people, unless the effects are experienced firsthand. There are many resources on the Internet, but a lot of articles and "facts" are biased towards one view or the other. One site I found to be extremely informative and credible is that of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The main ingredient in marijuana is the chemical delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC for short. It averaged a nearly 15 percent concentration in marijuana confiscated by police in 2012 (as opposed to around 4 percent in the '80s).
When smoked, THC travels from the lungs to the bloodstream quickly and that carries it around the body, including to the brain and other organs. Marijuana can be served in food or mixed with hot drinks, but it takes a lot longer to take effect that way.
THC targets the brain cells, specifically the cannabinoid receptors that are already activated on a normal basis. Most of these receptors are found in areas of the brain that control concentration, memory, sensory and time perception, thinking, coordinated movement and pleasure. It excessively activates the receptors, which causes the high that is commonly associated with marijuana.
However, THC is not the only ingredient in marijuana; there are more than 400 other active chemicals. This is dangerous because a lot of the chemicals are unidentifiable, so it is unknown how they can affect the human body.
Research has clearly shown that marijuana can cause problems in a person's daily life. Many heavy users report less satisfaction in life, worse health and more interpersonal relationship problems than peers from similar backgrounds.
Additionally, research has shown that chronic use leads to memory loss, even after the drug is stopped. Plus, it increases the risk of a heart attack, especially in the first hour after smoking it, because it raises the heart rate and causes heart palpitations and arrhythmias.
Finally, marijuana has proven to be addictive, despite what most people believe. Approximately 9 percent of marijuana users have reported being addicted, as well as having trouble functioning without it. The probability is even higher -- about 17 percent -- in people who start at a young age, and daily users are the most at risk, with anywhere from 25 to 50 percent becoming overly dependent on the drug. Withdrawal has even been reported, with symptoms such as loss of appetite, irritability, anxiety and sleeplessness.
Hundreds of thousands of people want marijuana legalized for medical purposes, including the treatment of cancer, symptoms of HIV or AIDS and anxiety. The Food and Drug Administration, however, has not been able to collect enough evidence to support its legalization, like whether the benefits are sufficient enough to overshadow the possible -- and very alarming -- problems marijuana might cause.
Though some states have already legalized marijuana, after gathering this information, I don't think it's in our state's best interest to do so. It would be wise to wait for further examination by the FDA and for them to come to a conclusion on whether or not marijuana is safe for medical, or even casual, use.