MOST of what we know about marijuana comes from two things – the Internet, and Seth Rogen movies. That’s why we decided to speak to Perdana University Graduate School of Medicine associate professor Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj for a more credible word on a few marijuana myths.
Myth: Marijuana is good for you. After all, it’s being legalised in certain parts of the world!
Fact: Most places that legalise marijuana only do it for medicinal purposes – not recreation. There’s no denying marijuana’s medicinal properties, especially in treating those suffering from severe, debilitating pain. It also helps increase appetite – useful for cancer patients and those suffering from depression (who are refusing to eat) – and prevents seizures among people with epilepsy.
Even then, marijuana use for medicinal purposes is closely regulated in most legalised countries to avoid abuse. Only certain doctors are allowed to prescribe it.
“Society should not condone recreational use,” said Andrew. “In Malaysia, we use methodone, a synthetic substitute for heroin. And even then, it is closely regulated.”
Myth: There are no long-term side effects to marijuana use.
Fact: Of course there are! In fact, there are short-term effects too. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, suppresses the immune system, making users more prone to illnesses like fever and cold.
In men, it decreases libido, affecting your sex life. It also causes depression. You get an initial euphoria, but in the end, marijuana is a downer, so it will cause negative mood changes. In the long run, you’re looking at some serious problems.
In men, it decreases libido, affecting your sex life. It also causes depression. You get an initial euphoria, but in the end, marijuana is a downer, so it will cause negative mood changes.
New research shows that regular users (two to three times a week) will experience paranoia and personality changes after around five years. After ten years, you’re looking at full-out psychosis – the very structure of your brain will change, and you will experience schizophrenia-like symptoms.
“On the surface, it won’t seem like something that warrants treatment. Nobody will see it, and you won’t feel like you need treatment either.
“But in your mind, you will be paranoid even of your loved ones. It’s a pity, because someone who’s bubbly and happy can become withdrawn which will affect his/her personal relationships,” said Andrew.
Myth: You can’t get addicted to weed.
Fact: This is actually partly true. Marijuana does not cause a physical/chemical addiction. You don’t go into withdrawal without it. However, you can get psychologically addicted to it. Your mind will crave the initial euphoria marijuana brings, and over time, you’ll need to take more to feel the same high – all users recognise that. That can quickly lead to a dependence on marijuana.
So, if you start using regularly at a young age, your sense of excitement will probably be completely fried by the time you’re starting a career. Without marijuana (and a significant amount of it), you’ll struggle to feel stimulated.
“To many, college students are the hope of their family, too. For some, they are the first generation of students to enter college and university. It would be such a shame to see weed affect their progress.” – Dr Andrew.
Myth: Marijuana is not as harmful as cigarettes.
Fact: It may be true to some extent, but the paper that you use in joints are also known to contain carcinogens. Eventually, prolonged usage can cause serious problems for the lungs, too!
But how about if you smoke it in a bong or put marijuana in food, you ask? Well, according to Andrew, while cigarettes can arguably cause more personal harm, it won’t cause as much social harm as marijuana could.
“There are little to no social implications of smoking cigarettes. Weed, on the other hand, can affect others around you, like your loved ones, when paranoia sets in,” he said.
“To many, college students are the hope of their family, too. For some, they are the first generation of students to enter college and university. It would be such a shame to see weed affect their progress.”
Myth: Marijuana is not a “gateway” drug.
Fact: This is still very much up for debate around the world, but according to Andrew, it really doesn’t matter in Malaysia. “Designer drugs are so cheap here, many young people skip marijuana and go straight for designer drugs.
“The problem with that is young Malaysians now perceive marijuana as harmless. I have patients who would never touch ecstasy, but they think marijuana is fine – but it’s not! Persistent use can lead to damage not only of the brain, but also of the mind.”
Myth: But there are many out there openly taking weed and are still successful!
Fact: Those you notice and see are the lucky few. For every successful user, there’s an equal number – if not more – trapped within the usage of weed and, in worse case scenarios, other more lethal drugs.
For Andrew, one of the worst cases he has handled was of a 15-year-old boy who had started taking weed at the age of 13 when his parents were posted overseas. He was initially a “good boy”.
“He told me how easy it was to get weed. Eventually, he started stealing for money to purchase the drug, joined gangs and owed money to his suppliers.
“By 16, he graduated to taking Ice and had ran away to Port Dickson. When he was finally found, he was alone in a shack and brought back for detox. He’s only 17 now,” Andrew recalled.
(Edit: Methodone is a synthetic substitute for heroin, not marijuana. Changes made to correct quote from Andrew.)