The destigmitization of Marijuana that has been sweeping through the US and Canada these past few years has been well warranted. Study after study has shown that Marijuana use has legitimate health benefits including pain relief and inflammation reduction, and is in no way as dangerous as similarly classified illegal narcotics. Since it’s legalization in many states, the Cannabis industry has boomed and the production of Marijuana related products has even become a popular small business venture. College students partaking in the drug are finding less and less excuses not to take it as its public perception continues to shift. All that being said, is it possible Marijuana will become too-destigmatized? Just because it shouldn’t be criminalized, does that also mean it should be celebrated?
The truth is that while study after study has shown that Marijuana has health benefits, study after study has also shown that it’s not without its dangers. Firstly, long term deficiencies in short term memory have been shown to occur in chronic users, especially in those who began taking the drug in their teenage years while their brains were still developing. Additionally, a slowing of neurogenesis in certain areas of the brain has also been shown to affect young teens who use the drug. While these physiological effects of Marijuana use might warrant younger users to be more cautious of the drug, the most dangerous part of using Marijuana might not be what it causes at all, but how it’s used.
Take a college student who just returned to his dorm room after class and has decided to smoke a joint to take the edge off. The student turns on the television to watch a rerun of a sitcom he’s seen 1000 times that wasn’t that funny in the first place. Normally he’d just sigh and turn off the TV, but this time something seems different. The student finds himself interested and entertained at a show he normally would have found painstakingly boring. The THC from the Marijuana has stimulated his somatosensory cortex and flooded parts of his brain with Dopamine, which has severely lowered his necessary threshold for enjoyment. Activities that used to bore him no longer do. He’s finally found a way to make what is usually boring downtime a little more interesting.
The problem here is that the feeling of boredom is actually not a nuisance at all but a very useful evolutionary drive to be productive. When someone gets bored, that painful empty feeling often leads them to productive activities and hobbies that slowly lead them to self actualization and character development. However, if someone is using Marijuana, that pang of boredom may lessen or disappear altogether. Furthermore, if the person chooses to use the drug every time that they’re bored, they may never end up getting the drive they need for self actualization and end up in a situation where they keep covering up that drive. The way this works in the brain is as follows: One effect of THC (one of the two primary psychoactive chemicals in Marijuana) is that it causes an influx of Dopamine into the brain, which makes the person feel fulfilled and accomplished. Normally, the person would need to actually accomplish something or feel motivated to get this rush of Dopamine, but in this case, Marijuana tricks the brain into feeling that way without such a trigger. This leaves the person feeling satisfied and accomplished without having actually accomplished anything.
This also explains why people who have naturally lower levels of Dopamine tend to self medicate with the drug as it gives them that feeling of satisfaction that real life fails to provide. In this way, Marijuana use acts as a chemical band aid for boredom and a lack of motivation. While this can be helpful in people who actually have chemical imbalances, it can also be both addictive and harmful in others. Boredom should be remedied by productive activity, not outside chemical intervention. This also explains one of the greatest myths surrounding the drug- that Marijuana causes laziness. It can be seen here that if Marijuana does in fact cause laziness, it’s not because it actually causes the person to become temperamentally less ambitious but rather because it makes it so much easier for them to feel content.
Overall, there is no question that Marijuana has real health benefits and shouldn’t be as stigmatized as it once was. That being said, to pretend its use is totally healthy in all forms would be disingenuous. Just as alcohol must be drunk responsibly, Marijuana must also be used responsibly. Therefore, if someone finds themselves turning to the drug every time that they’re bored, it might be a good idea for them to stop and think of how they can better utilize their time.