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General overview

Marijuana is a psychoactive drug which people use in order to experience the physical and mental effects that the active chemical tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) causes.

These effects include experiencing a heightened mood, relaxation and an alteration of conscious perception. the drug can cause some unwanted effects also such as impaired motor skills and decreased short-term memory.

Long-term neurological complications of marijuana use

Patients who use marijuana for long periods of time and who have been using it years on end do experience neurological adverse events.

This occurs because the chronic use of marijuana actually causes physical changes in the anatomy of the brain. These changes include the following:

  • Decreased blood flow to the whole brain but specifically in the prefrontal cortex where emotional functions and thought processing were executed.
  • Altered morphology of the hippocampus and amygdala, where neurotransmitters are produced, and the cerebellum, where balance and coordination are controlled.
  • Sustained, heavy marijuana use lasting over decades has also been associated with lowered IQ levels by the time the user is 38 years old.
Cognitive functioning and activities ranging from basic coordination to executive functioning were affected. The user's mood would also be affected and would seem more blunted due to the effect of marijuana on the receptors producing neurotransmitter hormones.

Addictive behaviour

Chronic use of marijuana is an addictive behaviour and users can also exhibit other addictive behaviours. These would include alcohol abuse, using other illicit drugs, gambling, sexual addiction and addiction to internet/video games.

The reason for these behaviours can be due to abnormalities in the production of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter involved with modulating the brain's ability to perceive reward reinforcement. If dopamine levels are too low then the body tries to find activities to perform in order to increase these dopamine levels. The above-mentioned activities are the ones that help to increase dopamine and different people will find different activities fill these needs.

Management of addictive behaviours

Patients who are experiencing addictive behaviours can become a problem to themselves and to others, especially family members and friends. It can also negatively affect their work and social lives and can have a big impact on finances as well as cause problems with the law.

These patients need to be treated in an appropriate manner. They need to stop their addictive behaviour and they need to seek professional help in order to do that. These patients need to be admitted to rehabilitation facilities where they can be safely withdrawn from any substances which they may be abusing.

Other aspects which will need attention include triggers, causes and risk factors which need to be addressed as they could have been the reason for the addictive behaviour in the first place. By addressing these issues then one can get to the root of the problem. The patient's family doctor can refer them to a psychiatrist and psychologist for further management.

Support for affected family members is very important as they would also have been affected by the patient's behaviours. The rehabilitation facility can also offer service to these individuals so that they can get the help and support they need. 

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