Updated: Aug 2, 2022
Cannabis, dagga, weed. What you need to know.
Cannabis was legalised for personal use in September 2018. The United Nations estimates that 125 to 227 million use cannabis worldwide, South Africa is not the first country to legalise cannabis, but it is the first African country to do so.
Does legalising cannabis mean it is harmless?
Current research has yet to prove that there are no long-term adverse effects from taking cannabis. What is known is that individuals who start taking cannabis early and those that consume high doses of cannabis, and over a long period are at risk of developing Cannabis Use Disorder (Parry et al., 2019). Just as worrying is the research that has linked cannabis use to cognitive impairment, that is damaging to the parts of the brain that are responsible for thinking, memory, and learning (Volkow et al., 2016). Impaired judgement while under the influence of cannabis results in road traffic accidents and contributes to the high number of injuries and deaths that occur on roads. Impaired judgement and intoxication while under the influence of cannabis is also linked to risky sexual behaviour and another contributor to sexually transmitted diseases and HIV.
Although people often use cannabis to self-medicate the symptoms of anxiety and depression, cannabis use is known to make the symptoms of anxiety and depression worse, and taken in high doses is known to cause paranoia and even psychosis.
Did you know cannabis use begins as early as 11-12 years?
Cannabis use by adolescents may results in poor academic performance due to the impairment of thinking, memory and learning and is associated with those that drop out of school and varsity. Because cannabis use causes impaired judgement, risky sexual behaviour is common and associated with an increased risk of injury and death as coordination is affected when driving. Smoking cannabis via a vape has even been linked to bronchitis and lung conditions and even death, this is because it involves such high doses of cannabis.
Why do people take cannabis?
People take cannabis for many reasons, as part of experimentation, to conform to social and peer groups, to manage stress and anxiety and for enjoyment, and to feel confident to develop relationships with other people (Patel & Marwanha, 2020). In addition cannabis for some may be used as a pain reliever.
Cannabis Use Disorder
The DSM 5 which identifies how psychological conditions are diagnosed states that cannabis abuse is present if cannabis use is continued despite impairment in psychological, social, or physical functioning (American Psychological Association, 2020).
Statistically, 9% of cannabis users will go onto develop cannabis use disorder or combined substance abuse, 17% of those that begin taking cannabis in adolescence will become daily users (Volkow et al., 2016).
The South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (2019) states that cannabis is the most common illicit drug used in South Africa, and that first time admissions for cannabis use disorder in 2017 were 77% and in 2018 they were at 81%. Behavioural approaches to treatment are most effective in treating drug abuse, but treatment often requires a three-month inpatient program, and the rate of relapse is high and requires multiple admissions for treatment.
Education is vital.
Although cannabis is legal to consume and grow for personal use, it may not be as harmless as the current perception. Certainly, the current research has yet to find out how severe and permanent the long-term effects on cognitive functioning is? What is known, is that legalising cannabis has resulted in more young people taking cannabis, and more young people are developing Cannabis Use Disorder and other substance abuse dependency.
If you are concerned about your cannabis use, or someone that you love is showing signs of addiction, then reach out and get support before it is too late. For more information https://www.drugabuse.gov/
This article was developed in association with kidz2kidz and Delene Strydom Counselling which specialises in addictions as well as adolescent therapy.