Although it is now legal in Massachusetts to possess one ounce or less of marijuana for recreational use, and legal for use medically under a doctor’s care with a prescription, I still have concerns about the harm it can cause, especially to young people. Technically, as far as I am aware, and just as there is much confusion as to how much alcohol is detrimental to health, there is no clear evidence as to whether smoking or ingesting marijuana is harmful or not, relative to frequency and amounts.
However, as a therapist I can say that I have witnessed the deleterious effects of marijuana in some of my clients. Regular marijuana use can have negative psychological and behavioral effects because habitual users are risking the inhibition of their own normal, healthy, mental and emotional growth.
Marijuana is a mind-altering drug. When you use it you are then not fully tuned in to reality. Some say, “well that’s the point” and it “takes the edge off.” The problem with that thinking is that the real world of the 21st century is fast-moving, complex, sometimes violent (the marathon bombings, domestic violence, auto crashes) and ever-changing. Now is the time for clear thinking and awareness of the world around us.
Marijuana use not only can create mental dullness, it can also make you socially dull. If you are a serious recreational cannabis user you may have few other interests. “Getting high” is what you do, what you talk about, what you look forward to. And, while you are getting high you’re not doing much of anything else. You’re not going anywhere, you’re not accomplishing much of anything, and you are not exploring the many wondrous things that life can offer you.
Use of this drug can rob you of mental energy and clarity, and its negative effects on memory are well known. So, you won’t have the mental energy to dream dreams, make plans, set goals or create ideas. It robs you of the energy and motivation to create a real life with real happiness potential, or causes damage to an already well established lifestyle.
Emotionally this drug takes its toll, too. An emotionally healthy person has to be able to feel and experience their feelings. This means you need to be in touch with your emotions — fear, anger, jealousy, insecurity, and have the awareness to understand why you are experiencing those particular feelings. You need to be able to ask yourself the difficult questions: “Why am I feeling this way? What is going on in my life now that’s making me feel this way?” And you need to be able to learn to answer those probing internal questions honestly in order to deal with them in healthy ways.
You cannot explore and grow your emotional self if you are continuously in a cannabis fog. You need to examine whether your purpose in the habitual use of this drug is to avoid and escape your feelings, or is a way to deal with anxiety or depression issues.
So, is marijuana use harmful when used occasionally? To my knowledge, there is no clear evidence pro or con. But, if you are using this substance frequently and regularly so that it interferes with clear thinking, living fully, feeling your feelings, and getting along with the people in your life who aren’t users, then the answer is obvious.
Many people use alcohol and drugs, cannabis included, to self-medicate for anxiety, depression and other mental health symptoms. If you suspect that you or a loved one is misusing substances in this way, do seek professional help.
Based in Rockport, psychotherapist and life coach Susan Britt, M.Ed., teaches individuals, couples and families to resolve relationship issues, clarify and achieve life and career goals, and accelerate personal growth. Questions and comments may be addressed to her at email@example.com or 978-546-9431.