Cannabis abuse can lead to mental illness

Regular consumption has consequences for the body and mind

The Federal Government Drug Commissioner Marlene Mortler sees the decline in tobacco and alcohol consumption by young people as particularly encouraging. According to the 2017 Drugs and Addiction Report, however, cannabis use is heading in the opposite direction. In 2015, the proportion of 12 to 17-year-old consumers in Germany was 7.3 percent. After falling between 2004 and 2011, the rate rose again by around two percentage points. Among young adults between 18 and 25 years of age, the 12-month prevalence reached 15.3 percent in 2015, with an increasing trend since 2008. This development is particularly worrying, according to Mortler, because the active ingredient content has increased fivefold in the last 30 years has risen.

The average tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content of marijuana is now two percent, and that of hashish is 6.8 percent. However, depending on the growing conditions and variety, it can reach 20 percent and more. Last but not least, the variety of offers is making smoking pot more and more a lottery game with incalculable results, especially for children and young people.

Feared of irreversible cognitive losses

And the consequences can be seen: habitual consumers have shown persistent abnormalities, for example in executive functions, abstract thinking, attention, memory and learning. An increased risk of irreversible cognitive impairment is feared especially for those who start using cannabis in childhood or early adolescence. Negative effects were mainly observed in the areas of psychomotor speed, attention, memory and the ability to plan. In a New Zealand cohort study, a later intellectual disability was noticed.

Up to 90 percent of all cannabis addicts develop another mental disorder or physical illness in the course of their life as a result of too much alcohol or the consumption of other substances. There is evidence of a positive relationship between cannabis use and bipolar disorder or increased manic symptoms. Cannabis users are also somewhat more likely to suffer from depression or anxiety disorders. In addition, the risk of psychosis seems to be increased, especially with early and sustained consumption, especially when additional stressful factors are added (DNP 2017; 18: 44–51).

Chronic and regular cannabis use can cause inflammation in the roof of the mouth. The vasoconstrictive effect of cannabinoids promotes conjunctivitis, and acute angioedema has been described as a direct toxic reaction. In isolated cases, urticaria, general pruritus, excoriative prurigo, and asthmatic and anaphylactic reactions occur. The respiratory tract is irritated by inhaling cannabis, which can lead to chronic bronchitis. The best scientifically proven are cardiovascular consequences such as tachycardias and rise in blood pressure. However, deaths from cerebral and cardiac ischemia after acute intoxication have also been described.

Effects on family planning

Smoking weed can even affect family planning. Men show increased ejaculation disorders, reduced sperm count, loss of libido and impotence. In women, egg maturation may be impaired or the implantation and development of the embryo may fail. Consumption during pregnancy can affect the brain development of the unborn child, low birth weight is observed and birth complications are more common. In addition, effects on cognitive development, executive functions, behavioral problems, and learning and memory problems can increasingly be seen in children.

According to studies, cannabis smoke has a similar composition of carcinogenic accompanying substances as tobacco smoke. Regardless of additional tobacco use, an increased risk of nasopharyngeal tumors has been proven. The risk of lung tumors is difficult to assess, as around 91 percent of cannabis users also smoke tobacco.

So there is much to be said for keeping your hands off the drug, especially at a young age. No matter how robust the previous study data are, effective addiction prevention efforts in children and adolescents are undoubtedly a worthwhile investment in the future with regard to their mental and physical health.