Pubdate: Wed, 06 Oct 2010
Source: Daily Bruin (UCLA, CA Edu)
Copyright: 2010, ASUCLA Student Media
Author: Lauren Jow


For Matthew, music just sounds better when he's high.

"When I'm listening to music, and when I'm playing music, I can really
focus," he said. "I become more involved in the experience."

Matthew started smoking when he came to college and now smokes about
three times per week, enjoying a high that relaxes him and enhances
his concentration. As for how it all works, the technical aspects are

"I think I don't smoke enough to have any lasting effects. I don't
know, I hope not," said the third-year mechanical engineering student,
who asked that his last name not be used to protect his identity.

The research tells a similar story: Marijuana, the most commonly used
illegal drug in the United States, makes you feel good. The research
on long-term effects, however, still remains hazy. "A big problem with
the literature (on marijuana) is that some people want to find things,
some people don't want to find things," said Sander Greenland, a
professor of epidemiology and statistics at UCLA.

The short-term physical effects are clear: Within two to three
minutes, users experience increased heart rate, increased body
temperature, dry mouth, reddening of the eyes, muscle relaxation and
reduced eye pressure, according to the National Institute on Drug
Abuse. Motor skills, coordination, reflexes and attention may also be

The psychological effect, known as a "high," varies depending on the
person and can include euphoria, relaxation, increased humor,
heightened senses, nostalgia or paranoia.

On the molecular level, marijuana, or cannabis, is a psychoactive drug
that stimulates cannabinoid receptors in the brain and the immune system.

Many of these receptors are in the part of the brain that regulates
memory, concentration, pleasure, and sensory and time perception.
Marijuana abuse can therefore lead to short-term memory loss and
problems with learning, according to NIDA.

Studies have shown chronic marijuana use to be associated with
increased anxiety and depression, though no definitive assessment has
determined whether the drug causes or exacerbates the problems,
according to NIDA. Some heavy users may self-medicate for existing
symptoms of problems, according to NIDA.

But most people who use marijuana smoke the equivalent of a quarter of
a cigarette in terms of the weight of the material, Greenland said. At
that level, the quantity is too small for any harmful side effects to
be detected, he added.

Despite the cultural stigma, marijuana is also used medically in small
doses in lieu of traditional medicines, according to Susan Leahy,
manager of The Farmacy, the only medical marijuana dispensary in the
Westwood area.

The drug is not as hard on the liver and organs as other pain
medications such as Vicodin and OxyContin, Leahy said.

Many who use medical marijuana report that the drug is in fact more
effective than those doctors typically prescribe and cheaper to
obtain, Greenland said.

Though not a cure, medical marijuana relieves the symptoms of ailments
such as attention deficit disorder, multiple sclerosis, arthritis,
insomnia and stress, Leahy said.

Marijuana stimulates cannabinoid receptors that control nausea,
relieve pain and stimulate appetite in cancer and AIDS patients,
according to Dr. Gonzalo Ruiz of The Holistic Clinic, which provides
medical marijuana evaluations.

"I remember an elderly patient with inoperable lung cancer who was
dying before my eyes. She didn't want to eat or do anything," Ruiz
said. "(With cannabis) all of a sudden she perked up, started eating
and had a better quality of life."

Marijuana is a Schedule 1 substance in the United States, which means
it has a high potential for abuse and no widely accepted medical use.
Doctors therefore cannot prescribe medical marijuana but can only give

Most of Ruiz's patients have already tried many traditional treatments
with little success.

"What I see is what I call a Michael Jackson effect: the
ever-increasing need for stronger medication," he said. "You'll see a
person a year later, and it's very likely they're on a lot of
medication, and it's much stronger. With marijuana, their dosage has
not changed. And that I find very promising."

But the jury is still out on the long-term effects of marijuana
because of the difficulty in obtaining approval for such a study in
the United States, Greenland said. Because the federal government has
been very strict compared to many states, it's uncertain when
researchers will be able to clear the air, he added.
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