NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Scientists Take a Second Look at Marijuana

January 29, 2002

Research into the properties and effects of marijuana has for many years taken a back seat to studies of cocaine and other more powerful drugs. But recently, marijuana has been receiving more attention in laboratories -- perhaps due to the public debate over use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Researchers have come up with some interesting findings:

  • The active ingredient in marijuana is remarkably similar to molecules that occur naturally in the body -- known as endogenous cannabinoids -- which are sprinkled liberally throughout the body and brain, and regulate appetite, pain and memory.
  • The endocannabinoids, as they are also called, can help lay down new memories by strengthening the connections between nerve cells -- but when the brain is flooded with them through marijuana use, forgetfulness results, researchers have found.
  • The drug, which an estimated 70 million Americans have at least tried, may be highly addictive to a small portion -- some 10 to 14 percent -- of those who use it.
  • Marijuana withdrawal symptoms among heavy users include craving, decreased appetite, sleep difficulty, weight loss, aggression, anger, irritability, restlessness and strange dreams.

Nevertheless, compared with alcohol, the physical side of marijuana withdrawal is mild, experts say.

Source: Linda Carroll, "Marijuana's Effects: More Than Munchies," New York Times, January 29, 2002.


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