New India is, it appears, the same as Old India in the use of marijuana. A majority of youngsters do it and they think it is cool. I did too. Alcohol and tobacco came first, when I was 15. Marijuana – or pot, weed, grass, ganja, cannabis – came two years after, when I was 17.
If anything, the age of first use has come down since. Like everything else in a wired world, weed comes early into a person’s life. You can smell pot in the air at scores of places in Delhi. In the metros, I have felt it in Hyderabad and Bengaluru; friends say it is so in Chennai as well. It is big in Mumbai too although the smell of fish and life tends to cloud the weed in the air.
Delivery mechanisms have apparently improved; you can order it online and have it home-delivered. And now two states in the US have legalised marijuana and Uruguay has a national market for it, like India has farm markets. Big marijuana policy changes are on the way the world over.
It is a good time to know what it really means to smoke pot. If you’re under 20 you probably do it or you know someone who does. If you are a parent you are probably worried about your children doing it; or you think it a harmless indulgence. If you’re an adult who does it, you are in the mix too.
These are some things I figured out about marijuana – much after I was done with it. The impact may vary from person to person but broadly this is how it is. Maybe you’ll have a few minutes to read this.
1. Marijuana can create an instant and unreal dream world: It’s magic from the first toke. Instantly the pace of life changes. It becomes dreamy and peaceful. The mind yearns for music and other leisure pursuits. You’ll want more of this and, thus, intake increases. When the effect wears off, the reality of life can be a shock. There may be distancing from parents, teachers and anyone who doesn’t use marijuana. This may distort people skills in the long term.
2. Marijuana can generate abnormal and unhealthy appetite for food: It can be freaky but it doesn’t seem so to the user. All of a sudden, people, especially the young, begin to gorge on food. The taste buds operate at superconscious levels and this can make people eat four or five times what they normally would. There may be overfeeding. This alters nourishment and understanding of food. It can then take years to establish a healthy relationship with food.
3. Marijuana can trigger insane and fake levels of happiness: Mood improves in a jiffy. There is tolerance and affection, which attracts company. The famous hippy communes of the 1960s and their theme – make love, not war – came from this. But the smiles don’t last. The ecstasy that marijuana induces makes people seek it more often. This warps emotional intelligence. It tends to foster an inability to deal with other emotions like anger, grief and pain.
4. Marijuana can form a phony halo around all drugs: Weed is the biggest gateway substance, even more so than alcohol or tobacco. The positive experiences with pot create an illusion that all chemicals are good. This diminishes inhibition and a person is ready to try other drugs when offered. Synthetic drugs can seriously impair life but marijuana robs a person of the ability to register risk. The all-round destruction from this can take years to fix, if at all.
5. Marijuana can erode sports skills without seeming to: Initially the heightened perception from marijuana can make the young better at sport. They can find the angles, moves, and timing that coaches yearn for. But it robs a sportsperson of strength, endurance and stamina. This is a slow and subtle process at first but increases in momentum as it becomes open and people can see it. Great sports careers need sobriety and hard work, which marijuana makes unattractive.
6. Marijuana can make you think incorrectly that is free of chemicals: The argument that pot is safe can be compelling but it isn’t true. There are more than 500 chemical compounds in the marijuana plant, which produce hundreds of byproducts at the high temperature of a lit joint. Marijuana smoke can contain up to 70 percent more carcinogens than tobacco smoke. Also, the weed of 2014 is five times more potent than the 1960s stuff.
7. Marijuana can make you dumb while you think you’re getting smarter: There is negative effect on the brain from the first week of use, which affects memory, learning, attention and reaction time. This makes a person slow. New findings say the brain forms until the age of 25 or 26 – the parts that regulate decision-making, social behaviour, personality expression and cognitive behaviour. IQ levels drop and life becomes harsh for a person thus challenged.
8. Marijuana can set you up for failure at work although you won’t spot it: Time becomes elastic under the influence of weed. This makes people think they have more time for tasks. They become tardy and absent themselves from work. This affects performance and may shorten job stints. Studies have shown that people with regular spells of unemployment have used marijuana either at work or previously in life. This has a cascading effect.
9. Marijuana can drive you to addiction although you won’t think it possible: The earlier the start the longer the damage. Weed is a rage among the young whose brains are still forming. Pot interrupts this process, which may make a person susceptible to dependence on chemicals. Since this won’t be known until addiction has kicked in, there is a tendency to persist with use of marijuana. The negative consequences can be severe and delayed.
10. Marijuana can make you seem hot when you’re not: Teenagers often speak of popularity in the first flush of weed. But this habit requires money and time to sustain. When these dwindle, people find themselves alone. This may generate craving for approval, which in turn distorts behaviour into adulthood. Self-esteem may be impaired, often with important consequences. Since this takes time, people stick with pot for longer than they should.
All this is merely to share how it is. Use of marijuana is an individual decision; laws only come in after the act. Not every user becomes dependent on chemicals. But all dependence begins with use. The rest is up to you.
This article is part of a joint public health initiative by Sify.com and the author.