By Lulu Moore
Weed normalization is necessary, important, and beneficial. Over the past decade, there’s been an abundance of medical studies evaluating the negative and positive effects of smoking weed. These findings, coupled with extensive media coverage of the drug through pop culture, are building a general consensus among younger generations that constant weed usage is not a problem. However, the effects of marijuana usage are not zero-sum; although there is an extensive list of advantages to smoking weed, there are significant downsides to its abuse: and it’s important to recognize how its normalization doubles as a cognitive tool to justify a psychological addiction.
While seemingly contradictory to the previous statement, smoking weed is beneficial. Not only is it anti-inflammatory, but it can also actually help increase your lung capacity. A 2012 study on the association between lung health and weed usage demonstrated that smoking weed is only harmful to your lungs when combined with tobacco (in a ‘splif’). Further, Dr. Tashkin, a UCLA professor involved in the study, noted that there is no link between marijuana and lung cancer, and the drug can actually prevent lung irritation from developing into chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Weed also acts as an aid for mental health conditions like depression, ADHD/ADD, PTSD symptoms, and anxiety. More and more scientific studies are coming out proving the beneficial physical and mental properties of weed.
However, that does not mean that weed isn’t harmful in excess. For a long time, non-weed smokers have judged and portrayed weed-users as lazy. What might be unsurprising to some, and a shock to others, is that there is data proven to back this claim. Weed does have scientifically proven benefits, however, overuse can still lead to mental and physical impairments. Weed can aid your mental health, but only when consumed in moderate amounts. Dr. Oliver Howes noted that THC releases extra dopamine–the neurological chemical that makes you feel good when you complete a task–into your brain. When users smoke more than three times a week, their brains stop producing dopamine as frequently as non-marijuana users. Low dopamine levels–which also occur with depression–lead to low motivation. Infrequent or moderate usage doesn’t trigger the same effect, but constant weed usage is a catalyst for laziness; stoners often don’t realize this because they forget what it feels like to be continuously sober.
Thus, as students who have sacrificed finances, time, and elements of our social life to get into one of the top universities in the country, it doesn’t make much sense that we’d be frequent marijuana users. This inconsistency between attitude and behavior creates cognitive dissonance; when our actions are not aligned with our attitudes and beliefs, we become uncomfortable. In this discomfort, we find the motivation to regain our desired feeling of consistency and consonance between our actions and behaviors. Thus, it’s natural that frequent marijuana users will attempt to rationalize their usage through a number of different methods.
The first method used to remove dissonance and retrieve consonance revolves around diminishing the cognitive elements of daily marijuana usage. A stoner might reason, saying: “Everyone does it. I’m in college, and I probably won’t be able to live like this as an adult”. Next, they might devalue and suppress the negative side effects of their usage, and instead inflate the benefits of CBD and THC; “I can do my homework even better when I’m high, and I still get my work done so there’s no problem.” Finally, the stoner might change their attitude in order to regain consonance so their behavior and attitudes logically realign. This attitude shift can become so strong that smoking weed becomes part of one’s identity: even a personality trait. So now, when a non-stoner comments on the frequency of a stoner’s weed usage, the stoner simply says “yeah, I’m a stoner”, self-proclaiming and labeling themselves without reason as a constant weed smoker.
This rationalization is increasing among students. A Monitoring the Youth survey claims that among college students, there’s been an average increase of 43% in weed usage. This is an American all-time high with a 7% increase over the past 35 years. One in seventeen college students reports daily marijuana usage. At UCLA, weed usage is 9% below the national average, with 16% of students reporting frequent marijuana usage; thus, more than 5,000 students utilize these rationalization tactics to varying degrees. Whether it is the pressure involved by attending UCLA, or the hardships students are facing in their everyday lives, our generation is abusing the drug as a way of numbing out reality. It’s a temporary fix to our world’s problems, and it feels really nice to forget about the pressures of our upcoming transition into the ‘real world’ and adulthood after college.
This life used to be mine; it was, or still is, some of my friends’ too. For a long time, I told myself I worked better when I was high, that it helped with my mental health issues, and that I was a better person when I smoked. In reality, it numbed me to the world, made me a worse friend, and consumed my personality. I went through the motions of life without changing any of my destructive habits. When you’re growing taller as a child, you feel the growing pains in your calves and knees. After a year and a half of numbing, I understood that emotional growth only flourishes with some pain. You have to be awake, you have to feel, you have to know your emotions in order to change them.
Struggle creates experience, experience breeds knowledge and knowledge becomes wisdom.
Weed isn’t a shit substance; there are countless benefits to its usage (and it feels great to do). But just remember, even though it came from the earth, and it is an organic and all-natural substance: it’s still a drug. It can impair your cognitive function, slow your body and mind, and while you won’t be physically addicted, psychological addiction still makes you an addict. Overuse of weed has negatively affected the lives of many students and we need to start treating weed abuse in the same way we would other drugs–as addictions. So my advice to you is: toke happily but tread carefully.
If you are currently struggling with weed dependency, know that you’re experience is valid, it is an addiction, and there are people who want to help you. You can contact the UCLA addiction clinic at (310) 825-9989 to set up an appointment, or attend a support group hosted by Bruins 4 Recovery at https://www.bruins4recovery.org/. You are never alone.