Marijuana, cannabis, weed…it has many names. The plant is one of the most widely used and abused drugs on the market. What makes it so popular, so widespread, and infiltrate so many sub-groups of society? Is it the best drug out there or is it just the cheapest? Why do so many people start out their illicit drug experience with weed, and continue abusing it long after other illicit drugs have been abandoned?
One of the major theories about the prevalence of marijuana use is the very fact that it is illegal. Many individuals, even non-abusers, believe that marijuana gives much the same level of toxicity or dependence as alcohol. No more, no less. It is a popular belief that if weed were not illegal, it would not be so widely abused simply because “you’re not supposed to do it.”
A more scientific approach to this can be found in data showing how easily available weed is, how cheap it can be, and how socially acceptable it has become. In many parts of society, marijuana-abusers are not considered “stoners” but only “laid-back and relaxed.” It is also fairly well-known that one can abuse small portions of weed, much like one can drink small portions of alcohol, and not show any noticeable traces of abnormal behavior. With the exception of bloodshot eyes and perhaps an ongoing smile, marijuana abuse is not entirely noticeable, even within the workplace. One can abuse a popular and illegal substance, go about one’s day, and even get away with it. Obviously, this is not always the case and trained professionals will most likely be able to tell the difference, but the prevalence of uninhibited weed abuse, even among chief executive officers, makes it really enticing.
The interesting thing about these beliefs is that they are not entirely correct.  A study by Ingrid Wickelgren describes how marijuana, considered by many to be a benign substance compared to cocaine or heroin, actually activates identical withdrawal symptoms as alcohol or opiate drugs, and that the reward release from abusing marijuana is activates the same neural pathways as heroin. Is weed popular because it is the “gateway drug” to harder substances? Perhaps this is a common thought process, but reality indicates that it IS one of the harder drugs.
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1. “Marijuana: Harder Than Thought? .” ScienceMag.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 June 2011. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/276/5321/1967.short