What is Marijuana?

Commonly known as pot, weed, herb, dope, reefer, or grass, marijuana is the most often used illegal drug in this country. It is a product of the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa. While marijuana contains more than 400 different chemicals, the main mind-altering chemical in marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. The level of THC content in marijuana after cultivation can range from less than 1% to more than 30% and has been increasing dramatically, making marijuana increasingly potent and more addictive.


What does it look like?

Marijuana is a dry, shredded green and brown mix of flowers, stems, seeds, and leaves. Hashish is a more concentrated, higher THC content, resinous form of marijuana, is a sticky black liquid, hash oil. 


How is it used?

Most users roll loose marijuana into a cigarette called a “joint”, though it can be smoked in a water pipe, called a “bong”, or mixed into food or brewed as tea. Some users smoke marijuana in a blunt, which is an emptied cigar that has been refilled with a mixture of marijuana and tobacco. Marijuana smoke has a pungent and distinctive, usually sweet-and-sour odor.  Marijuana is sometimes laced with crack cocaine and/or hallucinogen phencyclidine (PCP), making marijuana more dangerous.


What are the short term effects?

The effects of marijuana are generally felt within a few minutes and reach a peak between 10 and 30 minutes.  Overall, most of marijuana’s short-term effects wear off within 2 or 3 hours. When someone smokes marijuana, THC is absorbed by the lungs and into the bloodstream, which carries the THC to the brain and all other organs throughout the body, producing the “high” that users experience.  Immediate effects of the drug include problems with memory, concentration and learning, distorted perceptions (sights, sounds, time, touch), trouble with thinking and problem solving, loss of motor coordination, increased heart rate, and anxiety. These effects are even greater when mixed with other drugs.


What are the long term effects?

There are many possible long term effects of marijuana abuse.

Marijuana and mental health:  A number of studies have shown an association between chronic marijuana use and increased rates of anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia with age at first use to be an important risk factor.  High doses of marijuana can produce an acute psychotic reaction. According to NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse), research has shown that, in chronic users, marijuana’s adverse impact on learning and memory can last for days or weeks after the acute effects of the drug wear off.  As a result, a daily marijuana smoker may be functioning at a lower intellectual level all of the time.  Research has also shown poorer cognitive abilities than non-users, including memory capability, math and verbal skills.

Marijuana as an addictive drug: Marijuana can be addictive. Long-term marijuana abusers trying to quit report withdrawal symptoms including irritability, sleeplessness, decreased appetite, anxiety, and drug craving.  The symptoms begin within about 1 day after last use, peak at 2-3 days, and subside within 1 or 2 weeks.

Marijuana’s affect on the lungs: Numerous studies have shown marijuana smoke to contain 50-70% more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than tobacco smoke.  Marijuana has a higher burn temperature, is inhaled more deeply and held in the lungs longer than tobacco smoke.  As a result, marijuana smokers can have many of the same problems as tobacco smokers like daily cough, more frequent acute chest illness, and a heightened risk of lung infections.


What about “Medical” Marijuana? 

The potential medicinal properties of marijuana have been the subject of substantive research and heated debate.  There are two FDA approved cannabinoid-based medications that include synthetic compounds; dronabinol (Marinol®) and nabilone (Cesamet®).  Both of these medicines can be prescribed by physicians.

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Information sourced from The Partnership at DrugFree.org



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