Marijuana is a smokeable or ingestible substance that consists of dried flowers, which are commonly known as Cannabis plants. This natural ingredient produces high levels of THC, the principal psychoactive ingredient responsible for the "high" associated with marijuana. Other extracts including hashish and hash oil are also produced from the plant, which are also used recreationally, medicinally, and entheogenically around the world. Marijuana is known by over 200 different names, most commonly including weed, grass, and pot.
Cannabis cultivation dates back at least 10,000 years in Taiwan. Several ancient cultures in northwest China, Afghanistan, and India have referred to the use of cannabis as a medicinal or psychoactive substance as many as 3,000 years ago. For centuries, Hindu saints have considered cannabis one of the "five sacred plants," and during the Indian and Nepalese festival of Holi, people consume cannabis flowers. Contemporary members of the Rastafari movement use cannabis as a part of their worshiping of their King, Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, and as an aid to meditation.
During the 1960s, America’s changing political and cultural climate was reflected in more lenient attitudes towards marijuana and use of the drug became widespread in the white upper middle class. Reports commissioned by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson found that marijuana use did not induce violence nor lead to use of heavier drugs; however, this continued to be disputed. Policy towards marijuana began to involve considerations of treatment as well as criminal penalties. Over the course of the 1970s, eleven states decriminalized marijuana and most others reduced their penalties.
Today, marijuana is not only the most commonly-used illicit drug in America, but it is also the fourth most commonly-used drug across the globe (behind alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco), with an estimated 200 million monthly adult users. In the United States alone, it is believed that over 100 million Americans have tried marijuana, with 25 million Americans having used it within the past year.
How it is Used
Marijuana is most frequently ingested through smoking. Users do this by using a variety of paraphernalia. including glass bowls, pipes, bongs, cigarette rolling papers (“joints”), cigar wraps (“blunts”), and even homemade implements using a variety of household items. Another method of smoking marijuana is through the use of a “vaporizer,” which causes the active ingredients to evaporate into a gas without burning any plant material and produces a “cleaner,” more cerebral high. Though not as hazardous as cigarettes, holding smoke in your lungs is considered unsafe.
THC has an extremely low toxicity, and the amount that can enter the body through the consumption of cannabis plants poses no threat of death.
As an alternative to smoking, cannabis may be consumed orally using oil, butter, or even liqueur infused with marijuana or hashish. The onset of effects depends strongly on stomach content, but is usually 1 to 2 hours, and may continue for a considerable length of time. On the other hand, the effects of smoking or vaporizing cannabis are almost immediate, lasting for a shorter length of time. The presence of marijuana in “edibles” can be difficult to detect, making them popular at festivals and concerts, though you must beware of accidental ingestion. Although it is impossible to die from marijuana overdose, the powerful effects may be unsettling for an unaccustomed user.
Chemical Effects on the Brain
The most prevalent psychoactive substances in cannabis are cannabinoids, most notably THC. Through binding receptors in the brain, cannabinoids play a role in the brain’s control of movement and memory, as well as moderate pain modulation and muscle relaxation. Cannabinoids can affect pain transmission and interact with the brain's endogenous opioid system—an important physiological pathway for the medical treatment of pain.
THC has an extremely low toxicity; as previously stated, the amount that can enter the body through the consumption of cannabis plants poses no threat of death. The THC molecule is usually detectable in drug tests from 3 days up to 10 days; heavy users can produce positive tests for up to 3 months after ceasing cannabis use.
Physical and Psychological Symptoms of Marijuana Use
Common effects of marijuana include:
- Increased heart rate
- Bloodshot eyes
- Dry mouth
- Lowered blood pressure
- Impairment of short-term and working memory
- Poor psychomotor coordination
- Increased appetite
In addition, over fifty known carcinogens have been identified in cannabis smoke. Many people smoke the plant unfiltered and hold it for as long as possible in their lungs to increase its effects. This can often act as a massive irritant and can cause irreparable damage to a person's lung tissue. Marijuana use may also negatively affect someone psychologically, as other symptoms include paranoia, increased irritability, and feelings of acute anxiety.
Legality and Medical Use
Today, 20 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for medical use. Among these uses are: the amelioration of nausea and vomiting, stimulation of hunger in chemotherapy and AIDS patients, lowered intraocular eye pressure (shown to be effective for treating glaucoma), as well as gastrointestinal illness. Marijuana is also legalized in Washington and Colorado, though still illegal on a federal level. Synthetic marijuana also exists, though it is illegal in many countries and considered highly dangerous.
The most common misconception about marijuana is that it cannot be abused. While it is not physically addictive in the way that alcohol or hard drugs are, many people have shown a dependence for marijuana psychologically. According to figures provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 9% of people who smoke marijuana will become dependent on the drug. Habitual users risk developing a tolerance to the drug, and may experience withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, or depression if they quit abruptly. Symptoms from marijuana withdrawal can last anywhere from 24-hours to a week, although more severe cases may last longer.
The most problematic abuse of marijuana is among pre-teens and high school students, whose brain chemistry can be dramatically altered by the drug.
The most problematic abuse of marijuana is among pre-teens and high school students, whose brain chemistry can be dramatically altered by the drug, leaving them more susceptible to dependence. Frequent, dependent use of marijuana before age 18 has been proven to negatively influence school and work performance, as well as motor skills, intelligence, attention and memory.
People at a young age are often curious about what being “high” feels like. Sometimes teenagers enjoy the riskiness of trying drugs or feel pressured by their peers if given the chance to smoke in a social setting. The most important aspect to keeping your child drug-free is to educate and prepare them for these situations (not by “preaching” or using scare tactics). If you think your child is using marijuana, the most obvious sign is bloodshot eyes. Excessive antisocial behavior can also be a warning sign, although adolescents do need a sense of freedom and independence. If you discover that your child is smoking marijuana, an early and effective intervention is the best way to prevent them from becoming dependent.
There are a number of treatment options available to a person who wishes to seek help for marijuana abuse. Many individuals don’t get help because of the mistaken belief that they will be forced to attend treatment as an inpatient or face legal consequences. There are a number of marijuana addiction groups that will be able to offer support in complete confidence.
More and more people are discovering the harmful aspects of early, prolonged, and irresponsible marijuana use: marijuana-related admissions to addiction treatment centers are on the rise across the United States, especially for teenagers. Luckily, marijuana is easier to stop using than most other drugs (including alcohol and cigarettes). If you wish to stop using marijuana or are concerned about a loved one's cannabis abuse, browse local treatment centers and find the right one for you. If you’d like more information and resources, please call 1-877-822-7504 right now.