Weed, pot, Mary Jane, ganja, bud – what do these terms have in common? They’re all slang names for marijuana.
What is Marijuana?
Marijuana is the product of the dry, shredded flowers, stems, seeds, and leaves of the hemp plant Cannabis sativa. All forms of marijuana contain the mind-altering chemical “THC” (short for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) in addition to as many as 400 other chemicals. Marijuana is typically smoked as a “joint” (cigarette), a “blunt” (hollowed out cigar), in a pipe, or a bong. Marijuana can also be vaporized and inhaled (“vaped”), mixed into foods, or brewed as a tea. Stronger forms (which have a higher amount of THC) include sinsemilla, hashish, hash oil, and other cannabis extracts.
What happens when someone smokes Marijuana?
When someone smokes marijuana, the THC travels through the lungs and into the bloodstream. When it reaches the brain, THC connects with the nerve cells that affect memory, concentration, perception, and pleasure. This is what is called a “high”.
Within a few minutes of smoking, a person may experience a combination of the following:
- Dry mouth
- Loss of coordination and sense of balance
- Feeling giggly and laughing a lot
- Fast heartbeat
- Feeling relaxed
- Trouble thinking or concentrating/slowed reaction time
- Red/bloodshot eyes
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased appetite
- Acute anxiety/paranoia
The way marijuana affects a person depends on how strong the THC content is, how it is being used, whether alcohol and/or other drugs are being consumed at the same time, as well as the individual’s reaction to it.
Keep in mind that other drugs can be mixed in with the marijuana without the user knowing beforehand. If there are other drugs mixed in, the effects may be more intense.
Are there other effects I should know about?
Yes. Because the chemical THC directly affects the brain, marijuana can cause problems that can last for days, or even weeks, including:
- Trouble thinking/concentrating
- Short-term memory loss
- Distorted perception (sensing things in an abnormal way)
THC also upsets coordination, balance, posture, and reaction time. This can lead to problems while playing sports and doing activities that require your full attention and quick thinking, such as driving.
Long-term marijuana use can have many negative effects as well.
- Brain development: When marijuana is used beginning in adolescence, people may have lasting changes to connections in the brain related to thinking, memory, and learning.
- Mental health problems: Studies have shown that people who use marijuana on a regular basis have an increased risk of schizophrenia. Marijuana use has also been linked to mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal thinking.
- Respiratory problems: Marijuana smokers can develop many of the same breathing problems as people who smoke cigarettes. These problems include daily coughing, wheezing, more frequent chest illness, and an increased risk of lung infections such as pneumonia. Marijuana contains more carcinogens (cancer causing agents) than nicotine. It is not known whether marijuana increases the risk for lung cancer or other respiratory tract cancers.
- Addiction: You may have heard that you can’t become addicted (otherwise known as dependent) to marijuana, but that’s not true. When people use marijuana over a long period of time, they can develop an addiction to it. They may try to stop, but can’t because they find life without marijuana to be too difficult. In fact, it’s estimated that 1 in 6 people who start using marijuana in their teens will become addicted to it. People who are addicted or dependent on marijuana have similar withdrawal symptoms as those who are addicted to nicotine. When trying to quit, they may have cravings, feel irritable and anxious, and have trouble sleeping.
- Social problems: Marijuana use, particularly when started in adolescence and when heavy, is associated with lower academic and career success, relationship problems, and lower life satisfaction.
If using marijuana can harm you, why do people do it?
Even though research shows that there are many negative effects from using marijuana, some people choose to use it anyway. This may be because of the effects such as relaxation and euphoria (intense happiness) that they feel while using it. The truth is that even though something may feel good, it doesn’t mean it’s good for you.
Other reasons people use marijuana may include:
- Being pressured by siblings or friends
- Using it as an escape from problems in their lives (family, school, etc.)
- Thinking it’s cool because they hear popular songs about it, and see it used by actors in the movies and on TV
I’ve heard that marijuana can be used as medicine – is that true?
Although the debate regarding the medical use of marijuana continues, the FDA has approved pills that contain THC for cancer patients (who have nausea and vomiting) and for patients diagnosed with AIDS (who have a low weight and/or no appetite). Research is being conducted to investigate other uses and forms of THC and other cannabinoids (chemicals from the cannabis plant that act on a certain type of receptor in the brain). A person must have a prescription to get it. Smoking marijuana is not accepted as a medical treatment.
I’ve heard a lot about marijuana on the news. What are the legal issues involved?
You may have heard or read about laws regarding marijuana use. This is because people have a lot of different opinions about whether marijuana should be legal. Every state in the US has its own laws and penalties about growing, possessing (having), and selling marijuana.
The consequences vary, but usually include:
- Paying a fine
- Jail time
- A criminal record (which can hurt your plans for college and employment)
What about drug testing?
Many employers test for drug use during the hiring process, and some have ongoing random drug screening. Marijuana users may not be able to get a job because of their drug use, or they may lose their job if a test comes back positive. The same is true of sports teams. If you test positive for marijuana, you might not be able to play, or you could get cut from your team and have to pay a fine. A urine test may be positive for days to weeks after marijuana use. How long depends on how often a person had been using the drug prior to the test.
How do I know if I have a problem with marijuana use?
Some signs that you may have a problem with or be addicted to marijuana include:
- You can’t control the urge to use it
- You use it before school and other activities
- You drive while high
- You specifically seek out people who use marijuana and place yourself in situations where it will be available
- You continue using marijuana even if it has a negative effect on your schoolwork, relationships, sports, or other activities
How can I quit using marijuana?
If you want to quit using marijuana, the most important thing to do is speak with a trusted adult who can assist you so you get the help you need. There are treatment programs that focus on counseling and group support, and there are programs designed especially for teens. Ask your health care provider for a referral.