Published on March 6th, 2014

Marijuana is dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds from the hemp plant Cannabis sativa. It contains the psychoactive chemical delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), along with many other related compounds. The hemp plant material can also be concentrated in a resin known as hashish or a sticky black liquid called hash oil. It is an marijuana a Schedule I substance in the United States. Marijuana is the most common illicit drug used in the United States. Even having been declared to have no medicinal uses and high risk for abuse, two states have legalized marijuana for adult recreational use, and 20 states have passed laws allowing its use as a treatment for certain medical conditions.

How is Marijuana Used?

Marijuana is typically smoked when hand-rolled into cigarettes known as joints or in pipes or water pipes known as bongs. Individuals will cigars empty it of of tobacco and refill it with a mixture of marijuana and tobacco, and then smoking it as an blunt. Marijuana can also be mixed in food or brewed as a tea. The odor of marijuana smoke is pungent and distinctive, it is commonly sweet-and-sour.

How Does Marijuana Affect the Brain?

The THC in Marijuana rapidly passes from the lungs into the bloodstream when it is smoke, it is then carried to the brain and other organs throughout the body. When marijuana is ingested with food or drink it is absorbed more slowly. The THC then acts on specific molecular targets on brain cells, called cannabinoid receptors. These receptors are ordinarily activated by chemical that naturally occur in the body (such as anandamide; see picture, above) similar to that of THC. These chemicals are part of a neural communication network called the endocannabinoid system which plays an important role in normal brain development and function.

The cannabinoid receptors found in parts of the brain influence pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, sensory and time perception, and coordinated movement. Marijuana overactivates these receptors and creates a “high” and other effects such as; altered perceptions and mood, impaired coordination, difficulty with thinking and problem solving, and disrupted learning and memory.

Marijuana is known to affect brain development. Many young people use marijuana heavily, suffering effects on thinking and memory may last a long time or even be permanent.

What Are the Other Health Effects of Marijuana?

Marijuana use can have a wide array of effects on the individuals health, especially on cardiopulmonary and mental health.

When marijuana is smoked it irritates the lungs, those who use the drug regularly may experience some repository problems similar to that of tobacco smokers such as; regular cough and phlegm, increased change of developing a chest illness and lung infections.

Is Marijuana Medicine?

There has been no clinical evidence shown that Marijuana has therapeutic benefits that outweigh the health risks. Many in the medical field have called out for the legalization of marijuana to be used in the treatment of conditions including pain and nausea caused by HIV/AIDS, cancer, as well as many other other conditions. The substance must have well-defined and measurable ingredients that are consistent from one unit (such as a pill or injection) to the next in order to be considered a legitimate medicine by the FDA. It is difficult to evaluate marijuana’s medicinal value because the marijuana plant contains hundreds of chemical compounds that may have different effects and that vary from plant to plant. However, the FDA has approved and prescribed THC-based drugs in the treatment or pain and nausea. Scientists are continuing to investigate the medicinal properties of other chemicals found in the cannabis plant such as cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid compound, which are being studied for its effects at treating pain, pediatric epilepsy, and other disorders.

What are the Effects of Marijuana?

Marijuana is known to raise the users heart rate by 20-100 percent soon after smoking, this effect can last up to 3 hours. Older people and those with heart conditions are at an increased risk of heart attack in the first hour after smoking marijuana.

Chronic marijuana abuse and mental illness has been linked through numerous studies. When marijuana is consumed in high doses it can cause a temporary psychotic reaction, worsened in those suffering from schizophrenia.  There has also been a link discovered with marijuana and later development of psychosis, when influenced by genetic variables, the amount of the drug used, its potency and the age of the individual at its first use, all according to numerous studies.

Marijuana may cause other mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts among adolescents, and personality disturbances, including a lack of motivation to engage in typically rewarding activities.

There is an increased risk of neurobehavioral problems in babies when the mother abuses marijuana during her pregnancy. This is because the THC and other compounds mimic the body’s endocannabinoid chemicals, thus when used by pregnant mothers there is a risk of altering the developing endocannabinoid system in the brain of the fetus. The child may include problems with attention, memory, and problem solving.

Just as with alcohol, marijuana impairs the individuals judgement and motor coordination, creating a great risk of injury or death while driving a car.

Is Marijuana Addictive?

Marijuana is an addictive drug. Research estimates on those who use marijuana regularly shows that approximately 9 percent of users become addicted to marijuana, those who start using marijuana at a young age have an increased addiction rate of about 17 percent.

Those who are chronic marijuana abusers will experience withdrawal symptoms including irritability, sleeplessness, decreased appetite, anxiety, and drug craving, when abruptly stopping its use.

Many people suffering from marijuana addiction require behavioral interventions, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and motivational incentives, as well as medications to prevent withdrawal symptoms for treatment.

How Does Marijuana Affect a User’s Life?

Marijuana research has shown that those who abuse the drug on a regular basis may have problems in daily life or make said person’s existing problems worse. Chronic marijuana abusers experience a lower life satisfaction, poorer mental and physical health, more relationship problems, and less academic and career success compared to non-marijuana-using peers. Marijuana smoking  tends to increase absences, tardiness, accidents, workers’ compensation claims, and job turnover as well.

Statistics and Trends

Monitoring the Future Study: Trends in Prevalence of Marijuana/ Hashish for 8th-Graders, 10th-Graders, and 12th-Graders; 2013 (in percent)*
Drug Time Period 8th-Graders 10th-Graders 12th-Graders
Marijuana/ Hashish Lifetime 16.50 35.80 45.50
Past Year 12.70 29.80 36.40
Past Month 7.00 18.00 22.70
Daily 1.10 4.00 6.50
National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Trends in Prevalence of Marijuana/ Hashish for Ages 12 or Older, Ages 12 to 17, Ages 18 to 25, and Ages 26 or Older; 2012 (in percent)*
Drug Time Period Ages 12 or Older Ages 12 to 17 Ages 18 to 25 Ages 26 or Older
Marijuana/ Hashish Lifetime 42.80 17.00 52.20 44.40
Past Year [12.10] 13.50 31.50 [8.60]
Past Month 7.30 [7.20] 18.70 5.30
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