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Marijuana

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What Is It?

Marijuana is a mixture of the dried and shredded leaves, stems, seeds, and flowers of the cannabis sativa plant. The mixture can be green, brown, or gray.

A bunch of leaves seem harmless, right? But think again. Marijuana has a chemical in it called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as THC. A lot of other chemicals are found in marijuana, too—about 400 of them, many of which could affect your health. But THC is the main psychoactive (i.e., mind altering) ingredient. In fact, marijuana’s strength or potency is related to the amount of THC it contains. The THC content of marijuana has been increasing since the 1970s. For the year 2007, estimates from confiscated marijuana indicated that it contains almost 10 percent THC, on average.

What Are the Common Street Names?

There are many slang terms for marijuana that vary from city to city and from neighborhood to neighborhood. Some common names are: “pot,” “grass,” “herb,” “weed,” “Mary Jane,” “reefer,” “skunk,” “boom,” “gangster,” “kif,” “chronic,” and “ganja.”

How Is It Used?

Marijuana is used in many ways. The most common method is smoking loose marijuana rolled into a cigarette called a “joint” or “nail.” Sometimes marijuana is smoked through a water pipe called a “bong.” Others smoke “blunts”—cigars hollowed out and filled with the drug. And some users brew it as tea or mix it with food.

How Many Teens Use Marijuana?

Some people mistakenly believe that “everybody’s doing it” and use that as an excuse to start using marijuana themselves. Well, they need to check the facts, because that's just not true. According to NIDA's 2011 Monitoring the Future study, about 7.2 percent of 8th graders, 17.6 percent of 10th graders, and 22.6 percent of 12th graders had used marijuana in the month before the survey. In fact, marijuana use declined from the late 1990s through 2007, with a decrease in past-year use of more than 20 percent in all three grades combined from 2000 to 2007. Unfortunately, this trend appears to be reversing. Since 2006, annual, monthly, and daily marijuana use increased among 10th and 12th graders. In 2011, 6.6 percent of 12th graders reported using marijuana daily, compared to 5.0 percent in 2006.

What Are the Short-Term Effects of Marijuana Use?

For some people, smoking marijuana makes them feel good. Within minutes of inhaling, a user begins to feel “high,” or filled with pleasant sensations. THC triggers brain cells to release the chemical dopamine. Dopamine creates good feelings—for a short time. But that’s just one effect…

Imagine this: You're in a ball game, playing out in left field. An easy fly ball comes your way, and you're psyched. When that ball lands in your glove your team will win, and you'll be a hero. But, you're a little off. The ball grazes your glove and hits the dirt. So much for your dreams of glory.

Such loss of coordination can be caused by smoking marijuana. And that's just one of its many negative effects. Marijuana affects memory, judgment, and perception. Under the influence of marijuana, you could fail to remember things you just learned, watch your grade point average drop, or crash a car.

Also, since marijuana can affect judgment and decision making, using it can cause you to do things you might not do when you are thinking straight—such as engaging in risky sexual behavior, which can result in exposure to sexually transmitted diseases, like HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, or getting in a car with someone who’s been drinking or is high on marijuana.

It’s also difficult to know how marijuana will affect a specific person at any given time, because its effects vary based on individual factors: a person’s genetics, whether they’ve used marijuana or any other drugs before, how much marijuana is taken, and its potency. Effects can also be unpredictable when marijuana is used in combination with other drugs.

THC Affects Brain Functioning

THC is up to no good in the brain. THC finds brain cells, or neurons, with specific kinds of receptors called cannabinoid receptors and binds to them.

Certain parts of the brain have high concentrations of cannabinoid receptors. These areas are the hippocampus, the cerebellum, the basal ganglia, and the cerebral cortex. The functions that these brain areas control are the ones most affected by marijuana.

For example, THC interferes with learning and memory—that is because the hippocampus—a part of the brain with a funny name and a big job—plays a critical role in certain types of learning. Disrupting its normal functioning can lead to problems studying, learning new things, and recalling recent events. The difficulty can be a lot more serious than forgetting if you took out the trash this morning, which happens to everyone once in a while.

Do these effects persist? We don’t know for sure, but as adolescents your brains are still developing. So is it really worth the risk?

Smoking Marijuana Can Make Driving Dangerous

The cerebellum is the section of our brain that controls balance and coordination. When THC affects the cerebellum’s function, it makes scoring a goal in soccer or hitting a home run pretty tough. THC also affects the basal ganglia, another part of the brain that’s involved in movement control.

These THC effects can cause disaster on the road. Research shows that drivers on marijuana have slower reaction times, impaired judgment, and problems responding to signals and sounds. Studies conducted in a number of localities have found that approximately 4 to 14 percent of drivers who sustained injury or death in traffic accidents tested positive for THC.

Marijuana Use Increases Heart Rate

Within a few minutes after inhaling marijuana smoke, an individual's heart begins beating more rapidly, the bronchial passages relax and become enlarged, and blood vessels in the eyes expand, making the eyes look red. The heart rate, normally 70 to 80 beats per minute, may increase by 20 to 50 beats per minute or, in some cases, even double. This effect can be greater if other drugs are taken with marijuana.

Updates coming!

What Are the Long-Term Health Effects of Marijuana Use?

The Brain-

Addiction-

Lungs and Airways-

Does Marijuana Use Lead to the Use of Other Drugs?-

What About Medical Marijuana?-

What If a Person Wants To Quit Using Marijuana?-

 

In addition, the Treatment Referral Helpline (1-800-662-HELP)—offered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration—refers callers to treatment facilities, support groups, and other local organizations that can provide help for their specific need. You can also locate treatment centers in your state by going to www.findtreatment.samhsa.gov.