Marijuana

Marijuana is a green or gray mixture of dried, shredded flowers and leaves of the hemp plant (Cannabis sativa). It is the most often used illegal drug in this country. All forms of cannabis are mind-altering (psychoactive) drugs; they all contain THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the main active chemical in marijuana. There are about 400 chemicals in a cannabis plant, but THC is the one that affects the brain the most.

There are many different names for marijuana. Slang terms for drugs change quickly, and they vary from one part of the country to another. They may even differ across sections of a large city.

Terms from years ago, such as pot, herb, grass, weed, Mary Jane, and reefer, are still used. You might also hear the names skunk, boom, gangster, kif, or ganja.

There are also street names for different strains or "brands" of marijuana, such as "Texas tea," "Maui wowie," and "Chronic." A recent book of American slang lists more than 200 terms for various kinds of marijuana.

Marijuana's effect on the user depends on the strength or potency of the THC it contains. THC potency has increased since the 1970s but has been about the same since the mid-1980s. The strength of the drug is measured by the average amount of THC in test samples confiscated by law enforcement agencies.

  • Most ordinary marijuana has an average of 3 percent THC.
  • Sinsemilla (made from just the buds and flowering tops of female plants) has an average of 7.5 percent THC, with a range as high as 24 percent.
  • Hashish (the sticky resin from the female plant flowers) has an average of 3.6 percent, with a range as high as 28 percent.
  • Hash oil, a tar-like liquid distilled from hashish, has an average of 16 percent, with a range as high as 43 percent.

Long-term studies of high school students and their patterns of drug use show that very few young people use other drugs without first trying marijuana. The risk of using cocaine has been estimated to be more than 104 times greater for those who have tried marijuana than for those who have never tried it. Although there are no definitive studies on the factors associated with the movement from marijuana use to use of other drugs, growing evidence shows that a combination of biological, social, and psychological factors are involved.

Marijuana affects the brain in some of the same ways that other drugs do. Researchers are examining the possibility that long-term marijuana use may create changes in the brain that make a person more at risk of becoming addicted to other drugs, such as alcohol or cocaine. While not all young people who use marijuana go on to use other drugs, further research is needed to determine who will be at greatest risk.

Some users, especially someone new to the drug or in a strange setting, may suffer acute anxiety and have paranoid thoughts. This is more likely to happen with high doses of THC. These scary feelings will fade as the drug's effects wear off. When the early effects fade, over a few hours, the user can become very sleepy. In rare cases, a user who has taken a very high dose of the drug can have severe psychotic symptoms and need emergency medical treatment. Other kinds of bad reactions can occur when marijuana is mixed with other drugs, such as PCP or cocaine.

Those who become more heavily involved with marijuana can become dependent, and that is their prime reason for using the drug. Others mention psychological coping as a reason for their use - to deal with anxiety, anger, depression, boredom, and so forth. But marijuana use is not an effective method for coping with life's problems, and staying high can be a way of simply not dealing with ones problems.

There are some signs you might be able to see.
If someone is high on marijuana, he or she might :

  • seem dizzy and have trouble walking
  • seem silly and giggly for no reason
  • have very red, bloodshot eyes
  • have a hard time remembering things that just happened
  • signs of drugs and drug paraphernalia, including pipes and rolling papers
  • odor on clothes and in the bedroom
  • use of incense and other deodorizers
  • use of eye drops
  • clothing, posters, jewelry, etc., promoting drug use

What is "tolerance" for marijuana?

"Tolerance" means that the user needs increasingly larger doses of the drug to get the same desired results that he or she previously got from smaller amounts. Some frequent, heavy users of marijuana may develop tolerance for it.

Do marijuana users lose their motivation?

Some frequent, long-term marijuana users show signs of a lack of motivation (amotivational syndrome). Their problems include not caring about what happens in their lives, no desire to work regularly, fatigue, and a lack of concern about how they look. As a result of these symptoms, some users tend to perform poorly in school or at work. Scientists are still studying these problems.

Marijuana Facts

Marijuana is the most often used illegal drug in this country

THC suppresses the neurons in the information-processing system of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that is crucial for learning, memory, and the integration of sensory experiences with emotions and motivation.

Generally, traces (metabolites) of THC can be detected by standard urine testing methods several days after a smoking session. However, in heavy chronic users, traces can sometimes be detected for weeks after they have stopped using marijuana.

Females who use marijuana, over time, increase their levels of testosterone which can result in increased facial hair and acne, and may adversely affect reproductive functioning in women.

Smoking marijuana decreases blood flow to the brain

Studies have shown that marijuana lowers testosterone levels in men.

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