What is Marijuana?

Marijuana is a drug made from the dry, shredded parts of the Cannabis Sativa hemp plant.  It is usually smoked in hand-rolled cigarettes called joints, in pipes, or in water pipes called bongs. It is also smoked in blunts, which are hollowed-out cigars filled with a mixture of tobacco and marijuana.

Marijuana contains a potent chemical called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, more commonly known as THC. It’s very similar to chemicals that the brain naturally produces, and disrupts the function of these chemicals in the brain.

Marijuana today is more potent than marijuana of past decades. For a long time THC levels averaged 2.3 percent. Today, average THC levels are higher than 8 percent and can go up to 35 percent in medical marijuana.

Can Marijuana Be Medicine?

While THC has been approved by the FDA as a drug, the marijuana plant has not. This is because there’s no proof yet that the benefits outweigh the risks.

Tobacco vs. Marijuana

Like tobacco smoke, marijuana smoke contains cancer-causing chemicals.  There are 33 cancer-causing chemicals contained in marijuana. Marijuana smoke also deposits tar into the lungs. In fact, when equal amounts of marijuana and tobacco are smoked, marijuana deposits four times as much tar into the lungs. This is because marijuana joints are un-filtered and often more deeply inhaled than cigarettes.

Marijuana smoke is also an irritant to the lungs, and frequent marijuana smokers can have many of the same respiratory problems experienced by people who smoke tobacco. These include coughing and phlegm production on most days, wheezing, bronchitis, and greater risk of lung infection.

Other Health Effects of Marijuana

Marijuana has many effects on the brain. It impairs short-term memory and motor coordination; slows reaction time; alters mood, judgment and decision-making; and in some people can cause severe anxiety or loss of touch with reality. Because of these effects, marijuana use more than doubles a driver’s risk of being in an accident.

Marijuana also affects the heart. The heart rate is raised 20-100 percent shortly after smoking, an effect which can last up to 3 hours and put users at an increased risk of heart attack.

Marijuana use can affect the general quality of the user’s life as well. Heavy marijuana users generally report lower life satisfaction, poorer mental and physical health, relationship problems and less academic and career success compared to their peers.

Youth and Marijuana

Marijuana use is particularly harmful to youth since the part of the brain that craves pleasure matures earlier than the area that controls our ability to understand risks and consequences. A national study by Monitoring the Future showed that in 2012 1.1% of 8th graders, 3.5% of 10th graders, and 6.5% of 12th graders reported using marijuana daily.

Marijuana is highly accessible, especially to older teenagers. In 2012, 37% of 8th graders, 69% of 10th graders, and 82% of 12th graders reported marijuana as being fairly easy or very easy to get. Studies show that as availability increases, perception of harm decreases.

The perception that there is no great risk in smoking marijuana is decreasing among youth. In 2012 66.9% of 8th graders, 50.9% of 10th graders and 44.1% of 12th graders said there was a great risk in smoking marijuana regularly. These numbers had been steadily declining over the last six years.

Is Marijuana Addictive?

Marijuana is often thought to not be addictive. However, marijuana dependence is the number 1 reason why youth in Colorado and the U.S. seek substance-abuse treatment. Youth are more likely than adults to become addicted to marijuana. About 4.5 million people in the U.S. meet clinical criteria for marijuana dependence.

THC stimulates brain cells to release the chemical dopamine, which creates a euphoric feeling and can lead to a physical addiction. Similar to tobacco withdrawal, people trying to quit marijuana report irritability, sleeping difficulties, craving, and anxiety.

Source: The American Lung Association